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Milk Kefir FAQ: Fermenting Other Milks

 

Milk Kefir FAQ's 

Part 9 - Fermenting Other Milks

 

Questions in this Section:

Can you use artificial sweetener or lactose-free milk with kefir?
Is it easy to switch to another brand or % of milk?
Can you use kefir liquid as a starter (instead of the grains)?
What about raw milk?
What milks or other liquids can you ferment with kefir grains?
How can you convert milk grains to kefir other liquids such as coconut or soy?
What can you do to encourage growth and proper fermenting in milk-alternatives?
Can you add other things in with kefir while its fermenting?

 Can you use artificial sweetener or lactose-free milk with kefir?

Milk kefir needs real calories to survive, being the lactose sugar found naturally in milk. Artificial sweeteners will not provide kefir with the calories or nutrients it needs to live. Lactose-free milk, such as Lactaid, contains the enzyme lactase to break the lactose sugars down into glucose and galactose. These are simpler sugars that are easily digestible. Since the milk still contains sugar, just in a different form, our hypothesis (since we haven't tested this ourselves yet) is that the milk grains may be able to survive off this, though it is not suggested. It's not even necessary because kefir grains act much in the same way as the lactase put into Lactaid and other brands of lactose-free milk (and that is why kefir is so well tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals!).

Is it easy to switch to another brand or % of milk?

Grains usually have very little to no trouble adjusting to another type of milk of the same mammal - in other words, switching from cow whole milk to cow skim milk or simply to another brand is usually quite easy for the grains to do. There may be a small adjustment period, where you may notice the consistency fluctuating, but usually they switch over just fine with no help needed. Switching mammal to mammal (such as cow to goat) is usually almost just as well tolerated. It is more likely you will see an adjustment period of a couple days - week, but in most cases it is able to still properly ferment it into kefir that you can drink. If the grains are really struggling, you can try giving half of the milk its used to with half of the newer milk. In most cases you will see them happily adapt. As a side note goats milk kefir is known to be thinner, due to the structure of the milk (the smaller fats and proteins involved), and not the fault of the grains. Goats yogurt is thinner too, because of this.

Can you use kefir liquid as a starter (instead of the grains)?

Yes, kefir liquid contains billions of microscopic organisms that are effective at making a yogurt-like consistency out of milk when you stir in a tablespoon or two in a cup or two of milk and let sit out or in the fridge for 24 hours. It will dilute and get weaker each time, so its best to start with freshly made kefir (from kefir grains) each time for the freshest and safest ferment.

What about raw milk?

Kefir grains love and thrive on raw milk, be it cow or goat. Raw milk is really the optimal way to consume milk if you can find a reliable trusty-worthy local source. You will want to be sure that the cow is healthy and the owner is using sanitary methods to ensure your milk is safe. Besides the fact that it will most likely be coming from a cow that is not confined (thus less stress and other issues like growth hormones), raw milk is much healthier and some argue it tastes much better, too. It contains many more enzymes and natural healthy bacteria of its own, the proteins have not been cooked, and the fat has not been homogenized. These enzymes and bacteria are sensitive to heat and unfortunately destroyed during the pasturization process. Raw milk also has the cream which floats to the top and can be used to make butter, whip cream, cream cheese, sour cream, etc.! Homogenization is used in manufacturing to break up the fat globules until they are very fine and unable to separate and rise to the top. This process uses a forceful spinning motion to break the fat globules of milk by propelling them at high speeds against the sides of the container, bursting the globules into small pieces (like paint hitting a wall). How far pastuerization and homogenization affect our health is a hot topic of debate and subject of much current research. As far as we're concerned it only makes sense that milk in its natural form has more to offer and is sometimes better digested or tolerated. It also supports a more natural, sanitary and less stressful environment for the cow, the farmer and the world at large while promoting local foods and respect for and connection to the animals and their farms we consume from. We encourage you to read more about raw milk safety and FAQ's at Raw Milk Facts.

What milks or other liquids can you ferment with kefir grains?

Its possible to ferment all forms of mammalian milk (mare, goat, sheep, cow, buffalo, camel etc). Some people with cancer have even experimented fermenting human milk as a medicinal therapy. You can also try to ferment other non-milk mediums such as coconut milk, coconut water (also called juice), soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk. You can also convert them to be used in making water kefir with sugar and water or juice and water. In this case you will have to convert the grains gradually and keep some on back-up in case they fail to thrive. Kefir can also in a pinch be made from re-hydrated dry milk, or UHT (ultra-pastuerized) milk, though they are not the best options for continued grain health.

How can you convert milk grains to kefir other liquids such as coconut or soy?

Converting grains is a patient process of trial and error. It is best to mix the two mediums for awhile if possible, letting the grains get acquainted with the new liquid, while still having access to some of its familiar liquid (for example, if you usually ferment with cows milk and want to switch to soy, mix in half cows milk, half soy milk for a week or two). You can gradually taper the grains off of their previous medium and see if they continue to ferment and grow in their new one. Some grains will just refuse to grow, but will still produce a kefired product. This is ok, just make sure that you have some backup grains or even some that you are maintaining in a liquid that they do grow in. It is actually quite common for kefir grains to be able to produce a kefir, but are not able to grow and reproduce in it. It is also a good idea to sometimes 'refresh' your grains by giving them some good whole fat milk every month or so just to increase the likelihood that they will maintain their strength and health in their other liquid (though this is not always necessary - some people have had great success doing just purely soy etc - just watch your grains and adjust to their needs). If you need to have the other liquid (rather than milk) and your grains seem to struggle, you will mostly likely have to keep a 'mother source' in the milk, creating new healthy grains that you can continuously use in the new liquid and dispose of. This requires more work, but is an option if all else fails. Or another option is simply to alternate between regular milk and the alternative milk. You can also use kefir (from kefir fermented in milk) instead of grains to ferment other liquids. Simply put in about 10% kefir into the soy or other milk-alternative and let sit out for 12-24 hours at room temperature. There are enough bacteria and yeast within kefir itself to properly ferment. We do not recommend trying this with store-bought kefir, since it may not contain enough cultures to safely ferment at room temperature.

What can you do to encourage growth and proper fermenting in milk-alternatives?

Sometimes milk grains will take to another liquid, and sometimes they won't. If it looks like your grains need a little encouragement, there are a few options. You can include a couple more ingredients to help boost its health and growth, such as barley or rice malt extract (available from brewing stores and sites), or a sweetener such as raw cane sugar (Rapunzel makes a nice one) or some fresh fruit juice from an acidic fruit (such as grape juice, apple juice, lemon orange or lime juice, tropical juices such as pineapple, kiwi, mango or papaya). You can also go with just adding a little bit of milk (10%-50%) if that is not an issue. If the grains refuse to ferment in your milk-alternative, then it may be best to continue to ferment your grains in their native milk, and then simply take a spoonful or two of the finished kefir and add it to your milk-alternative. This finished kefir, even without the grains, is powerful enough to properly ferment. This way your grains themselves are never in contact with your other liquid, and continue to grow and thrive in their milk, while at the same time producing a starter you can use in the other liquid. This means there would be a minor amount of milk (5%-10%) in your milk-alternative kefir, but it is another option if that is not an issue.

Can you add other things in with kefir while its fermenting?

Yes, but experiment carefully as some things may hinder or even harm the grains (some foods contain natural antibacterial properties, such as grapefruit). You can just as easily add the desired ingredients or flavors after you have strained the grains out, and then let the kefir sit for 12-48 hours before consuming. Adding mangos, vanilla beans or raspberries are some of our favorite secondary ferment flavors!