I use raw milk for my kefir but am definitely not afraid to get creative with my choice of milk. People have been telling me that kefir works with any kind of milk, including soy and almond milk. One of the wonders of kefir is that it can be used in many ways and we should take advantage of that. It has been enjoyed by people for thousands of years even in a primitive environment where there was no form of modern food technology.
Kefir has existed for thousands of years. There have been debates on its origins but I think it’s been out there since life began on this planet, perhaps even older than us humans. If there’s one thing you should know about why kefir works with any type of milk and its resilient history is that kefir is made up of living microorganisms.
Kefir is not like your regular drink of soda, coffee or beer where you simply down liquid and enjoy the taste. Any nutrients from these drinks enter your bloodstream and you benefit somehow. (I don’t know if there are any health benefits from these drinks, though.) I drink soda, enjoy the taste, let out a burp once or twice and that’s it.
A lot more happens when you drink kefir. You let in living fungi and bacteria in your body, and allow them to live in you for a long time. These friendly microbes are called probiotics because they are good for me. Probiotics refer to bacteria that are “beneficial to life”. Our body is made up of countless bacteria, good and bad. Kefir is giving us a chance to give good bacteria the upper hand.
A kefir drink is not an ordinary lifeless drink because kefir grains are not your regular grains. Unlike grains of salt or sugar, kefir grains are living substances that formed as yeasts and bacteria learned to symbiotically live together and take on the form of sugars and proteins. (Just in case you don’t know it yet, a kefir drink is prepared by mixing kefir grains and milk so that the grains ferment the milk.)
Kefir grains love to munch on milk. Their favorite food is lactose and so they ferment your milk as they munch on lactose and create milk kefir. Meanwhile, the other type of kefir grains, the crystal ones, “eat” sugar water to form water kefir.
As you drink kefir (milk or water kefir), you let in the friendly bacteria into your gut and let them do their work. They cleanse your digestive tract by flushing out bad bacteria and then repopulate good bacteria so that they keep on cleansing your digestive system long after you have finished drinking your glass of kefir.
This is why I believe kefir may have existed long before man discovered it. We all know that bacteria populate much faster and live much longer than humans. Somehow, lactose-loving yeasts and bacteria learned to live together in a matrix of sugars and proteins and formed the first kefir grains without anyone looking. They were discovered accidentally by Turkish shepherds tending their sheep on the Caucasus Mountains. They carried goat milk in their leather bags and accidentally fermented the milk, turning it into kefir.
Through the years, the Turkish people learned to culture kefir. One of the techniques they used was to store raw goat milk in leather bags or goat’s stomachs and hang them in a doorway. They occasionally knocked on the bag to keep the bacteria moving, so they thought.
For hundreds of years, kefir users kept their beloved beverage for their own. It was only after the Russians learned about it that word about kefir began to leak. The Russians did some studies and determined that the fermented beverage was good for treating tuberculosis. Fermentation became more and more technical and sanitary through the years. Today, I am very careful to use only clean utensils and always cover up.
I also learned that it is good not to use anything metal since there are properties in metal that can harm the good bacteria.
I use raw goat milk not only because I want to follow how the native Caucasus people did it but also because I learned that goat milk makes the smoothest kefir. But this shouldn’t bother you if you are not a fan of goat milk. Most people prefer cow’s milk, which is more popular than goat’s, of course. And you don’t even have to use pure, raw milk. When losing weight, you can choose to ferment low-fat, skim or no-fat milk.
Can soy and almond milk be substituted for cow’s milk? Yes, you can definitely use non-dairy milk to make milk kefir. Non-dairy kefir is also very good for lactose intolerant. You can use soy or almond milk, and even coconut milk, to make a tasty kefir drink but your grains will not grow in non-dairy milk. The best thing to do is to first let your starter kefir thrive in real milk.
That’s another thing about kefir grains, by the way, that you need to know just in case you haven’t heard or tried yet. They may be cultured and grown by anyone, including you right in your own kitchen by simply letting them sit in dairy milk.
After growing your grains, use some of your produce to make a delicious non-dairy kefir. The procedure is practically the same as when making either milk kefir or water kefir. Place some grains in your soy, almond or coconut milk and let it sit for 24 hours or until you have achieved the thickness you desire. It may not be as healthy as what you get when using raw milk, but it still is kefir; and any kefir is far more nutritious than your regular soda, coffee or beer.