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Milk Kefir FAQ: Secondary Ferments & Flavoring

 

Milk Kefir FAQ's 

Part 11 - Secondary Ferments & Flavoring

Questions in this Section:

What is the difference between a secondary and continuous ferment?
How do you do a continuous ferment?
What is 'ripening' kefir and how do you do it?
How do I get my kefir to be more fizzy and carbonated?
How can I flavor my strained milk kefir?
Can you add other things in with kefir while its fermenting?
What other uses does milk kefir have?

What is the difference between a secondary and continuous ferment?

These are two types of ferments used to make or improve water kefir. A continuous ferment includes the grains, and is considered an on-going ferment and storage vessel in one. Fresh sugar-water is added and kefir is scooped out (or poured out of a spigot) as it is ready, no straining takes place. A a secondary ferment is often used as a means to further ripen the kefir so that it is more fermented and has a further range of beneficial acids and B-vitamins, but this is done first by straining and taking the grains out and then letting the finished kefir sit for a day or so before consuming.

How do you do a continuous ferment?

Although there is not as much recorded history of water kefir, it was most likely traditionally done this way. For example, milk kefir grains were kept in a leather bag where fresh milk was added continuously, from which they drank. To do this method, you will need a large container, ideally with a spout (but it's not necessary). Simply dip in and take what you want to drink and replace that amount (or more) with fresh sugar-water. This would mean if you take a cup out, replace it with 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon sugar (as per the tablespoon sugar per cup water kefir ratio). Watch to see when the kefir grains need fresh sugar-water (when it is sour tasting). This method will make your grains grow rapidly if you are not letting the grains go too long without fresh sugar-water. This method works well if you need a lot of kefir to go around but don't have many grains (yet!). To get lots of kefir quickly with just a few grains simply keep adding sugar-water without straining. The 'kefired' water will act as somewhat of a starter along with the grains, more quickly turning each addition of sugar-water to kefir. Be careful not to push them too much, as they cannot ferment an indefinite huge amount. If its taking longer than 48 hours to get a nice tangy water kefir, then that is a probably indication that there is too much sugar and water for the grains to handle at once.

What is 'ripening' kefir and how do you do it?

This simply means letting your finished, strained kefir sit out a bit before consuming. This is done to increase the beneficial acids and B vitamin content (particularly B1, B6 and B9), improve the flavor, decrease the sugar content, and increase the carbonation and alcohol content of your kefir. To ripen your kefir simply strain the grains out, bottle your finished kefir, and then let it sit out on the counter or in the fridge for another day or two. Remember this will make it more acidic by nature and also will contain more alcohol. Be careful to store it in a thick safe bottle that won't explode (dangerous and messy!), since the bottle will build up pressure. If in doubt, 'burp' the bottle once or twice a day by opening the lid to let the pressure out and then closing it up again. This won't interfere with the ripening or carbonation process.

How do I get my kefir to be more fizzy and carbonated?

Kefir is only just slightly effervescent straight from its ferment - to add more fizz, try bottling it for a few days. Seal your freshly strained kefir in an airtight bottle in the fridge or on the counter for a few days. Leave about an inch between the liquid and the cap (this is how champagne is made, too). To avoid bursting bottles (dangerous and messy!), 'burp' your kefir bottle once a day. Just un-screw the lid, let the pressured air escape, and re-seal it. This will not diminish the amount of fizz, and is actually quite helpful in building up more carbonation without having your bottle explode in the process. It's best to use thick jars with rubber seals to avoid bursting. Sluggish kefir and winter kefir tend to be more mild and sweet, whereas summer kefir can be more fizzy and tangy. If you think your kefir is sluggish, try giving it a rest (explained below) and then fermenting it in a warmer spot in your home.

How can I flavor my strained water kefir?

Once the kefir is strained, simply add in your desired ingredients or flavors and then let the kefir sit for 12-48 hours before consuming. This can be done by letting it sit out the counter for 12-24 hours and the sticking it in the fridge for another 12-24 hours, or sticking it straight in the fridge for 12-48 hours. Adding mangos, cherries, vanilla, berries and bananas are some of our favorite secondary ferment flavors! A couple drops of extract also makes for a quick and delicious flavor in your kefir. Kefir truly has endless possibilities for flavoring. As you experiment you'll notice some flavors will work much better than others. To add dried fruit, simply put in a big handful in about 2 cups of kefir (a good ratio to start with). It will taste good whenever, but the kefir seems to fully absorb the flavors by about 48 hours. If you want to flavor it but don't like chunks of fruit in your kefir, simply put them in a muslin or tea bag, or explore our flavors we put together in our Kefir Flavor Bags. You can also easily flavor with extracts, just 2-4 drops is enough for 1-2 cups kefir (vanilla, almond, coconut, lemon etc!). Juice is also an easy option - simply pour in about 1/4 cup per 1-2 cups kefir. If its too mild, add more juice and less kefir the next time around. This will thin it out your kefir a bit, so try to go for juice concentrates (like the frozen cans at the store, which have more strong and compact flavor). Orange, tropical, cranberry and blueberry are some good ones to try! Fresh fruit is just the same as the dried - just plunk it in (or put in a muslin or tea bag). Cutting up the fruit first can help get the flavor out of the fruit and into the kefir better. Or if you have a blender, blend in the fresh fruit, then consume or let sit up to 24 hours (counter or fridge) which will further increase the flavor. Check out our recipes and flavor bags for more ideas!

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). Sometimes you can add cream or milk fat if you are using a low fat milk and need an occassional fat boost. 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!

What other uses does milk kefir have?

Kefir and its grains are valuable for far more than just a beverage! It can be used to fertilize and nurture house plants, flowers, your lawn, or your garden. The bacteria and acidic nature can be very beneficial for plants. Did you know its essential to have bacteria in your dirt to convert nitrogen to an edible source for your plants? Kefir can also easily be made into cream cheese or other forms of cheese (such as making ricotta). Kefir serves as a great starter for breads and pizzas! Use it in place of a sourdough starter or yeast packet. Excess whey both in the past and present is also commonly incorporated into chicken feed to boost the nutrients (and not waste the whey) and pigs enjoy it as well (and so do many cats and dogs!). Whey can also be used in your hair as a clarifying conditioner (as can kefir). Whey, believe it or not, makes one of the best shaving lotions we have ever tried. It also serves as a nice ingredient in lip balms and lotions. Kefir can be used in place of yogurt, cream cheese or sour cream in many recipes. It can also be made into delicious popsicles. Whey can also be used in place of vinegar (often with a more beneficial affect) in many cases such as to soak grains, soften rice, add to soups and stocks (to help extract the nutrients from the bones) or use in place of some of the salt in making fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut. Kefir whey also keeps far longer than the normal unfermented whey seperated from milk. It also adds a delicious hearty flavor to sauces and gravies. Did you know that US EPA's proposed enhanced biological treatment (to clean up toxic waste in California) uses cheese whey and molasses as a food source for natural microbes that live in the soil and ground water (go figure!). These microbes can then break down the contaminants in soil into carbon dioxide, water and salt.