Kefir Facts FAQ

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?"

order kefir grains

Kefir and Yogurt- What Is The Difference?

What Is The Difference Between Kefir Milk and Yogurt?

Making Milk KefirAs my daughter would say… "The difference is microscopic!" ba-dump-baaa

The biggest difference between kefir and yogurt is what you can not see. The types of bacteria that culture the milk and the way in which the culture is produced.

Traditional greek yogurt, made using low heat incubation has bacterial strains Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus (often shortened to) L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus. These two bacteria live together in harmony and work synergistically to ferment your milk into yogurt. Different styles of commercial yogurt will also have other lactobacilli and bifidobacteria added. Yogurt typically does not require yeasts as a part of the fermenting process.

Yogurt is typically made using some yogurt from a previously made batch. By saving a little yogurt from each batch, and using it to culture the next batch, in theory you will always have a healthy yogurt culture. This is often only true if you are using an heirloom culture.

Traditionally yogurt is thick enough to eat with a spoon.

Kefir, on the other hand, could have 50 or more different strains of bacteria AND yeast living together in the same culture. Kefir does not require heat (or incubation) to culture milk, and it is made using kefir "grains" which are firm jelly-like clumps of bacteria and yeast that feed on milk sugars and produce a fermented product.

Because yeast is part of the kefir fermentation process, the end product is often slightly carbonated, and is slightly alcoholic. (0.5% to 2% alcohol)

For home culture makers, kefir is by far the easiest to make. You just need to drop the grains in a jar of milk, and set it on the cupboard. 24 hours (or so) later you have a delicious probiotic drink. Yogurt, while still very easy, is a little fussier. You need to heat the milk, then cool it, add your culture, and then incubate (keep it warm) for 6-24 hours. Then it needs to be refrigerated before it will "set".


Both kefir and yogurt are easy, inexpensive and delicious super foods.