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Choosing Milk for Making Kefir
Milk kefir characteristics can vary depending on the milk used for culturing. Milks from different animals and milks processed in different ways can result in differences in your yogurt's thickness and texture.
While most milk will culture well, there are some factors to consider.
Choosing the Type of Milk for Making Milk Kefir
Cow milk is the most popular choice for culturing. Culturing cow's milk produces a thick, smooth milk kefir.
Goat milk is becoming more popular for culturing. The structure of goat milk is different from cow milk and results in a thinner finished kefir than cow milk.
Sheep milk is sweeter than cow milk and contains more protein, resulting in a thicker, creamier kefir. It is used more for making cheese generally, but could be cultured into milk kefir, too.
Revitalization Period. When culturing coconut milk, it is important to revitalize the kefir grains in animal milk for 24 hours. We recommend allowing the milk kefir grains a revitalization period every few days. Simply place them in animal milk for 24 hours. Once the culturing process is complete, the milk kefir grains can be returned to use with coconut milk.
Lactose-free milk may not suitable for culturing. Some brands do actually still contain lactose, but also contain lactase, an enzyme that helps lactose-intolerant individuals digest the lactose. However, these brands are usually ultra-pasteurized, as well, which does not work well for culturing. Other brands of lactose-free milk are filtered to remove lactose. In that case, there would be insufficient food for the bacteria. There may be other options for lactose-intolerant individuals. Learn more about using longer culturing times to reduce lactose in the final product.
Dairy Milk Processing Methods
Pasteurized Milk is heated to 161°F for 15 to 20 seconds, then immediately cooled to 39°F for storage and transportation. Pasteurized milk is most commonly used for making milk kefir and is recommended for rehydrating milk kefir grains.
Ultra-pasteurized Milk (UP) or ultra-high temperature treatment (UHT), is heated to 275°F or higher for about one second. UHT milk is actually cooked, and is therefore unsuitable for culturing. If UHT milk is the only variety of milk available, we recommend using a direct-set culture such as our Kefir Starter Culture. Results may vary.
We do recommend using the freshest milk possible. Raw milk comes with its own set of beneficial bacteria, and if your milk is a few days old or wasn't chilled down quickly enough, that bacterial count can be high. This means that the bacteria in the milk may provide some competition for the milk kefir grains, making it more difficult to culture the milk properly.
Homogenization is a treatment that prevents the cream from separating from the milk. Most cow milk available in stores is homogenized. Goat and sheep milk are somewhat homogenized naturally. With non-homogenized milk the cream will rise to the top of the kefir during culturing, just like it does with the milk in the bottle. Stirring the milk periodically during culturing can help to produce a more homogenous finished product.
Milk Kefir made with reduced-fat milk will be thinner than kefir made with whole milk. Commercially available low-fat kefir includes additives and stabilizers to make them unnaturally thick.
Kefir cultures perform well in half-and-half or even in cream, producing a rich, thick kefir cream that is almost like sour cream. Culturing cream directly with kefir grains may present problems, as the finished product is too thick to easily separate from the grains. An alternative method for culturing cream is to use 1 tablespoon finished kefir per cup of cream as starter culture.
When it comes to milk, the possibilities are numerous, and the decision may be difficult if you have many milk varieties available. Try different kinds of milk until you produce a kefir that suits your personal taste. The choice is up to you!