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Water Kefir FAQ: Straining & Finishing

 

Water Kefir FAQ's 

Part 5 - Straining & Finishing

Questions in this Section:

How do you know when the kefir is ready?
How do I remove my kefir grains from the kefir once its ready?
What size strainer is appropriate for straining kefir grains?
Do you have to be gentle with kefir grains?
Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?
Should you include some of the last batch in the new batch?
How can I reduce the amount of alcohol in kefir?
What is 'ripening' kefir and how do you do it?
How do I get my kefir to be more fizzy and carbonated?
Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?
How long do active kefir grains last?
How long does it take for dried or live shipped kefir grains to balance?
How long does it take for stored, frozen or dried kefir grains to reactivate?
What if I forgot to strain my kefir when it was ready?
Where can you store kefir?
How long can you store kefir/when should you drink it by?

How do you know when the kefir is ready?

When you nudge the jar and bubbles fly up from the bottom, and if it has a sour bite (not just a flat extremely sweet water) it is most likely ready. To test just stick a straw or spoon in to try. 'Double dipping' is ok but not really recommended. Technically speaking this is at a ph of about 4.5, if you have a ph meter to test. Some people like to drink it at 24 hours while others like a tart and more bubbly kefir and will wait the full 48 hours. A lot of people expect a very sour and very bubbly drink - this is not the case until after you store it. Water kefir is mildly sweet-sour with just a tiny bit of bubbles when first strained. If you bottle it for a day or more, it will greatly increase in carbonation and reduce the sugar more (and increase the alcohol a bit). It truly is drinkable at any point so there is nothing to really worry over. Once you get into the swing of things you will naturally know when your kefir is done to your preference and how to tweak it or bottle it to improve flavor and fizz if desired. A mild kefir tends to have a laxative effect and an over-fermented kefir a constipating one, thus most people try to achieve a kefir somewhere in between.

How do I remove my kefir grains from the kefir once its ready?

You can use a strainer (wood, plastic, nylon, or stainless steel). The kefir will pour right through, leaving just the grains in the strainer. You can also keep your grains in a clean, non-bleached muslin bag or unbleached tea bag, and simply pull the bag out when done. This is a nice option to make the process more simple and quick, but the grains sometimes do not ferment as well. You can also use your clean hands, kefir grains don't mind being touched! It's ok that they sit in the strainer 'naked' and dry for a bit while waiting for the new batch of sugar-water to be prepared.

What size strainer is appropriate for straining kefir grains?

Kefir grains are pretty tangible in size, so you do not need a microscopic, super dense strainer. Any strainer around 1/8" in hole size (or 2mm) is a good starting point. This is basically any strainer that is not a pasta strainer with large or fancy shaped cut-outs for the holes. Most strainers now a days are made from stainless steel or plastic (and its many forms, such as nylon, rubber etc) - both of which are acceptable to use with your grains. We also carry some as well that are kefir-friendly. Bamboo/wood is also a safe material - just make sure to clean it well between strainings. If you prefer to use a finer mesh, it will take longer to strain. Anything bigger, and some tiny curds can slip through and although quite safe to consume, will most likely ferment your bottled kefir too much.

Do you have to be gentle with kefir grains?

Water Kefir grains are pretty hardy little guys. They are a little more fragile than milk kefir grains in that they can break apart easier. Just like grass, it can take a good beating but it will wear down over time if exposed to excessive stress. To give you an idea, kefir grains will survive a blender, a hammer, freezing, some heat (but not cooking), and of course, drying. This does not mean they should be handled this way - care for them like you would any pet, and they will be extremely happy and productive for it!

Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?

Some people like to do this, but it was never done traditionally and is not necessary at all. By nature, they are a symbiotic mass of microflora that has self-inoculating properties, protecting itself from foreign bacteria or yeast. The lactic acid it excretes also protects it from becoming contaminated. Many have observed that when they stopped rinsing their grains, they grew better and produced better kefir. This pertains to the jar as well - which does not need to be washed each and every time. Sometimes they can get a filmy coating on their surface that may indicate they need a gentle scrub and rinse (along with less minerals, fruit, or unrefined sugars too) though. If you wish to rinse them, make sure it is clean, non-chlorinated water. Simply run them under flowing water or swish them around in a bowl of clean water and drain off.

Should you include some of the last batch in the new batch?

Once your grains are strong and growing and fermenting successfully and consistently, it is not necessary to always use a lemon. Instead, you can use about 1/8-1/4 cup of the kefir from the last batch as your 'acidic' ph lowering tool (per quart water). Since in the past this was most likely done as a continual ferment (a ferment that you drink out of and then replace that amount with fresh water and sugar, never straining the grains out) this would have been the case that enough of the liquid was already low in ph to protect the ferment. But it is in fact not necessary to do this either if your grains are proving to be healthy and productive. In some cases this can add too much yeast and cause a foamy ferment. If you notice your grains not growing as well, or too much foam on the top of the water, then cut back or skip this procedure for awhile.

How can I reduce the amount of alcohol in kefir?

There isn't really a way to reduce alcohol save boiling the kefir (which then negates all the healthful properties of the living probiotics). To discourage increases in alcohol simply keep your lid on loose while fermenting and during storage as well. This oxidation encourages acetic acids (which turn wine into vinegar) to balance the process. Alcohol is formed by yeast in a mostly anaerobic/no air environment. Lactic acid is formed by the bacteria in a low-oxygen environment. Store with ample room between the kefir and the lid to provide more oxygen. This will encourage the various bacteria to be as balance out the yeast, and diminish the amount of alcohol it is able to form. The alcohol produced will also depend on the type and amount of sugar, grains and fermentation time. More sugar will create a higher alcohol content (especially if bottled in an air-tight container). A shorter ferment will also be too high in sugar and not high enough in the acids that help to counter balance the alcohol activity.

What is 'ripening' kefir and how do you do it?

This simply means letting your finished, strained kefir sit out a bit before consuming. This is done to increase the folic acid and B vitamin content (particularly B1, B6 and B9), improve the flavor, decrease the sugar content, and increase the carbonation and alcohol content of your kefir. To ripen your kefir simply strain the grains out, bottle your finished kefir, and then let it sit out on the counter or in the fridge for another day or two. Remember this will make it more acidic by nature of the increasing folic acid. Be careful to store it in a thick safe bottle that won't explode (dangerous and messy!), since the bottle will build up pressure. If in doubt, 'burp' the bottle once or twice a day by opening the lid to let the pressure out and then closing it up again. This won't interfere with the ripening or carbonation process.

How do I get my kefir to be more fizzy and carbonated?

Kefir is only slightly effervescent straight from its ferment - to add more fizz, try bottling it for a few days. Seal your freshly strained kefir in an airtight bottle in the fridge or on the counter for a few days. You can even add a little fresh sugar to encourage the process a bit more. Leave about an inch between the liquid and the cap (this is how champagne is made, too). To avoid bursting bottles (dangerous and messy!), 'burp' your kefir bottle once a day. Just un-screw the lid, let the pressured air escape, and re-seal it. This will not diminish the amount of fizz, and is actually quite helpful in building up more carbonation without having your bottle explode in the process. It's best to use thick jars with rubber seals to avoid bursting. Sluggish kefir and winter kefir tend to be more mild and flat, whereas summer kefir can be more fizzy and tangy. If you think your kefir is sluggish, try giving it a rest (explained below) and then fermenting it in a warmer spot in your home.

Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?

Water kefir needs to be fed at least every 48 hours (every other day). Kefir grains need to be strained every 24-48 hours (24 hours being hot summer weather, most of the time they can go to 48 or even another day in the cold winter months) and put in a fresh mix of water and sugar. If you or your grains would like to take a break, stick them in the fridge, refreshing them weekly with fresh water and sugar or simply put them in their finished kefir juice for up to a week or two. This can be done for a couple weeks, then they should be brought back out to room temperature. If you need a longer break, view our section on storage.

How long do active Kefir Grains last?

Indefinitely with good care - they are a living, consuming organism that are in a constant state of reproduction. Some may get weaker over time for one reason or another (neglected, frozen, etc), but they will nonetheless do all they can to keep marching on! They have already lived over a thousand years as it is.

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 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).

What if I forgot to strain my kefir when it was ready?

Water Kefir Grains are very forgiving. Strain when you remember, and feed them normally. They may be extra happy and eat through the new sugar-water quickly, so keep an eye on them and strain when it tastes ready (whether its before or after the 24-48 hour mark). If its been more than a week they may need some time to re-balance, and you may want to wait to consume the kefir until after a couple of cycles/batches.

Where can you store kefir?

Strained water kefir can be stored either on the counter or the fridge. It will continue to ferment both ways, the fridge of course being the much slower of the two. If on the counter, it will quickly morph into a rather fizzy and tart concotion (with more acid and alcohol) - its best to only do this for 12-24 hours, and then stick in the fridge to slow it down some. You can also store your kefir in the freezer. It will kill off some of the cultures but quite a few will remain viable, and will make excellent healthy and delicious popsicles!

How long can you store kefir/when should you drink it by?

It is best to drink kefir within 2 weeks. Our opinion is that kefir is best about a day or two after you have strained it, and bottled it in the fridge - this allows for more B Vitamins to develop, without risking too much of an increase in acid or alcohol. This gives you time for any secondary flavors to set and meld with the kefir as well. It tends to be more fizzy and have a more developed and dimensional flavor, too. You can continuously add your freshly strained kefir to your existing kefir, giving it a shake to distribute, or you can start fresh each time, dumping what you haven't consumed. Kefir can be stored for quite a long time, since the bacteria and yeast actively and continuously preserve it. However, the alcohol and/or acetic content will increase and it will get increasingly sour and fizzy over time. Bottles left and forgotten in the fridge for a couple months might smell like pickled juice, or just like wine upon opening them (though not at all rotten!).