Safely Putting Starter Cultures on Hold for a Vacation

 

Natural starter cultures generally stay at an optimal health level if they are fed or recultured on a regular basis. But what if you need to take an extended break or leave town? For the occasional break, natural starter cultures such as heirloom-variety yogurts, sourdough, kombucha, and kefir grains can be safely put on hold with just a few simple steps.  

Jump to: Sourdough, Yogurt, Buttermilk, Kombucha, Milk Kefir Grains, Water Kefir Grains

 

Sourdough Starters
To take an extended break from working with a sourdough starter, place a snug lid on your freshly fed sourdough starter and place the container in the refrigerator. Gluten-based sourdough starters will generally keep for up to a few weeks in the fridge although we do not recommend storing a sourdough starter for more than a week on a regular basis. A few times a year is generally fine. When you return to working with your starter, plan on an extra feeding cycle or two to bring the sourdough out of hibernation. Please note: gluten-free sourdough starters are much more temperamental and more greatly influenced by neglect. If you are working with a gluten-free starter, you may want to ask a friend to feed it every few days to keep it active and healthy. Store the starter in the refrigerator between feedings.


Yogurt and Buttermilk Starters
If you are working with an heirloom-variety culture (the type that perpetuates from batch to batch), the method used for putting the starter on hold will depend on how long you need to leave your yogurt or buttermilk.

  • Refrigeration: Heirloom-variety starter cultures can generally survive 7 days in the refrigerator. This is the most reliable way to preserve your starter. If possible, make a small batch of yogurt or buttermilk right before you leave, then use the starter to make a new batch no more than 7 days later.
  • Freezing: A small amount of yogurt or buttermilk can be frozen for up to a few weeks. Because the bacteria will degrade over time, we recommend freezing 3 to 4 times the amount you will require to make a new batch and limiting freezing to no more than a few weeks.
  • Drying: As a last resort, yogurt and buttermilk starters can generally be dried. Spread a small amount of starter on a piece of unbleached parchment paper. Leave the yogurt or buttermilk to dry in a warm, safe spot no more than 80°F. Once it is completely dry, store in a ziplock bag in the fridge. Under ideal conditions, the starter will keep for up to a few months. To rehydrate the yogurt or buttermilk, grind up the dried starter and place one teaspoon dried yogurt or three teaspoons dried buttermilk in a half cup of milk. Mix well to fully incorporate. Culture as you normally would but keep in mind that this rehydrated batch will generally take twice as long to culture: 8 to 12 hours for thermophilic (heated) yogurts and 24 to 48 hours for mesophilic (counter-top) varieties.

 

Kombucha
We recommend preserving your kombucha scoby on the counter in a fresh batch of sugar tea. Simply make a new batch of kombucha as you normally would (sugar tea and starter tea) and allow the kombucha scoby to culture while you are away. Kombucha can culture 4 to 6 weeks safely depending on the amount of sugar tea available to the culture. While kombucha scobies can be refrigerated, we don't recommend doing so unless absolutely necessary. Cold temperatures are very hard on a scoby.


Milk Kefir Grains
The simplest method to preserve milk kefir grains is to place the kefir grains in fresh milk, cover the container with a snug lid, and place the jar in the fridge. Kefir grains will generally keep for a few weeks in this manner. Keep in mind that when you remove the kefir grains from the fridge, it can take a few batches for the grains to come out of their hibernated state and begin reliably making kefir again. (You may have to toss a few batches that do not kefir properly.) We do not recommend putting kefir grains in the fridge frequently, but for the occasional trip out of town, this is the most reliable method.  

For longer-term breaks, milk kefir grains can be dried. Rinse the milk kefir grains thoroughly with cool, unchlorinated water, and place them on a piece of unbleached parchment paper. Leave the kefir grains in a warm safe place to dry where the temperature will not exceed 85°F. Depending on temperature and humidity, it will generally take several days for the grains to dry thoroughly. Once dry, place the kefir grains in a ziplock bag with a bit of dry milk powder. Keep the bag in a cool dry place or ideally the refrigerator. Dried kefir grains will generally keep for at least 6 months.


Water Kefir Grains
The simplest method to preserve water kefir grains is to place the kefir grains in fresh sugar water, cover the container with a snug lid, and place the jar in the fridge. Kefir grains will generally keep for up to a few weeks in this manner. Keep in mind that when you remove the kefir grains from the fridge, it can take a few batches for the grains to come out of hibernation and begin reliably making kefir again. You may have to toss a few batches that do not kefir properly. We do not recommend putting kefir grains in the fridge frequently, but for the occasional trip out of town, this is the most reliable method.  

For longer-term breaks, water kefir grains can be dried. Rinse the water kefir grains thoroughly with cool, unchlorinated water and place them on a piece of unbleached parchment paper. Leave the kefir grains in a warm safe place to dry where the temperature will not exceed 85°F. Depending on temperature and humidity, it will generally take several days for the grains to dry thoroughly. Once dry, place the kefir grains in a ziplock bag. Keep the bag in a cool dry place or ideally the refrigerator. Dried kefir grains will generally keep up to 6 months.

 

         
   
Going on Vacation


Related Articles & Recipes:

 

Related Products:

Water Kefir Grains
Water Kefir Grains
Kombucha Tea Starter Culture Kombucha Tea Starter Culture
Sourdough Starter Sourdough Starter

Free eBook Library Access & Weekly Newsletter


Sign up today for free access to our entire library of easy to follow eBooks on creating cultured foods at home, including Lacto-Fermentation, Kombucha, Kefir, Yogurt, Sourdough, and Cheesemaking.
  • Library of eBooks for making your own cultured foods
  • Weekly newsletter filled with tips & tricks
  • Expert advice articles, recipes, and how-to videos
  • Join 140,000+ other health-conscious readers
  • We never share your information!
first name last name email address