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The Art and Science of Kefir Making | Education Series Part 4

The Art and Science of Kefir-Making: The Intricate Process of Kefir Production

Kefir, a tangy and probiotic-rich fermented yoghurt, has a long and storied history dating back centuries. Known for its health benefits and unique flavour profile, kefir has gained popularity worldwide. But have you ever wondered about the fascinating journey from milk to kefir? In this article, we will explore the intricate process of kefir-making, uncovering the art and science behind its creation.

Before diving into the kefir-making process, let's understand what kefir is. Kefir is a fermented yoghurt made by introducing kefir grains into milk. Contrary to its name, kefir grains are not cereal grains but rather a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. These grains contain a rich and diverse community of microorganisms, including Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, yeast species like Saccharomyces, and many others.

The basis of all kefir recipes is kefir grains. Kefir grains are small, gelatinous clumps of bacteria and yeast that are used to ferment milk or other liquids to produce kefir. Despite their name, kefir grains are not actual grains like wheat or rice. They have a cauliflower-like appearance and a rubbery texture.

Whilst kefir is now manufactured in factories across the world, the actual method has changed very little from its ancient formulation. How we manufacture our kefir locally at Babushka’s Kefir:

Milk Selection: The first step in kefir production is selecting high-quality milk. We pasteurise our milk first to kill harmful bacteria while preserving beneficial enzymes and nutrients.

Inoculation: Kefir culture is added to the milk. This culture contains a symbiotic mixture of bacteria and yeasts that ferment the milk and give kefir its characteristic flavour and texture. The amount of grains used depends on the desired fermentation time and the desired consistency of the final product.

Fermentation: The milk and kefir grains are allowed to ferment at a controlled temperature. This typically ranges between 20-25°C (68-77°F). During fermentation, the microorganisms in the kefir grains consume lactose (milk sugar) and convert it into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and other compounds, which gives kefir its tangy flavour and slightly effervescent nature.

Flavouring and Packaging: At this stage, additional flavourings such as fruits, vanilla, or sweeteners can be added to the kefir to create different varieties. The kefir is then packaged into bottles, cartons, or other containers for distribution.

Cooling and Storage: The packaged kefir is cooled to extend its shelf life and maintain its quality. It is typically stored at refrigeration temperatures to slow down any further fermentation and maintain its freshness.

And just like that we create the magic of kefir! We manufacture fresh kefir weekly to distribute to local grocery stores such as Coles, Woolworths, Harris Farms and independent groceries and health food shops. You might notice from time to time when consuming kefir that it can sometimes form lumps or curds during the fermentation process or when stored for an extended period. There are a few reasons why this can happen:

Natural Separation: Kefir is a living and active culture that contains a combination of bacteria and yeast. During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast interact with the milk, producing lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This acidification process can cause the milk proteins to coagulate or clump together, resulting in lumps or curds forming in the kefir. This is a natural occurrence and does not indicate spoilage.

Overfermentation: If kefir is left to ferment for an extended period, it can become overfermented. Overfermentation increases the acidity of the kefir, leading to stronger curd formation. The longer fermentation time allows the bacteria and yeast to continue producing lactic acid, which further curdles the milk proteins. This can result in larger and more pronounced lumps in the kefir.

Temperature Fluctuations: Temperature fluctuations during fermentation or storage can also contribute to lump formation in kefir. If kefir is exposed to fluctuating temperatures, such as being left at room temperature for an extended period and then refrigerated, it can affect the stability of the kefir and lead to curd formation.

While the presence of lumps or curds in kefir is generally safe to consume, some people may find the texture unappealing. To reduce lump formation, you can try the following:

Straining: Strain the kefir through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any large curds or lumps.

Gentle Handling: Avoid excessive agitation or stirring of the kefir, especially after fermentation. Gentle handling helps to minimise curd formation.

Optimal Fermentation Time: We ferment out kefir for at least 18 hours, until the PH level reaches <4.5.

Remember that kefir is a living product, and some degree of variation in texture and consistency is normal. If the kefir smells or tastes strongly sour or off, or if mould is present, it may be an indication of spoilage, and it should be discarded.

The process of making kefir is a captivating combination of art and science. From the symbiotic nature of kefir grains to the careful monitoring of fermentation, each step contributes to the creation of a tangy and probiotic-rich yoghurt. Whether you choose to make kefir from cow's milk, goat's milk, or non-dairy alternatives, the versatility of kefir-making allows for a myriad of flavours and textures.

Embrace the magic of fermentation, and pick up a bottle of kefir from your local store! With each batch, you'll not only enjoy the delightful flavours but also reap the benefits of this ancient and revered fermented yoghurt. Cheers to the art and science of kefir-making!


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