All You Need To Know About Milk Kefir

DECEMBER 16, 2020

Milk Kefir - The Champaign of Milk

Ever since I got my very first Kefir grains, I've been in love with the probiotic superfood "Kefir". Not only does Kefir taste amazing, it is also one of the best foods for our gut health. In this article, I share a few interesting facts about the history of Milk Kefir, explain in a super easy step-by-step manner how you can make your own Kefir at home and tell you why this homemade Kefir is so much more nutritious compared to the store-bought Kefir version. Moreover, I will try to answer all of the other potential questions you may have before trying to make your own probiotic Kefir drink for the first time. 

What Is Milk Kefir and What Is The Difference Between Milk Kefir & Yoghurt?

Kefir is a probiotic, lacto-fermented drink made of Kefir grains - very similar to yoghurt in taste. Kefir grains look like cauliflower florets made of complex sugars called "Kefiran". On the surface of the kefir grains live a symbiotic community of lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria and yeast cultures. As soon as those symbiotic communities get in touch with milk, they start consuming the milk sugar and turn the lactose in the milk into lactic acid. Carbonic acid and small amounts of alcohol develop, the milk cream thickens and the Kefir turns mildly sour. During the process, the Kefir grains also continuously grow in size. 

The probiotic drink Kefir is known in many cultures as an absolute "health and immune system booster" with particular positive benefits on gut heath. This may also be the reason why the drink is called Kefir. The word "Kefir" derives from the Turkish word "Kief" which means "good feeling". 

The differences between yoghurt and Kefir root in in the "starter culture/ organism profile" used to make Kefir. Kefir is the only lactose-fermented drink that arises with the help of yeasts - resulting in a unique taste and texture. The symbiosis of yeast cultures, lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria in Kefir make the end product comparatively "sour", more liquid, and a little bit "sparkly" - compared to yoghurt.

The Origin Of Milk Kefir

Kefir has been celebrated as a health drink for thousands of years but its exact origin is a mystery. Tibet, including the entire Caucasus region, are considered the "most probable birth place" of the creamy milk-ferment where, thanks to its amazing nutrient profile, bubbly texture and mildly sour flavor,  it has been celebrated as "the Champaign of Milk" and "the drink of the centenarian" for centuries. 

Today, Kefir is particularly popular in many regions around the world - especially in north- east and Central Asia. 

The Milk Kefir Nutrient-Profile

Homemade Milk Kefir contains many health-promoting microorganisms and is a great source of probiotics which can aid digestion and contribute to a health microbiome and overall stable immune system. According to a super interesting article I read, it takes 250 store-bought yoghurts to equal 1 cup of homemade kefir. 

Overall, Kefir is a great source of 

- Protein: 6g (175ml Kefir Milk)

- Valuable Omega 3 acids (if you use an organic pasture cow milk)

- Minerals including, Calcium, Iron, folic acid, 

- Vitamins including Vit. A, B1, B2, B6, C, D and B12

Why Is Homemade Milk Kefir So Much Better For My Health (Compared To Store-Bought Kefir)?

Industrially manufacture Kefir doesn't contain yeast cultures that kickstart an alcoholic fermentation process as the resulting carbon acid is pretty unhandy and hard to handle in industrial processes. The final product may taste deliciously creamy but consequently barely contains any of the valuable probiotic nutrients Kefir is known for. This is why so many people recommend to make Milk Kefir at home in a DIY manner. 

By the way, industrial Kefir still milk sugars of between 2g and 4g per 100g.

How Can I Make Milk Kefir At Home?

It is super easy to make Kefir at home. You only need to follow a few important steps and you'll be the new Kefir king or queen, I promise. 

What equipment do I need to make Milk Kefir and which milk works best for Kefir?

- Kefir Grains (from a reliable source) - 1 Tbsp per 750ml 

- A plastic sieve to strain the Kefir & a spoon (100% stainless steel works but if you're unsure, use plastic or wood)

- A Mason, Weck or any other glass jar (very important is to clean glass properly beforehand)

- A lid to cover the glass jar during the fermentation process. Idea are muslin cloths or coffee filters as  the Kefir produces gas during the fermentation process it wants to release. (Alternatively: You can also close the Kefir completely - with a proper lid. In this case, your Kefir may turn pretty sour though)

- Milk: Kefir grains love dairy milk of any kind - 3.5% cow milk,1.5% cow milk (pasteurized and homogenized but not ultra heat-treated), goat milk, sheep milk, whipped cream and even sour cream work perfectly for Kefir. Where they differ is, obviously, in taste and texture. A great rule of thumb is - a delicious milk from a  pasture cow, will make a delicious Kefir. Moreover, cow milk with 3.5% fat contains more fat to add to the Kefir mix, resulting in a nice and thick texture. Whereas cow milk with 1.5% fat or less provides less fat and will therefore result in a slightly thinner Kefir end product. Overall, you decide which milk you like to choose. The different options clearly differ in their overall calorie count as well. And what about plant milk options? - They work as well (read below "Can I make Vegan Milk"). 


Process Steps to make homemade Milk Kefir

    1. Place 750ml milk (ideally at room temperature) into your glass jar. Then add 1 Tbsp of Kefir grains.
  1. Close the lid of the glass jar with either a special fermentation lid or use a muslin cloth and a rubber band (like I did in the photos). It is very important that the glass can release the oxygen that forms during the fermentation process.
  2. Place the glass jar in a dry and save spot and let it ferment for at least 24h. Unlike yoghurt, which needs around 50*C to ferment, Kefir fermentation works perfectly at room temperature.
  3. Check the Kefir after about a day, stir it with a plastic spoon and try the flavor for the first time. If the Kefir already has the desired texture and tastes how you like it, then end the process. If not, close the glass jar and place it back to its fermentation spot. Depending on the weather conditions, the fermentation process takes between 1-2 days. Stiring it once after 24h helps the Kefir to thicken. On day 2, the Kefir should have thickened and have a nice and creamy texture.
  4. Once your Kefir is ready, pour it through your plastic sieve into a fresh and clean glass jar. Serve part of the Kefir batch or store the entire jar into your fridge until usage.
  5. Either start the next Kefir batch or place the Kefir grains into a small cup with fresh milk and store them in the fridge. (Note: You don't have to rinse the Kefir grains every time you start a new batch. Once every 5-6 times is more than sufficient to make sure the Kefir grains can utilize their full potential. Moreover, when you place the Kefir into the fridge to store. Make sure it is covered with milk and contains a permeable cover. A muslin cloth for example works perfectly.)

What should I pay attention to when Kefir

Be hygienic throughout the entire process. Do not touch the Kefir grains with your fingers and only use clean glass jars. If you take your glass jar straight out of the dishwasher or if you washed it with a lot of detergent before, rinse / disinfect it under hot water before adding the milk and Kefir grains. The grains absolutely dislike detergent.


Where Can I Get Milk Kefir Grains?

Number one rule with starter cultures is "ask your friends and family first". This is the best, most ecological and most economic way to get started. If no-one has a Kefir starting culture, I highly recommend Fairment, a wonderful start-up company which offers all kinds of starting cultures in the DACH market. 

I've been working with this company for quite some time now and they were so kind to offer me a discount code. Thus, if you want to purchase your Milk Kefir starter-kit from the, use the code Karolin10  and save 10% on your next purchase.  

PS: As soon as I found a good international source for Kefir grains, I will add the links to this article, I promise. (Or if you know reliable international sellers, comment below!)

How Can I Store My Milk Kefir & How Do I Start of New Kefir Batch

After removing your Kefir grains from your "ready-to-serve" Kefir batch, you can either use them to start a new batch or store the grains in your fridge. If you're ready to immediately start a new batch, take the grains and place them into a thoroughly rinsed glass jar filled with 750ml milk. To remove any "unwanted" cultures that may harm a proper Kefir grain fermentation process,  I recommend you to rinse the Kefir grains under cold water every 5-6 rounds before you add them to a new batch. 

If, on the other hand, you don't want to start with a new Milk Kefir batch immediately, take a small and clean glass jar and place the Kefir grains inside. Then cover everything with just enough milk that the grains are completely covered and place the mix into your fridge. 



Can I Over-Ferment My Milk Kefir?

Well.. yes and no. The good news -the worst thing that can happen is that your kefir smells horrible and tastes super acidy. However, the Kefir isn't rotten, it's only "over-fermented" and you can't harm yourself with it. When you forgot about your Kefir for one or two days and the mix has turned pretty acidy, take the Kefir grains out, wash them with water in your strainer and start a new batch.

Is Milk Kefir Lactose-Free?

Yes and no - or let's say "it depends". Most people who suffer from lactose intolerance are unable to break down lactose properly. During the fermentation process the milk kefir grains turn the lactose into lactic acid. Therefore, the end product may only contain very little amounts of lactose (if any at all) - all depending on the time the Kefir is fermented. The longer the fermentation process, the more lactose has been used and transformed into lactic acid and the less lactose is present in the Kefir product. 

One of the best predictors to tell how much lactose is still present in your Milk Kefir is by analyzing the acidity of the mix. The more acid the flavor, the less "milk sugar" is in the mix and the less "remaining" lactose can be found in the mix. Experts say that after about 48h of fermentation, your Kefir should almost be free of lactose (but loaded with nourishing vitamins & minerals). 

Does Kefir Contain Alcohol?

Yes, but very small amounts which develop during the fermentation process. Depending on how long you fermented your Kefir, the alcohol content varies between 0.2 to a maximum of 2%.

Can I Make Vegan Milk Kefir?

Yes. Theoretically you can. You can create delicious results with soy, coconut and other non-dairy milk options. The only thing you need to pay attention to is that Kefir grains are used to a "dairy environment". Therefore, after you made 2-3 batches of non-dairy Kefir, make another batch of dairy milk Kefir before you return back to the non-dairy version. This will help the Kefir grains to "revitalize" and absorb all the essential nutrients Kefir grains need and  that are only present in dairy milk to unfold their full "fermentation potential".

Coconut milk Kefir and soy milk Kefir for example, will turn out super creamy, yet potentially "thinner" in consistency than you are used to from the classic milk Kefir. Other types of milk may work as well. However, its a comparatively new field that is yet to explore. Just follow the same preparation guidelines as if you were fermenting regular milk and see what happens. I'd love to hear the stories. Comment below!

PS: Starches, such as Tapioka help as well to "thicken" the mix. More details will follow.

What Can I Do With Milk Kefir?

See your Kefir as a nutrient-rich yoghurt substitute. No matter if you plan on making a savory dip, a sweet dessert cream or a smoothie - Kefir shines in nearly all dishes with its wonderful, mildly sour flavor. Very important though: Do not heat your Milk Kefir. Heating the milky cream will kill most of the healthy, probiotic, living microorganisms within your Kefir.  I personally suggest to use Kefir in "cold recipes" - ice creams, unheated dessert creams, smoothies or your breakfast cereal. 

A few other recipes I read about including Kefir are..

1. Kefir as a "soaking liquid" for grains, nuts or seeds. Thanks to its rich nutritional profile, Kefir can positively influence the soaking process, turning whole grains into "nutrient-bombs perfect for our microbiome. (I haven't tried it though. But I will definitely let you know as soon as I have). 

2. As a sourdough hero. The yeast cultures in Kefir can also be used to make sourdough. (I'll keep you posted on this one. I'm super curious to try!)

3. Mildly Sour Kefir Cream. If you ferment the classic Kefir grains in a 1:1 mix of milk and cream, you will end up with a delicious Kefir cream - perfect for desserts. The secret: Ferment the mix at least a day, ideally a bit longer than your usual Kefir. 

4. Kefir Cream Cheese. Kefir Cream Cheese is pretty is to make. Follow the "normal" fermentation process but instead of stopping the process at your regular 24- or 48h (depending on weather conditions), ferment it a bit longer than usual. Then take the Kefir and heat it on your stove. Pay attention that the Kefir doesn't get too hot - 40-50°C are ideal. Watch the process closely, the Kefir should naturally separate from the whey (liquid water). Remove the whey et voila - you got your Kefir cream cheese.

How Much Kefir Should I Consume Daily?

Kefir is a lacto-ferment meaning, it is a dairy product with a very particular and rich nutrient profile. Consumed in small portions, this nutrient profile can be extremely beneficial to our body but, if consumed extensively, it will eventually replace any other necessary food in our diet and therefore may also harm our health. 

I went through various sources and came to the conclusion that an approximate of 1-2 small glasses (200ml - max. 500ml) can be consumed on a daily basis without any bad conscious. However, nutrition is something very personal. A 1.90m tall athlete has a much higher calorie demand than a 1.50m girl, who doesn't work out on a regular basis. - What I want to say. Don't strictly hold on to those numbers. If you listen to your own body it will tell you what it needs, I am 100% convinced. 

How Can I Make My Kefir Thicker? 

One way to thicken Kefir, a method that is often used for Kefir cheese, is to place the Kefir into a strainer and drain the Kefir cream. The more liquid whey drains, the thicker the Kefir. (This method is very similar to making Kefir cream cheese)

Alternatively, just like in yoghurt production, you can use natural, organic plant thickeners, such as inulin or agar to thicken the cream a little bit. 

Share Your Kefir Love 

Have you ever tried to make your own batch of Kefir? If so, share your experiences in the comments below. I'd love to hear your tips and share them with our little community.

Like always, I'd also love to see your delicious result and repost it on my social channels. So make sure to tag me on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook. Besides, if you have any feedback for me, questions with regards to the recipe or if you just want to say "hey", comment below or shoot me a personal message through my contact form

xx, Karo

Note: This article contains affiliate links (paid and unpaid). This means, I will make a small commission on some of the productions displayed if you purchase through the external website link. The products I recommend are exclusively products I trust, love and use as well in my own kitchen. 

Sources:

1. Smarticular (2020): Milchkefir selber machen - das probiotische Getränk für deine Darmflora (02.12.2020)

2. Healthline (2020): 5 powerful health benefits of Kefir - Backed by science (02.12.2020)

3. Healthline (2020): 9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Kefir  (02.12.2020)

4. Fairment (2020): Aus was besteht der Kefir Pilz (02.12.2020)

5. Fairment (2020): Dieses Equipment brauchst du um Kefir selbst zu machen (02.12.2020)

6. Fairment (2020): Die richtige Milch für deinen Milchkefir (02.12.2020)

7. Fairment (2020): 15 Möglichkeiten was du mit Kefir machen kannst (02.12.2020)

8. Fairment (2020): Wie viel Kefir am Tag sollte ich trinken? (02.12.2020)

9. Fairment (2020): Kefir und Milch - Welchen Fettgehalt sollte die Milch haben?  (02.12.2020)

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