From pasteurized to homogenized to organic and non-organic, you have a lot of different options when it comes to milk for making dairy kefir.
The milk you use for culturing may affect the characteristics of your finished milk kefir. Milks from different animals and milks processed in different ways can result in differences in your kefir's thickness and texture.
While most milk will culture well, there are some factors to consider when selecting a milk for making kefir.
CHOOSING THE TYPE OF MILK FOR MAKING MILK KEFIR
Cow milk is the most popular choice for culturing. Culturing with cow's milk will produce a thick, smooth milk kefir.
Sheep milk is sweeter than cow milk and contains more protein, resulting in a thicker, creamier kefir. It is used more for making cheese generally, but can be cultured into milk kefir, too.
In some cases, non-dairy milk can be cultured to make kefir. Coconut milk can be cultured using milk kefir grains as long as a revitalization period is observed.
Revitalization Period: When culturing coconut milk, it is important to revitalize the kefir grains in animal milk for 24 hours. We recommend allowing the milk kefir grains a revitalization period every few days. Simply place them in animal milk for 24 hours. Once the culturing process is complete, the milk kefir grains can be returned to use with coconut milk.
Lactose-free milk may not suitable for culturing. Some brands do actually still contain lactose, but also contain lactase, an enzyme that helps lactose-intolerant individuals digest the lactose. These brands are usually ultra-pasteurized, as well, which does not work well for culturing.
Other brands of lactose-free milk are filtered to remove lactose. In that case, there would be insufficient food for the bacteria. There may be other options for making kefir if you are lactose-intolerant which you can learn about in our tutorial: Reducing the Lactose Content of Kefir.
PASTEURIZATION + HOMEMADE MILK KEFIR
What is pasteurized milk?
Pasteurized milk is heated to 161°F for 15 to 20 seconds, then immediately cooled to 39°F for storage and transportation. Pasteurized milk is most commonly used for making milk kefir and is recommended for rehydrating milk kefir grains.
What is ultra-pasteurized milk?
Ultra-pasteurized Milk (UP) or ultra-high temperature treatment (UHT), is heated to 275°F or higher for about one second. UHT milk is actually cooked, and is therefore unsuitable for culturing. If UHT milk is the only variety of milk available, we recommend using a direct-set culture such as our Kefir Starter Culture, but culturing results may vary.
Can I use raw milk to make kefir?
Yes. If using kefir grains, you can use raw milk to make milk kefir once the milk kefir grains are rehydrated in pasteurized milk. After activating the kefir grains, introduce the grains gradually to raw milk. On the other hand, you can use a direct-set kefir starter culture directly in raw milk, with no special considerations.
When using raw milk, we do recommend using the freshest milk possible. Raw milk comes with its own set of beneficial bacteria, and if your milk is a few days old or wasn't chilled down quickly enough, that bacterial count can be high. This means that the bacteria in the milk may provide some competition for the milk kefir grains, making it more difficult to culture the milk properly.
HOMOGENIZATION + HOMEMADE MILK KEFIR
What is homogenization?
Homogenization is a treatment that prevents the cream from separating from the milk. Most cow milk available in stores is homogenized. Goat and sheep milk are somewhat homogenized naturally.
What happens if I use non-homogenized milk?
With non-homogenized milk the cream will rise to the top of the kefir during culturing, just like it does with the milk in the bottle. Stirring the milk periodically during culturing can help to produce a more homogeneous finished product.
FAT CONTENT + HOMEMADE MILK KEFIR
Can I use non-fat or reduced-fat milk?
Yes, but keep in mind that milk kefir made with reduced-fat milk will be thinner than kefir made with whole milk. Commercially available low-fat kefir includes additives and stabilizers to make them unnaturally thick.
Can I culture kefir using half-and-half or cream?
Kefir cultures perform well in half-and-half or even in cream, producing a rich, thick kefir cream that is almost like sour cream.
Culturing cream directly with kefir grains may present problems as the finished product is often too thick to easily separate from the grains. An alternative method for culturing cream is to use 1 tablespoon of finished kefir as a starter for each cup of cream you want to culture.
When it comes to milk, it can be difficult to decide what to use when there are numerous choices available. Keep in mind the considerations above about each type of milk when deciding to help you make the best homemade kefir possible.
(You can even try different kinds of milk until you produce a kefir that suits your personal taste.)
Once you've chosen a milk to use for culturing kefir, you'll next need to decide on a milk kefir starter culture and gather your supplies. Then, view one of our tutorials below to start making kefir at home! You can do this...happy culturing!