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.

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.

10 thoughts on “Good Grains Gone Bad”

  1. Hi,
    Our water kefir has developed what looks like a thick scoby on the top… It is near our kombucha so after reading about cross contamination this could be the case. We keep thinking our grains/water has gone bad but we keep making “one last batch” of flavored kefir water and it end up super carbonated and tastes great. There are very few grains left (since our original purchased grains). Each time we make our new batch the scoby floats to the bottom, then rises to the top. It is not moldy and smells fine. Do you know what is happening? Should we continue to use is? We purchased the original grains about 5 weeks ago. Should we purchase new grains and throw this out? Is there a health risk? Thank you very much!!

    1. Hi Suzie It really does sound like you have some cross contamination with the kombucha. If it tastes good, you are not in any risk for health. But here’s the thing. One of the bacteria cultures will “win”- and right now it sounds like the kombucha scoby is winning. The water kefir grains will continue to weaken- they will become unbalanced and you will start noticing some things like a thickening of the liquid, or an off taste. There may still be a window of time to save them. pour the kefir grains into a plastic or silicon strainer and rinse well with very cold water. run your fingers through the grains under the gentle water stream. put them in a fresh clean jar, cover them with cold water, add a teaspoon of sugar and put them in the fridge. Let them rest. In the meantime, sterilize all the jars you are using. and wash the utensils well with hot soapy water. After 3 days, remove the grains from the refrigerator and do your usual kefir routine, only change the sugar water and sterile jar daily for 3 days whether they brew drinkable kefir or not. After the 3rd day (you are now into this a week) switch sugar water and steril jar one more time, and allow 24 hours OR sooner if you have drinkable kefir.

      When I have kefir and kombucha brewing in the same kitchen they are separated to two far counter tops, covered always, and jars and utensils sterilized.

      If there are very few grains left, as you say, the grains will eventually disappear as the kombucha scoby bacteria win the battle, unless this rehabilitation works. 🙂

      Kefir Nurse

  2. I recently moved to an area with well-water, and had previously read that many people have great success with their water kefir on well-water so was excited to get started!
    My grains had been in the refrigerator, so I brought them out and let them get too room temperature before beginning a 1st ferment.
    I made my usual sugar water (I’ve been doing this for a few years now) and put the grains up in the cupboard. After 3 days the smell and taste of the water indicated it was ready for the 2F, however when I went to strain it out the liquid was a little thicker.
    Now through reading it seems that this means my water is too rich in minerals – there is no smell or off taste or colour in the water to indicate this – so I will likely need to bring it bottled water and perhaps mix it half and half?
    In the meantime … I am wondering if the liquid strained off is safe to consume? Does mineral rich mean not good for a 2nd ferment? Am I going to have to pour each batch down the drain until I’ve figured out a good balance?
    Warmly,
    – Megan

    1. Hi Megan The thickness- in your case- is unlikely to be “too rich in minerals”. More likely it is simply that your grains need to be adjusted after coming out of the fridge, and a new water source. It’s most likely just that some bacteria have reactivated more uickly than others and disturbed the balance. SO- first, you need to give the grains a few more cycles and they should come back to normal. Second- the liquid- as long as it smells normal, is likely ok to drink- but personally I would discard it to be on the safe side.

      Thanks so much for your questions. Please come back in a week or two and let us know how you made out.
      Kefir Nurse

    1. Hi Helen Diabetics could benefit from drinking kefir water, but it does have sugar in it, so keep track of your sugars and adjust accordingly. If I were diabetic, I would drink some after a meal to slow down the sugar absorption and spread it out iver the day. There have been studies though, that show kefir helps regulate blood sugar (good bacteria!) 

      Kefir Nurse

  3. I let the grains sit in a jar too long without changing the milk. I took off a blue moldy skin from the top and rinsed the grains with water which I never ordinarily do. I have been soaking the grains now for a few days and changing the milk daily. What’s your feeling on this? Will my grains come back to life or has that moldy skin affected the grains so that I must now throw them out? Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Vivian Thanks for your email. They often will survive mold! Only you will be able to make that judgement by i think if you don’t see a reappearance of mold, and the grains are fermenting then you are good to go! 

      Kefir Nurse

  4. We were making our milk kefir and water kefir and setting them on the same counter. The milk kefir seemed fine, the water kefir got a white film on it and the finished kefir was getting a slimy film on top. We gave the grains a rest but they still are a bit white. We have not been using molasses so we thought maybe the white was caused by this. Two questions, should we try again with those same grains or order new ones? Can we make water kefir without molasses? Any help you can give would be great!

    1. Hi Denise lack of molasses does not produce a white film, it simply yields a paler kefir grain. The white film indicates a sick culture. First, separate the cultures. Separated by a foot or so, as long as they are properly covered, should be fine. Now dump the grains into a bowl and rinse them thoroughly in cool water and run your clean fingers around in them. Then strain and do this several time. Now go back to the recipe and follow it word for word. I have not seen a kefir failure yet that was not a result of recipe error. Please check AL of your ingredients… non-sulphured dried fruit, NO chhlorine and minimal fluoride, a slice of lemon etc, etc. Follow it to the letter… let me know in a week or so how things look. 

      Do not ever drink kefir that is filmy, mouldy or otherwise looks off.

      Kefir Nurse

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