Timing Milk Kefir to Manipulate Flavor
As milk kefir grows in popularity and you learn more about potential health benefits, you might be interested in adding it to your diet, if only the taste weren’t so strong and sour! Did you know that you can culture milk kefir differently to produce a flavor that suits your taste buds?
Varying the culturing time and temperature can produce a mild, slightly tangy, or a strongly flavored robust kefir, depending on the variables.
How Milk Kefir Flavor Varies with Time
Below are three examples showing how timing affects flavor, assuming a culturing temperature of 68º-72ºF.
After 12 hours of culturing, the finished kefir will be mildly tangy and thinner in consistency.
After 24 hours of culturing, the finished kefir will be a bit thick, similar to buttermilk or heavy cream. It will have stronger flavor. It shouldn’t be overpowering, but it will have a distinctly tangy, sometimes yeasty kefir flavor. Kefir cultured for 24 hours is wonderful in smoothies, as the stronger flavor is masked by the sweet fruits and add-ins.
This kefir is for the veteran kefir lover. When cultured for 48 hours, the kefir flavor will be strong and sour. It will generally begin to separate into curds and whey, which can be whisked back together, for a smoother finished product. Alternatively, drain the whey off to make kefir cheese.
How Temperature Affects Culturing Time
In a space that is not a perfect 68-72ºF, is there a way to produce consistent results?
The answer is yes, although there will be some trial and error through the various seasons to determine how long to culture milk kefir to get results that suit your preference.
Keep in mind that when the culturing area is warmer, the culturing occurs more quickly; when the culturing area is cooler, the culturing slows down.
Learn more about maintaining temperatures year-round:
Give milk kefir a shot! You may be surprised to find that you actually really love milk kefir — mild or extra zingy!
Milk Kefir Flavoring Ideas
If you're looking for more ways to flavor milk kefir beyond changing the culturing time, try one of these milk kefir recipes. They're some of our favorites!
How to Remove Grains from Finished Milk Kefir
After milk kefir is finished culturing, the next step is to remove the grains. But how?
Use Your (Clean!) Fingers
As your milk kefir grains grow in size, you may choose to remove the kefir grains by hand. Make sure your hands are very clean and well rinsed, but do not use anti-bacterial soap to avoid contaminating the culture.
Use a Plastic Mesh Strainer
Sometimes milk kefir can be a bit thick. If necessary, you can use a silicone spatula or plastic spoon (in a swirling motion) to help work the kefir through the strainer. Stainless steel can be used if necessary; just be sure it's stainless steel and not a reactive metal.
Pour Kefir Into A Shallow Bowl
This will make the grains easier to see. Using a plastic or wooden spoon, scoop the grains out. Once the grains have been removed, pour the finished kefir into a container.
While kefir sometimes turns out to be thin, it is also possible for kefir to over-thicken or turn into curds and whey. If this happens, you may need to strain your kefir grains with extra care. You can find tips in ourStraining Over-Thickened Kefir tutorial.
Encouraging Milk Kefir Grains to Multiply
If you are trying to get your milk kefir grains will grow and multiply, there are a few things you can do to encourage their growth.
Keep in mind that milk kefir grains are living things. Giving them everything they need while protecting them from stress is a must. The more grains you have, the more milk you will need to culture every day.
Give Them an Optimal Temperature
Starter cultures thrive in a consistent temperature.
Too cold and they are sluggish and slow to culture; too warm and they are very active and culture quickly (which often times leads to curds and whey). Both extremes can put stress on the grains.
One of the best ways to avoid strain on milk kefir grains is by keeping the culturing temperature within 68°- 85°F. Avoid drafts and keep them away from direct sunlight when culturing.
If your home is too warm, you can find several solutions in our article, Warm Weather Care for Starter Cultures. If your home is too cool, check out our article, Cold Weather Care for Starter Cultures. These articles offer ideas to keep your milk kefir grains happy.
Feed Them What They Need
Milk kefir grains can be used to culture coconut milk, but it can be hard on the grains if not done properly. Wait to culture coconut milk until your grains are fully active and culturing well. Be sure to alternate batches of coconut milk with dairy milk. If your grains are struggling, try several back-to-back batches in dairy milk.
Feed Them Frequently
As kefir grains turn milk into kefir they are consuming the lactose in the milk. After a period of time, they may run out of food. If the grains do not receive new food (fresh milk), they can become stressed, and eventually they may starve and die.
Giving them a consistent food supply by separating the grains and feeding them every 24 hours, or more frequently if indicated, is crucial to keeping your grains healthy.
Keep the Grains Smaller
Just as the grains need the proper food, they also need to be able to take in the nutrients in the food.
When you first receive your milk kefir grains they are very small. As they rehydrate and gain vigor they may grow in size and in number.
If you find that your kefir grains are getting larger but are not multiplying, very gently break them apart by rubbing them between clean fingers.
Culturing with smaller grains increases the surface area exposed to the milk, which increases their ability to take in nourishment from the milk. More nourishment encourages the grains to multiply.
Agitate the Grains
Sometimes the grains can stagnate either at the top or the bottom of the culturing jar.
Giving the jar a gentle shake every now and again through the culturing process will allow the grains access to the milk in other areas of the jar.
Fresh milk means more food for the grains to feast on, which makes them happy and may encourage them to multiply.
What if My Grains Won't Multiply?
Although milk kefir grains often multiply, we can’t necessarily guarantee that they will. Whether they grow ultimately depends on the vitality of the grains and their culturing environment.
Even if they don’t, they are still perfectly viable for culturing. Remember, they are powerful little critters and will continue to make delicious milk kefir despite their size.