Kefir has gained incredible popularity in recent years, however, due to its nature, it grows rapidly. Therefore understanding how to store kefir grains for later use can be incredibly helpful.
You can safely store milk kefir grains in the fridge for up to four weeks or the freezer for around six months and water kefir grains in the fridge for up to six months and the freezer for up to a year.
Generally the colder the storage location the more significant the pause in growth for these tiny miracle-working grains.
In this post, I’ll be explaining the processes I’ve found work best for freezing, refrigerating and dehydrating both water and milk kefir grains so you can find the method that’s right for you.
What Are Milk Kefir Grains?
Milk kefir grains are the grains used to make kefir drinks. They are live gelatinous-looking grains made of yeasts and bacteria feeding on milk, as well as culturing it.
Kefir grains are a mother culture, which means they can multiply indefinitely when in the right conditions.
Depending on the origin and the environment they are kept in, different types of microorganisms live inside these grains.
When making a kefir drink, similar in texture to drinkable yogurt, the grains are known to produce dozens of strains of good bacteria.
People consuming kefir drinks usually do it for their benefits on the immune system and the digestive tract.
What Are Water Kefir Grains?
Water kefir is similar to milk kefir in the sense that it has the ability to create a fermented drink which can benefit the immune system and the digestive tract.
However, unlike milk kefir which is made from the milk from a cow, sheep, or goat, water kefir is made by combining sugar water with water kefir grains.
As water kefir is made from water it’s suitable for both vegans and those with dairy intolerances.
How To Freeze Kefir Grains
You may want to freeze your kefir grains if you’re looking to take a break from making homemade kefir or have too much kefir and don’t want to waste any.
The freezing process allows for the mother culture to continue to be preserved without consistently growing.
To freeze the grains, first, strain them from the kefir or milk they are submerged in. Make sure the water is non-chlorinated, as this ensures the yeasts and bacteria are not damaged in the process.
Second, dry them by patting them with a paper towel or by letting them air-dry.
Then, put the milk kefir grains in a jar or a plastic bag and add some dried milk powder, making sure all grains are covered.
Finally, place the jar or bag in the freezer, ideally in a spot where the temperature stays steady.
The grains can survive for between 3 and 12 months in the freezer. However, beyond the six-month mark, you may notice a change in both flavor and texture.
If you’re looking to freeze water grains instead of milk grains then simply follow the process above but without the dried milk powder.
How To Defrost Kefir
I recommend defrosting kefir by simply moving it from the freezer into the fridge for 24 hours.
While you can move the grains onto the countertop to defrost them in a shorter period of time (around four to six hours depending on the temperature of your household) it’s not something I’d recommend.
This is mainly due to the way the grains are stored in the freezer and their sensitive nature.
If you have water kefir and not milk kefir then you’ll need to add some liquid to the grains before moving them to the refrigerator.
I’ve found either coconut water, coconut milk, or non-chlorinated water mixed with sugar works best.
Once the kefir has been defrosted it may take a couple of days of revitalization for the grains to become cultivating at full capacity again.
Tools & Equipment For Freezing Food
These are my tried and tested tools and equipment for freezing food.
Whether it’s fresh fruits or completely prepared meals these tools will make the process easier, and the food last longer and taste better!
Containers – We opt for glass containers as they are better for the environment, much higher quality and don’t stain like plastic, however they are an investment.
So if you’re short on money buy high-quality plastic containers in the meantime.
Just be sure that you buy your containers in a range of sizes as you’ll be using them to freeze and store a range of different foods.
Ziplock Bags – Invest in quality freezer bags and they’ll help keep out air, prevent frost and keep your food fresh for longer.
The majority of the high-quality ziplock bags come with a small area for you to write information about the food (i.e. what it is, when it was frozen and defrosting instructions) on the bag.
Ice Cube Trays – Ice cube trays can help you freeze more than just water. Instead, we use them for freezing small portions of food such as egg whites, tomato sauce, pesto etc.
Simply add the food to the tray, freeze and once frozen pop the food out and into a ziplock bag, then you can simply take one or two portions of food out and defrost as needed.
Foil Baking Containers – We use foil baking containers when we’re batch cooking frozen meals.
They are affordable, durable and come in a variety of sizes allowing you to portion out or put everything in one large container to be cooked at a later date.
If all that wasn’t enough, the majority of meals are safe to be cooked in the oven with the foil container. This reduces the amount of hassle, time and washing up you’ll have to do – winner!
How To Store Kefir In The Fridge
You can also store both milk and water kefir grains in the fridge, however unlike the freezing process the refrigeration method varies in both the process and length of time in which the grains will remain active.
I choose to store my kefir in the fridge if I’m only looking to take a short break i.e. I have too much kefir right now, or I’m going away for around two weeks.
To safely refrigerate your kefir grains begin by placing them into a clear jar. This can be glass or food-grade plastic, metal is not recommended as it can leach when in constant contact with the Kefir grains.
Thick glass jars with a rubber seals are recommended to lessen the hazard of the kefir exploding.
Then cover the grains in liquid. For water grains that liquid should be either water with one tablespoon of sugar or finished kefir. For milk grains that liquid should be milk. It is essential in both cases that the grains are fully submerged.
Then cover the jar loosely with a lid (maintaining a small amount of airflow is key) and store in the fridge.
In both cases, you should change the liquid roughly every 2 weeks.
Milk kefir will only last up to 14 days in the refrigerator however water kefir grains can last up to six months.
Much like the freezing and defrosting process, it will take a couple of days for the grains to fully wake back up and begin producing at a steady rate once again.
How To Dehydrate Kefir Grains
Kefir grains can be purchased online. When shipped they will come in a dehydrated form. Should you wish to safely preserve your kefir grains for a long period of time or ship some to friends and family you can dehydrate them too.
This process is simple and easy to follow, but better still it doesn’t require a dehydrator (although that will significantly speed up the process)
To begin, simply rinse the grains with filtered water if you have water grains or milk if you have milk kefir grains.
Then, lay the grains out on either a small towel or piece of kitchen roll to dry.
Once the majority of the water has drained from the grains move them onto a sheet of unbleached parchment paper or wax paper and cover them with a towel.
If you have a dehydrator at this point you’d move them to a sheet inside the dehydrator. Set the dehydrator to the lowest setting and leave them for between 3 and 4 hours. Add an additional hour as needed.
If you don’t have a dehydrator then simply leave the grains to dry. This process can take anything from 3 to 5 days depending on the room temperature. I’ve found turning the grains over with a spoon or spatula after 24 hours can significantly speed up the process.
Once the grains have dried they should be stored in the fridge or the freezer. Milk kefir grains should once again be placed in powdered milk if stored in the freezer.
Much like the processes listed above, it will take a couple of days for the grains to fully wake back up and begin producing at a steady rate once again.
How To Tell If Your Kefir Has Died
I’m pretty sure I thought my kefir had died more than half a dozen times during the first few months of culturing.
The truth of the matter is that kefir is relatively resilient, however, the entire process also takes some getting used to.
Therefore if you’re new to culturing kefir (within the past month), I advise you to stick to the process before giving up on your grains.
Kefir is a living organism and therefore requires food and a warm environment to survive. In the case of milk kefir, the food is milk and water kefir the food is water. Without these two things, your kefir will die.
You’ll know if your kefir has died if it continuously is unable to culture and/or smells funny or looks strange despite multiple attempted reactivation processes.
How To Revive Your Kefir Grains (Water + Milk)
If your kefir has been in storage (fridge, freezer or otherwise) for a long period of time or is struggling to culture then you can implement a number of different techniques to help it along the way.
These processes apply for both water and milk kefir grains.
Boil the kettle to remove chlorine and leave for 10 minutes until it’s luke warm.
Then rinse the grains in the water before moving them to a glass jar (you can use other materials but I’ve found glass to be the best)
Cover the grains in liquid. Milk for milk grains and water for water grains.
If you’re using milk kefir grains I’ve found that pasteurized milk works best during the regeneration process. However, over time (around 2 – 4 weeks) you can switch to raw milk if you wish.
I also found that full-fat milk works best for the regeneration process. However, much like the type of milk, you can change this over time (again around 2 – 4 weeks) if required.
I’ve found the ratio 1 tablespoon of grains to 1 cup of liquid works best when you’re first reactivating grains or bringing them back to life. Although in time the kefir will require more liquid – 1 tablespoon to 4 cups is not uncommon.
Cover your kefir jar with a material that allows the grains to breathe such as a dish towel, paper towel, or coffee filter.
Then, leave the grains to ferment in a warm, dark spot for around 24 hours.
If you have fermented your grains for too long or in temperatures too warm (over 30 degrees for longer than 12 hours) then they may become over-fermented. When this happens you’ll find that the liquid separates into curds and becomes very strong and flavourful.
If this is not to your taste simply strain the grains and repeat the process.
How To Know When Your Kefir Is Ready
You’ll know if your kefir is ready to be used when it becomes slightly thick. Over time you’ll be able to tell if your kefir is ready simply from the smell – we joke in our house that you can smell the fermentation.
If you find that your grains are slightly yellow or the liquid is runny, don’t worry. That’s simply a sign that you can use more milk or reduce the fermentation time during your next process. Again, this is a learning curve. The majority of people get the hang of it after around 2 – 4 weeks.