I recently got into making kefir to improve my probiotic intake after reading about all the benefits. I mixed up my first batch and eagerly waited until the next day. But the first sip was pretty disgusting – it tasted like blue cheese, and not the tangy taste I had imagined. I did some research to find out what went wrong and this is what I found.
Kefir can taste like cheese while the grains adjust to a new environment or if the grains have been dormant. Usually, fermenting a number of batches repeatably will see this cheese taste go away as the culture ferments more predictably.
I’ve read that some people needed to do up to 5-7 rounds of fermentation if their kefir grains were particularly out of action.
It definitely seemed that my kefir grains needed “warming up” as after about 3-4 daily batches they had drastically reduced in cheesy taste. So don’t give up on your kefir! Just try a few more batches until the flavor improves.
In this article, I’ll let you know some more things that I found when starting to make kefir for the first time. What should it taste like? and how do you know if it’s spoiled?
What’s Causing The Cheese Taste?
A bit of research tells me the cheese taste comes from a breakdown of casein protein from proteolytic enzymes. These enzymes are made by bacteria and might be the result of old kefir grains, cells dying, contamination, etc.
I had bought my kefir from Amazon and they arrived moist like they had come out of milk recently. But you don’t know what conditions they were stored in and when they were last fed. Probably not that regularly as the cost could add up.
I’m no microbiologist, but I know from dealing with a sourdough culture that the acidic environment prevents bad bacteria from taking over. With my kefir, once I had fermented the grains a few times the cheese taste went away – likely from higher levels of lactic acid preventing bacteria growth.
Kefir is a live culture of yeast and bacteria so it can be unpredictable. A new environment and different milk will have microbes that can throw the culture off its usual cycle of fermentation.
Regular cycles of milk fermentation should stabilize the culture and get it fermenting successfully so that it produces a tangy, fermented milk taste.
Another thing to note is that because the culture is live and your kitchen is not a controlled environment, the kefir will come out tasting different each time. Factors such as temperature, the strength of the kefir, and microbes in the air will all have an effect. No two ferments are the same which is natural and part of the fun of making kefir.
I’ve spent a long time looking after a sourdough starter which is another microbe culture, and know that if you don’t regularly feed it, it can become less active when it comes to making bread. You can also affect the taste of bread from how you store the starter – warm, cold, etc – and this is no doubt coming into play with a kefir culture.
What about Kefir cheese?
If you’ve made kefir a number of times then you might have noticed it splitting into curds and whey. This is where too much kefir-to-milk ratio causes over-culturing and the extra acidity curdles the kefir (like if you added lemon juice).
You can strain the curds from the whey in cloth and eat the cheese left behind! For some step-by-step instructions, see this kefir cheese guide.
What Is Kefir Supposed To Taste Like?
Kefir tastes like a slightly sour and tangy dairy drink. It is creamy and yogurt-like but thinner in texture. Sometimes it can be slightly fizzy on the tongue.
The sourness comes from acids in the liquid from milk fermentation. As the kefir is live, sometimes it ferments sourer and sometimes has other flavor notes – it all depends on the time, temperature and environment.
The fizz comes from CO2 bubbles as a byproduct of fermentation. The kefir texture is usually fairly thick liquid, and it can separate into curds and whey when it ferments over time.
If the fermenting culture has certain types of bacteria in it, it can taste cheesy from enzymes breaking down the casein protein found in milk.
Overall, your typical kefir tastes similar to yogurt as they both have lactic acid which produces that familiar tart flavor.
Can You Drink The First Batch Of Kefir?
The first few batches of kefir will likely smell and taste off as the culture “wakes up” and gets used to a new environment. You can drink it but likely won’t want to until it tastes more palatable.
As the first couple of batches taste like cheesy, gone-off milk you might think it’s gone bad. It doesn’t taste good so I would discard it and wait until it starts tasting less funky.
The first few batches of kefir can be unpredictable as the culture might be dormant and weak if it hasn’t been fed milk. Regular fermentations boost the culture and get it fermenting more predictably.
If you don’t like the taste of kefir you can add some sweeteners or fruit to make it taste better. Try some honey, syrup, jam, or fruit yogurt as some ideas.
How Do You Know If Kefir Is Spoiled?
Some signs of spoilage include a nasty smell, lots of separation, visible mold, or pink bacteria growth spots. If it has recently fermented then it is unlikely that it has spoiled soon after.
As kefir is a fermented product, it can be hard to tell if it’s safe to drink. If you’ve fermented for less than 24 hours, you are likely to only get sick if the grains you were supplied are contaminated.
It can feel a bit scary brewing something strange outside of the fridge and consuming it the next day. You get over this after your first few batches and as you become more experienced with how your kefir looks and feels.
Kefir has lactic acid from fermentation and it’s this acidity that prevents bad bacteria from taking hold. It will extend the shelf life of the drink considerably longer than other dairy products but it won’t last inevitably.
First judge it by looking at it, then smelling it, and then finally tasting a small bit if you are unsure. If in doubt then make a fresh batch and don’t make yourself ill.
Hopefully, you should now know why your kefir tastes like cheese.
My guess is that it’s new kefir grains or ones that have been dormant in the fridge for a while. With a few rounds of fermentation, you should have your grains back to life and producing tasty kefir that is less cheesy.
Don’t be disheartened and throw away your grains as this taste goes away eventually and starts making a much more drinkable beverage.
If you still really don’t like the taste then you can still mask it with other sweet flavors like fruit and honey. That way you can still get all the probiotics and nutrients and still enjoy the drink.
Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.
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