Taking a Break
We all have seasons in our life. Some are busier, crazier, more hectic than others. There are times when I just don’t have the time or mental resources to add even one more little thing. Sometimes that one thing is making kefir. Sometimes I just want to go on vacation and not have to worry about anything, so we “close up shop” for a few weeks, including putting the kefir “on ice” while we’re away. I wasn’t joking when I said I learned to store my kefir grains before I ever learned to make kefir. Whatever your reason, chances are there will come a time when you will need to take a break from making kefir.
As it turns out, there are a few different methods of preserving kefir grains for those times when you need to take a break. These methods also work to preserve an extra batch of grains in the unfortunate event that something untoward happens to your active batch. It’s always nice to have a spare batch on hand! For those times you need to take a break from your grains, here are some methods to put your little guys to sleep (or at least slow them down).
This the the most common storage method I use. This way, the grains are right there ready and waiting for me when I have time to set a batch of kefir to ferment. To store your water kefir grains in the fridge for 2+ weeks, follow the directions in Water Kefir Part I with a few minor changes.
- You will want to double the amount of sugar and molasses (or mineral source of choice). You want to leave the grains with enough food to maintain them over an extended period of time.
- Cover the jar mouth with plastic wrap rather than a breatheable material. You want to prevent evaporation of the water, hence plastic wrap. Also, plastic wrap will not cause an explosion if pressure from fermentation builds up, which is why you don’t want to use a jar lid that seals. The plastic will give and vent itself once the pressure builds up enough.
- Place the jar of sugar water and kefir grains in the refrigerator rather than in a warm dark place. The cold slows the fermentation process, allowing the grains to survive longer in a single batch of sugar water.
You will want to check the jar periodically to make sure your grains still have enough sugar to stay alive. Mine are good for at least two weeks, but I have frequently had them last as long as four weeks this way. Just take a sniff in the jar every now and then. Once it starts to smell quite strongly like apple cider vinegar, taste test to see if the water is still sweet. If the water is still sweet, there is still sugar. Once the water starts to taste vinegary, it’s time for a new batch of water.
If you lose track of time and end up leaving your grains for longer than ideal, don’t panic just yet. Kefir grains are surprisingly resilient. Simply give them a new batch of regular sugar water every day for a few days and they should be fine.
This is another convenient and low maintenance method of preserving water kefir grains. You can dehydrate grains in one of two ways – counter top or dehydrator.
If using the counter top dehydration method, take the grains you wish to dehydrate and spread them out on a piece of paper towel (or other lint-free cloth or paper) and set them in a location where they will not be disturbed. Cover them with another paper towel to prevent dust and debris from settling on the drying grains while still allowing air to circulate. Leave them this way until the grains have dried out (usually 3-5 days, depending on the ambient environment). Once the grains are dry, place them in a plastic bag and store in the fridge.
When using the dehydrator, you will have to very closely monitor the temperature. Remember, kefir grains should not be exposed to an environment above 85F. Set your dehydrator up as you normally would and turn it to the lowest temperature setting possible. From what I understand, the lowest most dehydrators go is 95F (too hot for kefir grains). Place a candy thermometer in different locations in your dehydrator to find the coolest location. If you still can’t find a safe place for your grains, try removing the lid from the dehydrator and see if that causes a sufficient drop in temperature. Play around with it and see what works. For me, I had to remove the lid, use the highest layer (I have four trays for my dehydrator), and use the plastic liquid tray liner to reach a cool enough temperature. This kept the temperature of the location where my grains would be at to 83F.
Once you have the temperature/location sorted out, spread your grains on a liquid tray liner and place in the dehydrator. If you don’t have a liquid tray liner, plastic wrap or paper towel should work. You just want to make sure your grains don’t fall through the slats of the trays. Then, let the dehydrator run until the grains are dry. Mine takes about 8 hours, plus I let them sit out over night for good measure. Once the grains are dry, place them in a plastic bag and store in the fridge.
To use dehydrated grains, you will need to rehydrate them. To rehydrate the grains follow the steps as you would to store the grains in the fridge, but be sure to:
- cover the jar mouth with cheese cloth or a coffee filter like you normally would to ferment kefir;
- place the jar in a warm, dark place as you would to ferment kefir; and
- change the water every 1-3 days until the grains begin to show signs of fermenting the sugar water. You may need to repeat this process several times until you grains are fully “awake”.
It is worth noting that some people have a hard time getting rehydrated kefir grains to reproduce. They will still ferment well, they just may not reproduce as well as non-dehydrated grains would. I would recommend testing out this method with some spare grains to ensure the viability for your particular grains.
A third option for preserving water kefir grains is freezing. I have not personally attempted to freeze my kefir grains but have gleaned this information from others who have. To freeze your water kefir grains, mix up some sugar water, pour the grains and sugar water into a plastic bag, and place the bag in the freezer. To use the grains, simply take the frozen grains out of the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost. Once fully thawed, proceed with the same process you would use to rehydrate dehydrated kefir grains until your grains are fully “awake”.
If you want to try this method of preserving your kefir grains, I would recommend testing it out with some spare grains so you don’t accidentally kill off your whole supply if it doesn’t work.
What to do with Extras?
Anyone who has been making kefir for any length of time will know that you often end up with excess kefir grains. They like to reproduce when they are happy and healthy. It would be criminal to throw them out! But you also don’t want to be forced to buy another fridge to accommodate all your grains! If you happen to find yourself in the position of being over-run by kefir grains, there are a few things you can do.
- Give them away! Spread the wealth! I received my grains from someone who had too many. Water kefir is such a powerful, healing food, I can’t help but want to share it with as many people as possible! Somewhere out there is someone just like you when you were first starting out in your fermentation journey. Why not donate your excess grains to a good cause! There are several Facebook groups, like this one, dedicated to connecting people wanting to share kefir grains and SCOBYs.
- Eat them. Yes, I’m serious. A lot of people like to eat their excess kefir grains. A kind of “super shot” of probiotics if you will. If the idea of mowing down on some water kefir grains straight up squicks you out, you can blend them up in a shake.
- Feed them to your cat or dog. I’m not clear on the specific benefits of kefir grains for pets, but I do know of people who feed them to their pets and claim to notice significant benefits. Shelties are notoriously bad for digestive issues and Panda has been proving this lately. I’m planning on introducing Panda to kefir grains to see if it can improve her digestion. (Please note that I am not a veterinarian, and you should discuss any health issues your pet is having with your veterinarian.)
With these storage and repurposing ideas for your water kefir grains, you should never have to throw them out!
What do you like to do with your extra kefir grains? Any other tips or tricks for storing your grains? Questions about kefir? Leave a comment below. I want to hear about it!