Have you ever had a chance to try milk kefir? This beverage has become extremely popular throughout the last years, even though the recipe has been known for centuries. Once you taste milk kefir, it will surely be either love or hate at first sip. Milk kefir really does have an interesting and unique flavor. However, the great news is that if you decide to give milk kefir making a try, you can totally change the flavor of the drink with the help of different additives. And we would surely recommend doing that. After all, milk kefir is an incredibly healthy drink that is beneficial for you in a lot of different ways.
Do you want to have fresh milk kefir every morning? Then this ultimate guide for making milk kefir is exactly what you have been looking for!
We will have a brief look at the history of this beverage and explain the main differences between water and milk kefir. You will explore the amazing properties of this drink and, ultimately, you will learn what exactly you have to do in order to prepare this magic potion at home.
So let’s start this ultimate guide on how to make milk kefir!
What Is Milk Kefir?
It is important to understand the essence of kefir before attempting to make this drink at home. Milk kefir is not just some random beverage that you can get by simply mixing a few ingredients together. The truth is that (don’t freak out) live cultures are used to produce kefir. And, yes, you would have to use those too, if you want to end up with a healthy, fizzy drink.
The great news is that making milk kefir requires only two ingredients. The actual milk and kefir grains. The latter are tiny beads that look like grains but have nothing to do with the cultures that contain gluten. Milk kefir grains are gelatinous little fellows that contain strains of bacteria and yeasts. That doesn’t sound extremely appealing, but these living cultures are exactly what turns the milk into kefir. Milk kefir grains use the sugar from the milk (lactose) and turn it into lactic acid. During the process, carbon dioxide is released. Thus, milk kefir is a fermented, cultured drink.
The beverage is quite similar to yogurt, except for the fact that you can actually drink it. Kefir has a sour taste and a pleasant fizz.
The History of Kefir
Even though nowadays you can easily make both milk and water kefir at home, the original beverage was made of milk.
Many centuries ago, kefir was discoverd in the Caucasian Mountains. The shepherds have figured out that fresh milk can turn into a new beverage after it had been carried in leather pouches for several days with the addition of kefir grains.
Kefir was considered to be a drink with magical powers. That might have been the main reason, why not a lot of people knew about the beverage for centuries. The recipe was kept in secret by the people of the Caucasian Mountains. The legend says that the beverage would have lost its magical strength if the recipe was passed to someone else. However, Marco Polo once mentioned this unique drink in his writings. In you want to know more details about the origins of kefir we have made a seperate article on this topic.
Thankfully, nowdays kefir has become popular in the United States and Western Europe. Before that, the beverage was broadly known only in Southwestern Asia and Eastern and Northern Europe.
What Are the Main Differences Between Milk and Water Kefir?
You might already know that there are two different types of kefir. And though milk kefir is more of a traditional beverage, modern people have also managed to combine the kefir culture with sugar-water solution in order to create water kefir.
So, basically, the main difference is the fact that you need to use milk to produce milk kefir and a mixture of sugar and water to produce water kefir. Moreover, the grains used for these two beverages are different. There are water kefir grains and milk kefir grains available on the market nowadays, so make sure to get the ones you are insterested in.
Both of the drinks have a lot of probiotics. However, water kefir is considered to be a bit ‘lighter’ version. While milk kefir has a consistency of a liquid yogurt, water kefir will feel like you are having an ordinary soda.
Of course, the taste of the two differs as well. Milk kefir still tastes like milk, even though it has a more sour and sometimes even a tart flavor. The more you ferment the drink, the more carbonated it will turn out to be. Water kefir really does taste like soda. It is usually sweet and you can make it with a flavor of your choice.
If you are insterested in making water kefir, we have also made a detailed step by step guide on how to make water kefir at home.
What Are the Health Benefits of Milk Kefir?
You will be surprised by how many amazing benefits this beverage has!
Kefir is a great source of probiotics
Probiotics are the ‘good’ types of bacteria. A lot of them live in our organism and ensure its health. In case there are not enough good bacteria in our body, different systems might suffer. Some types of kefir have up to 56 different strains of probiotics. These little fellows help our immune system and fight various pathogens. Moreover, a balance of ‘good’ bacteria is incredibly important for our gut.
The beverage has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties
Researches have shown that, in some cases, milk kefir can act as an antibiotic! The beverage suppresses microbial growth. Kefir is effective against scary things such as salmonella and E. Coli. Moreover, it can not only fight the pathogens that are present in food but kefir can also help treat vaginal infections and gastroenteritis!
Kefir can improve bone health
Milk kefir is an amazing source of vitamin K and, of course, calcium. These elements can help lower the risks of the development of osteoporosis and fractures. By the way, lactose is one of the best sources of calcium. And if for some reasons, you can’t drink milk, then kefir might become a great way out for you.
The drink can impact cholesterol levels
High cholesterol levels are a major problem nowadays with most people. Moreover, heart diseases are the main death cause in a lot of countries. Kefir can help reduce cholesterol levels. In combination with a healthy and active lifestyle, the results will certainly be amazing.
Kefir has anti-carcinogenic properties
This one might seem hard to believe, but kefir can actually prevent or even suppress early stage cancer tumors. How great is that?
Can You Drink Milk Kefir If You Are Lactose Intolerant?
This is, possibly, the main question that a lot of people are asking themselves. If milk kefir has only two main ingredients one of which is milk then it seems logical that the individuals who are lactose intolerant won’t be able to consume the beverage, right?
We have good news for you!
In order to digest lactose that is present in milk, a human being has to have a special enzyme. In case you lack or have too little lactase (the enzyme), milk and milk products can cause a variety of unpleasant conditions.
However, milk kefir grains can break the lactose and turn it into lactic acid for you! That means that even if you are lactose intolerant, you won’t experience any inconveniences after having a glass of kefir. Experts claim that the beverage will cause even less (or none) discomfort than a plain yogurt! So, you can totally include the drink in your daily diet.
For those who are lactose intolerant, milk kefir is an amazing beverage that will help you get calcium and other vital elements incorporated in your diet.
However, if you are still afraid of putting something that was once milk into your body, you can always try and make milk kefir using coconut milk, for example. It might be a little tricky at first, but the beverage will turn out healthy and fizzy.
By the way, when it comes to choosing the best milk for making kefir, there are so many different options to choose from! Cow, goat, sheep milk. You can even give camel milk a try or, as we have already mentioned, coconut milk. The possibilities are endless!
How to Make Milk Kefir: Ultimate Step by Step Guide
Now, we are finally ready to share the actual milk kefir making recipe. Nothing too difficult, so don’t worry. Moreover, you can totally change the recipe after some time to find what works better for you. However, we would recommend sticking to the instructions for at least the first few batches, just to make sure that you master the basics.
Step 1: Grab your milk of choice and the milk kefir grains (about a tablespoon or two). Remember to use milk kefir grains. By the way, make sure that the little fellows are active as they can come dehydrated.
Step 2: You will need a special container in which you are going to place the ingredients. A glass jar would do perfectly well.
Step 3: Pour around 4 cups of milk into the jar and carefully place the milk kefir grains inside.
Step 4: Cover the container with a suitable cloth or a coffee filter. And don’t forget to secure the thing with the help of a rubber band, for example, to ensure that no fruit flies get inside the container.
Step 5: The fermenting milk kefir likes warm temperatures. So, you would have to place the container with the grains and milk in a safe spot with a steady temperature. Make sure that it’s not higher than 28 °C and not lower than 20 °C. If you want to take the kefir making process to the next level, then you can buy a thermometer to be able to monitor the temperature. The warmer the temperature, the faster the fermentation process goes.
Step 6: The process will take around 24 hours. In case it’s a little cooler in the room, the fermentation might take longer and vice versa. Check your future kefir to make sure that it has thickened and that the smell is pleasant. If you want to go the extra mile, get a pH tester. This device will help you ensure that the kefir is safe and that the beverage is acidic enough.
Step 7: After you feel like the process is complete, separate the precious grains from the drink and store them for later use. You might find it easier to separate the grains from the liquid with the help of a strainer. A wooden spoon is another instrument that you can use not only to stir the beverage, but to also help the liquid through the strainer. Simply remember to be gentle with the grains.
Step 8: Your milk kefir is ready! Now, you simply need to pour the beverage in the storage containers or drink it straight away. Bottles are, possibly, the most convenient vessels for storage.
Step 9: Put your kefir in the fridge in order to have a refreshing, healthy drink whenever you feel like it.
How to Add Various Flavorings to Your Milk Kefir?
Plain milk kefir has a unique taste. Usually, it’s sour or even tart. In case you want to add your favorite flavors to the kefir, you can totally do that during the second fermentation.
The second fermentation is something that happens to the kefir once you remove the grains. Even though there are no little guys left in the liquid, there are still some bacteria present in the drink. That’s why the fermentation process will continue if there is some sugar left in the kefir.
Moreover, this is the perfect time to add various flavorings because during the second fermentation you won’t be ‘hurting’ the milk kefir grains with the additives. Usually, the process lasts from 6 to 12 hours. However, the time can vary a lot.
When it comes to flavors, the truth is that you can add practically anything to your milk kefir. Chopped fruit and juices are the most popular option. But you can totally experiment with citrus fruit peels, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and a lot of other things.
By the way, the second fermentation is great not only for adding some flavoring to the kefir, but the process will also help your beverage increase the bacterial content and lower the amount of lactose even more.
How to Take Care of Your Milk Kefir Grains?
By now, you already know that without the grains, there would be no kefir. But the best part is that if you manage to take proper care of these little guys, you might have a lifetime supply of this healthy beverage. Simply because you can reuse milk kefir grains again and again and again.
To make sure that your grains really do stay healthy, active and thriving, you only need to know is how to remove the grains from the kefir and how to ‘store’ the kefir grains.
How to Remove the Grains from the Kefir?
The main rule here is to be gentle.
So, you have finished your first fermentation and now you have to remove the grains from the beverage so that you can either drink it or flavor it. You can always use your clean fingers to do that. Simply make sure that the hands are clean, but, at the same time, don’t use any anti-bacterial soap as it might harm the grains. Moreover, this way might not be the fastest and the easiest one, as the little lads are slippery.
You can pour the kefir in a shallow bowl from the fermenting container. In such a way, you will be able to vividly see the grains and get them out with the help of a spoon or any other tool.
However, the majority of experts finds that it is better to use a strainer to separate the grains from the actual kefir. Simply pour the kefir in a strainer that you put over a bowl or a vessel with a wide mouth. Sometimes the kefir may turn out a bit too thick and you might find that it’s hard to get the liquid through the strainer. Don’t be afraid to use a wooden spoon, for example, to help the kefir through the holes. Just always remember to be careful with the actual grains.
How to Store Your Kefir Grains?
Ok, maybe the process of removing the grains from the milk kefir is pretty much self-explanatory. But what on earth should you do with the grains once they are removed from the beverage?
The answer is as simple as it can possibly be. Place the grains…into more milk. That’s right. The little guys should always be in milk so that they have enough food and don’t lose the important liquid and die. You can immediately start a new batch of kefir or simply use the milk to store the grains, but remember to change the solution every few days.
What can you do, if you don’t need that much kefir? Can you put your grains ‘on pause’?
Actually, you can. But there is one important rule: you need to culture the grains for at least three or four weeks before starting to use one of these ‘pause’ methods.
The best way to slow down the fermentation process is to cool down the kefir grains. The culturing will not stop, however, you will have a little more time between the batches, so that you have a chance to drink all the previous kefir.
But if you want to stop the kefir making process for at least a week or two or even more, then refrigerating the kefir grains might help. Leave the little guys in milk (don’t forget to tightly cover the storage vessel). The grains can live in your fridge for quite a while, just remember to change the milk at least every week.
Once you feel like you are ready to start making milk kefir again, you can put the grains with the milk in a warm place to stimulate the tiny fellows to culture actively as before. If you are having trouble understanding how to properly store them we have a more detailed guide on how to store kefir grains.
This was the ultimate guide to making milk kefir. Now you know exactly how to prepare this healthy beverage at home and how to take care of the precious grains. Moreover, you now understand that milk kefir can be suitable even for the people who are lactose intolerant!
Don’t be afraid to try out different recipes and experiment with the milk type and flavorings. After all, the whole process can be extremely fun.