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FAQ: Kefir Grains 101
Questions in this Section:
What should kefir grains look like?
What's the difference between dried and fresh/live kefir grains?
How do you know if the grains are 'healthy'?
What size are kefir grains?
What size is best for kefir grains to be?
Are all kefir grains the same?
What are kefir grains composed of?
Does water kefir have different strains of bacteria and yeast than milk kefir?
What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?
How long do active kefir grains last?
Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?
Do kefir grains have a water preference?
Does is matter what water you use?
Should kefir grains float?
Do kefir grains change shape?
What causes grains to change appearance or shape?
What is the filmy discoloration on the surface of kefir grains?
What are the seasonal differences in kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?
Do you have to be gentle with kefir grains?
Can you cut/blend/tear kefir grains?
Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?
What if a grain drops onto the counter or floor?
Should I give my kefir grains a rest once in awhile?
Do you always have to use the grains to make kefir?
How fast do kefir grains grow?
How can you encourage kefir grains to grow more quickly?
Does ginger help your kefir grains?
Does it have a sugar preference?
Should I add minerals such as baking soda or calcium to the ferment?
What if my grains are not multiplying at all?
Can you make your own kefir grains or get kefir from just water?
What should Kefir Grains look like?

Water Kefir grains look a lot like semi-transparent crystal gems. They can go through many phases through the seasons from being small and more uniform looking, or large and full of strange shapes, angles and bumps. They can even become lumpy like cauliflower, or very smooth like glass. They are always semi-transparent, but will be much darker if used with less refined sugar. Their color will also be clear unless used with less refined sugar, in which case they will be light to dark brown in color. They should be slightly bouncy and slippery (but not slimy or gooey like milk kefir grains) and can range from the size of a grain of rice to as big as 2 inches. Dried kefir grains color is also dependant on the sugar it was feeding on - ranging from a dusty clear color to a dark rootbeer brown. They are more fragile than milk kefir grains, and will crumble easily when squeezed (however it is not a problem to worry about, it will survive if squished - it is just that their structure has many clean breaks and soft bonds, unlike milk which is more rubbery, bonded and stretchy)

What's the difference between dried and fresh/live Kefir grains?

We offer both choices because there are unique benefits to each. The fresh or live water kefir grains re-balance quickly and begin producing drinkable kefir within just a few days of arriving after shipment. This is an excellent option if you live within the U.S. and are able to be home to receive the grains when they arrive and attend to them immediately. If you are either a) not located within the U.S. or b) not able to attend to the fresh grains immediately upon arrival, then dried water kefir grains are the best option for you. These will take a little longer to activate - about a week or so to 'wake up' and balance to where they are producing a drinkable kefir. This is a great option if they will be in transit internationally, since they are in a dormant stage and will not degrade or be as likely to be damaged as the fresh grains. This also gives you the option to stick the dried grain in your cupboard or refrigerator if you receive them but are not yet ready to use them (or want to hang onto them as a backup source or a gift to give). We have found that water kefir grains generally dry and revive better than milk kefir grains and start growing fairly quickly.

How do you know if the grains are 'healthy'?

Kefir grains are very resilient and will strive to maintain their health at all times. As long as your grains are converting the sugar-water mix to kefir that is not 'off' they are just fine. They may get stressed or be responding to seasonal changes and change shape or smell a bit (more yeasty or increase/decrease in size). They are constantly adapting and working in tandem with their environment and it's not a concern if they don't look the same in winter as in summer - this is a result of their ability to adapt (different strains do well at different temperatures, making kefir an amazing symbiotic blend that is able to survive at many temperatures). They range from clear to an opaque dark brown in color depending on the sugar and dried fruit it is with (some fruits like figs will be pink). Even when they are not growing they can still often produce a healthy drinkable kefir, though its best to give them optimal conditions so they can grow.

What size are Kefir Grains?

Kefir grains sizes range all over the place depending on what stage they are at in their life cycle, along with what season it is, what liquid it is in, how often it receives a fresh batch of liquid, and the list goes on! Kefir grains usually stay around the size of a rice krispie to the size of a corn flake, but can be even smaller if they are stressed, reproducing rapidly or too hot (the size of an uncooked rice kernel or candy nerd). Sometimes one grain will continue to grow without breaking apart naturally, and get 1-2" inches (3-5 cm) in general length. You will always get a batch with various sizes, they tend to trend towards a certain size, but amongst the group you will see large and small. Typically the smaller the grain, the more productive it is because of the greater amount of surface area exposed (many small grains vs one large grain). In the winter or cooler conditions they tend to group in larger mass formations than in the summer. Smaller grains tend to produce the optimal consistency and flavor desired for a kefir.

What size is best for Kefir Grains to be?

Kefir grains can grow to be quite large, however that does not mean that they are better. In fact, when the grains are smaller, there is more surface area involved which produces a better kefir (they also tend to grow more easily at a smaller, more manageable size as well). In our experiments, mashing the grains to be smaller does not seem to help. They seem to prefer to naturally adjust in size when given the right warm conditions and rich nutrients, and will continue to produce a beneficial size. In the winter we've noticed they get larger and require less minerals and easier sugar. Even when heated they seem to prefer this, regardless of the added warmth - they still seem to recognize what true season they are in. We are always experimenting to understand our water kefir and will continue to update with all of our findings along the way.

Are all kefir grains the same?

All kefir grains are alike, but they are not the same. Just as all people are humans, but none are exactly alike, kefir also varies from one to the next. Some kefir grains ferment more quickly than others, some more tangy, some more sweet, and some more fizzy. You will see that your kefir grains will be continuously morphing themselves from season to season and year to year. Part of the kefir process is learning to let go of the desire to keep them exactly the same (no matter what you do, they will be in a constant state of growth and change) and learning to look forward to its many suprises, just like raising a pet or child.

What are Kefir Grains composed of?

The grains are a symbiotic relationship of many different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast which produce lactic acid, carbon dioxide and ethanol when consuming the sugars. The bulk of the grain that you see is a matrix of insoluble polysaccharides (complex sugars), mostly due to the L. casei and L. Brevis in it. It does not produce the stringy kefiran that milk kefir's grains produce, which is a protective mucus that is predominately soluble polysaccharides.

Does water kefir have different strains of bacteria and yeast than milk kefir?

Yes, absolutely. They do share some common strains, but have many unique ones of their own, too. To view a detailed list of each, visit our pages on strains for milk kefir or for strains for water kefir.

What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?

To view a list of all the bacteria and yeast strains found in kefir, please view our Strains section.

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.

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.

Do kefir grains have a water preference?

Because there are many other variables like the fruits and sugars you use, it's difficult to suggest one water over another. However, kefir grains do usually fair better in mineral-rich water (mineral, spring, well, or hard water). Reverse-osmosis seems to damage them over time and is not recommended. They also do not like heavily chlorinated or otherwise chemically enhanced or treated waters. Water kefir grains will use what they can get, within the combination of the sugar source, fruit source and water source. If you want to rely more heavily on your water, then mineral-rich is preferred - in this case your grains will most likely require less help from unrefined sugars (like molasses, brown or rapadura for example) and less help from dried fruits (like coconut or apricots).

Does it matter what water you use?

Water is one of the crucial ingredients for water kefir. What water you use will make a difference. Since most of us don't have the equipment to test what is in our water, let alone on a day-to-day basis, this usually requires some experimenting. Water kefir generally prefers a nutritious highly mineralized water (also called hard water, or mineral water / spring water if its from a bottle). Soft water, filtered water, carbon-activated, ionized or otherwise altered water does not seem to encourage the same amount of growth or vitality in our observations. Reverse osmosis water has in most of our observations led to eventual kefir grain death even. It just doesn't contain enough of the various and vital minerals found in normal tap, spring or mineral water. Also, chlorine can be an issue and should be avoided if possible. To remove some of the chlorine you can let your water set out (without a lid) and it will evaporate in about 24 hours. Some forms of chlorine such as chloramine won't dissipate as easily. If you are unsure what your tap water contains, contact your local water facility for details.

Should kefir grains float?

Yes, sometimes. Most kefir grains encapsulate some of the carbon dioxide gas that the yeasts give off while fermenting. Also, some grains have less density than the liquid, and simply float. Some will be dense enough though (and manage to avoid capturing bubbles) that they remain on the bottom. Generally, in an average ferment, most of the water kefir grains will stay at the bottom while a few will rise to the top. Sometimes grains that have been subjected to severe freezer burn, high heat or their outer layer is too encrusted and hard from being dried (or old), also float (and they may not be able to be revived). It is best to see if these are able to propagate new grains (though they themselves may not recover) or toss them if no growth or kefiring is achievable with them. If they reproduce new grains, then you are good to go!

Do Kefir Grains change shape?

Yes, they actually go through seasonal changes just like a plant would. This is in response to the weather, temperature, amount of daylight being most likely a combination of all three. In the summer, kefir grains are typically smaller and more numerous and can sometimes be more bumpy too. This can also happen when there is overcrowding in the jar if its disintegrating due to kefir grain death (they will lose their structure and turn into sand-sized grains. In the fall or spring (or cooler environment) you will see them go through various stages of sizes and being smooth like glass or more bumpy as they adjust to the new season ahead. In the winter they tend to 'huddle together' and form larger and more irregular shapes with clean cut edges (like broken crystals).

What causes grains to change appearance or shape?

A change in temperature, season, water, or space/water quantity, type of dried fruit and type of sugar can all affect grain appearance and shape. Pressing or squishing them (or blending them) can also change their appearance for awhile. Because of the different minerals available in different waters, fruits and sugars, grains can change appearance or shape. Changing temperatures can also dramatically change the shape of kefir grains. Also, the amount of nutrients available will have an affect (more alkaline being desirable- which means heavier minerals) on the grains. Milk kefir is more systematic it seems, while water kefir takes more intuition and observation since they always seem to be in a state of flux.

What is the filmy discoloration on the surface of kefir grains?

In response to too many minerals, too many dried fruits or too much unrefined sugar, kefir grains can get a dirty or dusty look, or a film over their outer surface. In our observations this tends to be an overreaction of the yeasts and then a buildup of dead yeast matter (much like the sediment found in the bottom of wine bottles). This is not a problem and will go away when the solution is corrected to be a little lighter in minerals, fruits (and try to get them sulfate/sulfite-free) and with the replacement of some white sugar for the unrefined sugar.

What are the seasonal differences in Kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?

Kefir, like all living organisms, goes through intricate and subtle changes with the seasons, climate, temperatures and environment it is in. Just like you can mark the seasons with a tree budding, growing, turning colors and discarding its leaves, kefir also will constantly be in flux and going through seasonal patterns. Kefir will ferment much more quickly in the summer and warmer temperatures. It may especially be inconsistent during spring and fall, or whenever there is a large disparity of temperatures (such as a cold night and hot day). Kefir will tend to be more mild in the winter and cooler temperatures (and more zesty and sour in the summer). Part of the beauty of the symbiotic nature of kefir is that each strain has a certain strength and weakness. Together, they are able to ferment at a wide range of temperatures. Keeping this in mind, you will realize that because of this, a certain temperature will allow some strains to perform much better, while others may be temporarily suppressed. This contributes to the differing tastes of kefir throughout the year. Water kefir tends to be in flux even more than milk kefir - changing shape and taste quite often - even when you are not sure what to blame it on. Give it a couple weeks and it will come around again usually to something you're more familiar with. For one reason or another water kefir tends to have 'down times'. It may just seem to lag and falter for a few weeks, and then pick right up again, suddenly reproducing 100-400% growth. We've found that kefir grains will still reproduce and ferment in very cold temperatures of 40-60 degrees. And we've found that trying to heat them does not seem to encourage them a whole lot in some cases. You will have to experiment for yourself come winter time in your home! We've noticed that our grains prefer easier sugars in the winter that will dissolve and digest more quickly (like white sugar with molasses) and more slower digesting sugars in the summer (like rapadura with white sugar).

Do you have to be gentle with Kefir Grains?

Kefir grains are pretty hardy little guys. 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!

Can you cut/blend/tear kefir grains?

Yes, but it usually doesn't encourage better health or more growth. You can try bashing them or crumbling them to smaller sizes with your hands if you feel the outer surface has been damaged and you're aiming to expose fresh new surfaces. However we have not noticed any significant improvement after doing this in our experiments.

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.

What if a grain drops onto the counter or floor?

Immediately rinse it under cool or cold clean water with clean hands and gently rub it to make sure all dust and debris are rinsed away. It will usually be just fine to join back in with the other grains and ferment as usual. If you are uneasy about adding it back in to your ferment, just rinse it and eat or toss to your pets or your garden!

Should I give my Kefir Grains a rest once in awhile?

It's always helpful for everything under the sun to have a break once in awhile. A couple times a year is quite sufficient, they will keep going regardless of getting a rest or not, but it seems they do appreciate a vacation once in awhile. Read below for how to rest your grains.

Do you always have to use the grains to make Kefir?

Kefir liquid actually also contains billions of bacteria and yeast that are effective at making more fermenting liquid if you add some fresh sugar or fruit juice and let sit out or in the fridge for atleast 24 hours. It will dilute and get weaker each time, so its best to start with freshly made kefir (from kefir grains) each time for the freshest and safest ferment. But this is a great option for fermenting other liquids or making a quick batch in a pinch (and to protect the grains themselves from harmful fruit juices that could hinder their growth).

How fast do kefir grains grow?

Water kefir can reproduce rapidly under the right conditions and some luck. They will grow anywhere from 5%-400% within 48 hours. We've seen 5% in the winter and 400% in the summer, with other %'s everywhere in between (and not always with an answer as to why). Sometimes water kefir has 'lag times' where they will just slow down for one reason or another. In the winter they may have diminished growth because of the season. It is also interesting that smaller grains will reproduce much more rapidly than larger grains (this is because there is a greater surface area that can grab nutrients from the water).

How can you encourage kefir grains to grow more quickly?

Many factors are involved in creating an optimal environment for kefir grains. Keeping within their preferred temperature is a good place to start, but not as crucial as one would expect - they adapt readily to heat or cold when given the chance. Providing them with proper nutrients is more vital (they seem to love unrefined and molasses sugars the most, mixed in with some white sugar). They also are quite happy with a pinch of baking soda (a pinch being roughly 1/8 tsp per quart) and a couple dried apricots. Some people have noticed good growth with freshly peeled ginger slices, candied ginger, or ginger juice. We have found it fascinating that water kefir tends to have cycles of preferences - for example, just as someone might really have a banana craving for a couple weeks, and then tire of it and move on to another snack, water kefir also likes variety. It seems that they are most healthy when exposed to a wide range of nutrients, and are also resting from other nutrients (and then returning to them). For example, you may give them apricots for a couple weeks, then dates, then figs, then ginger slices, then repeat. Lastly, making sure they are constantly given a fresh supply of sugar-water (every 48 hours) ensures they are not sitting too long between feedings (and slowing their metabolism).

Does ginger help your kefir grains?

Some people have noticed good growth with freshly peeled ginger slices, candied ginger, or ginger juice. In some cases this may be because the grains are actually ginger beer grains and not water kefir (they look extremely similar). Since even within the water kefir grain species, grain 'families' can differ, you will have to experiment for yourself to see if your water kefir likes it. And just because it doesn't show any indication of liking it at one point, you may notice it take off and grow rapidly at another time (water kefir is always in flux and changing). We have found it fascinating that water kefir tends to also have cycles of preferences - for example, just as someone might really have a banana craving for a couple weeks, and then tire of it and move on to another snack, water kefir also likes variety. It seems that they are most healthy when exposed to a wide range of nutrients, and are also resting from other nutrients (and then returning to them). For example, you may give them apricots for a couple weeks, then dates, then figs, then ginger slices, then repeat.

Does it have a sugar preference?

Water kefir grains are unique from batch to batch and season to season. We have found ours to prefer whole cane sugar (Rapadura) or Palm Sugar mixed with white sugar in the summer and a blend of white sugar and blackstrap molasses in winter. They can also readily adapt and be happy with brown sugar or Piloncillos. We've noticed this has also been the case for many others as well. While the other sugars mentioned haven't given as good of results for us, they may for your grains. It is always worth trying a variety, and when the grains start to under-perform, try switching things up. In our time watching water kefir behavoir, we've noticed it can 'get tired' of what it is in, needing a switch-up of sugars - we think this is likely due to the fact that no one food (or sugar) contains all of the vitamins and minerals, and the grains simply are needing to be exposed to variety to obtain what they need. Some sugars are more difficult for them to process and some process very rapidly - making raw cane sugar better in the summer when they are fermenting more rapidly, but too difficult sometimes in the winter (when molasses seems to supply the minerals that whole cane sugar does, but in an easier form). Again, this is what we've noticed so far with our grains, but water kefir grains are quite finicky and always changing - its best to test a wide variety of options for your grains, and being flexible to change when your grains tell you they need something new.

Should I add minerals such as baking soda or calcium to the ferment?

Yes, sometimes the grains needs call for added minerals. This is most usually the case when they seem to be lagging a bit and could use a boost. If you are giving them mineralized or hard water, lots of unrefined sugar (like rapadura, Rapunzel, etc) then the issue may not be minerals. It is always worth a shot to see if your grains will benefit from a pinch of baking soda (about 1/8 teaspoon per quart). Don't use baking powder. Sometimes they can also benefit from a likewise pinch of calcium carbonate from sources like dolomite (shell), boiled and sanitary egg shells, or supplemental powders you can find in your local grocery or health food store or online. If the water becomes murky, thick, slimy or the grains do worse, then it's an indication that there are already plenty of minerals and no more are necessary at the moment.

What if my grains are not multiplying at all?

Sometimes grains for one reason or another are stubborn and will simply not grow. They will usually still properly ferment the liquid into kefir though, and is not something to be concerned about. If they are floating, not soft, or disintegrating at the bottom and not producing kefir, they are not viable any longer. Browse through the grains 101 section here to see if there may be some factor involved that you can improve to help encourage growth. Check your temperature, your sugar, fruit and mineral choices, and make sure there are no harsh residues of soap or any antibacterial agents on any of your jars or other kefir supplies. In some cases, grains that have been dried for years or have been subjected to freezer burn or extreme heat may not revitalize. It is best at this point to start anew.

Can you make your own kefir grains or get kefir from just water?

No, kefir grains must be obtained. Kefir grains reproduce, but one cannot create the grains or have them spontaneously occur in sugar-water. Honey and water can be left out to eventually produce mead (a type of beer) from wild yeasts and bacteria in the air; you can also use that mead mix as a bread leavener, however those bacteria and yeast do not form into the unique mass symbiotic matrix of kefir grains. Either way, kefir cannot be created and is not reproducable without obtaining real kefir grains to start with.
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