Has My Kefir Spoiled or Gone Bad?

I Left My Kefir Out For A Long time- Is It Still Safe To Drink?

I get this question a lot. The thing is, it is hard to establish a new habit, and once the novelty wears off, it is easy to forget to look after your kefir every day. When this happens, people sometimes leave their kefir unattended for  days, weeks or even months and then wonder if the grains are ruined. So let me address this question generally, and then we can go through some different scenarios in a little more detail.

Is it still safe to drink?

Maybe, but if you are not sure, strain the grains and dump the liquid and start over. 

Are the grains rotten, spoiled, or gone bad?

Maybe, but more likely we can salvage them. it depends on the situation though. 

So let's look at some different situations, but I want to warn you… after reading this, do not email me and say, "My grains were working just fine, I put them in fresh solution every day like I always do, and today when I woke up, there was an inch of blue mold on the top." If this is you, then check with your spouse or room-mate first and make sure you haven't been in a coma for 2 weeks, because mold does not grow into an inch of thick slime "while you sleep"! (just sayin', I've been doing this a long time! heheh) 

Milk or Water Kefir Sits On Counter For A Few Days-

In this case, the grains are fine, and you may even be able to still drink the kefir you've made. it will definitely be a little more tart, and likely have a little more alcohol and fizz than you are used to, but put it in a smoothie and you probably won't even notice a difference. 

Milk or Water Kefir Sits On Counter For A Week Or Two-

In this case, the grains are probably fine, but I would strain off the liquid and discard it. If the kefir sits out for too long, the balance of bacteria and yeast in the kefir can shift. It's probably not harmful, but not worth a chance. 

In this case, milk kefir will often get a fuzzy looking film on top. If it is white or off-white in color, it isn't mold. It'sjust a growth caused by the yeast. It's an indication that your kefir has sat for a while untended, but it isn't harmful. 

If the film is orange tinted, it is still fine. That's the fat in the milk changing color. 

If it is blue, green or black, that's mold. Skim it off and throw it out.

Milk or Water Kefir Sits In The Fridge For A Long Time-

Strain the grains and resume making kefir. It's probably fine. I've had water kefir grains in the fridge for almost a year untended and they've recovered just fine. I've had milk kefir grains in milk in the fridge for over 6 months and they have recovered fine. 

Kefir Has Been Around A Long Time-

The kefir grains you are using likely originated in Tibetan Mountains many centuries ago. Certainly they predate refrigeration. In fact, fermenting milk was a way to preserve it before refrigeration. In those days, a sac of milk and kefir grains hung by the door, and everyone who came in gave it a knock to keep it stirred up. They dispensed kefir from the sac and topped it up with milk as needed. 

So if your kefir has been untended for a long time, EVEN IF there is a small amount of mold on top, chances are you can revitalize them again. 

How To Rehabilitate Your Kefir Grains

If your kefir did sit out on the counter top for too long, they are probably still fine.

  • First, if there is any film, crust, or discoloration on top, take a spatula and scrape this off and discard it. 
  • pour the contents of your jar into a plastic mesh strainer, and strain off the liquid. Discard if you think it is too old. 
  • Gently rinse the grains- On a day to day basis you never rinse the grains, but if they've sat for a long time you just want to remove any surface crud that doesn't belong on them. Water kefir grains get rinse in fresh cool water. Milk kefir grains can be rinsed in water or milk. 
  • Put the clean grains in a new clean jar and start again. They make take a few days to recover, depending on how long they were without food, but most of the time they are working again in a day or three.
  • Set a reminder on your computer or smart phone to chnage the solution once every day or two, depending on your preference. 

If after you read this article you still are not sure, you should probably throw out your grains and start over. Kefir grains are so inexpensive! Just visit the order page to see for yourself! So for a measley amount of money, it doesn't make sense to worry. 

p.s. I have found the Perfect Pickler Click here to see it.  

 

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Taking a Break- A Kefir Vacation

A Water Kefir Vacation

Storing Kefir Grains When On VacationSometimes looking after your kefir grains can seem a little like having a pet! They need to be fed and watered, and kept in a warm place. What happens when you want to take a break from making kefir? Do you have to get a babysitter? Thankfully, the answer is no.  There are several ways that you can keep your grains safe and store them for a week, a month, or even up to a year! 

Scenario #1– You are going away for a week or so, and want to make sure your grains stay healthy until you can get back to your routine. It is really easy to store your grains for a short break. Simply mix 3 tablespoons of sugar with a cup of water in a glass jar with your grains. Put the cover on the jar and place it in the refrigerator. That's all there is to it!

Your grains will ferment and grow much more slowly in the refrigerator and they have enough food for a week. In fact, they will likely be fine for a month or two like this.  When you return home, and are ready to start making water kefir again, simply dig out your old recipe and carry on. The first batch may not be up to standard but it will not take long until they are up to speed. 

Scenario #2– You are really excited about being a Canadian snowbird this winter! From the first of January until the end of March you plan to be laying on the white sandy beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast. How can you keep your kefir grains healthy if they won't be fed for 3 months? Is storing kefir grains for longer than a week very difficult?

There is an easy solution here too! Freeze them! Your water kefir grains will last for a short time- 3-6 months at a time, in the freezer. Take 3 tablespoons of water kefir grains and put them in a ziplock bag. Then put the closed bag in a container and place in the freezer. When you want to start making kefir water again, simply take them from the freezer and allow them to defrost at room temperature. Then make kefir as usual. As above, it may take a batch or two to get your usual batch of kefir because they have been dormant for a bit.

Scenario #3– You are tired of kefir and don't know when you may want to make it again, but you want to keep some water kefir grains in case you want to start up again at a later date. In situations where you do not know how long it will be until you make kefir again, the best thing to do is to dehydrate some grains. You will need a dehydrator so if you don't have one, perhaps you could borrow one from a friend. Place some grains in a single layer in your dehydrator, set the temperature at the lowest setting (if it has a temperature guage) and leave until the grains are completely dry. Then place in a clean dry jar, cover the jar tightly and put it in the fridge.

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The grains can keep up to a year like this.  So there you have it. If you need to take a vacation from water kefir making there are several ways to ensure you have healthy grains to continue getting good quality probiotics.  At this moment I have grains in the refrigerator in sugar water, grains dehydrated in a jar AND grains in the freezer. I want to make sure I have some back up in case anything happens to the batch I am currently brewing with.   

Good Grains Gone Bad

Has Your Water Kefir Gone Bad?

Sometimes kefir grains go bad. They can become slimy, or the water kefir becomes thick and syrupy, the grains develop a white film, or they start to smell bad. Don't throw out your grains just yet! You can often bring them back to health again with a little trouble shooting and some TLC.

First, no matter what the problem may be, you need to check all the ingredients you are using.

  • Is your water fresh with no added chemicals? (no added chlorine or flouride)- SolutionUse bottled water, or boil water for 10 minutes and then let cool before using to remove chlorine. Fluoride can not be removed this way. You need to use bottled water if your municipality adds fluoride. Even bottled water that is labeled "spring water" can have bad additives like chlorine, sulphites, and other unwanted ingredients. Read labels!
  • Are your ingredients free of preservatives?- SolutionThe one that often seems to get by unnoticed is sulphur added to dried fruit. Ths is a preservative. Choose unsulphured dried fruit such as raisins or apricots. Honey can casue a problem too because it has anti-microbial properties.Preservatives in water kefir make for bad grains!
  • Are you using reactive metal utensils? Solution Make sure you are using a glass jar (not plastic) and plastic or wooden utensils. Stainless steel is ok, but I avoid metals just to be on the safe side.
  • Do you have cross contamination? Solution Don't culture different fermented foods or beverages in the same cupboard. Bacteria and yeast can become airborne and cross contaminate. This means if you have milk kefir and water kefir they should be placed in different cupboards.

If any of the above are present, and your kefir seems bad or off somehow, correct the issue, rinse your grains gently in fresh, cool water, and try making a fresh batch of water kefir. If after a few days the problem persists, then you need to take further action.

  1. Drain the grains and rinse them gently in cool fresh water.
  2. Add them to a clean glass jar
  3. Mix a sugar solution of 3 or 4 tablespoons of sugar with 2 cups of cool fresh water and add to grains.
  4. Place jar in refrigerator for 3-4 days to allow the grains to rest. Rinse the grains and change the sugar water solution daily and discard.
  5. On day 4 or 5 use the water kefir recipe  to make a fesh batch of kefir. It may take sevearl days, up to a week, to get a fresh balance batch of water kefir after rehabilitating the grains. When the grains are refrigerated, frozen or dehydrated, they go into a state of partial or full dormancy, so it may take a few batches to bring them back to health again.

Grains can be more sluggish in the winter. Try moving your culture to an inside cupboard. Cupboards along an outside wall may be quite cool and causing slower fermentation and growth of your water kefir grains.

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If you see little air bubbles in your culture, and it smells lightly yeast or 'beery', be patient. These are good signs that your rehabilitation is working.

Tips- Water Kefir Making

Tips and Troubleshooting:Tips for kefir making

  • If your grains are dehydrated, the process is the same, but discard the first ferment. It may take up to a week to fully hydrate the grains.
  • Water kefir grains will often double in size each week or so. If yours are not, they may still be making wonderful kefir, but something could be perfected. 
  • Do not use water that is chlorinated or fluoridated (Britta filter workswell … or buy spring water) 
  • Use only unsulphured dried fruit such as apricots or raisins. Sulphur is added as a preservative and will kill your grains.
  • Never add anything to your grains that is used to preserve food, or kill bacteria. This means avoid preservatives of any kind. 
  • Do not use honey in place of sugar. Honey is a natural antibiotic and could damage grains.
  • The finished product smells slightly yeasty or beery. If it smells like vinegar or otherwise off, your grains need some rehab. Don't drink kefir water that smells rancid or too sour. 
  • Water Kefir gets very fizzy. A build up of gases could cause bottle explosion. If you are going to keep water kefir longer than a few days, store in bottles designed for brewing. Open your bottles over a sink in case the liquid fizzes up and out of the bottle when opening. 
  • If you ordered live kefir grains and they arrive frozen in the winter, simply allow them to defrost at room temperature, and then follow instructions. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • It is not necessary to use organic sugar or fruit in order to make kefir. I use organic ingredients because I prefer to limit chemicals in my foods. 
  • If you are using distilled water, or are boiling your water and letting it cool before use, you may need to add a few drops of minerals, or add a piece of egg shell. I use Concentrace Liquid minerals. If you do add minerals, a few drops will do. Too many minerals is just as bad as not enough. 

See Also: Good Grains Gone Bad for some more tips and specific issues you might encounter when making water kefir. 

Making Water Kefir

Water Kefir Grains Delivered Anywhere in Canada and The United States

(and instructions on how to make water kefir below,,,)

If you live in Canada and wish to order water kefir grains, you may choose between regular grains and dehydrated grains. Either option will allow you to brew your own healthful, delicious, probiotic water kefir. The difference is that dehydrated grains take a couple of brews to become fully reconstituted (rehydrated). The regular grains are fully hydrated, and will arrive wet. You must begin brewing your grains as soon as you can after they arrive as they are hungry after the long trip. 

If you can not begin brewing your water kefir immediately when you receive your grains and you ordered hydrated grains, then set them in the refrigerator where they should be safe for another day or two.

I prefer to ship dehydrated grains. They are not going to be affected by swings in temperature that can happen with our Canadian climate. However, if you prefer live grains I will certainly send them to you.

Water Kefir grains grow, and you can use grains from each batch to make the next batch, so you only ever have to buy them once. Properly cared for, they will serve you for life!  

Rehydrated Water Kefir Grains
Rehydrated Water Kefir Grains

Instructions for Making Water Kefir

The following instructions are for wet grains. With only slight modification, dehydrated grains are handled in much the same way.

Making Water Kefir is so easy. In fact, of all the recipes I use in my healthy kitchen, this probiotic drink is by far the easiest! 

First you need to order your Water Kefir grains

While you are waiting for your grains to arrive, make sure you have all of the equipment and ingredients that you need to begin immediately when your grains arrive. The equipment and ingredients I use to make a basic water kefir are as follows:

Equipment:

  • 1 Quart (4 cup) mason jars
  • small plastic mesh strainer
  • coffee filter or paper towels
  • elastic band
  • Ingredients:

  • 1/4 C Sugar
  • 1 tsp Black Strap Molasses (not procesed or fancy!!)
  • 3C water (well water or spring water) I use well water or Nestle Pur Life bottled water. 
  • squirt of minerals (if water is filtered)
  • slice of lemon (peeled if not organic)
  • 1 apricot (unsulphured, organic) can use raisins, figs etc (UNSULPHURED is important. Sulphur from dried fruit will kill your grains.) NOTE: Updated to say I can no longer recommend figs. Too many people have their kefir go unbalanced and syrupy after using figs. I think the preservative must not always be listed on the label- so NO more figs for me!)
  • 3TBSP water kefir grains (approx 1TBSP per C/water)

A NOTE ABOUT WATER: If you are using bottled water you absolutely must read the ingredients on the back label. Just because it is called "Spring Water", that does not mean nothing has been added. Natural spring water will have minerals, and may have a slight amount of naturally occurring fluoride. It should not have any chlorine. 

Do NOT use ozonated water. Ozone is added to kill bacteria. See here for reference.

Do NOT use alkaline water (kangen water etc). We add lemon or lime to give the water a slight acidic edge. The act of fermentation increases the acidity of the brew. An alkaline environment will encourage an imbalance of bacterial growth and you could end up with some nasty bacterial contamination! 

Method:

Add ingredients to mason jar. Cover with coffee filter or paper towel secured by an elastic. Set in cupboard 24-48 hours. (I always let mine go 48 hours) If you see little bubbles rising, it is working. The first one could take a little longer (or you may have to make 2 or 3 batches to get your best kefir water) as the grains will sometimes be a little sluggish from being in the fridge. 

After 24-48 hours (48 hours for me), strain off the liquid to drink as is, OR put the strained liquid into another bottle or jar sealed tight and let ferment another 24 hours or so. You can add juice, ginger, berries etc for the second ferment to create different flavors. Will get slightly fizzy.

Then refrigerate for up to several months, or drink immediately.

Use your strained grains to start the process again.

Please also see Water Kefir Instructions in Pictures using live grains.

Tips:

(NOTE: You can experiment with any kind of white or brown sugars, or juices etc. These are what I prefer. If you do decide to experiment, always have some backup grains in case you need them)

If your grains are dehydrated, the process is the same, but discard the first ferment. May take up to a week to fully hydrate the grains.

Water kefir grains will often double in size each week or so. If yours are not, they may still be making wonderful kefir, but something could be perfected. 

Do not use water that is chlorinated or fluoridated (Britta filter works… or buy spring water) 

Do not use honey in place of sugar. Honey is a natural antibiotic and could damage grains.

The finished product smells slightly yeasty or beery. If it smells like vinegar or otherwise off, your grains need some rehab. Don't drink kefir water that smells rancid or too sour. 

Water Kefir gets very fizzy. A build up of gases could cause botle explosion. If you are going to keep water kefir longer than a few days, store in bottles designed for brewing. Open your bottles over a sink in case the liquid fizzes up and out of the bottle when opening. 

If you ordered live kefir grains and they arrive frozen in the winter, simply allow them to defrost at room temperature, and then follow instructions. ๐Ÿ™‚

How Do You Know Kefir Grains Are Working?

First time brewers of water kefir often are worried that their brew is not going to work. During your first, and subsequent brews there are several indications that things are progressing as they should:

  1. Tiny bubbles are rising from the grains and/or gathering next to the glass on top of the liquid- The fermenting process releases carbon dioxide. Some of the grains may float and sink for the same reason. This is a good sign that things are going well. 
  2. The color is lightening- The grains consume the sugars in the brew. If you have used brown sugar and/or molasses the dark color will begin to lighten.
  3. It develops a pleasant yeasty odor- Kefir water smells fresh ands lightly yeasty or beery with some fruity notes. It should never smell rancid or "off" in any way.
  4. It is not as sweet- because the grains are eating the sugar, the brew should begin to taste less sweet and becoming more acidic.
  5. The grains are growing

The following video is NOT mine. It does give a good general overview of how to make water kefir.