BASICS ABOUT MILK KEFIR
Q. What is milk kefir?
A. 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 as we make curd by culturing milk. The term "kefir grains" describes the look of the culture only. Kefir grains contain no actual "grains" such as wheat, rye, etc.
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. 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 should Kefir Grains look like?
A. Kefir grains look a lot like little cauliflower florets. Up close, their pattern is somewhat like coral, or a brain. They can also look like smooth, flat shreds of ribbons during the warmer months (or when crowded in a jar).Their color ranges from creamy off-white to white. They are soft, bouncy and squishy, like a tiny squeeze toy. Dried kefir grains color is usually like a light cheddar cheese, becoming darker (deeper orange) as it gets drier and ages.
Q. How do you know if the grains are 'healthy'?
A. Kefir grains are very resilient and will strive to maintain their health at all times. As long as your grains are converting milk to kefir that is not 'off' they are just fine. They may get stressed and change shape or smell a bit (more yeasty or more stringy looking), but they will bounce right back given the right conditions. They range from creamy white to a dark ivory and coiled brain-patterned balls to bumpy ribbons. Even when they are not growing they can still produce a healthy drinkable kefir (such as in soy or almond milk), though its best to give them optimal conditions so they can grow.
Q. What size are Kefir Grains?
A. Kefir grains sizes range all over the place depending on what stage they are at in their life cycle, along with what season it is, what milk it is in, how often it receives fresh milk, and the list goes on! Kefir grains usually stay around the size of a marble (1/2" or 2 cm), but they are constantly reproducing much smaller 'baby' grains (the size of a rice kernel and smaller). Sometimes one grain will continue to grow without breaking apart naturally, and get 1-1 1/2" inches (3-4 cm) in circumference. We have also seen kefir grains when in a stretched, ribbon form, grow to 5 or more inches long (13 cm) and an inch or 2 wide. Typically the smaller the grain, the more productive it is because of the greater amount of surface area exposed (many small grains vs one large grain). Smaller grains tend to produce the optimal consistency and flavor desired for a kefir.
Q. What size is best for Kefir Grains to be?
A. Kefir grains can grow to be quite large, however that does not mean that they are better. In fact, when the grains are smaller, there is more surface area involved which produces a better kefir (they also tend to grow more easily at a smaller, more manageable size as well). One of the smoothest kefirs we've personally tried was when we threw some of our grains in a blender to make them extremely small. Not only did they produce a thick creamy kefir, but they produced it more quickly, grew quickly, and even returned to their original size after a few weeks.
Q. Are milk kefir grains reusable? How long do they last?
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. . If cared properly, milk kefir grains have an unlimited life span and can be used repeatedly to make kefir.
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 8 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. How will I know if I've successfully made kefir? How do I know if I shouldn't drink it?
A. The milk will thicken and can have a tangy or sour aroma and flavor. We always recommend that you refrain from consuming anything that looks, smells, or tastes unpleasant.
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?
A. While plastic is preferred, stainless steel is acceptable. Avoid all other types of metal when working with kefir grains.
Q. What is the recommended ratio of grains to milk for culturing with milk kefir grains?
A. We recommend using ½ - 1 teaspoons grains for culturing up to 2 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, 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. 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. 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. How long can I store the finished kefir in the refrigerator?
A. Finished milk kefir can be stored as follows:
At room temperature (20° to 25°F): 1 day
In the refrigerator (4° to 8°C): 1 week
In the freezer (-17° to -4°F): 1 month or longer (like ice cream)
Storage recommendation: Refrigerate