Whether you're just starting to explore the probiotic benefits of milk kefir, or have been fermenting foods at home for years, we've compiled the questions we're most commonly asked about milk kefir to help you with your next culturing project!
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THE BASICS ABOUT MILK KEFIR + KEFIR STARTER CULTURES
WHAT IS MILK KEFIR?
Milk kefir is a probiotic beverage made with either milk kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter culture. Milk Kefir Grains (once active) and Kefir Starter Culture can be used to culture dairy milk or coconut milk. If you wish to culture sugar water, juice or coconut water, you can find tips for this in our expert advice section on Making Water Kefir at Home.
Q. What does kefir taste like?
A. The taste of finished kefir varies greatly based on the type of milk used and the length of time it is cultured. Milk kefir can have a sour taste and an effervescent texture. If you have not tried kefir, we recommend purchasing kefir at the grocery store to try before purchasing a starter culture.
Q. How much alcohol does milk kefir contain?
A. As with all cultured and fermented foods, a small amount of naturally occurring alcohol is typically present in the finished product. Although the amount will vary from batch to batch, for the typical brewing period, the amount should be quite low.
Q. Does milk kefir have the same benefits as water kefir?
A: Water kefir contains fewer strains of bacteria and yeasts than milk kefir, but far more than other cultured products like yogurt or buttermilk.
Read More: Milk Kefir vs. Water Kefir
Q. What are milk kefir grains?
Kefir grains consist of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship. The term "kefir grains" describes the look of the culture only. Kefir grains contain no actual "grains" such as wheat, rye, etc.
Q. What ingredients go into creating milk kefir grains?
A. Cultures for Health milk kefir grains are grown using only organic milk.
Q. What is the difference between kefir grains and powdered kefir starter culture?
A. There are three primary differences between milk kefir grains and powdered kefir starter:
- Milk kefir grains have a larger number of probiotics than the powdered starter culture.
- With proper care, kefir grains can be used indefinitely to make kefir. Powdered starter culture can be reused for a number of batches, but will eventually stop culturing.
- Powdered kefir starter culture has a smaller initial investment cost than do kefir grains; however, you will need to continue to purchase new culture if you wish to make kefir beyond a few batches.
Q. What strains of yeast and bacteria does milk kefir contain?
A. While the probiotics can vary with each batch made with milk kefir grains, a list of bacteria and yeasts generally found in Milk Kefir Grains can be found in Composition of Milk Kefir Grains: Bacteria & Yeasts.
For our powdered kefir starter cultures, a list of ingredients can be found on each product page.
Q. Are milk kefir grains reusable? Is the powdered kefir starter culture reusable?
A. Yes, milk kefir grains are reusable. Once a batch of milk kefir has finished culturing, simply remove the milk kefir grains and place them in fresh milk. The powdered kefir starter culture is also reusable several times. Simply follow the instructions for Making Kefir with a Direct-Set Starter Culture.
Q. How long do dairy kefir grains last? How long does the powdered kefir starter culture last?
A. If cared for properly, milk kefir grains have an unlimited life span and can be used repeatedly to make kefir.
Kefir made with a direct-set style starter culture can often be re-cultured from 2 to 7 times. The exact number of successive batches will depend on the freshness of the kefir and hygienic practices employed.
MAKING MILK KEFIR AT HOME
Q. Why should I make my own milk kefir?
A. In the case of milk kefir grains, homemade kefir will contain a larger number of probiotics than will commercial kefir, made with a powdered starter culture. Making kefir at home costs significantly less than commercial kefir and you have complete control over the milk you use (organic, non-homogenized, raw, etc.).
Q. I want to consume kefir but I'm allergic to dairy. What can I do?
A. You might try water kefir. Water kefir grains contains no dairy and are grown in filtered water and organic sugar.
Q. Does homemade milk kefir contain gluten?
A. No, milk kefir grains are grown in organic milk.
Q. What supplies do I need to make milk kefir?
A. Making milk kefir does not require any specialized equipment. Please see our article Choosing Equipment for Making Milk Kefir for more information on the supplies you'll need to make milk kefir at home.
Q. What is the process for making milk kefir?
If you choose to use dehydrated Milk Kefir Grains, the first step for making kefir is to activate your grains. Once your grains are activated, you can make kefir on a regular basis by following these instructions.
If you are not using kefir grains, please see our detailed instructions for making milk kefir using the kefir starter culture.
Q. How long does it take for the milk kefir grains to rehydrate and begin making kefir?
A. The rehydration process may take up to 7 days. Be sure to follow the Instructions for Activating Milk Kefir Grains. Within the first few days, an overgrowth of yeast or a layer of froth or foam may form on the surface of the milk. This is normal as is the smell of fresh yeast.
Q. What do I do with the milk used to rehydrate the kefir grains?
A. The milk used each day to rehydrate the kefir grains can be consumed or used for cooking provided it looks, smells and tastes okay. Alternatively, you can discard any milk used during rehydration.
Q. How will I know when the milk kefir grains are making kefir?
A. Once the milk starts to thicken (similar to the consistency of cultured buttermilk or heavy cream) and the aroma is pleasant, the kefir grains are making kefir.
Q. How long does it take to make milk kefir?
A. Kefir generally takes 12 to 24 hours to form. The exact amount of time will vary depending on environmental factors, the most important of which is temperature.
Cold temperatures slow the fermentation process (and it can be all but stopped by placing the grains in milk in the refrigerator).
Heat speeds the process so kefir will form more quickly in a warm area and will be more likely to over-culture.
Allowing the kefir grains to remain in milk longer than 48 hours risks starving the kefir grains and potentially damaging them.
Q. My house is colder than 68°F, how can I culture milk kefir?
A. Many homes maintain temperatures that are cooler, especially in the winter. For tips on keeping things within the proper temperature range, see our article, Cold Weather Care for Starter Cultures.
Q. Do I need to stir the kefir during the culturing process?
A. You can stir the kefir while it's culturing but it's not necessary.
Q. How will I know if I've successfully made kefir? How do I know if I shouldn't drink it?
CARING FOR YOUR KEFIR GRAINS
Q. Do I need to wash the jar/container between batches of kefir?
A. We recommend using a clean container for each batch of milk kefir.
Q. Can I use a metal strainer with my kefir grains?
Q. What is the recommended ratio of grains to milk for culturing with milk kefir grains?
A. We recommend using 1-2 teaspoons grains for culturing up to 4 cups of milk. Some customers have reported being able to culture 4 cups of milk with as little as ½ teaspoon of grains. Adjust the amount of grains to avoid over-culturing and to impart the best flavor.
Extra grains can be used to culture another jar of kefir, shared with friends, eaten, blended into smoothies, or dried and stored in some powdered milk in a sealed container in the fridge as backup.
Q. Do I need to rinse the grains off between batches?
A. No. There is no need to rinse the grains unless they stop making kefir effectively (which can sometimes be attributed to a buildup of yeast on the grains). If it becomes necessary to rinse the grains, use filtered water if possible to avoid chemical exposure.
Q. Do I need to make a full quart of kefir each time or can I make smaller batches?
A. Making a full quart is not required. Many of our customers find that making 1-pint batches better meets their needs. To learn more about how to slow down your milk kefir or make smaller batches, read our tutorial How to Slow Down Milk Kefir + Make Smaller Batches.
Q. Can I make kefir only once a week and keep the kefir grains in the refrigerator on the other days?
A. We caution against keeping your kefir grains in the refrigerator on a regular basis. Cold temperatures slow the kefir grains down putting them into a state of hibernation. It can be very hard on kefir grains to regularly be put into and then come out of a state of hibernation. It can disrupt the yeast/bacteria balance and may also make the kefir grains less efficient and reliable.
If caring for kefir grains every day or every other day isn't an option, consider using a powdered kefir starter culture rather than kefir grains to make kefir. This product requires significantly less maintenance than kefir grains.
Q. Will milk kefir grains multiply?
A. Milk kefir grains are known to multiply, but at times they are reluctant to do so. Even if they do not multiply, with proper care, kefir grains can be used repeatedly to brew milk kefir. Generally kefir grains take 6 to 8 weeks following rehydration to begin multiplying. Learn more about Encouraging Milk Kefir Grains to Multiply.
Q. Will kefir culture in a dark cupboard or in a window (exposed to light)?
A. Kefir doesn't require light to culture properly, so a dark cupboard is fine, as is a lighted room. Do not expose culturing kefir to direct sunlight.
Q. If I’m making other cultured foods (yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, etc.), how far apart do I need to keep the kefir culture?
USING KEFIR GRAINS IN DIFFERENT MILKS
Q. Can the milk kefir grains be cultured in milk made from powdered milk?
A. Many customers have had success using a high quality powdered milk, such as Capramilk, for culturing milk kefir. Other powdered milk brands are highly processed and may not perform well.
Q. Can the milk kefir grains be cultured in goat milk?
A. We have many customers who have reported excellent results using our milk kefir grains to make goat milk kefir. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when making goat milk kefir.
Q. Can the milk kefir grains be cultured in lactose-free milk?
A. Maybe. Lactose-free milk isn’t actually lactose-free, but has lactase added, which makes the lactose easier to digest. We do not guarantee success with this milk. Avoid ultra-pasteurized milk for making milk kefir.
Q. Can the milk kefir grains be cultured in coconut milk?
A. Yes, milk kefir grains can be used to culture coconut milk kefir, though this method will not be completely dairy-free. To make coconut milk kefir using milk kefir grains, or for a dairy-free option, refer to our recipe How to Make Coconut Milk Kefir.
Q. Can the milk kefir grains be cultured in almond milk?
A. Almond milk is a problem. We have not found any of the kefir cultures to work well with almond milk. While many have tried using milk kefir grains or other methods of culturing almond milk, the results are generally undesirable and inconsistent.
Q. Can I use UHT (ultra-high temperature aka ultra-pasteurized) milk to make milk kefir?
A. Milk that is “too clean,” such as ultra-pasteurized/UHT milk, or milk that has been heated by microwave, may be too sterile for the milk kefir grains to use as nourishment.
Q. Can I use non-homogenized milk to make kefir?
A. Yes. Non-homogenized milk makes wonderful kefir. The cream will rise to the top of the kefir just as it does with the milk Once cultured, the top layer of the kefir will be more yellow in color and very thick, while the skim milk portion at the bottom will be cultured but thinner than homogenized whole milk kefir.
Q. Can milk kefir grains be used with raw milk?
A. Once the grains have been activated in pasteurized milk, they can be transitioned to culturing raw milk. Click here for instructions on how to transition your kefir grains from pasteurized milk to raw milk.
FINISHED MILK KEFIR
Q. How long can I store the finished kefir in the refrigerator?
A. Finished milk kefir can be stored as follows:
- At room temperature (68° to 78°F): 1 to 2 days
- In the refrigerator (40° to 45°F): 2 to 3 weeks
- In the freezer (0° to 25°F): 1 to 2 months or longer (like ice cream)
- Storage recommendation: Refrigerate
Q. How can I flavor my kefir?
A. Detailed instructions can be found in our article, How to Flavor Milk Kefir.
Q. How can I use my kefir?
A. Milk kefir can be used in a variety of ways. Learn more in our article, Five Ways to Use Kefir.
Q. How do I take a break from making milk kefir?
A. Detailed instructions can be found in our article, How to Take a Break from Making Milk Kefir.