Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes! Those who are lactose intolerant do not create or possess enzyme lactase which is required to break down lactose. When Kefir is made with the process of fermentation, the kefir cultures/bacteria breaks down the lactose and the result bacteria produced is the probiotic cultures. Hence the combination of the long fermentation time (15-18 hours) along with the specific kefir cultures ensures that Kefir is 99% lactose free. Even though that 1% of lactose remains, it is safe to consume by lactose intolerant individuals.
No, they cannot be made at home or spontaneously materialize in milk. They need to be obtained. Traditionally, raw milk was left outside (due to the obvious absence of refrigerators) and would eventually turn into buttermilk. The naturally occurring yeast and bacteria in raw milk would slowly ripen and turn milk into buttermilk. Store bought or pasteurized milk isn’t able to do this as most of the natural yeast and a bacterium is killed off in the process of pasteurization. Obtain kefir grains online or from a friend to start with.
All forms of mammalian milk like goat, cow, sheep and buffalo milk can be fermented using kefir grains. Other mediums such as soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk and rice milk can also be fermented using kefir grains.
Milk kefir has a tart yogurt like flavor and is even called the champagne of milk. Its taste can also be compared to that of Italian soda- made of cream and carbonated water. If you prefer a sweeter taste, add in some honey or fruit to make it tastier.
They look similar to tiny cauliflower florets. When you take a closer look, they seem to have a pattern similar to that of a brain or corals. They can look like flat smooth shreds of ribbons when crowded in a jar or during the warmer months. Ranging from a white to creamy off-white color, kefir grains are bouncy, soft and squishy.
If you care for them properly, kefir grains can be used unlimited times to make Kefir. They have an unlimited life span if you follow the instructions and maintain hygiene.
Kefir grains consume lactose in milk in the process of turning milk into Kefir. But after a while they may run out of lactose/food. Hence if the grains are not fed fresh milk, they may become stressed, starve and eventually die. Giving them a consistent supply of fresh milk by separating the Kefir grains and feeding them regularly is crucial to maintain healthy grains.
Ceramic, food grade plastic or glass containers are recommended. Nylon, wood or plastic strainers are advised to filter the grains.
When the kefir is fermented in or stored in a metallic container for prolonged hours, it can have a leaching effect on the metal. This is because the acid in the Kefir will react to the metal. Please refrain from using metal spoons as it might damage the grains while stirring.
1 tbspn of Kefir grains will ferment ½ cup of milk and in 24 hours. Based on the weather condition of your location the time may vary. If your kefir is separating or ends up being too sour before the usual straining time, decrease the amount of grains or increase the amount of milk. If you want to make a lot of kefir with just a few grains, keep adding more milk without straining. The kefir combined with the grains will acts as a starter and quickly turn your milk to kefir. If you prefer a sour kefir, the ratio of grains should be higher. If you prefer a less sour- mild version, decrease the amount of grains.
Do not fill your jar more than 2/3rd or 3/4th of the way. As the kefir will grow in volume, it needs space to expand.
22°C/ 77°F is the ideal temperature for Kefir grains to ferment. The range of temperature between 18°C to 28°C (65º – 82ºF) is the best functioning range. Temperature above 30°C/86°F can be damaging. It can actually ferment even inside you fridge where the temperature is low but the process will take a longer time. If you live in very hot/ tropical climate, you have to ensure that your kefir isn’t exposed to excessive heat. To do this, let your kefir ferment inside the refrigerator during the day and outside the fridge, during the night. Another idea is to place the container in a cooler after adding cold water/milk into it.
While fermenting, the amount of carbon dioxide is what causes the kefir to increase in volume. Putting a lid on it will increase the carbonation of the kefir and hence makes it fizzier. As the kefir grains require oxygen to thrive, using a breathable lid such as cheesecloth, paper towel etc. will be a better option. This is also a safer option as the breathable lid will reduce the risk of built up carbon dioxide causing the glass container to explode. This accident usually occurs when a kefir container is filled to the brim or forgotten. If you don’t have a breathable lid, fill the kefir jar only 2/3rd full to avoid any mishap. Just like fizzy drinks, kefir may burst out of the jar if kept inside a tightly shut container. Another option is to loosely place the lid on the container to let the air escape. But the menace of fruit flies, floating dust and pet hair cannot be avoided if the container’s lid has large holes in it. When you bottle or store the strained kefir, don’t forget that carbonation increases at that point as well. So it is not necessary to achieve complete carbonation during the fermentation process when the grains are present. It is a good idea to use a cheesecloth while placing the container in the fridge for a few days as it achieves the right amount of carbonation.
Kefir should not be exposed to direct sunlight. The culture does not require light to ferment so keep it away from sunlight.
A simple test is to nudge the container to see if the milk is set in a thin gel manner as compared to how watery milk is. Kefir ferments in a top to bottom manner so if the bottom looks like runny milk, let it sit for a few more hours. When you start to see bubbles trapped in the gel like substance, which will increase till there is a tiny separation across the bottom of the container. If you stir the kefir occasionally, this separation is seen across the middle of the container. Once the complete separation is seen, the kefir is ready! If you have a pH meter to check, it should be at 4.5. Some people prefer to drink it when the milk has changed into more gelatinous texture with a few clusters of bubbles being formed. Other like it to be acidic and tart, so they wait until the container is about halfway filled with clear whey and the other half having thick kefir curd. In all the above cases, it is drinkable so there is nothing to worry about. But what should be noted is that the mild version has laxative effect while the over fermented version has a constipating effect. So what effect you want to experience is completely up to you.
Use a wooden, nylon, stainless steel or plastic strainer. Pour the kefir through the strainer (shake it or use a spoon to help speed up the process) till the grains are strained out. Milk kefir grains are not fragile so using some force to push the grains won’t harm them in any way. Keeping the grains in a clean unbleached tea bag or muslin bag is also a good idea as it avoids filtering out the grains as you can just pull it out. You can even use your hands to remove the kefir grains out and this won’t damage them either.
Traditionally, kefir seeds were never rinsed or washed. However some people swear by it. In nature, they exist as mass of micro flora that protects itself from yeast or bacteria. The acetic and lactic acid excreted by the grains, protects it from contamination. A lot of kefir experts recommend not washing the grains as they grow better and produce better quality kefir when not rinsed. However if they get crusty orange fat deposits, gently scrubbing them and following it with a rinse is a good idea. If you want to rinse the grains, make sure to use non-chlorinated clean water. Swish them around in a bowl or water or hold them under a tap and pat dry.
The best thing about Kefir is that it can be very forgiving. Strain it when you remember and feed them as you would normally. The grains may consume the new milk quickly so it’s best to keep an eye on it and strain it when it appears to be ready (this may happen before the 24 hour period as well). If you have forgotten to strain it for more than a week, let them re balance in 3-4 4 new batches and consume only the next batch after it has.
Consume kefir within 2 weeks of making it. It is best to drink it a day or 2 after straining it, bottling it and refrigerating it. As this allows more Vitamin B to develop at the same time, the acid or alcohol content in the kefir does not go up. This is the perfect time to add in a flavor and give it time to meld and set into the Kefir. The Kefir tends to develop a creamier consistency and a deeper flavor as well. Add in the freshly strained kefir to the old batch, shake it or start a fresh batch by throwing away the kefir you haven’t consumed. The yeast and bacteria in the Kefir gives it the ability to stay well preserved for a long period. However the acetic or alcohol content will increase, causing it to get fizzy and sour over time. Container that have been forgotten in the fridge for moths can smell like creamy wine or pickled milk. But it doesn’t mean that the kefir is rotten.
Kefir grains need a stable environment with gradual and minimal temperature changes. If it is exposed to variable temperature then it can turn thin or grainy. If the kefir grains don’t seem to be adjusting and returning to producing normal kefir, the temperature in the environment needs to be adjusted. In most cases temperature below 21°C or above 24°C or using low fat, lactose free or non-fat milk can change the texture of the kefir. So be a little patient and give time to your grains to adjust to the new medium.
Yes, as it ferments Kefir will separate. Some prefer straining it and drinking it before it separates (in 12-18 hours) and some see the separation as the right time to strain and drink it (in 18- 24 hours).Raw goat’s milk can take a longer time to separate. The kefir will have clusters of bubbles forming at the bottom of the jar indicating that the milk is curdling. After 24 hours, half of the jar will contain clear whey and the other half will have the grains being surrounded by a thick curd. Take note of the fact that the more the kefir separates, the tarter it will be in taste.
While moving the grains apart from each other, sticky threads can be seen hanging between them. This indicates that the kefir grains are growing and are healthy! However do not panic if you don’t see these threads as the lack of it doesn’t mean that they aren’t healthy. Known as Kefiran, these threads are polysaccharides which are responsible for making Kefir creamy. Fungi, algae and bacteria actually produce polysaccharides to reproduce better, prevent drying out and also to adhere to food sources more efficiently. This also soothes the digestive system due to its gel like consistency.