The Different Types of Milks You Can Use with Kefir
When it comes to making delicious milk kefir are many options and ultimately it your own preference will come down to your own taste buds as each will vary the taste, thickness and texture of your kefir.
The Relationship Between Kefir & Milk
Milk kefir grains feed and thrive on lactose sugars in milk from mammals so natural milk is essential at some stages to keep your grains happy and healthy. As they feast on the lactose they produce lactic acid which gives fermented kefir its tangy delicious flavor.
Lactose varies in milk depending on animal species from about 2-8% per weight. Kefir grains are healthiest and more productive when all nutrients are available to them including lactose, vitamins, minerals and fats which are keeping all the yeasts and bacteria happy. Vegetable “milks” can be used with some success provided the grains are kept fortified, which may require restoration regularly in mammal milk.
Original kefir was most likely fed with goat or mare milk in the Caucasus Mountains of Asia and developed specifically to culture that milk. Because the kefir grains are a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria, the actual combination of these microbes varies according to whichever milk medium they are placed in.
If the medium changes it takes some time for them adjust and culture effectively. That is to say grains that have been fermenting cow milk for a long time will do best in cow milk; those in sheep milk will do best in sheep milk. If you decide to change the milk the grains may take some time to adjust to fermenting successfully and in turn, to grow and multiply.
Cow milk is the most widely available for most people so let’s begin with that. Fresh full cream cow’s milk is one of the most popular, most available and perfect for culturing in to kefir. Variations include fat reduced, fat free and homogenized which are perfectly fine to use as they still contain levels of lactose but these will create a thinner textured kefir. Homogenization does not reduce fat, it is a mechanical process that reduces the size of the fat globules so that they remain in suspension and do not rise to the surface as cream. Homogenized cow milk is also fine for kefir.
Goat Milk was probably one of the original milks used to produce milk, if available, is perfectly suitable for making kefir. Goat milk fat globules are smaller than cow milk so it is naturally homogenized and easier for some people to digest. It has slightly less lactose than cow milk but slightly higher in A and B groups vitamins.
Sheep Milk is another option if available. It has similar lactose content to cow and goat to ensure the grains are nourished but has slightly different minerals like Zinc and Vitamin D. As with goat milk the fat globules are smaller than cow milk and possibly easier for humans to digest.
Water buffalo produce milk that is highly nutritious, high in fats, calcium and Vitamin C. If you can get it, it will make a delicious kefir.
Practically any mammal milk can be cultured in kefir so if camel, mare, or reindeer milk is available, give it a try.
Pasteurized Milk vs Raw Milk
A word about Pasteurization versus Raw Milk.
Pasteurization is a process that was discovered over a hundred years ago by a French scientist called Louis Pasteur. Milk is heated very briefly to 161°F for 15 to 20 seconds then cooled immediately. It is not intended to kill all organisms in food but it does kill some dangerous pathogens that frequently killed people in the past, including tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, brucellosis and Q-fever.
Pasteurization also kills bacteria Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter among others and thereby extends the shelf life of milk when refrigerated. While some of diseases and infections may not seem so pertinent in current days you should be informed about possible risks with raw milk. That is not to say all raw milk contains any of these pathogens and pasteurized milk will still spoil if not stored correctly.
On the plus side of kefir, grains have developed over the centuries to utilize the lactose in raw milk as well as to culture it in such as way that many harmful pathogens are not able to survive in the acidic microbe-rich kefir environment; so in effect the culture of kefir grains protects us as well as reducing spoilage.
But in times gone by the milk literally went from the lactating animal into the kefir culture container so the milk had no time to deteriorate in any way. Modern life is not like that so food often takes days to reach out our homes unless you have direct access to a farm. Therefore erring on the side of caution, raw milk is best if it can be verified as being very fresh from a trusted source where the animals are well cared for in clean healthy conditions.
Other Types of Dairy Milk
Outside of pasteurized and raw milk, Milk can be processed in several ways which do change the texture, structure, and overall taste of the milk.
Ultra –Heat Treated (UHT ) milk: this is heated to higher temperatures of 275°F or higher for about one second which essentially sterilizes the milk to a point it can be stored without refrigeration for many months. I have never used UHT milk and some report it is not suitable where others report success so if that is the only milk available give it a try.
Powdered Milk: When made from a quality minimally processed brand has been used successfully for making kefir. However, you may not like the resulting flat taste. I recommend using non-powered milk.
Full Fat or Hydrogonized: Milk, if the milk does NOT have the fat removed, can also be processed so that the fat is mixed or left untouched. You have 1) Full Fat Milk and 2) Homogenized. Both types of milk have the same fat content, but homogenized has the fat mixed into the milk (so it’s blended in) while the full fat milk has the fat untouched. This means the fat usually rises to the top.
Reduced Fat: Milk can have the fat content removed. 2%, 1% or skim milk. We recommend using full fat milk or hydrogonized milk. If you can’t use either, then opt for 2%. 1% gives a flatter, less creamy kefir while skim milk usually makes a pretty bad kefir, as the kefir grains NEED the milk fat to power the fermentation and giving them skim milk is pretty much starving them.
Other liquids you can use to make healthy kefir are not mammalian milk but from various vegetable sources, mostly nuts. If you cannot buy nut milk or prefer to make your own the procedure is quite simple by soaking the chosen nuts in quality water, blending them to a fine pulp and using as is or sieving to produce a liquid. Nut kefir will often separate on standing but this is normal so just give it a good shake prior to drinking.
Another option to culture the nut milk without the lactose hungry grains is to add a few tablespoons of freshly cultured milk kefir to your chosen nut milk and let that ferment without grains. The microbes in the kefir should be enough to get the process going in each batch of nut milk.
Almond milk – Almonds are excellent prebiotics on their own. That is, they are great food for human gut bacteria so making them into kefir is a powerful tonic to your digestive system, being probiotic and probiotic. They are also high in Vitamin E which helps to protect our heart from disease.
Coconut Milk – you can make your own coconut milk if fresh coconuts are available or from a reputable canned variety. With the latter, ensure it is as natural as possible with no or few additives.
Cashew Milk – this is abundant in essential minerals, especially manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Plus, they taste delicious and make great kefir.
Soy Milk – this contains all nine essential amino acids that your body needs to make new proteins, including antibodies essential for immune system function, structural proteins that hold your tissues together, and enzymes that help your cells produce energy.
How to Switch from Dairy Milk to Nut Milk
Remembering that kefir grains feed best on lactose in mammalian milk, you may have to do a number of variations to keep your grind healthy.
Here are a few options to assist the grains adjusting successfully to the different milk and ways to ensure they do not starve. If at any time you feel they are flagging in energy you can revitalize them in full cream milk for 24 hours.
- Start by gradually adding increasing percentages of the nut milk to preferred mammal milk over a couple of weeks until the brew is entirely nut milk.
- If milk in your kefir is OK with you, you can add 10-50% to the nut milk to feed the grains as they ferment the whole liquid.
- The grains may be happy for a number of brews in a week but may still require refreshment by culturing them in a few cups of milk weekly to keep them healthy and thriving.
The Final Word
So there you have some alternatives for different milks with which to culture tasty kefir, whether they be milk from animals or plant alternatives. Experiment to find out just what type of kefir suits your taste buds. You might also want to read our article about choosing the best milk for making kefir which elaborates more on choosing the right milk.