Raw Milk Kefir

Raw milk kefir is a growing trend that has been gaining momentum amongst milk kefir makers for some time now. We want to talk about the controversial method of making raw milk kefir and throw some light on the myths and dangers surrounding the process of making raw milk kefir.

Firstly, let’s put our cards out on the table and state that yes, we do drink raw milk kefir here at Freshly Fermented. It’s not something we do on a daily basis, simply because we don’t have an easy accessible source of raw milk, and to be frank, raw milk isn’t ridiculously expensive, but it’s not exactly cheap either. We are careful about where our raw milk comes from (more about this later), and use common sense in regards to who we give raw milk kefir too.

Raw milk kefir tastes fantastic, and like the beliefs of many others making it, we believe that raw milk doesn’t need to be feared as much as food standards agencies and local governments would have you believe. If your reading this post your probably already curious about raw milk kefir, we hope this post will help answer your questions and fears.

So what is raw milk anyway?

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurised or homogenised. It’s literally milk straight from the udder of cows, goats and sheep. It contains more protein, minerals and vitamins than pasteurised milk, as well as living bacteria. Which is why raw milk enthusiasts are singing its praises.

However the bacteria found in raw milk are where the concerns for drinking raw milk arise. Not all of the bacteria found is raw milk is considered friendly, in fact some of it can be pretty dangerous! With some pretty nasty pathogens having been found in raw milk over the years, and links to people dying from drinking it, it’s no wonder raw milk has such a bad name.

What is homogenisation?

Let’s get the easy question out the way first. Your hear raw milk referred to as being unhomogenised or non homogenised milk. So what does that even mean? It’s really simple, milk naturally contains lots of fat, after all, its designed to help baby animals grow right? Humans in all our wisdom decided that we didn’t want to always drink the fat in milk. We found a way to alter the fat content using a mechanical process known as homogenisation.

You see and probably drink homogenised all the time. Its sold under names like semi skimmed or skimmed milk, in fact even whole milk is homogenised. Gone are the day when a couple of inches of cream at the top of your milk bottle was the norm. These days consumers don’t like to see the fat content naturally found in milk, so whole milk isn’t really whole milk at all.

You can still buy milk that isn’t homogenised here in the UK however. Your find it in all the supermarkets. Usually with a gold lid mimicking the bygone era of gold top milk, non homogenised milk that was delivered to you by your local milk man. It often sold as “Finest milk”, it might be higher in calories than homogenised milk, but it sure does taste amazing!

New research shows us that homogenisation is not always a good thing. The process itself reduces the size of fat molecules in the milk. With smaller fat molecules, the fat may be easier for your body to absorb. The size of protein molecules in homogenised milk are also reduced, meaning this protein is not absorbed, but simply passed through the body. This means that even though we have always been told that milk was healthy, homogenised milk could be contributing to weight gain and poor nutrition. It could also be contributing to the hardening of arteries and other heart issues. Many types of homogenised milk also contain harmful added hormones. In some research, these hormones themselves have been linked to issues like cancer.

What is pasteurised milk?

Pasteurisation is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurisation kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.

Back at the turn of the century, dairy farming was very different to how it is now. Farmers didn’t really understand how important good hygiene was. They didn’t understand the link between the welfare of their livestock and the dairy they produced. Many people got sick, and even died from drinking raw milk. Pasteurisation made milk safe for everyone. Fast forward over 100 years and the legacy of the dangers of raw milk live on. Many health organisations around the world still warn against drinking in raw milk, and it even remains illegal in many places.

It is undoubtedly beneficial to destroy dangerous germs, but pasteurisation does more than this, it kills off harmless and useful germs alike, and by subjecting the milk to high temperatures, destroys some nutritional benefits.  It destroys most of the vitamins found in milk, turns the sugar of milk, known as lactose, into beta-lactose — which is far more soluble and therefore more rapidly absorbed in the system. It also makes the majority of the calcium found in milk insoluble. Pasteurisation destroys 20 percent of the iodine present in raw milk, which causes constipation and generally takes from the milk its most vital qualities.

How dangerous is drinking raw milk?

Last year, the FSA told The Telegraph that there had not been a single reported illness associated with drinking raw milk in the UK since 2002. But there are still risks attached to drinking it.  A guideline issued by the NHS states “Raw milk is not recommended for people with weakened immune systems such as young children, the elderly or pregnant woman”.  Any form of unpasteurised milk “can be harmful” because it may contain bacteria that can cause food poisoning, resulting in severe diarrhoea and vomiting. The FSA states that consumption of raw milk is “generally acceptable where appropriate hygiene controls are applied”.

So let’s take a look at the above statements. The reality is outbreaks of illness related to raw milk are pretty much unheard of these days. Is that because few people actually drink it? Possibly, but the truth is your’e more likely to get food poisoning from your local kebab shop than from drinking raw milk.

Rules and regulations surrounding the production and distribution of raw milk in the UK are very strict. Farmers who do choose to sell raw milk are often passionate about their livestock and its welfare. They have regular testing on the safety of the raw milk they sell and their farms undergo strict hygiene inspections. Although drinking raw milk does still carry some potential risks, the dangers surrounding raw milk don’t hold much weight in this day and age.