Caring For Your Kefir
Do’s And Don’ts | Care Tips For Your Kefir
Kefir grains need our care. The key to drinking and benefiting from kefir is to have a good understanding of how a symbiotic relationship works, not only about the symbiotic relationship between yeast and bacteria in kefir grains, but also between kefir grains and you, the kefir drinker.
Let’s talk about the yeast and bacteria first. Kefir grains look like grains but are not really grains. They are living substances that are made up of yeasts and bacteria that are living harmoniously in a matrix of sugars, proteins and lipids.
A symbiosis means a give-and-take interaction between two or more biological species so that both can survive. It is clearly different from a parasitic relationship, wherein a host does not need the parasites to survive.
The yeast-bacteria symbiosis form tiny cauliflower-like substances that we now call kefir grains. They are home to a number of helpful bacterial strains that feed on lactose, which is why their favorite home is milk, any type of milk. These are good, life-giving bacteria that are therefore referred to as “probiotics”, which means “beneficial to life”.
My regular dose of kefir takes good care of me. The probiotics can flush out any harmful microbes in my digestive tract and replace them with good ones as they repopulate in me. The thought of having live microorganisms inside a human body may seem like Hollywood fiction, but if you really think about it, no human being is ever without living microorganisms thriving inside of him. We are hosts to millions and millions of microbes. The question is how many of these are beneficial and how many are pathogenic.
Kefir grains care is important since these are living organisms. Some kefir growers go to the extent of talking to their grains (not expecting them to talk back, of course) and treating them as real helpful friends. You may not get to that level of “friendship” with your grains but you should at least know how to dry kefir grains or how to tell if kefir grains are bad. Here are a few tips on how to care for your precious grains.
Let’s start with a few don’ts.
- Don’t use anything metallic when handling, storing or mixing kefir grains. Metal has properties that can harm or damage the grains, although not all the time. To be sure, use non-metallic utensils such as glass jars, plastic containers, cloth strainers, and wooden spoon.
- Don’t rinse kefir grains thoroughly; in fact you don’t really need to rinse them at all. If you must, do not use chlorinated water.
- Don’t forget to give some grains for free to your friends after you have grown enough for yourself. Share the love. Kefir growers believe that the very first grains were given for free by Prophet Mohammad as gift to Tibetan monks. It is just right that “descendants” of those first grains be given out for free today in the name of good health and longevity of life.
- Don’t store milk kefir grains in water for a long time. Doing so can turn the grains bad.
- Don’t deep-freeze the grains. The bacteria thrive in warm places and become lazy as it gets cooler. Storing them in the fridge is fine to let them relax, but freezing could put them to sleep permanently. Studies reveal that the success rate of reactivating deep frozen grains is only 40%.
Meanwhile, here are a few do’s.
- Do mind the temperature. It is best to ferment your kefir in room temperatures ranging from 22°C to 30°C. Again, these are living organisms and they have temperature preferences in order to thrive. If you live in a city or state with cooler temperatures, ferment your milk a little longer.
- Do cover your jar of kefir well to avoid contamination.
- Do add flavor to your kefir so that you won’t grow tired of the usual sour and tart taste. Mix with fruit cuts and juices, or sprinkle some almonds, ginger and less refined sugar.
- Do try water kefir so you can experiment by making your own ginger ale kefir beer.
- Do wash your kefir after every use to remove unfriendly or harmful bacteria. Kefir grains will live forever if cared for well, but since fermentation is involved, worms may show up without warning. Wash off worms (should any arise) and use kefir grains again.
- Between fermentations, do store the grains in fresh milk and in cool storage. When storing for a longer period of time, do change your milk every now and then to continue feeding your grain.
- Finally, do take your kefir regularly. This is not an ordinary health drink that you take just to feel good for a moment, cure a specific health concern or when trying to lose weight. Taking kefir should be a lifestyle, an integral part of your regular diet, if you truly wish to glean as many of its benefits as possible. In this it resembles many other parts of the healthy lifestyle, such as exercise and balanced eating.
“I might have spoiled my kefir grains. How do I fix it?”
I find this question very interesting because kefir grains are one of the most difficult things to bring to spoilage. In fact, they can go on living forever if cared for well. The person who asked this question either didn’t really spoil the grains or did a really, really bad thing to them.
Milk kefir drink is made by allowing kefir grains to ferment your milk. It doesn’t have to be any specific kind of milk, but many prefer raw goat milk.
Kefir grains are living organisms, a symbiosis of yeasts and bacteria. They are not supposed to spoil. Due to the fermentation process, it is natural that your milk kefir tastes sour. A sour and tart-like taste doesn’t mean your grains have spoiled. Fizzing and bubbling are also natural. However, like other living organisms, the grains can spoil and die, too.
Here’s how to know if the kefir is spoiled. It will resemble spoiled milk and emit a foul odor. It will also taste really bad and rotten. The natural sourness of fermented milk isn’t the most delicious beverage you can taste, but spoiled milk is just plain repugnant.
So what causes kefir grains to spoil?
- It will spoil if you leave it for a long time on your breakfast table, especially without a lid. The heat and contaminants are what causes food, any food, to spoil. It is best to cover your jar or bottle of milk kefir and store it in the fridge.
Being left in the same milk for too long causes its sourness and the grains are sure to spoil if you leave them in the same milk for more than 10 days at room temperature. Keep them in cool storage. However, leaving kefir grains in milk inside the fridge for too long, say a month or two, is also not advisable. Some grains might endure that much time, but they could perform and taste very poorly afterwards.
- It will spoil if you drink straight from the bottle. This will happen to any type of food since our mouths could introduce bad bacteria that can contaminate food.
- Too much heat will kill the grains!
Other than for these three reasons, it is really difficult to see how kefir grains can spoil since they are very resilient. And by the way, producing bitter-tasting or unpleasant-tasting kefir is not a sign of it being spoiled.
Try this. Soak kefir grains under hydrogen peroxide (simple 3% solution) for 24 hours to clean them. Just make sure to use food-grade hydrogen peroxide. Thanks to this huge kefir post for this tip.
Meanwhile, if you are making kefir for the first time, try to be more patient. They may not be ready yet a few days after delivery. You’ll get it right after a few tries. Keep in mind that kefir grains are living microorganisms. These grains are not chemically produced and therefore could be unpredictable. There are many things to consider (temperature, quality of milk, grains-to-milk ratio, time), which means perfecting the process requires a good deal of practice.
Keeping The Grains Alive
Today, you can get your kefir grains online. There are a number of people and online companies who ship real kefir grains internationally for a reasonable donation. It is not difficult “buying” these grains and making your own milk kefir. The real trick is knowing how to keep the kefir grains alive and growing so that you can use and re-use them several times.
Below are three things you should do to your kefir grains to fully benefit from them.
- Rehydrate. It is most common to get or purchase dried kefir grains from the mail or a health store. The first thing that you should do to your kefir grains, therefore, is to activate them by rehydrating.
Use a clean glass jar to dissolve four to six tablespoons of sugar in four cups of water. Add the kefir grains and leave it for three days (but not over five days). Make sure the jar is covered well. Other kefir drinkers use milk during the rehydration process. They rehydrate the grains in water for four to seven days, adding the step of placing the grains in a cup of fresh milk every 24 hours.
- Grow. Once the grains have been rehydrated, the second thing you will have to do is grow them while making your milk or water kefir. It is easy to forget that kefir grains are living micro-organisms since they do not breathe, move or grow before your eyes. These grains, however, are not really grains but bacteria and yeast put together.
Bacteria are living micro-organisms that grow and feed, and the bacteria culture in kefir grains love to feed on the lactose found in milk or your sugar-water solution. In other words, kefir grains ferment and “eat” the milk to create milk kefir or the sugar for water kefir.
- Store. Finally, the third thing to do with your used and strained kefir grains is store them. Store them in a jar of fresh milk in the fridge for milk kefir and sugar water for water kefir.
Kefir Grains | Growing New Ones And Caring For The Old
Real kefir grains, in principle, are given away free. Users and growers of this bacteria culture acknowledge that kefir is a gift from nature and must not be given any commercial value. However, due to maintenance costs, shipping and handling, most kefir “sharers” charge about $15-20 for 4 tablespoons of grains (which is enough to start growing your own) per shipment. The good news is this. You don”t need to buy anymore grains in the future after you’ve learned to grow them yourself.
Buy your kefir grains online, but make sure to get the real and active ones. There are people who sell kefir starters or dehydrated grains. The problem with grains that have been dried and dehydrated for packaging is that you would need to “wake” them up first before you can make your first drink.
Rehydrating kefir grains could take a long time, from 5 days to 2 weeks, and would need for you to use milk that you won’t be able to drink afterwards. This is because you rehydrate them in milk but you can’t drink it because it won’t be good. Also, the first batch of drink you will make may not taste right at first.
Meanwhile, there are kefir “sharers” that do share real active kefir grains that do not need rehydrating. These are the grains that are easiest to work with, especially if you are kefir-ing for the first time. Non-dehydrated kefir grains are ready to use to ferment milk, make kefir drink, and double in number so that you quickly build your own supply of grains.
How do I make a new batch of kefir grains from my old batch?
The answer to this question also answers the question, “How do I make kefir?” This is because as you make a kefir drink, you also make a new batch of grains. As the bacteria eat on the lactose, they ferment the milk and reproduce. You should know that bacteria reproduce asexually, which means they double in number much, much faster than humans do.
How do I transfer grains from an old container to a new one?
After making your first drink, do not throw away the grains. This is not lifeless tea that you throw away the bags after extracting all the flavor from the dried tea leaves. If I must say it for the third time, kefir grains are living substances. You don’t just benefit from them, you also let them benefit from you by letting them grow and repopulate.
After you’ve made your first batch of kefir drinks, it is time to strain the grains and place them into a new container. Straining your kefir grains carefully will do the trick. Make sure they don’t get contaminated. Lift and remove the kefir grains from the strainer and place into a clean glass jar. Don’t use metal. Some argue that metal has properties that can harm the bacteria.
It is often said and is so true, kefir grains will live and grow forever if cared for well. Here are other important pointers to make sure your kefir grains stay active, healthy and happy.
Use only clean, non-metallic utensils: glass or plastic containers, bamboo or cloth strainers, wooden spoons, etc.
Wash with non-chlorinated water and dry with natural cotton cloth.
Never use detergents or solvents to wash your grains and never let them come in contact with chlorinated water.
Don’t squeeze the grains.
Don’t deep freeze. It may take weeks to wake them up from being deep frozen.
Don’t heat or cook. Some decide to cook their kefir to add nutrients to their meal but those who cook their kefir realize that cooking will kill the kefir probiotic bacteria. Kefir growers never cook their kefir without first making sure that they have enough grains stored somewhere. Cooking, in fact is a good idea, rather than mixing old batches with the new ones or simply throwing them away.
And lastly, don’t forget to feed your grains.