How to Make Dairy Free Kefir: The Ultimate Guide
As a very effective natural probiotic, kefir is often used by people who are suffering from digestive issues to assist in healing and re-balancing the digestive system. Food allergies are one of the ailments for which people sometimes take pro-biotics, for example gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance. Unfortunately in the case of lactose intolerance, kefir is not an ideal product to consume as it can easily trigger the symptoms.
The Benefits of Probiotics for Lactose Intolerance
The fact that kefir can aggravate or cause lactose intolerance flare-ups usually deters lactose intolerance suffers from taking it. The tragedy of the matter is that is has been proven by published studies that probiotics, especially those found in fermented dairy products, can go a long way to reversing and helping to heal lactose intolerance issues.
Why Probiotics can Help with Lactose Intolerance
When someone is suffering from lactose intolerance and dairy allergies, they are unable to properly digest dairy products. In the digestive system, the lactose in dairy is processed by a naturally occurring enzyme called lactose. This enzyme basically ferments the milk or other dairy product for you, into a form which the body can digest properly.
People who are lactose intolerant lack this enzyme. The reasons for this is not always certain. There are some theories that the possession of this enzyme is a genetic inheritance, and other theories state that often lactose intolerance and other food intolerance can be caused by damage done to the microbes within the digestive system, by things such as antibiotics.
How Kefir Can Help
The reason why probiotics – and probiotics from fermented dairy products in particular – can be of help in the alleviation or even cure of lactose intolerance is due to the fact that like yogurt, it contains effective lactose metabolizing bacteria.
While daily doses of these lactose specific bacteria can assist the processing of dairy, continued consumption over an extended period of time can also assist to colonize the colon with these microbes. This can result in the eventual alleviation of the allergy.
Kefir has far less lactose in it then milk as the kefir grains consume the lactose as food and break it down into something else as a byproduct of the fermentation process. As such, kefir has a vastly reduced lactose content when compared to regular milk. Many people with lactose intolerance can drink kefir without issue. If regular cow milk kefir causes problems, you can opt to use an alternative milk source such as goat milk, which typically friendlier to the lactose intolerant (see our best milk for kefir article).
However, if you absolutely can’t handle any lactose at all, then there is an alternative kefir option: dairy free kefir! While dairy kefir is the most widespread and commonly known, there are other types of kefir which you can make which are 100% lactose free.
Note: For the two different sections below Water Kefir and Lactose-Free Milk Kefir, the recipes use two different types of kefir culture, milk kefir grains and water kefir grains.
Dairy Free Kefirs (and how to make them)
There are quite a few options if you want to make dairy free kefir. We divide this category into two types of dairy-free kefirs: water kefir and dairy-free milk kefirs.
1. Water Kefir
Water kefir has seen a rise in popularity recently. Some people prefer the water kefir due to its taste. Water kefir has a light, slightly sweet and slightly sour taste, and is fizzy. Many people who make water kefir term it their probiotic alternative to soft drinks! While the usual type of water kefir is made with – yes! – water, there are also other variations made with fruit juice and even coconut water.
Technically, any keir that uses ‘water kefir grains’ we can class as ‘water kefir’, even if we substitute the water for something else.
- Plain Water Kefir: The traditional way to make water kefir is merely to use water and sugar. The sugar is dissolved into the water and the kefir grains or culture is inserted. After fermentation pure water kefir will have a light, sweet and tangy taste, usually with good carbonation.
- Coconut Water Kefir: Technically this is similar to juice water kefir, but coconut water has a texture very similar to water so it makes a very light, very refreshing sort of kefir. It’s my favorite version of water kefir!
- Juice Water Kefir: The water which is usually used as the liquid for water kefir can also be substituted with juice to make a ‘juice kefir’. As with water kefir, juice kefir makes for a really great alternative to fizzy soft drinks. It can be lots of fun to brew too, as one experiments with different juices. You can use any sort of juice you wish, such as grapefruit juice, orange fuice, grape juice, even coconut water!
Pros and Cons of Water/Juice Kefir
Pros: Water kefir is incredibly simple to make. Its ingredients are sugar and water, both of which are very cheap. Water kefir can help one cut out soft drinks and other high sugared and processed drinks.
Cons: Water kefir is a light fizzy drink which does not provide as much energy or added nutritional as kefir made from variations of lactose free milk substances. It’s much more similar to ‘kombucha’ or a light lemonade-style drink than the heavier milk kefirs.
How to Make Water or Juice Kefir
If you wanting to make water or juice kefir, the method is the same. As you probably know, making kefir is super simple.
What you need to make water kefir:
- A glass vessel
- Cloth and rubber band
- ¼ cup healthy water kefir grains
- For Water Kefir: 6 cups of filtered water and ¼ cup of cane sugar.
- For Juice Water Kefir: 6 cups of juice.
How to Do It
- If making water kefir, bring the water to boil. Add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Let this cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sweet water IS at room temperature before adding the kefir grains, or the high temperature will damage and possibly kill them. Note: If you are making juice kefir, skip this step and merely let your juice warm to room temperature before continuing. A cold liquid will not be conducive to fermentation taking place quickly
- Pour your sweet water or juice of choice into the glass vessel. Cover with the piece of cloth and rubber band.
- Leave in a warmish spot (but not in direct sunlight) in your house. Let fermentation take place for about 48 hours. You can leave it a little longer if you think that it is not fermented enough.
- Time to harvest! Strain out the kefir grains and store them in a solution of sugar water, the same composition as the above recipe, in the fridge. Bottle your finished kefir and refrigerate. If you think that it is not fizzy enough you can leave it out of the fridge for a day. This will allow fermentation to continue, and more carbonation to build up because of it being sealed. This can make the kefir a bit more sour since fermentation has not been halted.
Note, for a 7000 word guide on everything you need to know about making water kefir, read our ‘Ultimate Guide How to Make Water Kefir‘ article.
Dairy-Free Milk Kefirs
Another option for dairy free kefir is to use a dairy-free milk as a substitute for ‘milk’ when making Kefir. Unlike water kefir, you’ll need to use MILK KEFIR grains rather than WATER KEFIR grains to make this type of kefir.
Typically, the milk kefir (or dairy-free milk kefirs) are a thicker, richer, creamier, more flavorful sort of kefir. If you like milk kefir, these types of kefirs are a great substitute and can make some pretty delicious alternative (and exotic) kefirs. They are well suited for people who are lactose intolerant.
Pros & Cons of Diary Free Milk Kefirs
Pros: When fermenting milk substitutes such as rice milk, oat milk, coconut milk, and seed and nut milks one will usually be introducing beneficial minerals, vitamins and other healthy substances such as protein and healthy fats. Kefirs made from milk substitutes can often be filling and provide more energy than water kefir. This is especially true of nut milks.
Cons: The down side to making milk substitute variations of kefir, and where water kefir wins hands down, is that often the ingredients which you will be using will be much more expensive than for water kefir. When making nut or seed milk kefir, the nuts and seeds also require more processing, time and cleaning up.
Types of Lactose-Free Milk Kefir
This category of kefirs consists of recipes where lactose-free, non-dairy, milks are substituted in place of ordinary milk. For those of you who prefer a creamier type of drink, and like a flavor that speaks of substance, then you will most probably love these lactose-free milk alternatives.
Here is a comprehensive list of the different lactose-free milk kefirs which you can make:
1. Rice Milk Kefir
A popular milk substitute for the lactose intolerant, rice milk can be used for milk kefir as well. Rice milk provides a light tasting kefir. You simply substitute ‘regular’ milk for rice milk during the brewing process.
2. Oat Milk Kefir
Oat milk is another lactose free milk substitute and can make for a creamy milk kefir. When making kefir with milk substitutes, often what can happen is that the liquid separates quickly into whey and curds. The starch from the oats in the oat milk powder can help to keep things creamy. Like the rice milk, you substitute for oat milk.
3. Soy Milk Kefir
Another popular dairy-free ‘milk’ that you can use to make a dairy-free kefir. Substitute the milk ingredient for soy milk.
4. Nut Milk Kefir
Another popular category of milk substitutes are the nut milks. These are made by blending soaked raw nuts with water and then straining out the fine nut bits. This leaves one with a nutritious and very tasty lactose free milk alternative.
Whichever nuts you choose to make nut milk from, they will should be raw and of course unsalted. It is a good idea to soak them overnight before blending or putting them in a food processor with the water. This way they water will soften them and you will be able to get more ‘milk’ out of the nuts. Toasting can also help to achieve this by making the nuts brittle.
A lovely byproduct of making nut milks is that after you have strained out the liquid, you will be left with the remaining nut matter. This can act as a great ingredient to add to cakes and breads.
There are basically as many different nut milks one can make as there are nuts out there, but here is a short list of the popular nuts used for nut milks:
- Walnuts (can be bitter)
- Pecan nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Hazel nuts
- Pine nuts
- Pistachio nuts (my favorite)
5. Seed Milk Kefirs
It is not only nuts which can be processed to yield a form of lactose free milk, but seeds as well! Here are some examples of seeds which you can use. Stay away from very strongly flavored seeds such as sesame seeds. If you do wish to incorporate some of these seeds for health reasons, add in a just enough to not alter the flavor too drastically.
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Quinoa seeds
- Amaranth seeds
6. Coconut Milk Kefir
Coconut milk can also be used as a really delicious (not to mention super nutritious!) dairy milk substitute. Readily available in stores it can make for a very convenient choice. If however, you have access to fresh coconuts, and do not want to purchase canned coconut milk, you can also make your own!
How to Make Dairy Free Kefir
Here’s exactly how to make dairy free kefir.
Step 1: Create the ‘Milk’
This step involves making the dairy free ‘milk’.
How to Make Seed or Nut Milk
Making your own seed or nut milk is easy to do.
What you need:
- 1 ½ cup of nuts or seeds of your choice (this is the right quantity for the kefir recipe in this post. If you wish to make more for using in other things – go ahead!)
- A blender or food processor.
How to Do It:
There are two ways to prep your nuts or seeds to ensure that you will get the most ‘milk’ and nutrition out of them. You can soak them overnight to make the seeds or nuts swell and become softer, or you can toast them to create brittleness and a slight breakdown in structure. The toasting method will provide a nuttier more savory taste. The soaking method is probably healthier, as no heat is applied.
- Soaked Method: Soak your seeds or nuts overnight in warm water. The next day, drain and discard the water. Do not use it for the milk as it contains enzyme inhibitors. Place in a blender/food processor with 6 cups of water and process until fine. Strain the mixture and squeeze out all of the liquid that you can from the nut/seed matter.
- Toasted Method: Lightly toast your seeds or nuts of choice in a pan or in the oven. Place in a blender/food processor with 6 cups of water and process until fine. Strain the mixture and squeeze out all of the liquid that you can from the nut/seed matter.
And there you go! You have made nut/seed milk. Don’t forget that you can keep the nut or seed matter to use in baking or cooking.
How to Make Coconut Milk
This method of making coconut milk originated in the Caribbean islands in the West Indies, where the coconut milk was used to flavor starch dishes such as cassava and bread fruit. You can, if you wish, just buy coconut milk already made from your grocery store. But it’s not as ‘fresh’ as making your own! Either will work, but fresh always makes for better coconut milk kefir.
What you need:
1 fresh coconut and a good grater.
What to do:
Grate up the whole coconut or as much of it as you want to use. Let the grated coconut soak in water overnight. Use just enough water to cover the coconut. The next day, strain the mix, and squeeze all of the water that you can out of the coconut flesh. The liquid that you get is coconut milk!
Time saving method: If you have an appropriate type of juicer which grates up the coconut and squeezes out the juice, this can also be used to save a lot of time. You can still soak the left over flesh if you want to get out extra coconut milk.
Step 2: Make the Kefir with the Dairy-Free Milk
Once you have the milk (nut milk, seed milk, oat milk, almond milk, or coconut milk), you are ready to actually make the dairy free kefir from this milk.
For all of the nut, seed and milk alternative kefir recipes the basic method is the same.
How you make the milk will vary slightly depending on which one you are making. If you are using powdered rice or oat milk, you will need to mix it up with water according to the instructions. If using liquid forms of these you will have no prep.
If you are going to be making a seed or nut milk for your kefir batch, then follow the short instructions mentioned earlier.
- A glass vessel (see our best containers for making milk kefir article)
- Cloth and rubber band
- ¼ cup healthy milk kefir grains (you can’t use water kefir grains for this)
- 6 cups of nut/seed milk of other milk substitute (rice, oat, etc)
- 1 ½ teaspoon of raw sugar (this is necessary for the culture to feed on, as there will be no lactose for it to eat as with dairy milk)
How to Make The Dairy Free Kefir Product
- If your kefir grains have come out of milk, wash them well in water.
- Pour your milk substitute of choice into the glass vessel. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Add in the kefir grains.
- Cover with the piece of cloth and rubber band.
- Leave in a warmish place in your house. Let fermentation take place for about 48 hours. You can leave it a little longer if you think that it is not fermented enough.
- Time to harvest! Strain out the kefir drains and store them in a solution of ordinary milk in the fridge. Here it will recover and feed itself until you want to make the next dairy free batch. Bottle your finished kefir and refrigerate. If you wish to add in extra ingredients for flavor, such as fruit, you can do so now to let the flavors steep into the kefir while you put it in the fridge.
- Optionally, you can instead second ferment your Kefir. Like Kombucha, you can do a second ferment of your Kefir. You simply add in the extra fruit / flavors (remember, you remove the kefir grains first), bottle in in a sealed container, and let it ‘ferment’ for 1-3 days (outside of the fridgeg). You’ll get a more effervescent brew with a stronger flavor profile from the added ingredients. Once it’s done, remove the fruit (or not) and put in the fridge.
Things to Note When Making Dairy Free Kefir
It’s a good idea to use extra kefir grains rather than your core batch if you want to experiment with dairy-free kefirs. This is just to have a backup in case something goes wrong with your grains and they die. This is always a possibility when using alternative ingredients, such as swapping out regular milk for alternative dairy free milks or using water kefir grains in juice instead of water.
Kefir grains (water or dairy) are hardy and can survive and adapt to different liquids, but it’s still a good idea to have a backup set of kefir grains that are not used for experimental brewing!
Dairy free kefir is easy to make, and you have a lot of options to choose from! If you are severely intolerant to dairy products then I would suggest that you start off with the water kefir.
There are concerns from people about residual lactose which might linger in milk kefir grains which have been stored in milk. There are then other reports from people who are lactose intolerant stating that they have had no adverse reaction from drinking dairy free kefir made with grains which were in milk.
If you are undecided whether to risk it, remember you can always give milk substitute kefir a try once you feel you have been dosing yourself with the water kefir probiotics, and your system might be healed to a degree that it is not as sensitive.