Can You Make Kefir from Prepared Kefir (without grains or starter)?
Milk kefir is becoming increasingly popular as a cultured milk product. For years yogurt was the only fermented milk most Americans were aware of. Slowly but surely milk kefir is becoming well-known for its flavor and benefits.
If you have tried to acquire milk kefir at the local grocer you might have been surprised to see the price tag. At upwards of $4 per quart, milk kefir is a hot, and expensive, commodity. At that price you could buy the best milk money can buy and make your own, so why not?
Well, many people are intimidated by the process of making kefir from grains or a culture starter. The grains, particularly, are foreign to those who are branching out from yogurt making. Using a culture starter is just a little less intimidating, as it somewhat mimics the process of making yogurt.
Kefir-making is different is some ways, yes, but it is also simpler. One terrific advantage of kefir is that it is a mesophilic culture. This is wonderful news for those who want to make milk kefir but need to keep it simple. There is no specific temperature required: only a warm spot on your kitchen counter.
Still, the familiarity of yogurt making and the foreignness of making kefir might leave you asking: “Can I simply use prepared (store-bought) kefir to make homemade milk kefir?”
The answer is yes... and no.
One of the reasons many people drink kefir is that it contains far more strains of beneficial bacteria than yogurt does. It is these bacteria that make kefir what it is and it is through the use of kefir grains that these beneficial bacteria inoculate your milk to make kefir.
Even making kefir from a culture starter isn’t quite the same. It has a similar taste and texture, but the bacteria types and counts are slightly different.
So which is the real kefir?
Well, it depends on what you are referring to. If you are referring to the age-old kefir consumed by those in the Caucasus then kefir made from kefir grains is what you are looking for. If you are looking for something similar, but with less maintenance required, then kefir made from a starter culture is it.
If you simply want to try making milk kefir from pre-made kefir that you have purchased then you may have success one, two, three, or even four times, if you are using a previous batch for your next batch every time.
Or, you may not end up with a successful batch of cultured kefir at all. Depending on the conditions and the health of the pre-made kefir, you may just end up with rotten milk.
About Raw Milk Kefir from Pre-made Kefir
The bacteria that naturally exist in raw milk may compete with the bacteria in the premade kefir, resulting in kefir that is either funny in taste or texture, or not kefir at all but rather soured (clabbered) milk.
The reason that you can make raw milk kefir from grains without this issue is due to the bacteria strength of the kefir grains. Kefir grains are teeming with all of the wonderful bacteria found in milk kefir. The kefir grains harbor the bacteria and yeasts, so they are much more vigorously alive in bacteria than the milk kefir itself.
Pre-made milk kefir, especially store-bought, simply does not contain strong enough bacteria to consistently compete with the bacteria in raw milk.
In conclusion, making milk kefir from pre-made kefir is a gamble. It may or may not be successful, and you certainly are not creating the same delicious, beneficial kefir that you would get from using the grains.
You should, however, be able to tell if it has gone bad. If the kefir bacteria did not take hold in pasteurized milk, it will begin to smell rotten. If they did not take hold in raw milk it will develop into soured (clabbered) milk instead.
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