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FAQ: Look, Aroma, Taste and Texture
Questions in this Section:
What should water kefir taste like?
What is kefir supposed to smell like?
What should the consistency of kefir be?
What kinds of dried fruit can you use and which are best?
Can you substitute an orange, lime or grapefruit for a lemon?
What is the optimal water to sugar ratio?
What if I used dried or fresh coconut and it tastes very sour?
Why is my kefir slimy, scummy, foamy, filmy, or thick?
Why is my kefir extremely sweet or flat?
Why does my kefir smell like nail polish remover or vomit?
Does kefir contain alcohol?
What are the seasonal differences in kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?
How fast do kefir grains grow?
What if my grains are not multiplying at all?
What if my grains aren't turning my water into kefir?
What does water kefir taste like?

It has a semi-tart effervescent mild and sweet flavor. Some people expect it to have more of a kick or bit but It is not extremely tangy or bubbly until after it has been strained and bottled tightly for a day or two. This is not something you have to 'tolerate', it is actually very delicious and most days we prefer it over soda -especially after it's been bottled for a day or two and flavored! It's also very good blended fruit or vanilla or put on ice with some cream like an Italian Soda. It also can work as a sourdough starter in a pinch!

What is kefir supposed to smell like?

In our opinion kefir usually smells like a sweet lemon with maybe just a tiny bit of a 'burnt' or sour vinegar smell at times. We've noticed in the spring and summer it has more of a sweet vinegar twist, in the winter a more mild almost bbq-like backnote in the aroma. Of course, the scent will always vary with the sugars and dried fruits used at the time. If you are re-using your jars without washing them out, this can also contribute to the aroma, usually amplifying whatever the kefir smells like at the moment. Once you wash the jar you will notice the smell to be much milder in the next ferment.

What should the consistency of Kefir be?

Just the way it was to begin with - water. If it is anything else, toss it. It should not be gooey, slimy or in any way thick. It's ok if there is some 'goo' around the dried fruits or when you squeeze the dried fruits - this is a reaction between the bacteria, yeast and fruit sugars. The water should always be the consistency of water though. Sometimes an overload of minerals such as way too much baking soda or calcium, can react to make a thick water - we don't advise drinking this either.

What kinds of dried fruit can you use and which are best?

This is a tough question because part of the process of finding what works for your own water kefir is finding a compatible combination of fruits to go with the water and sugars you're using too. For example some parts of the country (or world) have hard water (highly mineralized) and some have soft water. If you are using all white sugar and soft water, your kefir will most likely prefer lots of fruits with dense minerals and nutrient value. On the other hand if you are using a mix of molasses with your white sugar, and mineral water - you may need no help at all from fruit except occasionally for taste, a nutrient boost if your grains get 'stuck in a rut' or variety. The best fruits do tend to be the ones we know as nutrionally dense - such as figs, dates, bananas, coconut, apricots, apples, raisins, mangos and sometimes dark cherries too. These fruits start out dense and dry to still be large pieces of fruit. If you dried a large slice of watermelon, you would be left with a flake of paper (unlike an apricot which remains pretty hefty for a dried fruit) - basically if fruits are extremely high in fiber or water, the kefir grains do not seem to respond as well. Because of this, berries, citrus fruits and melons make for poor nutrition for the kefir grains. It's always best to get dried fruits that have no added preservatives (like sulfates or sulfites) and no added oils or sugars. You may be suprised that a lot of dried fruits have added oil and sugar (and even sometimes salt) especially ones that come pre-packaged as snacks.

Can you substitute an orange, lime or grapefruit for a lemon?

You can try replacing the lemon with a wedge of orange, lime or grapefruit but it's best to test first on your extra grains and keep a separate batch going in the traditional recipe. If they respond favorably, or show no difference, then these can be a satisfactory (and tasty) replacement.

What is the optimal water to sugar ratio?

The optimal ratio is about 3-10% sugar-water solution, which is roughly 1 tablespoon sugar per 1 cup water (6.25%). In the summer you may find that a little more works best, such as 6 tablespoons per quart (9.37%). This is in reference to using about 1 tablespoon's worth of grains for every cup of water.

What if I used dried or fresh coconut and it tastes very sour?

This is a very interesting backwards way of finding out if the coconut you used was rancid! Sometimes it can be almost impossible to tell, especially if you are using dried coconut flakes, which all look the same and smell pretty much the same. Fresh coconut and coconut water is usually grey or pink if its rancid or gone bad. But if your ferment turns out to taste like sour gummy bears (more sour than even what a lemon would usually impart in the kefir), then your coconut was rancid. Try to secure a source of fresh dried coconut - if its from a bin at your local store it may be more likely to go rancid then if its freshly packaged in individual bags.

Why is my kefir slimy, scummy, foamy, filmy, or thick?

Kefir should not be gooey, slimy or in any way thick. It's ok if there is some 'goo' around the dried fruits or when you squeeze the dried fruits - this is a reaction between the bacteria, yeast and fruit sugars. The water should always be the consistency of water though. Sometimes an overload of minerals such as way too much baking soda or calcium, can react to make a thick water - we don't advise drinking this either. Foamy is much more typical and not something to worry about. This is just the by-product of yeast activity and usually non-digestible materials in the sugar. This happens most often with rapadura. We do not see this nearly as much with brown sugar or molasses - which are both low to zero in residue. The rapadura most likely contains some fibrous residue particles within the sugar since it is very unrefined. Even if the foam is a bit scummy (brown 'goo' threads attached) just scoop it off the top and proceed to straining as normal.

Why is my kefir extremely sweet or flat?

If it tastes like sugar water without any hint of vinegar and its very sweet and flat, this indicates that a fermentation didn't take place, or was so minor that it's not noticeable. It's quite common for water kefir grains to say inactive until they get what they are looking for. The biggest reason for inactive grains is lack of minerals in the sugar. Sometime too much sugar or water that is highly filtered like distilled or reverse osmosis can be the cause.

Why does my kefir smell like nail polish remover or vomit?

Acetone which gives off the 'nail polish remover smell' is a normal process of fermentation and is present in very small amounts (and is not dangerous). But once your brew smells strongly of this, it is best to continue to ferment as usual, but not drink the kefir. Most times it will go away on its own (as it is usually a temporary imbalance in the yeast and bacteria). If not, it is best to discard the grains and start anew. This can happen when over-active yeast uses the dissolved oxygen too rapidly and are not completely fermenting all the sugar (which can allow it to be too available to other invading bacteria and yeast). Most of the invading bacteria that can cause problems do not tolerate too low of an acid environment (ph 2-4) High Butyric acid levels (also present in small amounts naturally) smell like vomit. These can found quite often on dirt or tea leaves (generally a quite common bacteria) and will most likely pass once you get your ferment in a safe ph level for a couple ferments.

Does kefir contain alcohol?

Yes, its been found in a couple studies now to contain about 0.038% - 2% alcohol, or 16-38 g/L (grams per litre). With the normal amount being around .08 or less (for a 48-hour ferment). Kefir that is stored and ripened for a few of days will continue to increase in alcohol, up to 2-3% (when it is sealed tightly). For reference, beer contains about 4-7% and wine 8-14%. Because kefir contains bacteria (and not just yeast like beer or wine) the amount of alcohol kefir can produce is limited by the acetic bacterium which convert the alcohol (produced by the yeasts) to beneficial acids.

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).

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).

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.

What if my grains aren't turning my water into kefir?

If your sugar-water is not converting to kefir, or is souring into a putrid or slimy water then it is most likely that your grains are not viable. They have either been damaged from exposure to extreme heat, prolonged frost or harmful chemicals (about the only things that can really kill them). At this point it is best to discard of the grains and secure a new batch to start anew.
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