Kefir is not a popular food, at least not compared to its yogurt-y cousin. So when you decide to go out and make it on your own, you have to rely on what you can dig up on the internet. And true to the internet's reputation, you can find any possible answer for whatever question you are asking. One simple question that I had was whether or not I should be rinsing the grains between batches. The information I received with my grains said I should not rinse them. However, Nourishing Traditions seems to suggest that they should be rinsed. There was only one way to find out. I hypothesized that rinsing the grains would blunt their capacity for producing kefir, and therefore produce a milder kefir.
|Fig 1. Separated and weighed to 10 grams|
The grains were rinsed and randomized. Two groups, each weighing 10 grams (g) and containing 18 grains (Fig 1), were formed. Most batches were made with 8 ounces of organic pasteurized whole milk; the last couple of batches were a bit over 8 ounces to accommodate the increased fermentation. Fermentation was 12-14 hours per day. Clean jars were used each time.
|Fig 2. Kefir preparation. Clean jars, 8 oz. milk, cover with paper towel.|
The time and temperature were not always consistent. However, because the jars were adjacent to each other at all times, any day-to-day variation would affect each group equally, and would therefore not bias the results. The only difference between the groups was that the experimental (washed) group was rinsed under cold tap water in a stainless steel strainer until curds were removed, roughly 10 seconds. The control group was simply placed in a new batch of fresh milk. The experiment ran for 11 days, and on the 7th and 11th days, both groups of grains were washed and weighed, and the two different batches were tasted by a blind taster a.k.a. the girlfriend.
ResultsBoth groups increased in weight at the same rate. However, the grains in the unwashed group were more dense than the washed group on day 7 (0.67 g/grain vs. 0.48 g/grain) and on day 11 (0.74 g/grain vs. 0.51 g/grain). Thus, rinsing reduced the density of the grains by 30%, and produced many small grains (Figs. 3-5).
|Fig 3. Unwashed (left) and washed (right) groups at the end of the study.|
|Fig. 4 Results of control (unwashed)|
|Fig 5. Results of experimental (washed) group.|
Tasting results were consistent between the 7th and 11th day. Both batches of kefir reportedly tasted as kefir should, and both batches were similarly thick, both in the glass and in mouthfeel. However, the unwashed kefir was "definitely more sour." Furthermore, the washed kefir had a lighter effervescence with smaller bubbles and "a more full kefir taste." The unwashed group appears to ferment faster, as there was usually more whey present (Fig 6).
|Fig 6. The unwashed (left) was usually more fermented.|
This experiment demonstrates that rinsing kefir grains between batches produces more and smaller grains than when grains are left unwashed. Furthermore, these rinsed grains tend to produce a milder kefir. While I can surmize that this occurs because the unwashed grains produce kefir at a faster rate (and therefore make a more kefir, kefir), that will require another experiment.
I'm definitely confident in these results, but I would love to hear other peoples' experience with washing their grains. The results might have been more dramatic had I not rinsed and weighed the grains mid-experiment, but then again, this added a bit of reproducibility within the study. Unfortunately, I was not blinded to the treatment group. And come to think of it, the kefir wasn't blinded with a placebo. I already anthropomorphize my kefir grains enough as it is, but perhaps they knew what group they were in...
So, what can we take away from this bit of food science? There are likely many recommendations for treating kefir grains because there is no obvious best way. While I would argue that the density produced by leaving the grains unwashed is evidence of "healthier" grains, if you prefer the taste of a mild kefir, then you would be better off rinsing them, at least occasionally. Or, as I've started doing, rinse the grains on warmer days or when you might make it home late and risk over fermenting the kefir. Either way, it's between you and your kefir.
Now, it's time for a kefir smoothy. Theory into practice, I suppose. Cheers!
This post is shared on Real Food Whole Health's Traditional Tuesdays.