Reducing the Lactose Content of Kefir
Some people find that they are lactose intolerant and need to keep their lactose consumption to a minimum or avoid it all together. Others are simply trying to keep their overall sugar intake in check.
Whatever the case, you may be wondering what the lactose content of kefir is.
What is Lactose?
Lactose is the disaccharide sugar found in milk. It makes up about 2% to 8% of the volume of milk and is chemically known as C12H22O11.
Lactose is known to be allergenic in many individuals. Some people are completely dairy intolerant, being unable to consume the milk sugar lactose or the milk protein casein. Others are simply lactose intolerant.
Lactose, like all sugars, is a carbohydrate. Anyone who is interested in lowering their carbohydrate content is therefore concerned with the lactose content of various milk and cultured milk products.
Lactose in Kefir
All cultures (kefir grains, kombucha scobys, etc.) consume sugars in order to produce the acids and favorable microorganisms found in the cultured foods that we love. The lactose found in milk is the primary food supply for dairy cultures. The cultures feast on a fair amount of the lactose in the milk and convert it into the tangy lactic acid we find in kefir or yogurt. Because the lactose is consumed in the fermenting process, any cultured dairy product is lower in lactose than the milk it started as.
This is great news for anyone looking to avoid lactose and the reason that so many people seem to digest cultured dairy better than milk itself.
How to Lower the Lactose Content of Kefir
The lactose content of your kefir is determined by three things:
By manipulating these three factors you can control the lactose content of your kefir to some degree. .
Type of Milk
There are many options when choosing the type of milk to make kefir from. The two major variables are the animal from which the milk came from and the fat content of the milk itself.
Cow milk is thought to contain a lot of lactose. While this is true, it is not significantly more lactose-containing than the milk of other animals like goats or sheep. Both cow milk and goat milk contain 4.7% lactose while sheep milk contains 4.6% lactose: not a very big variance.
From these numbers, choosing goat or sheep milk over cow’s milk will not result in a big difference in lactose content.
Kefir Culturing Time
When milk is cultured into kefir the kefir culture feasts off of the lactose content of the milk and converts it into all sorts of microorganisms like probiotics and acids. The more time the kefir is given to culture, the more lactose it consumes and the more acids it produces. So one of the best indications of how much lactose is in your cultured kefir is the amount of acids in the end product. More acids present in the kefir equate to a tangier kefir.
For those who wish to make a lower-lactose kefir a culturing time of 24 to 48 hours in a temperature of 65° to 80°F is recommended.
Maturing Kefir Once it is Cultured
Once you have cultured your kefir for at least 24 hours as recommended above you can take one final step to ensure that the lactose content in kefir is as low as possible. This step is called maturing or ripening.
Remember that kefir was originally made in the Caucasus by those who did not have access to refrigeration. Because of this kefir could not be cultured and then refrigerated. It had to be stored, instead, in temperatures as cool as possible, or consumed immediately.
It's very likely that kefir was usually allowed to ripen for some time before being consumed. Here is how to replicate this ripening process in your home kitchen:
If you are highly sensitive to lactose then you should be cautious as you determine at what state of “kefiring” you can consume your kefir. Many who struggle with lactose have been able to consume kefir, though, so give it a try, and of course, consult with your health care professional if this is a health issue for you or if you have concerns.