Kefir Facts FAQ

Kefir Questions and Answers

I Have A Question About Kefir….Kefir Questions and Answers

Whether you are new to kefir, or an old hand, questions are bound to come up from time to time. Here are some frequently asked questions about kefir making. Click the linked question to go directly to that answer, or read through the whole page. If your question is not answered here, please take time to ask in the comment section. This way everyone can learn!

General Kefir Grains Questions:

Water Kefir Questions:

Milk Kefir Questions:

General Kefir Grains Questions:

  • What The Heck Is Kefir?- Kefir is a probiotic rich drink made by introducing a culture of "kefir grains" to milk (usually dairy) or water and sugar. Making kefir is simple and costs literally pennies a glass. The result is quite possibly the most healthy super food I have in my wellness arsenal. Follow these links to read more…

  • Can I Make Kefir Without Grains?– First of all, some people think kefir grains are made from grains like wheat. They are not. The "grains" terminology is simply a name for the firm gelatin-like cultures that make kefir. So the facts are, while kefir is not made with grain, you want to know wether you can make your own kefir grains at home without buying them.Most people say "no", but it has been done.In 1990 researchers made kefir grains for the first time and documented their method in a scientific paper. It was not easy, and it was made using goat hide bad and bacteria from sheep intestines. These are things that are not readily available in Canada. I did a post about the procedure. Read How To Make Kefir Grains
    So for most people, buying the culture, or buying kefir grains are the only ways to make kefir at home. The great news is if you buy kefir grains they will last a lifetime.
  • What's Better… Kefir Grains or Powdered Kefir Starter?– Powdered kefir starters have a limited number of bacteria, as they are developed to be standardized and consistent every time. They also lose their potency with subsequent brews so you need a new packet of starter every 3-6 batches. Kefir grains are inexpensive (usually about $5 a tablespoon) and you only need to buy them once in a lifetime. Once you start brewing your grains they grow and get stronger. Live kefir grains also provide a wide range of bacteria and yeast similar to what would be found in your intestine. Since the idea is to create a healthy microbiota in your body, kefir grains are superior.
  • Can I make my own kefir grains?– Kefir grains can not be made. Real kefir grains are passed from one owner as their supply grows into more than they can use themselves. Kefir grains are a very precise community of bacteria and yeast that exist together without one overpowering the other. I suspect "in nature" that the formation of milk kefir grains is a relationship that develops occasionally in raw milk and prevents it from going bad. In most parts of the developed world, milk is pasteurized (in Canada i is illegal to sell raw milk), so the formation of grains just would not happen. Even when people can get raw milk, I suspect one would spoil an awful lot of milk before the proper mix of bacteria and yeast. I suspect something similar if trying to culture sugar and water. Rather than causing people to get sick trying sour beverages, or trashing a lot of milk and/or sugar, it is best to just spend a little bit of money and get the culture. After all, when buying kefir crystals, it is a one time purchase that lasts a lifetime! also  Read How To Make Kefir Grains
  • Is My Kefir Ready?- This question is not easily answered in a few sentences. Please see How Do I Know If My Kefir Is Ready for answers.
  • How Much Kefir Should I drink?– Kefir is a food with benefits (not a drug), but some people still have an adjustment period. If your digestion tends to be finicky, start with 1/4 cup after a meal once every day, and listen to your body. If you tolerate this fine, then increase the amount, eventually moving it to BEFORE meals, as the good bacteria will aid in digesting your food. I personally drink up to 4 cups a day. There's no real limit. Just drink it when you want.
  • How Long Does Kefir Keep?– The kefir grains will keep indefinitely as long as you follow the instructions for storage. Once kefir is made, it will keep for a very long time. Remember that fermentation was a way of keeping foods safe to consume before refrigeration. I keep mine a month or more. Use your own judgement, and trust your nose and taste buds. Bad kefir smells bad and tastes bad. You will know. 
  • Where can I buy kefir grains?– It is particularly difficult to find them in Canada I have found. I ordered mine from someone in the States when I got them, and worried about extra duties and getting stopped at the border. We now sell kefir grains- we ship anywhere in Canada or US. Our kefir grains are packed to withstand the Canadian winter too! 
  • Does Kefir Cure Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Like Crohn's or IBS?– Kefir does not cure inflammatory bowel disease. It could help though. Read my article – Kefir and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Water Kefir Questions:

  • What are some other names for Water Kefir?- Tibicos, tibi,& water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees, and in older literature asbébées, African bees, ale nuts, Australian bees, balm of Gilead, beer seeds, beer plant, bees, ginger bees, Japanese beer seeds and vinegar bees. source: Wikipedia
  • What is Water Kefir?– Water kefir is a probiotic rich beverage made with water, sugar, bacteria and flavoring.
  • What Is The Difference Between milk Kefir and Water Kefir?– Aside from the obvious, they are pretty similar. Even though you need milk kefir grains to culture milk, and water kefir grains to culture sugar water, the resultant beverage has a similar probiotic mix. They both have many strains of bacteria and yeast that exist in a perfect balance.
  • Can I Use Milk Kefir Grains to Make Water Kefir?– No. While you may find on the internet that some people claim to ferment all kinds of things with milk kefir grains or tibicos grains, the bottom line is … these probiotic culture starters have evolved to eat a specific kind of sugar and to survive in a specific kind of medium. Milk kefir grains thrive on lactose and other components of milk. While you may get a probiotic beverage once or twice, eventually it will be evident that the bacteria and yeast are out of balance. The grains will stop growing, perhaps even die, and the beverage will show signs of being off.
  • How Do You Make Water Kefir?– I have easy instructions for making water kefir right on this site. Click the link or use the menu at the top of the page or on the right hand side to find the instructions.
  • What Is Water Kefir Supposed To Taste Like?- Water Kefir taste depends somewhat on the type of sugar used and whether you use molasses or not. It also depends on the amount of time you let it ferment. In my Basic Water Kefir Recipe I do use molasses and I usually let mine ferment for 48 hours and then drink it with no added flavor. Made this way it is sweet. It has a bit of a "fermented" taste to it. It is lightly fizzy but not as carbonated as pop (or soda depending on where you live). It taste to me like a slightly fruity, slightly fermented, slightly fizzy drink. It reminds me of dried fruit like apricots or raisins. It smells slightly sweet, and slightly fermented (like a very light beer smell) If you have ever had REAL apple cider (not the pasteurized stuff from the super market) then you will find it is similar. I think it is absolutely delicious just the way it is but some people like to flavor it. After you strain the grains, you can add a tsp of vanilla or more and it taste like cream soda. Add ginger slices and let it ferment another day and you have ginger beer. Add strawberries or pineapple and some ice and… well you get the picture!
  • What Does Water Kefir Look Like?- It looks like iced tea if you make it with brown sugar and/or molasses which is how I make water kefir. The grains are anywhere between white/clear and brown or yellow/clear depending on what color sugar you use. Browse around this site. There are lots and lots of pictures of kefir in various stages of the fermenting process.
  • What Is The Alcohol Content Of Water Kefir?- This totally depends on how long you let it ferment, what kind of sugar you use etc. Alcoholic fermentation is the conversion of sugar into carbon dioxide gas (CO2) and ethyl alcohol through the work of yeasts found on the food itself and within the culturing agent (kefir grains, kombucha culture, whey, ginger bug, etc.) It is safe to say that the alcohol content of a 24-48 hour ferment is 0.5%- 2.0% according to authority sites. If you add fruit juice for a secondary ferment you can increase the alcohol content to something quite highly alcoholic, especially if done under air lock. Water kefir and milk kefir both often smell a little like beer. It is partly because of the fermentation which adds alcohol content, and it is partly because of the yeast (kefir probiotics are made of yeast and bacteria)
  • Does Water Kefir Have The Same Benefits As Milk Kefir?– Yes… with the exception that milk kefir has some benefits imparted to it by the milk itself… protein, calcium etc. Tibicos bacteria tend to be less in number than in home made milk kefir so it can be tolerated better in people who are sensitive. So as far as probiotics go, water kefir is just as beneficial and may be tolerated better by some people. I have a Kefir Benefits page on this site with references to Studies and Clinical Trials. Click "Benefits" in the menu above for more facts.
  • How much Water Kefir Should I Drink?- This is another "It Depends" kind of question. Some people can drink as much as they want and not have any problems. Some people have side effects or "die off" and need to drink a little bit each day until their body gets used to it. In traditional diets, people used to eat or drink fermented foods and beverages every time they ate. Since we have gotten away from the practice, your internal works may experience some issues. So take it slow in the beginning. Start with a small amount… maybe 1/4 cup the first day and slowly increase as tolerated. Whatever you do, don't stop drinking it once you start. Your body will thank you.
  • What Are The Side Effects of Water Kefir?- Kefir is not a drug, so I really dislike the term "side effects" applied to it. Sometimes when you start adding back the good bacteria you can have a "war" of sorts in your belly. This struggle happens as the good bacteria fight to get the upper hand and the bad bacteria start to die off. The most common complaints are flatulence (gas), and be warned… it can get pretty smelly. Constipation and belly pain or discomfort, and heartburn are common complaints. I can not stress enough that you must persist! What's a little gas in the short term for all of the long term benefits of a healthy gut?
  • How Do I Know The Water Kefir Grains Are Working?- As a new kefir maker, you often are unsure whether your brew is behaving normally or not. Visit the Water Kefir Instructions Page to find out what signs to look for so you know what is normal.
  • Should Water Kefir Grains Float?- In a healthy kefir brew, some of the grains will float to the top, or rise and sink. This is quite normal and in fact it one of the signs of a healthy kefir. You see, the crystals let off gases like CO2 during the fermentation process. Occasionally some of the gas gets trapped in the kefir grain as it is growing, and this causes it to float.
  • Why Do You Add A Lemon To Water Kefir?– Sugar and water is THE perfect environment for bacteria and fungii to grow. A slightly acidic environment suppresses the activity of the 'bad' stuff. Lactic Acid bacteria produce acidity in the beverage, but needs a bit of time to establish itself. The citrus piece is a very important step as it adds a little bit of acidity to keep the bad bugs suppressed until the probiotic bacteria get established. 
  • Can I Eat The Solid Bits?- Yes absolutely. They often multiply fast, and it is not unusual to have lots of extras. Blend them into smoothies or just sprinkle them on your cereal in the morning.
  • Is Water Kefir Good For Diabetics?- You need to use your own judgement on this but I say YES! Here is why… Even though you put 1/4 C of sugar in 3 cups of water, by the time you drink it 48 hours later, the grains have devoured somewhere around 80% of the sugar. Since there is about 55 grams of sugar in 1/4 cup that means that there is only about 3 grams of sugar in a cup left after a 48 hour ferment. There is 10 grams of sugar in a cup of apple juice. Adding to that, probiotic use in diabetics has been shown to improve lipid profile (cholesterol) and help manage blood sugar. Here is just ONE of the many many studies done on this … Antidiabetic effect of probiotic dahi containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei in high fructose fed rats.
  • What To Do With Extra Water Kefir Grains?- Healthy tibicos multiply. In fact, when my grains are really happy they will double or even triple in 24-48 hours! That's a lot of culture! Eat them as mentioned above. Add them to smoothies or shakes. Feed them to your pets. They are also a great soil amendment and are wonderful in the compost pile.
  • Can I Freeze Water Kefir Grains?- Yes absolutely. Freezing cultures for short periods of time usually won't kill the cultures. In fact, sometimes when shipping cultures in Canada they freeze while in transport. If your live water kefir grains arrive frozen, simply allow them to defrost at room temperature, and proceed making your first recipe. For storing purposes, water kefir grains do better if they are dehydrated, but freezing for a couple of months at a time is an option. Remove them from the sugar solution, rinse them gently and pat dry with a paper towel. Then put into a ziplock freezer bag and cover them with sugar to help protect against freezer burn, and pop into the freezer.
  • Can Water Kefir Crystals Go Bad?– There are a number of things that can cause water kefir grains to go bad. Chemicals in the water, not enough sugar, or cross contamination from other bacteria are just a few examples of what could cause bad grains. For information on how to fix bad water kefir grains visit "Good Grains Gone Bad".
  • Can Kefir Grains Die?- Yes they can (after all they are made up of live bacteria and yeast), but sometimes you might think they are dead but they are only sick! They are pretty resilient little guys. If your grains have a white film, a really stinky smell, and are doing nothing in the sugar water, then they may be dead, but they may just need some TLC. Follow the link above and visit the Good Grains Gone Bad post and see if you can revive them by following the instructions found there.

Milk Kefir Questions:

  • Why Does My Kefir Curdle or Clot Before It Thickens?– It is the kefiran that gives your kefir a thicker consistency. You can encourage the production of kefiran and healthy milk kefir grains by keeping your kefir in an area close to 25 degrees celsius, by stirring it often, by using higher fat milk, and by using milks that have lactose as the main sugar. This is such a universal question that I answered it more in depth in a post. Read more about making thicker kefir.
  • My Kefir Is Fizzy (or tingly) On My Tongue. Is It Bad?– Both Milk Kefir and Water Kefir have an effervescent quality. They get fizzy, just like pop (soda). In fact, if you cover it nice and tight for a second ferment, it can get so fizzy that a pressure build up can pop a top! Milk Kefir that you buy in the store is often like drinkable yogurt with no fizz, but that is because they use inhibitors to stop that action. Otherwise they would be blowing tops all over the place! This is another reason why I love home made kefir.
  • Can Kefir Grains or Kefir Milk Be Frozen?– Both kefir grains and traditional milk kefir made from heirloom grains can be frozen, and still maintain biological action with no diminished bacterial count. read more on the post "Can I Freeze Kefir Grains?"

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41 thoughts on “Kefir Facts FAQ”

  1. Hi. My family members have different allergies issues. Does your water kefir grain have contamination with gluten and dairy?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Maria Water kefir grains are made in same facility and with same equipment as milk kefir. No guarantees 🙂

      Kefir Nurse

  2. I am on a diet wherein I cannot eat any sugars. I realize that the kefir grains “consume” the sugars as food, but as you indicate that the taste is slightly “sweet”, I am wondering if there are any sugars left in the final product. I don’t want to ingest ANY sugars, but for health reasons I am obviously interested in kefir water…If you don’t mind commenting on this and letting me know if 100% of the sugars are gone before drinking — I would be appreciative.

    Thank you~

    1. Hi Joanne Milk kefir grow much more slowly than water kefir naturally. But for any cultures, a week is a very short time in a new home. Kefir cultures have to recover from the trip and being out of food while they traveled, and then they must adjust to new temperature, new milk, new environment… this all takes several weeks. After that, you can expect milk kefir will double in size (volume) usually about every week to 10 days. Water kefir will often double in size every couple of days!

      Kefir Nurse

    1. Hi stacee There could be some initial inflammation as the good bacteria crowd out and kill the bad. This could cause some constipation, smelly flatulence and some cramping, but it is temporary. Once your body adjusts these symptoms will disappear.

      Kefir Nurse

  3. Is it safe to drink if you have a central line (as you can take mega doses of capsules filled with probiotics)?

    1. Hi Vikki If you can take yogurt, kefir would be fine. As always though, ask your physician regarding medical questions if unsure. 

      Kefir Nurse

  4. I am on day 7 of my milk kefir experience and am wondering if its natural for the kefir grains to adhere to the bottom of my jar? I have used 2 percent milk and the kefir is thin but smells like it should I think, not too yeasty and not too sour but the grains are mostly sticking to the bottom. Dumb question but is that normal? We have a coolish environment in the house as it is still spring here and not a hot summer so my question is do I just have to be patient for them to multiply and raise to the top? Try mixing in some real cream? Thanks for your response to a nervous kefir wannabe!!

    1. Hi Christine Thanks for your message! It is normal for them to sometimes stick to the bottom. I stir or shake ine several times a day… just whenever I walk past. Before refrigeration, kefir used to hang in a sack by the door and every time anyone came in or out they gave the bag a punch to keep it mixed. 

      Kefir Nurse

  5. Good Morning. I just received my milk kefir grains yesterday and in my zest at 1:00 pm put them into the milk to get them started. However its not the best time for me so how do I change them to be strained and new milk added in the morning, say around 7 – 8 oclock rather than the afternoon? Can I just leave it in an extra few hours which would be approx 17 hrs more) or how does one fix that? This is my first time adding milk so hopefully I can change it. Thanks very much. I look forward to using these amazing grains.

    1. Yes, okay I thought so. Thanks for your reply – they are already multiplying quite nicely. Hopefully all is well. Thanks again

  6. hi Kefir Nurse,My grains are doing great moving and multiplying just fine. My concern is I will be away from home for a while, and it would be best if I could just store them some how and resume making them when I return. what is best way to keep them for a week or so?Thanks for your web site (it’s a great help) and your help with this question.

    1. Hi Reena There is no way to know exactly how long things take when they are mailed. It could take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. 

      Kefir Nurse

  7. Hi Kefir Nurse…. I have been making water Kefir for about two months now. At first I used brown sugar, and the kefir quality was excellent with many grains floating to the top and super fermentation leading to a good product. But over the last couple of weeks, my grains have been downsizing in size and quantity. I am currently using coconut sugar, traveling in a motorhome across Canada (lots of sloshing), and getting lots of sediment too, Any ideas why my grains are shrinking and breaking down in size?? Thanks, Tom

    1. Hi Tom There are so many variables it is nearly impossible to say… right off though I would go back to what was working…. brown sugar and all. Water consistency is important too! Make sure you are using the same kind of water all the time. When travelling I use Nestle Pur Life and it works like a dream. Go back to the original recipe is my recommendation! 

      Shrinking grains equals dying grains so you need to revive them soon! 

      Let me know how you make out!

      Kefir Nurse

      p.s. Happy trails!! 

      1. Kefir Nurse the worst has happened: my water kefir grains have expired. My last liter batch (which tastes fine)had only about 4 healthy normal sized grains left, and the rest was what could be described as moosh.
        I went onto your site to buy some (for the first time) and the prompt told me the security certificate didn’t match and address, and I’d do best to avoid it. Can you clarify? Also advise how long water kefir grains would take to arrive in Newmarket, Ontario?

        PS my last half dozen batches had smallish black specks on occasion that I fished out… definitely not inspiring.

        1. Hi Tom: The reason for the security software alert is because I am using a different payment processor now than I used to. They ask me to put my username in the link which looks like-  kefirnurse.click2sell.com and the security software just see’s “click2sell” and thinks they are 2 different addresses. Security software doesn’t know that is what it is meant to look like. 

          Your grains should arrive in 7-10 days

          Kefir Nurse

    1. Hi Rebecca Thanks for your inquiry. Air fare from Alberta to where I live would be cost prohibitive! But I’ve shipped successfully to every province. 

      Kefir Nurse

  8. help just made up first time grains Dehydrated and when finished realized I had used 1/3 cup of sugar instead of 1/4 cup. is this going to ruin the solution?

    1. Hi Brenda Adding a little more sugar is not going to affect the final result at all! In fact if you surf the internet you will find recipes that vary slightly. As you become accustomed to making it you may even find varying the sugar up a wee bit or down slightly suits your tastes better. As long as it is “in the ballpark” Significantly more or less could make a difference, but not a few tablespoons. 

      Enjoy! 

      Kefir Nurse

  9. Is it normal that you can get lots of gas at times, I have been using milk kefir for about 6 weeks now, love the flavor and the smoothies I make. But sometimes I even walk away from myself from the gas I produce now. This is not a daily thing, yesterday I felt under the weather and was very gassy.

    1. Hi Desiree Yes this is very normal. It will settle down though as your body becomes accustomed. There is an adjustment period where the newly introduced probiotic bacteria are re-establishing the normal balance. There will be die off of less beneficial bacteria, and this is a good thing. 

      Kefir Nurse

  10. I just purchased both the milk and water kefir grains from you . As we were away when they arrived , they sat in the mailbox for about a week and a half. Are they still good? Also i don’t know what type of water kefir we received ? You say you send out dehydrated in Canada , but it looks kind of gummy . Please advise on what i should do here. Hopefully, this hasn’t ended up all being a waste. Thanks.

    1. Hi Ron No fear, they should both be fine. The milk grains are well protected, partially hydrated and packed in powdered milk. I checked your order, and you ordered live water kefir grains, so that’s why they look gummy. Just rinse the water grains a little under cool water first, and then follow the instructions I sent you on the thank you page and I am quite certain you won’t have a bit of problem! 

      Kefir Nurse

  11. Could a person mix kefir and a good plain yogurt together and expect kefir after fermentation? Can one use soymilk with kefir grains with good results? By the way, thanks for this opportunity to ask!

    1. Hi Tom Thanks for your question. In order for kefir grains to ferment properly they need enough milk sugar to eat. But they will also slow down fermentation when a certain acidity is reached. The problem with yogurt is that it is already fermented so available lactose to feed the kefir grains is minimal and it has already reached a fernentation acidity level. So whole you may get a slight boost in bacteri count it is likely to be minimal.

      As far as soy mill, people on the net claim to make kefir with soy but kefir grains live and grow on milk sugar sobyou must put them back in their food (milk) frequently so they don’t die. I have not made soy kefir so I can only speak on what I have read.

      Another way to do non-dairy milk is ro make water kefir and then add the drained kefir ( no grains) to soy milk for the second ferment.

      Kefir Nurse

  12. Hi. I have been making water kefir for over a month now. Problem is that despite the fact that my grains are multiplying a lot, they don’t seem to have much of an appetite for sugar and the water kefir wont carbonate even during the second fermentation. I have made a lot of water successfully before now so its not that I don’t know how and the grains seem very healthy, floating, multiplying and bubbly. I have tried a variety of recipes but still no carbonation nor much of a sugar appetite. I have had it standing on a warm windowsill and on the counter. I got my grains from a friend who had them stored in the fridge for a few months but i don’t think she fed them much. What do you think I should do. Thank You!

    1. Hi Arlene Thank you so much for your question. If they are “multiplying a lot” then they are indeed having a healthy appetite for sugar. All of the things you mention point to this, and it is actually the metabolizing of the sugar that makes them grow. Try this… leave the grains in the water for 2 days instead of 1 day, then bottle them and leave them at room temp another day. A word of caution though. Open the kefir in the sink when you do that second ferment. Don’t expect kefir to have as much fizz as Coke. It’s a much lighter fizz than that! 

      Make sure you set some grains aside in the fridge in sugar/water as a back up and then experimant with different things like adding less sugar.

      1. I always do a two day ferment and I have also tried less sugar, egg shells, ginger, raisins, baking soda. Have also tried to second ferment for up to a week with zero carbonation happening. I have been experimenting for a month or so:-) currently trying a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses so we’ll see how that goes. Oh and I use evaporated cane sugar. Some people claim it’s sweeter so maybe that’s why the sweetness doesn’t seem to reduce enough. I want as little sugar as possible because I want the kefir to help get rid of yeast

    1. Hi Ron Glad they got there safe and sound! They made it in good time too! In the recipe for rehydrating dehydrated water kefir grains you will see that it calls for 1 tablespoon af dehydrated grains for 3 cups of water. The package you received has a tablespoon (or a little more) so if you are making a full recipe you should use all of your grains. 

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