If you’ve been making homemade milk kefir for a while now, you’ve probably realized that milk kefir grains are powerful little critters. Even just a few activated grains can culture up to 4 cups of milk in 24 hours.
In fact, not only can active milk kefir grains culture 4 cups of milk, often times they need that much milk on a daily basis to stay happy, healthy, and culturing properly.
While having freshly cultured milk kefir on a regular basis is ideal for many of us, what happens if you don’t want to make that much kefir...every, single, day? Maybe you can’t consume quite that much dairy, or perhaps you’re just looking to enjoy a little less milk kefir, with a little less maintenance.
The good news is that it is possible to slow down your milk kefir grains and reduce milk kefir production so that you don’t have to make 4 cups of kefir every 24 hours.
In this tutorial, we’ll go over ways to better control the activity of your milk kefir grains. We'll cover:
- When It is Okay to Slow Down Milk Kefir Production
- Making Smaller Batches of Kefir by Using Less Kefir Grains
- Slowing Down Culturing by Controlling the Culturing Temperature
- Making Less Kefir by Taking Breaks Making Kefir
- How to Ramp Back Up Milk Kefir Production
When to slow down milk kefir production
Before trying to slow down your kefir grains, it’s important to first make sure that they are active and culturing well. If you are culturing with Milk Kefir Grains from Cultures for Health, follow the instructions included in your box to activate your milk kefir grains, or watch our How-to Video on this process.
Once your grains are culturing 4 cups of creamy kefir in about 24 hours, you are ready to try making less kefir!
Before Getting Started
Before getting started, it’s worth noting (again) that milk kefir grains are living things. They need plentiful food and a comfortable temperature to thrive. Simply leaving them in milk for extended periods of time will cause them to starve and die.
If you are looking to make smaller batches of kefir, it is certainly possible following one of the methods below. Just keep in mind that making smaller batches can cause stress on your kefir grains (they need an adequate milk supply to survive), as such, we strongly recommend keeping a backup of dried grains, just to be safe.
1. How to Make Smaller Batches of Kefir
By following the steps below, you can reduce your milk kefir production from 4 cups every 24 hours to 2 cups every 24 hours. Keep in mind, due to the nature of the kefir grains, it is very difficult to produce less than 2 cups of kefir a day without starving or damaging your grains.
Instructions for Reducing Kefir Grains
- Pick out 1 to 2 kefir grains from your previous batch. You will use these to culture your smaller batches. Leftover grains can be dried and saved as backup.
- Place the grains in 2 cups of milk, and place in a warm spot to culture for 8 hours. You will want to start paying attention to the milk’s texture starting around hour 8 to make sure your milk doesn’t over culture. (Over culturing means your grains are running out of food!)
- Check the milk’s texture after 8 hours, and every 1-2 hours after until you notice the milk has started to thicken.
- Once the milk kefir changes texture, remove the grains and place them in 2 cups of fresh milk.
- Repeat the process of giving your kefir grains new milk every 24 hours, until you kefir is just thickening in 24 hours. If the milk thickens in less than 24 hours, strain out the grains and use just 1 grain with 2 cups of milk for your next batch and culture as before.
Signs of Culturing
The milk thickening or changing texture is a sign that the milk kefir grains are feeding on the lactose in the milk. If you wait too long to give kefir grains fresh milk, they will run out of food. That’s when you start seeing milk kefir turn to curds and whey.
Depending on the amount of kefir grains you are using, the strength of those grains, and the temperature of the culturing area, this texture change can occur roughly at any time between 8 hours and 48 hours.
Managing the Culturing Time of Your Milk Kefir
When first starting to make kefir at home, it can be tricky to get the timing down. But no matter what batch size you are making, ultimately, your goal should be….
1) To get into a rhythm of giving your kefir grains fresh milk once the milk thickens or changes texture and...
2) For this texture change or thickening to happen in about 24 hours.
This timing will not only help make maintaining your milk kefir grains be more manageable, but should also indicate a healthy balance of grains and milk.
Milk Still Thickening in Under 24 Hours?
With that said, if you’ve reduced your grains down to 1 small grain and your milk thickens in less than 24 hours, you can achieve this rhythm and create a better grain to milk balance in two ways.
- Either split the grain in half and culture half the grain with 2 cups of milk as before. (The single grain may have been too strong for the 2 cups of milk)
- Or find a cooler location to culture your kefir with the single grain. Placing your kefir in a cooler location should slow down the culturing process and put you back in rhythm of culturing 2 cups of milk in about 24 hours.
2. How to Slow Down Culturing
As mentioned above, finding a cooler location for your kefir to culture can slow down the culturing process. The ideal culturing temperature for kefir grains is 68°- 85°F
Although kefir made while activating milk kefir grains should not be cultured at temperatures below 68ºF, it’s possible to experiment with slightly lower temperatures with well-established milk kefir. Cooler temperatures tend to slow culturing, while warmer temperatures will speed it up.
So, whether you have reduced your kefir production down to 2 cups or are still culturing 4 cups of kefir every day, if you place your grains in a cooler spot to culture, you may extend the time before you kefir thickens and your grains need fresh milk.
Give it a try to see if this helps make your milk kefir culturing better fit your schedule.
3. How to Make Less Kefir by Taking Breaks
Perhaps you’ve reduced the grains, and found a cooler spot to culture, and still have too much milk kefir. It happens! After you’ve reduced the grains and the temperature, the next step is to take breaks in between batches by refrigerating your grains.
Before Refrigerating, Keep in Mind
- First, kefir grains are living things that much prefer a cozy room temperature. Be aware that your kefir may not respond favorably to taking too many breaks, so having a dried backup set of grains never hurts.
- We strongly recommend culturing the kefir at room temperature for at least 3 weeks before refrigerating them. This not only allows the grains to become fully activated and established but can help you get into the rhythm of caring for your kefir grains.
- Grains that are stored in the refrigerator frequently may not grow and may not last as long as grains cultured consistently at room temperature.
Refrigerating Your Milk Kefir Grains
By following the steps below, you can make the amount of kefir you want at the start of the week, and then wait until you need more kefir to culture with your grains again. You can use this technique with any amount of kefir, from 2 cup to 8 cups.
- Make kefir as usual, removing the grains as soon as the milk thickens and placing them in fresh milk.
- Once you have enough milk kefir for the week, place your grains in 2 cups of fresh milk, cover tightly, and refrigerate.
- When you are ready to make more kefir, simply set the jar of milk and grains at room temperature and allow to culture as usual.
- If your grains will be in the refrigerator for longer than 1 week, strain out the milk to use for other projects and replace it with fresh milk weekly.
How to Ramp Up Kefir Production Again
If you do decide you’d like to make more kefir again, it is fairly easy to ramp back up your milk kefir culturing.
After Taking Breaks
If you’ve been taking breaks between kefir batches by storing your grains in the refrigerator, simply give the grains fresh milk and allow them to culture at room temperature. We suggest culturing with the same amount of milk you stored your grains in, in the refrigerator.
Don’t forget that the warmer temperature should speed up the culturing process so keep an eye on that milk’s texture, and give your grains new milk when you notice a change.
After Reducing Your Grains
If you’ve reduced your grains down to 1 or 2, there are a few ways to start making more kefir.
One option is to try to help these grains grow by creating optimal culturing conditions. You can learn more about how to encourage your grains to multiply in this tutorial.
Or, you can rehydrate some of your dried backup grains. Just follow our instructions for activating dehydrated milk kefir grains.
Keep in mind, you will need to keep a close eye on these grains as they come out of hibernation to ensure they have the proper food supply (milk!). Once you notice the milk changing texture, it’s crucial to give your kefir grains new milk. (If this happens in less than 24 hours, your grains will need an additional 1/2 cup of milk for that next batch.)
Any of the above methods are viable options for slowing down milk kefir production. Think about how much milk kefir you and your family need on a weekly basis and give one of these techniques a try. We encourage to figure out which method works best for you!
If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out, we are always happy to help you with your culturing projects.
Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, please share it! We want anyone and everyone to feel empowered to make and enjoy cultured foods at home.
Help us spread our knowledge and love for all things fermented, and remember, you can do this!