Learn About Milk Kefir
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FAQ: Look, Aroma, Taste and Texture
Questions in this Section:
What should milk kefir taste like?
What is kefir supposed to smell like?
What should the consistency of kefir be?
Why is my kefir grainy, gritty, lumpy, thin or watery?
How can I get my kefir to be creamier or thicker?
Is kefir supposed to separate?
Does kefir contain alcohol?
Why do the milk curds sometimes stick in a huge mass to the grains?
What are the tiny sticky threads between my kefir grains?
What are the seasonal differences in Kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?
How do you strain kefir to make it thicker or to separate it from the whey?
How fast do kefir grains grow?
What if my grains are not multiplying at all?
What if my grains aren't turning my milk into kefir?
What does Milk Kefir taste like?

It has a tart effervescent yogurty flavor. Some refer to it as the champagne of milk. It can also be compared to a thick Italian soda (carbonated water with cream mixed in). This is not something you have to 'tolerate', it is actually very delicious and most days we prefer it over our homemade yogurt! It's also very good blended with honey, fruit or other flavorings. It also subs in well for buttermilk, half and half or yogurt in recipes!

What is kefir supposed to smell like?

In our opinion kefir usually smells like a mix between yogurt and cheesecake with maybe a hint of bread or vinegar. It can range from smelly mild to sharp like a cheddar cheese. We've noticed in the spring it has more of a sweet vinegar twist, in the winter a more mild bread-like aroma, and in the summer a sharp cheesy tang. If you are re-using your jars without washing them out, this can also contribute to the aroma, usually amplifying whatever the kefir smells like at the moment. Once you wash the jar you will notice the smell to be much milder in the next ferment.

What should the consistency of Kefir be?

A consistency similar to buttermilk is standard, with it getting thicker in the winter, after being refrigerated, or when more cream (or higher fat milk) is added. It is not solid like yogurt. In the summer it may be much thinner (almost watery), or when storing on the counter or using lower fat milk (or other products like coconut, almond, rice or soy milk).

Why is my kefir grainy, gritty, lumpy, thin or watery?

Kefir can become agitated by a new environment. This can be anything from a seasonal change, climate change, temperature change, milk change, or ratio of grains to milk change for example. Kefir grains like a stable environment with minimal and gradual temperature changes. If it's experiencing variable temperatures (such as spring or fall) where one day is hot and the next cool then it may be grainy or thin. This can also be the case if the night and day temperatures are drastically different. When the night is much cooler than the day such as in fall or spring (or a desert climate), the temperature will alter the acidic curds into a more gritty texture. If the grains do not seem to adjust and return to producing a normal kefir, than the environment may need to be adjusted. In most cases it is due to either being too cold (below 70°F / 21°C), too hot (above 76°F / 24°C- or too many grains making for too quick of a ferment) or due to changing to a milk other than cows milk, a lowfat/nonfat milk, UHT milk, or lactose-free milk (which you should not use). If you are trying to convert your grains to kefir a milk other than cow or goat, than give it a little time and patience for the grains to adjust to their new medium. Also keep in mind that kefir in the summer is generally thinner and in the winter thicker. Because there are so many strains of bacteria and yeast in kefir, different temperatures and contents in the milk can make one strain respond and become more or less active, thus resulting in a slight variation to your finished kefir. This is not something to be worried about, it is just a natural adaptation and response by the grains themselves, as they are designed to do.

How can I get my kefir to be creamier or thicker?

Kefir tends to get thicker and smoother the more productive the grains are. Grains tend to be their most productive when they are on the smaller side, thus having a larger amount of surface area exposed to the milk. The thickest kefir we've gotten is when we threw some grains in the blender to make them as exposed as possible. They fermented the milk quickly and uniformly, grew rapidly, and the kefir's texture was nice and creamy. Other ways to reduce grainy, gritty, lumpy, thin kefir is to switch to creamier milk (more fat), keeping temps steady day and night within 70°F/21°C and 76°F/24°C, not switching milk brands or %'s frequently, and being patient in seasonal switches (such as spring and fall when it can go through a week or two of readjustment). If you are still struggling to get a creamier kefir then the trick may be the timing and the agitation during the ferment. The key with kefir is balance. Kefir can be pushed to ferment VERY quickly if needed, but it doesn't produce desirable results. For example we were able to get ours to separate completely into curds and whey in just 2-3 hours by sitting it on the stove top near hot burners (while we were cooking dinner) and agitating it every 30 minutes. Despite it congealing and completely separating (and looking overly done), when we strained it, it was extremely thin. It still tasted like kefir but its texture was like milk. You can also push kefir to over-ferment, where it becomes a massive separation of very thick curds and tons of clear whey. This is not healthy for the grains to do repetitively, and actually doesn't insure a thick kefir. The grains simply do not need to be in the kefir after a certain point - you can increase creaminess and thickness without the grains. Once you see the first signs of separation (just even a bubble or two of whey at the bottom) then strain your kefir, bottle it, and let it sit out on the counter for 6-24 hours to increase thickness (remember, acidity and alcohol content will also go up). Part of the factor of getting milk kefir thick and creamy is to make sure it has a long and slow ferment so it can develop texture. Agitating it at least once during this process can also help very much to get the milk distributed and fermented more evenly. If your kefir is finishing or separating too much by 24 hours, simply adjust by taking out some grains or adding more milk the next time, until you can get the timing to where your kefir is just barely separating (just the first signs of some clear whey pockets) at the 24 hour mark. Keep in mind that agitating can speed up the process a bit too, so you may need to experiment and add more milk or less grains. Giving it 24 hours to develop taste and texture (and agitating to boost distribution) greatly enhanced your chance for creaminess and you will avoid thin, lumpy, gritty/grainy kefir. Some of the creamiest kefir comes from a 1 week ferment in the fridge (but this is hard on the grains when done repeatedly).

Is kefir supposed to separate?

Yes, kefir will inevitable separate as it ferments. Some people prefer to strain and drink it before it reaches this point (usually around 12-18 hours). Many people wait until just the point of separation to gage when the kefir is ready to strain and drink (usually around 18-24 hours). Raw milk, especially raw goats milk can take much longer to separate. Many times it will never separate and that is perfectly fine for raw milk. The kefir will have pockets of bubbles, with the majority forming at the very bottom of the jar. This just means that there are enough acetic by-products that the milk is in essence curdling (the proteins are separating into curds and whey). After 24 hours, you will most likely see up to half or more of the jar as the clear whey and the other half a very thick curd surrounding the grains. Basically the more it separates, the tarter the kefir will be. Some sources believe that traditionally, Russians drank it at about 12 hours. Some people find that kefir around 12 hours is more diaretic, and more binding at 24 hours. It is really a matter of preference on how tart you like your kefir, and how your body responds to it.

Does Kefir contain alcohol?

Yes it contains about 0.08% - 2% alcohol. With the normal amount being around .08 (for a 24-hour ferment). Kefir that is stored and ripened for a few of days will continue to increase in alcohol, up to 2-3% (when it is sealed tightly).

Why do the milk curds sometimes stick in a huge mass to the grains?

Sometimes you'll notice when you're straining your grains that your kefir (the milk) is almost glued to the grains in a large mass. This is just the milk curds, which are adhering to the grains. This is more prevalant in over-fermented kefir or kefir with a high grain to milk ratio. But, it will eventually make its way through the strainer, especially with the help of some tapping, stirring or josling of the strainer to shake that kefir through. And it makes for a thick creamy drink - nothing to worry about! Decrease the grains and fermenting time if you are trying to avoid this.

What are the tiny sticky threads between my kefir grains?

When you move kefir grains apart from one another you may notice some sticky thread-like strings hanging and stretching between them (think pulling a pizza slice and its dangling cheese strings). It will look like fine thread-like spider web material stretching and sticking when the grains are separated from one another. This is actually a great sign that your grains are healthy and growing. Absence of these threads is ok too - a lack of these does not mean anything bad! These threads are simply known as kefiran by the kefir community and they are a gel forming soluble polysaccharide. You may notice even more during the summer, or if you're trying a new milk. These will often change over time and from season to season, coming and going. This polysaccharide is part of what makes kefir creamy. It is similar to the same compounds found in starch, cellulose, gum and glycogen. Bacteria, fungi and algae have all adopted an ability to produce this as a form of protection from drying out, reproducing and adhering to their food source more efficiently. This promotes viscosity in the kefir and is also soothing to the digestive system (aloe vera juice and gel contains copious amounts of polysaccharides).

What are the seasonal differences in Kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?

Kefir, like all living organisms, goes through intricate and subtle changes with the seasons, climate, temperatures and environment it is in. Just like you can mark the seasons with a tree budding, growing, turning colors and discarding its leaves, kefir also will constantly be in flux and going through seasonal patterns. Kefir will ferment much more quickly in the summer and warmer temperatures. It will be thinner and may be more lumpy or inconsistent as well. It may especially be inconsistent during spring and fall, or whenever there is a large disparity of temperatures (such as a cold night and hot day). Kefir will tend to be more creamy and mild in the winter and cooler temperatures (and more zesty and sour in the summer). Part of the beauty of the symbiotic nature of kefir is that each strain has a certain strength and weakness. Together, they are able to ferment at a wide range of temperatures. Keeping this in miind, you will realize that because of this, a certain temperature will allow some strains to perform much better, while others may be temporarily suppressed. This contributes to the differing tastes and textures of kefir throughout the year. Some people notice it is more cheesy in the winter (possibly due to the certain yeast and other strains being stronger), while in the summer it may be more bread-ish and light in flavor.

How do you strain kefir to make it thicker or to separate it from the whey?

Some people prefer to make their finished kefir thicker by straining out some of the whey that has separated. This is very easy because typically the kefir has already separated while fermenting, and when you go to strain your kefir the whey (clear liquid) will pour quickly through. You can do this over the sink, and then put your bowl or jar underneath to capture the remaining creamy white portion (which goes through the strainer much more slowly). If this does not work, or you want to further reduce the whey, you can line a strainer with paper towel, cheesecloth, muslin, coffee filters or a very thin towel, and place it over a bowl wide enough to capture what drips through. You can store this on the counter or in the fridge, it will work and keep fresh either way. After about 24 hours you will have kefir cream cheese in the strainer, and a bowl below full of whey! This cream cheese is delicious to spread on bread, bagels or to eat with fruit, etc - you can even blend in flavors (ie strawberries or garlic & salt).

How fast do kefir grains grow?

Although not nearly as fast as water kefir, milk kefir grains do grow and you will soon have much more than you started with. They typically grow about 5% during the winter or under cooler conditions and 10% to 25% during summer or under optimal warm conditions. It is also interesting that smaller grains will reproduce much more rapidly than larger grains (this is because there is a greater surface area that can grab nutrients from the milk).

What if my grains are not multiplying at all?

Sometimes grains for one reason or another are stubborn and will simply not grow. They will usually still properly ferment milk into kefir though, and is not something to be concerned about. If they are floating, not soft, and not producing kefir, they are not viable any longer. Browse through the grains 101 section here to see if there may be some factor involved that you can improve to help encourage growth. Check your temperature, your milk type (they really love full-fat milks), and make sure there are no harsh residues of soap or any antibacterial agents on any of your jars or other kefir supplies. In some cases, grains that have too thick of a dried crust or have been subjected to freezer burn or extreme heat may not revitalize. Also In this case they will most likely be floating and not as spongy and moist in texture. It is best at this point to start anew.

What if my grains aren't turning my milk into kefir?

If your milk is remaining milk, or is souring into a putrid, spoiled milk, then it is most likely that your grains are not viable. They have either been damaged from exposure to extreme heat, prolonged frost or harmful chemicals (about the only things that can really kill them). At this point it is best to discard of the grains and secure a new batch to start anew.
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