How to Remove Milk Kefir Grains from Finished Kefir
Your delicious milk kefir has been happily bubbly for 24 hours fermenting your chosen milk into delicious kefir. It is time to pour off the kefir and start the process again so the kefir grains can be replenished and you can either chill the kefir for drinking or choose to second ferment it.
The Traditional Method
If you are choosing the relatively traditional method for making kefir, where the grains are immersed in the milk, most of them will be working their magic at the bottom of the container. However you may find some are defying gravity and are floating at the surface. It is important that you have been shaking your kefir so these floating grains are not always exposed to air as that is when they are more susceptible to wild yeasts and bacteria. Immersed in the acidic culture of the kefir they are relatively safe from any intruders. Left at the surface the yeasts may dominate and the kefir may have a decidedly fermented odor.
With a Strainer
Prior to pouring off the kefir, give your kefir a good shake (or a stir if the lid cannot be trusted) and prepare the other utensils you will need.
- A quality strainer either made of food grade plastic or quality stainless steel. One that fits neatly over the container that will collect your kefir is best so that it remains stable and not likely to flip up causing any loss of precious grains. It should be clean and dry before use.
- A container suitable for holding the whole amount of kefir that you have just cultured. Anything too small will just make for a hassle to pour out the new culture and run more risk of losing either kefir or grains. It should also be clean and dry.
1) Place the strainer over the container and carefully pour off the fresh milk kefir through the sieve until all has been removed from the fermentation container.
2 ) Leave some moments for the kefir to seep through, then with clean hands or a suitable utensil, carefully move the grains around to ensure as much kefir has drained off. You might also tap the sieve against the sides of the container to jolt the liquid through the holes.
In the event that the kefir has started to separate in to curds and whey you will have a slightly more difficult task of removing the grains. First it is important to remix the curds and whey as much as possible so either stir the fresh kefir vigorously or fasten the lid securely and shake well. This should break up the curds to a manageable level but leave the grains intact.
Milk kefir grains are quite firm and not particularly delicate, however if you are too rough they may break apart and become stuck in the sieve. In this case you will be losing the opportunity to save any grains that are extra to your requirements. Any that do end up in the kefir will not be a problem to you though; they are perfectly safe to drink.
3) It is wise to wash out the fermentation container though and dry it thoroughly before adding the grains back to it and adding milk for the new fermentation.
With Your Hands
If your grains are healthy and of a decent size you might choose to remove them by hand. Ensure your hands are clean and dry before starting. (Dry hands contain far less possibility of carrying any nasty microbes. And do not wash with anti bacterial soap as any residue maybe damaging to your healthy grains – the soap cannot differentiate good from bad.)
Alternatively pour the fresh kefir and grains into a shallow container and scoop the grains out with your hands, slotted spoon or such like. Again make sure everything is clean.
The Infusion Method
If you have chosen some method of infusion rather than having the grains immersed directly in the milk then you simply remove the pouch containing the grains and let the kefir drip out of them.
Pour the kefir off into suitable bottles or storage container, wash off the fermentation container, dry it and add milk and the drained grains.
This method may seem simpler and easier but the disadvantage is that is difficult to ensure all the grains are exposed to the uncultured milk and there may be the risk of them not being adequately fed by the lactose they require. It may mean also that the milk is not fully fermented.
The advantage is that the grains are not being rubbed against abrasive surfaces of the sieve and less likely to break up and be lost into the kefir.
The difficulty here is to find the RIGHT sized pouch that can hold the kefir grains. If the mesh in the pouch is too large, the grains will fall through the pouch. If the mesh is too small, the grains won’t ferment the entire batch of milk properly, since the area around the mesh will solidify and the solid kefir blocks the kefir grains’ access to the rest of the milk (you get a half fermented milk).
You also need to choose the right type of material — hemp works best, but it’s hard to find.
Remember to Remove Excess Grains or Feed them More Milk
If you follow either of these methods hopefully your milk kefir grains remain happy and healthy enough to continuously culture your chosen milk. They may also become very active and grow in number during each ferment. The easiest way to check this without having to resort to weighing the grains every time is to make a mark on the fermentation container at exactly the height of the required amount of grains. This can be done with waterproof ink or by sticking a place of tape around at the required level. You can immediately see when you replace the grains if there are any extra.
With the pouch/infusion method it is not so easy and you will either have to regularly quantify by volume or weight
Do You Need to Clean your Grains?
Despite some information to the contrary I do not believe there is any need to rinse healthy grains before reuse.
Without rinsing they are coated in a small amount of their own protective acidic kefir and ready to get to work again.
If they get rinsed there is the risk that the water may contain infectious yeasts or bacteria and being relatively neutral acid wise, water is not the best medium for milk loving grains to be exposed to. It is worth remembering that the original kefir making method did not even remove the grains from their fermentation container (most likely a goat skin) so they were always surrounded by some loving kefir.
I’ve been brewing kefir for years now (same grains) and I don’t wash the grains. In fact, I’ll reuse the same container over and over without washing it!