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Caring for your Milk Kefir culture grains

by Amber Fairweather |

FAQ: General information on how to care for your grains (milk kefir culture specific information below)

Whether you’re making milk kefir, water kefir or ginger beer, the grains or rather organisms/cultures used in the fermentation process need special care to unfold their maximum potential and provide you with the healthy beneficial bacteria that they are known for. Here are some general tips and guidelines on how to care for your cultures and ensure that your fermentation process is successful.


Is it true that I shouldn’t use metal spoons for stirring?

Yes, that is right. Metal tends to react with most cultured foods and cultures should therefore not come into contact with cultures for a prolonged time. For making kefir, stainless steel is acceptable, though you should avoid any prolonged contact with any of your culture to avoid damaging them. Plastic is more suitable, but of course is not ideal for our environment and at Symbiota we aim to get a balance between looking after our earth and our cultures. We therefore advise to only expose your grains to stainless steel for a very short time, such as when straining them after the fermentation process is finished. Avoid all other metals.


Do I need to rinse grains/ cultures between making batches?

No, there is no need to rinse your cultures unless your cultures have been left to stand for longer than their suggested times and they have started to smell “off”. To try save them, you can rinse them with filtered water and try rebrewing them several times to see if they regain life. 


Do I need to rinse my fermentation jar between making batches?

There is no right or wrong answer. Some people prefer to use a clean jar for each batch, but this is not necessary. Some people simply rinse their jars between batches while others leave their jars until there is a build up and their jars start looking scummy. Jars that have a build up will contribute to faster fermentation times, while clean jars will result in a slightly slower fermentation time. What is important, is that when jars are cleaned, they are fully rinsed with clean water so that there is no soap residue. Soap residue will affect the bacteria.


Can I use plastic containers and bottles to make or store kefir and ginger beer?

We don’t recommend using plastic for various reasons. Not only does it have a negative impact on our environment but plastic can also leach undesirable chemicals into your fermentations. Therefore, glass is the best option for fermenting any kind of food or drink. However, if you have a plastic bottle lying around that can be tightly sealed, these do work very well for second stage ferments. They limit explosions and support a great carbonated finish to your second ferment.


Milk kefir grains

Originating in the Caucasus mountains, mother cultures have been passed on through generations to produce healthy, fermented drinks and desserts.

Milk kefir grains are made up of 2 composite organisms, yeast and bacteria, which act in symbiosis with each other and the milk they feed from. Milk kefir is high in nutrients and probiotics. Kefir breaks lactose down into lactic acid, so kefir is much lower in lactose and can often be tolerated by people who suffer from lactose intolerances.


What kinds of milk can I use to make milk kefir?

Milk kefir is best used with good quality cow’s milk. However, supermarket milk works just fine, just not UHT milk and powdered milk often doesn't have the required minerals. People do sometimes use coconut milk, sheep milk or goats’ milk in between batches, but your cultures will not survive on only those milks. They need to be placed back in diary milk, between batches, to keep strong and survive.


Can I reuse milk kefir grains?

Yes, you can. Once you have finished making a batch of milk kefir, simply remove the grains by straining the kefir and place them into a clean jar of fresh milk. Milk kefir culture will continue to multiply and have the capacity to ferment larger batches of milk kefir.


What should I do with my excess milk kefir cultures when they multiply?

Some people like to eat their excess milk kefir grains or add them to smoothies for the extra nutrients and probiotics, however if this is not your things you can simply add them to the compost heap, feed them to the chickens or discard them.


How long to milk kefir grains last?

If cared for appropriately, milk kefir grains have an unlimited life span and can be used for making milk kefir over and over again.


How do I store kefir grains if I don’t want to use them again straight away?

You can get your milk kefir grains to ‘hibernate’ by storing them in a cup of milk in the fridge. However, this shouldn’t happen too regularly, otherwise your kefir grains will slow down and begin to lose vitality. Getting them to hibernate too often will put unnecessary stress on them, making them less efficient and reliable as the balance between bacteria and yeast can be disrupted. If you do place them in the fridge to have a break, simply change the cup of milk they are in weekly, so they still have food otherwise they will starve and die. You can store them like this for up to one month.


What is the best place to make milk kefir?

The warmer the climate, the faster the fermentation process. However, don’t expose culturing kefir to direct sunlight. The best range is between 18°-24° Celsius.

If you have any unanswered questions please let us know at info@symbiota.co.nz so we can add the information to our blogs:)