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FAQ: Reviving, Sharing and Storing Grains
Questions in this Section:
What if I forget about my kefir and its really old?
What's the difference between dried and fresh/live kefir grains?
What should dried kefir grains look like?
How do you reactivate stored, dried or frozen water kefir grains?
How long does it take for dried or live shipped kefir grains to balance?
How do you share water kefir grains with others through the mail?
Should I give my kefir grains a rest?
How long does it take for kefir grains to balance after fasting/resting?
How do you dry water kefir grains for storage?
How long does it take for stored, frozen or dried kefir grains to reactivate?
Should kefir grains float?
Does ginger help your kefir grains?
Should I add minerals such as baking soda or calcium to the ferment?
What if I forget about my kefir and its really old?

Kefir keeps a LONG time, like wine. It may even smell just like wine (or pickles). Sometimes you can revive neglected or forgotten grains. Simply seperate them sugar-water in a strainer, give them a rinse with some clean cold, preferably non-chlorinated water, and put them in a new batch of sugar-water. They most likely won't be that active, so a little batch is enough, you don't want to waste a ton of sugar and other ingredients until you see signs of activity. If they seem to process the water into kefir, then they may be viable to use - keep feeding and wait at least a few days if not longer (water kefir can take longer than milk kefir grains to revive) before consuming, to ensure the drink is balanced. As with all things, use your best judgement and common sense, if it smells badly or looks off, toss it and secure some fresh new grains from your back-up storage or a friend.

What's the difference between dried and fresh/live Kefir grains?

We offer both choices because there are unique benefits to each. The fresh kefir grains re-balance quickly and begin producing drinkable kefir within just a few days of arriving after shipment. This is an excellent option if you live within the U.S. and are able to be home to receive the grains when they arrive and attend to them immediately. If you are either a) not located within the U.S. or b) not able to attend to the fresh grains immediately upon arrival, then dried kefir grains are the best option for you. These will take a little longer to activate - about a week or so to 'wake up' and balance to where they are producing a drinkable kefir. This is a great option if they will be in transit internationally, since they are in a dormant stage and will not degrade or be as likely to be damaged as the fresh grains. This also gives you the option to stick the dried grain in your cupboard or refrigerator if you receive them but are not yet ready to use them (or want to hang onto them as a backup source or a gift to give). Water kefir grains are known to sometimes be difficult to revive (or just take a long time) in some cases. Usually its hard to put the blame on any one thing, they just tend to be more fragile and picky than milk kefir grains.

What should Dried Kefir Grains look like?

Dried kefir grains color is dependant on the color of the sugars and sometimes the dried fruits it was fermented with. They can range from a murky clear color to a dark amber crystal brown (like a rootbeer candy). They are smaller in size, about the size of candy nerds, than their fresh, active counterparts. They are rubbery or completely hard, depending on how dried they are. If you are going to store them for awhile you will want them completely dry and hard.

How do you reactivate stored, dried or frozen water kefir grains?

Grains that have been stored in sugar-water for a short time (2 months or less), can simply be placed in a small amount of sugar-water at room temperature for 24 hours. Start out with less than what you would normally use for the amount of grains at hand. Watch to see if it kefirs in that time period. If it over-ferments, give it more, if not, continue with small amounts every 24-48 hours until the grains' metabolism speeds up and starts to produce a balanced kefir that is ready in 24-48 hours each time (should take anywhere from 2-10 days). If the grains were stored in the fridge for longer than 2 months, it can be helpful to rinse them and gently rub them under cold, clean water. This is to help rub off a 'pickled' outer layer. You can also take some scissors, or a meat pounder to open up the grains and expose fresher surface areas (or toss them in the blender). If your grains were frozen, allow them to thaw in the fridge, and then strain, giving them a very small amount of fresh sugar-water and let ferment at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Watch to see if it kefirs in that time period. If it over-ferments, give it more sugar-water, if not, continue with small amounts every 24-48 hours until the grains' metabolism speeds up and starts to produce a balanced kefir that is ready in 24-48 hours each time (should take anywhere from 3-14 days). If the grains were dried, first, rehydrate them in some fresh, cold, clean water for a couple hours. This helps them to regain their shape and ability to ferment before plunking them straight into the sugar-water (and having them sitting there doing nothing for a few hours). Then place them in a their typical amount of sugar-water. Allow it to ferment at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Watch to see if it kefirs in that time period. If it over-ferments, give it more, if not, continue the cycles until the grains' metabolism speeds up and starts to produce a balanced kefir that is ready to drink in 24-48 hours each time (should take anywhere from 2-10 days). It may take anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks (12 being extreme) to notice any kind of actual grain growth and improved appearance in any one of these situations of reviving the grains. They will eventually appear more normal and grow more vigorously given time and patience! Toss any crumbly or hard grains that don't seem to revive after 12 weeks.

How long does it take for dried or live shipped kefir grains to balance?

This can take anywhere from a couple days to a week. Water differs region to region (and brand to brand), so the grains will also be adjusting to new water (and sugar, fruit and lemons) most likely as well. Dried grains can take a little longer- a week to 2 weeks is common. Kefir grains may not start growing right away, but they should be properly kefiring the sugar-water they are in by this time. Growth can start happening right away, or it may take up to 3-5 weeks before you start noticing growth (usually the case with dried, not live).

How do you share water kefir grains with others through the mail?

Water kefir grains can be shipped fresh if shipped quickly - 2-5 days being the max transit time. Simply put them in a bag or bottle, and fill with sugar-water, leaving the bag or bottle 2/3 empty. Squish the remaining air out (so there is room for expansion to help the bag from popping open). Place the bag or bottle in another bag for added security, and ship immediately. Shipping dried is quite simple - just dry the grains, and package them securely in a bag or envelope (preferably padded). They can also be shipped naked - but must be shipped quickly since they are without a food source, and not dormant - 2-5 days max transit time. Completely dried can be shipped as slow as desired, since these last at least 6+ months.

Should I give my kefir grains a rest?

It's always helpful for everything under the sun to have a break once in awhile. A couple times a year is quite sufficient, they will keep going regardless of getting a rest or not, but it seems they do appreciate a vacation once in awhile.

How long does it take for kefir grains to balance after fasting/resting?

Since fasting or resting is only done for a week or less, it usually takes around 4-6 days (2 cycles of 48 hours approximately) to balance and be back up to speed in no time!

How do you dry water kefir grains for storage?

Simply rinse them in cold, clean water (either under running water in a sieve, or stirring gently in a bowl of fresh water, changing the water a couple times). Then pat dry with a clean, ironed towel or clean papertowel. Wrap these grains in a dry clean, ironed towel (or papertowel), sealing the edges to prevent fruit flies. You can place them on a clean plate or other clean flat surface that has a breathable but fly-proof top. Let them sit in a well-ventilated area that is not too cold or hot. You can even set up a fan to speed up the process. They should take 3-5 days to dry. They will be fully dry when they are completely hard (and half their original size). You can also try dehydrating them in a food dehydrator at about 78°F (25°C) for approximately 2 hours, but this is not as recommended because they are sensitive to heat.

How long does it take for stored, frozen or dried kefir grains to reactivate?

Stored grains from the fridge, freezer, or dried in the cupboard are very similar to re-balancing live or dried grains from the mail. It can take anywhere from a couple days to a week. Dried or frozen grains can take a week to 2 at the most. Kefir grains may not start growing right away, but they should be properly kefiring the sugar-water they are in by 5-14 days. Growth can start happening right away, or it may take up to 3-5 weeks before you start noticing growth (usually the case with dried, not live).

Should kefir grains float?

Yes, sometimes. Most kefir grains encapsulate some of the carbon dioxide gas that the yeasts give off while fermenting. Also, some grains have less density than the liquid, and simply float. Some will be dense enough though (and manage to avoid capturing bubbles) that they remain on the bottom. Sometimes grains that have been subjected to severe freezer burn, high heat or their outer layer is too encrusted and hard from being dried (or old), also float (and they may not be able to be revived). It is best to see if these are able to propagate new grains (though they themselves may not recover) or toss them if no growth or kefiring is achievable with them. If they reproduce new grains, then you are good to go!

Does ginger help your kefir grains?

Some people have noticed good growth with freshly peeled ginger slices, candied ginger, or ginger juice. In some cases this may be because the grains are actually ginger beer grains and not water kefir (they look extremely similar). Since even within the water kefir grain species, grain 'families' can differ, you will have to experiment for yourself to see if your water kefir likes it. And just because it doesn't show any indication of liking it at one point, you may notice it take off and grow rapidly at another time (water kefir is always in flux and changing). We have found it fascinating that water kefir tends to also have cycles of preferences - for example, just as someone might really have a banana craving for a couple weeks, and then tire of it and move on to another snack, water kefir also likes variety. It seems that they are most healthy when exposed to a wide range of nutrients, and are also resting from other nutrients (and then returning to them). For example, you may give them apricots for a couple weeks, then dates, then figs, then ginger slices, then repeat.

Should I add minerals such as baking soda or calcium to the ferment?

Yes, sometimes the grains needs call for added minerals. This is most usually the case when they seem to be lagging a bit and could use a boost. If you are giving them mineralized or hard water, lots of unrefined sugar (like rapadura, Rapunzel, etc) then the issue may not be minerals. It is always worth a shot to see if your grains will benefit from a pinch of baking soda (about 1/8 teaspoon per quart). Don't use baking powder. Sometimes they can also benefit from a likewise pinch of calcium carbonate from sources like dolomite (shell), boiled and sanitary egg shells, or supplemental powders you can find in your local grocery or health food store or online. If the water becomes murky, thick, slimy or the grains do worse, then it's an indication that there are already plenty of minerals and no more are necessary at the moment.
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