I Killed My Kefir Grains

February 24, 2010 · 46 comments

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A while back when my brother in-law, Kevin, and I were doing all those Kefir Soda experiments, I made a lot of batches of the stuff.  (That was when we figured out how much alcohol is really in Kefir Soda…OK, well mostly he figured it out.)  I think the kids got a little sick of it so I didn’t make more for a while…

kefir soda fermenting So I sort of let it go for a month… or three.

It was in the fridge, looking like this, and I hadn’t even taken a peek at it.  I had moved onto other post research and recipes!

So when I felt like making more kefir soda pop, I dared to peek inside.  It was dark brown and murky.  Bummer.

Julie at Cultures for Health has been SO patient with me.

“Ooops, I set my sourdough starter on fire.”  She happily sent me more.  “Darn it, that starter isn’t doing it’s thing.”  Not a problem, “Let’s try another one,” she said.  “Oh no, what did I do to my yogurt?”  You guessed it, more was on the way.  (Does anyone else have as many mishaps as I do?!)

This time I was determined that I needed to learn my lesson about letting things go, forgetting about things, burning things up, etc., and I didn’t tell her, I just ordered more kefir grains.

She caught it and refunded my money, the big sweetie.  “You send enough business my way, I can do this.”  (I get a small commission when you visit Cultures for Health through my site.  BTW, besides various starters, she also has some cool kitchen gadgets at her online store, super easy cheese making kits, some Real Food books, gizmos to help you with fermenting vegetables, and dehydrators, etc.)

kefir grains

So Julie, patient Julie, sent ANOTHER batch of kefir grains to this dingbat.  Now I’m ready to hydrate them and go again.  This time I’ll pay more attention to the part of her instructions about what to do if you don’t make more soda for a while.

Do any of you have some tips to share for keeping your kefir grains healthy?

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  • { 45 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Peggy February 24, 2010 at 12:13 am

    I do! I do! My grains died after only four months of use. I called a friend that I shared the grains with and her batch is doing fine, it’s just mine. Turns out the filtration I use (both reverse osmosis AND carbon filtering) that makes our water almost-drinkable also renders it nearly mineral-free, and kefir grains like minerals!

    I would have never known this, but I asked Cheeseslave to ask Julie at (you guessed it) Cultures for Health when she was on Ann Marie’s podcast! I picked up some dissolved minerals to add to the water–both the kefir’s and my own–and I suspect we’ll be bubbling along again soon!

    Reply

    2 KitchenKop February 24, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Where do you get dissolved minerals? And I suppose some sea salt won’t be good, right? Hopefully Julie is reading… She’s always there for me!

    Reply

    3 Diana Hsieh February 24, 2010 at 12:19 am

    I’ve had my milk kefir grains going strong for about a year now, without any problems. Mostly, I keep them going by keeping them in use all the time. I make a quart of raw milk kefir every 2-3 days, so I rarely rest my kefir grains.

    I have tried various experiments in storing them. I’ve rinsed, vacuum-sealed, and then frozen them. I’ve also put them in a small glass gar with some milk, then frozen that. In both cases, I’ve been able to revive them with ease after a few months in the freezer. It’s nice to have some backup, just in case anything happens to them!

    BTW, Dom’s Kefir FAQ is a fantastic resource on all things kefir, including storage.

    http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefir-faq.html

    Notably, lots of people do damage to their kefir grains by trying to keep them “clean.” It’s a mistake to rinse them, for example. And you don’t need to use a fresh jar every time, as some recommend. I use the same jar for about one to two weeks, then swap out a new one. The leftover kefir from the last batch only helps with the new one, I think.

    Reply

    4 Laura @ Rejoicing Evermore February 24, 2010 at 1:00 am

    I haven’t ever had any water kefir grains, so sorry I can’t help there, but I can help with milk kefir grains. :) If my kefir ever begins to smell “off”, and it doesn’t taste as good, I start this process.

    I often make my own buttermilk, and it is so easy. Buy your favorite Organic cultured buttermilk at the store. Pour in about 1/4 C of buttermilk into a jar, fill with milk and let is set overnight in a warm place. Just like kefir. In the morning you will have buttermilk.

    Take your fresh buttermilk, and fill your kefir jar 1/4 of the way up, add your kefir grains and let them sit for 12-24 hours. I usually only let them sit for 12 hours but 24 is best. Then fill the jar up with milk, and let the kefir process as usual. Keep doing this every batch of kefir you make for about a week.

    I have noticed that by using this method my kefir grains are always growing rapidly, the taste of my kefir is wonderful and I can tell that my kefir grains are very healthy. I also do this after bringing any grains out of storage.

    HTH,
    Laura (aka HappyWifey at WTM)

    Reply

    5 Andrew February 24, 2010 at 2:33 am

    To keep my water kefir grains (tibicos) happy, I replace half of the white sugar with raw, demerara, turbinado, or piloncillo sugar (or if I’m being cheap I’ll use brown sugar).

    White sugar is little more than pure carbohydrate, while the less processed sugars (and brown sugar) have some vitamins and minerals.

    If I’m feeling particularly adventurous I’ll use some sterilized, powdered eggshell (1/8 tsp per quart). The water kefir grains seem to really like it.

    Reply

    6 Rebecca July 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I use organic cane sugar with molasses and a tad pinch of sea salt, along with some vanilla flavoring. I use purified (filtered) water and never use tap water. I make sure the water/sugar/molasses mixture is lukewarm before I add the grains to it.

    My milk kefir grains have never given me a problem. I ferment now for 48 hours and it creates a thick, creamy kefir that is just delicious with vanilla and stevia.

    Reply

    7 Zeke February 24, 2010 at 4:09 am

    I was going to recommend Dom’s site but Diana beat me to it. It is one of the best single sites on the internet. It got me into culture foods long before I ever picked up a copy of Nourishing Traditions. It has lots of good info on soy and grain cultures too. You absolutely can’t go wrong with that site.

    Reply

    8 Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE February 24, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Wow, great tips everybody!

    I always put an egg shell in my water kefir jar. (I don’t go to the trouble Andrew does of using sterilized powdered egg shell — I just toss the egg shell right in — I figure the beneficial bacteria will handle anything bad.) It gives them the minerals they need. I’ve also noticed that when I make water kefir with rapadura (sucanat), they really like that (more minerals). The rapadura makes a more molasses-y tasting kefir soda, so I don’t use it every time.

    I had left my water kefir in the fridge for many months, too — maybe as long as 6 months! But I guess having that egg in there (and I loaded it up with sugar before I stuck it in there) helped keep it alive. It took them a while to be revived. When I first added water and sugar after that long period, they didn’t seem to be working. Instead of fermenting in 2-3 days like they usually do, it took like 5 days. But they did come back to life. I added rapadura for the next batch and now they’re happy again.

    I love Diana’s idea of freezing kefir grains. I need to do that.

    Reply

    9 Beth February 24, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I use filtered water so I add refined sugar; rapadura; pinch of real salt; pinch of baking soda; about an inch of shell from hard-boiled eggs (I keep a baggie in the fridge of shells from when we have them so they are always handy for kefir).

    I’m really bad about letting it sit out too long when things are busy (read: always!). Somehow my grains limp along and keep kefiring.

    Every once in a while they will smell like dirty socks (gross). I’ll give them a really good rinsing, change jars, and do several quick 1/2 day sugar/water cycles. Then start over. It seems to work.

    I’ve never done the rebottling that you do and mine is not quite fizzy except when I first pour it out.

    Reply

    10 Peggy February 24, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I get dissolved minerals from the health food store. I get the most potent type I can and add it by dipping a toothpick into the bottle, then putting the toothpick (and the teensy drop that adheres to it) into the quart jar of sugar water before I add the kefir grains. Actually, in the podcast, Julie said a tiny pinch of sea salt would be fine!

    Reply

    11 Melissa @Cellulite Investigation February 24, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I killed my kefir grains, too, Kelly! We are in the midst of a move, staying with family for a few months, and in all the confusion I neglected my grains for too long. I hope to restock once we’re settled in our new place. At least I was able to save the kombucha!

    Reply

    12 Barbara Grant February 24, 2010 at 9:50 am

    I use sucanat and egg shells. We have our own chickens, so sometimes the shells are stained. I use the cleanest ones. I just rinse them out and put them in. I don’t use shells every time. We also are on a well, so I don’t have to worry about clorine, etc. The grains grow like crazy.

    Reply

    13 Kate February 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

    We haven’t made any in a long time, but we keep the grains in a glass jar in the fridge with plenty of sugar in them. They look the same as they always have. Every now and then we change out the water and add some new sugar. I’ve been wanting to make some lately so I’ll let you know how they work, but they LOOK fine! I’ve never had trouble as long as I let them sit in sugar water and rinsed them before using again. But most cultured things (that I’ve tried; I’m still afraid to try many!) seem to work well for me. :)

    Reply

    14 Sherri February 24, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I make dairy kefir every day with raw milk for about 6 months now without any problems, and they grow quite rapidly, so I just eat them. My husband loves it as a smoothie. I make soft cheeses out of the kefir and save the whey for fermenting and making ricotta cheese. I also make kombucha, which my husband and I really enjoy. I’ve been trying to get our grown boys and their families to drink them, unsuccessfully (to get them off unhealthysoda’s!) So… I was wondering if kefir soda taste better and maybe I should consider getting the grains so maybe my kids will get hooked on this soda instead?! I’ve never had the opportunity to taste kefir soda unfortunately. Would do you think?

    Reply

    15 Raine Saunders February 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I made kefir last week, and I am trying to make kombucha this week, but keep getting interrupted in my plan (home school, daily tasks, etc). I have a friend who visits my blog who sent me a scoby starter for kombucha and some dairy kefir grains last week. The kefir turned out fine, although there isn’t a large amount (I used a combination of my friend’s recipe and the one in Nourishing Traditions).

    I also made buttermilk last week and haven’t used either of those things yet for anything, so I’m thinking cream cheese. The kombucha keeps getting put off because of various things…today it’s because I am trying to get blog posts done and do some items for our business while doing school at the same time (and responding to this post)….and my big pot for brewing the starter tea is dirty…argh!!

    So, here’s what I’m wondering – after the dairy grains are used to make kefir and removed from the kefir (I put them back into the jar they came in), how long do they last? I haven’t yet had a moment to do something with them again…I guess I could be doing it now as I’m writing this! But I’m just wondering because I accidentally left my grains in the raw milk when I was making kefir last week for about 6 days, and they were fine. But when my friend sent them to me, she said to use them right away or they might have to be thrown out.

    Reply

    16 NancyO February 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Water kefir grains can also be dehydrated on a very low setting in a dehydrator. I have done a bunch this way with great sucess. You have to rinse all the sugar off them with filtered water, and then spread them on the tray…otherwise they will stick to the plastic trays or parchment paper. Overnight drying just about does it, but you’ll know. About 1 tablespoon rehydrates to 1/3 cup. When I have an excess that no one wants, I dry them for when someone does, or in case I need a back up. When reyhydrating them, soak overnight in a cup of spring water (high mineral content) with a tablespoon of sugar added. Proceed as usual. The first batch or two always is a little slimy so I toss it, but after a bit they do just great! I have found that using spring water for the first few weeks of making it gives them a good start. Then I tell people to try their own water as long as it isn’t chlorinated. If they slow down, go back to spring water. Buying spring water is still cheaper than buying any kind of soda that’s out there!
    I have done milk kefir grains this way, too, and they dry to a beautiful deep gold color…like concentrated cream!
    I also have put my first fermented kefir in the frig like you suggested when you run out of time, but it broke them down into a sludge like stuff. They still worked, but were so small they went right through the strainer. No growth with that! So I started over, and if I run out of time, they just get a ltitle long in the first fermentation. They do much better that way…and I don’t forget they are in the frig!

    Reply

    17 Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life February 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I got tired of milk kefir and let my grains die. It felt kind of like murder. :(

    But luckily we all drink lots of water kefir lemonade so those grains and alive and kicking!

    Reply

    18 Laura @ Rejoicing Evermore February 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Sherry,
    My family LOVES Kombucha and here is why. When the kombucha is done brewing and we’re ready to bottle, I pour a small amount of concentrated grape or cranberry juice into the bottle. I cap them and let them sit for another three days. It tastes just like grape soda then! We drink a LOT of kimbucha, when I remember to make it.
    HTH,
    Laura

    Reply

    19 Sherri February 24, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Laura
    Thank you for this great tip!! I am diffinitely going to do this. I bet my grand girls will love it.
    Sherri

    Reply

    20 elaine February 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Kelly – I have some bodacious dairy kefir grains if you need any. I nearly let my Kombucha scoby die but think I have revived it – we’re still waiting to see. I’ve got the water kefir grains in my frige but just haven’t had time to get them started – that will be a closer-to-summer project I think :) Like many others that have commented on the various topics – I feed as many things on my counter as I do at a table!!

    Reply

    21 Meagan February 24, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    I know this is a little off topic, but I had the idea of “fermenting” some oatmeal for breakfast by placing it in a glass jar with soured raw milk and letting it go for 24 hours and then microwaving and eating it. The soaking would break down the phytic acid, and the fermentation would make the oats even more digestible. However, after 7 hours the jar looks like it is doing something interesting (the raw milk is foamy and thick on top of the oatmeal on the bottom and the whole mixture is gelatinous looking). Do you think this is a bad idea? I am stuck with what to do with my soured raw milk that doesn’t involve lots of work and time (college student). I know that the microwave will not be very good for the raw milk, but besides that, should I continue with the idea?

    Reply

    22 Tamara June 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Meagan – Use your soured raw milk to make pancakes or waffles. Here’s a great article about what to do with it:

    http://www.westonaprice.org/foodfeatures/maximize_rawmilk.html

    Best, Tamara

    Reply

    23 Tamara June 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    I see WAPF has changed the web address for the article — sorry about that. Here’s a working link:

    http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/517-maximize-your-real-milk-and-cream

    Reply

    24 Rachel February 24, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    My water kefir are going crazy! (pretty sure they are making lots of babies) I make sure that I change the water every 3-4 days. I also use not quite white organic sugar and tap water than has been dechlorinated via blender or boiling. Since i keep cheesecloth on top of mine I just pour out the old water and pour in the new water without even taking off the cheesecloth. I don;t worry if there is a little kefir left in the jar. I then mix the keifir with juice (2 parts Kefir to 1 part juice- strong I know, but then I let it sit in a mason jar or pour it into a screw to pop or beer bottle that has been cleaned out. It really carbonates if you let it set for a few days but be careful because I exploded a bottle when I forgot about them. They were in a case so I didn’t get shards of glass everywhere (Thank you God!) The jars and bottles will start to hiss if they are getting really carbonated.

    Reply

    25 Tara McGinnis February 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    When I make water kefir I always add something for mineral content such as molasis, date, other dried fruit, egg shell, etc. I experiment a lot with various additions to flavor it. I let it ferment for 72 hours to make sure the sugar is gone but it does make it taste quite “beer”ish

    Reply

    26 Tammy March 28, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    try adding a little vanilla extract. my tasted like beer too, so much that my husband wouldn’t drink it… but when i added a little vanilla…. he liked it and is now drinking it.. yahoo!!!

    Reply

    27 KitchenKop March 28, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Hmmm, so like how much vanilla??
    Thanks!
    Kelly

    Reply

    28 Tammy March 29, 2010 at 6:13 am

    try about 1 tsp per quart. not too much .. i try to stay away from too much alcohol. a little dab’l do ya. I’m now experimenting by actually adding two cut up vanilla beans to the milk as it is kefiring. (during the culturing process) I am doing that to my water kefir too.

    Reply

    29 MacKenzie February 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I killed mine too. Both my yogurt and water kefir cultures were doing great, then I got pregnant and morning sickness took over. My husband took over most kitchen things but those got lost in the shuffle. Luckily I still had the second half of my yogurt so that is fine. I had tried to dehydrate my kefir a while ago in a process similar to NancyO’s suggestion but only on the counter and not in a dehydrator but when I tried to rehydrate them last week, nothing happened. I guess I’ll be buying a new set. On the bright side, I really liked the juice kefir I made but was never sure if my husband did or it he was just appeasing me but he has asked several times if I was going to start it up again. Now I know for sure that he is a fan too!

    Reply

    30 Peggy February 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I wanted to share that I too make water Kefir with sugar kefir grains and I enjoy adding the juice of a lines or lemons to the finished product. I also will make a batch with frozen raspberries. I let them sit in the kefir a few days and when the fruit float to the top and the red color is all bleached out I scoop then out and either bottle it or let it sit in a large ice tea decanter. I love using the ice tea decanter because the alcohol content is less, it is less to clean, (no bottles) and it is so easy to get the juice from the turn valve. :)

    Reply

    31 JDA February 27, 2010 at 3:30 am

    We have been doing dairy kefir for a while using VAT (low temp) pasteurized, non-homogenized, whole milk (from Sawall’s if you happen to be in SW Michigan). I drink a pint of it daily (and I feel miserable if I forget two days in a row) and use it to take my fish oil and other various supplements. If you buy kefir at the store you will typically find that it has an ingredient list, ours is cultured milk. Period.

    We have strained the kefir for whey and used it to make sauerkraut, Weston A Price’s ketchup recipe (and we turned a batch of that into BBQ sauce), and a few other things I am not remembering at 3:30 am. For oatmeal we have used steel cut oats soaked overnight with whey and then baked. A batch of a quasi-energy/granola bar started with whey soaked oats spread on a tray and (mostly) dried in the oven. Unfortunately our strainer is breaking down and we are not having much luck finding a replacement that isn’t tiny (1/2 cup? Puh-leeze!) or way expensive.

    I think our kombucha scoby is dead.

    Reply

    32 Tammy March 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    please somebody help me find the answer to this:

    What are the comparisons of water Kefir and milk Kefir? Does Milk Kefir still have all the good qualities of the milk such as Vitamin D, calcium, etc

    Reply

    33 Julie @ Cultures for Health March 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    The only thing milk really loses during the culturing process is some of the lactose which is consumed by the culture. The vitamins remain in tact. Milk kefir is more nutritionally dense given that it has more calories, fat and vitamins (or at least different vitamins if you happen to be using juice to make water kefir) but the general probiotic profile is the same

    Reply

    34 Tammy March 29, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Thank you so very much.. I will continue to use both milk and water kefir!

    Reply

    35 Jamie April 27, 2010 at 1:33 am

    I purchased my grostch bottles from Cultures for Health to carbonate the kefir soda. I like the beer bottle look… but don’t think I can do that much extra work. :)

    So far, the family hasn’t been thrilled with the taste of the soda’s I’ve experimented with… but I have a gallon of the most delicious blueberry juice in the fridge and I’m going to start a new batch tomorrow and use that in the soda. I’ve also not gotten very good carbonation because I bottled and placed in the fridge… somehow I missed the leaving on the counter step.

    I use Sucanat to feed my grains… I get a brown colored water, but the grains seem happy with all the minerals. I have to boil water first and allow to cool since we are on city (ick) water and carbon filters are a no-no.

    I had read that the water grains didn’t multiply like dairy… but mine are definitely growing. I left them in a small jar in the fridge for a couple weeks (with water and plenty of sugar) and they are now huge! Even after getting tipped over and a large amount of the sugar water drained out.

    We LOVE LOVE LOVE our dairy kefir and make smoothies daily… my celiac daughter who has had MAJOR bowel issues since she was an infant is now moving quite nicely… YAY!

    Reply

    36 KitchenKop April 27, 2010 at 1:41 am

    Jamie, I want some of that blueberry kefir soda…….yum!

    Reply

    37 Nicole Rice September 5, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Hey Kelly,

    LOVE reading about all your “experiments” :-) It’s so much fun rediscovering hidden art forms. I have a question about cultures for health. I ordered some stuff from them. The water kefir, and milk kefir grains were AWESOME. Having a great time “kefiring”. The kombucha culture I ordered never came to life. I was terribly bummed. I emailed them twice, and never heard back. I can’t find a phone number for them. Do you have one? or maybe a better email for contacting them?

    Thanks!

    Reply

    38 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook April 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    sounds like a bad b movie! ;-)

    Reply

    39 Rebekah Gambrell April 14, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    I have had mine for quite a while. There have been periods when I wasn’t using it and I just stored it in sugar water in the fridge. I have used raisins before because of the minerals that are in them and then I also us sucanant instead of regular white sugar so it will have some minerals.

    Reply

    40 tamara July 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I gave water kefir to several people who used brown sugar or demarra and both died. There was a smell like feces and brown gook floated on top. Why did it die? Can it be grown without organic cane sugar or jaggery(piloncillo) sugar something that can be bought in the supermarket. I give it to very old sick people who can’t send someone off to find these. Thanks

    Reply

    41 KitchenKop July 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Sorry I don’t know, I’ve never used those sugars. Hopefully someone else will jump in to help!

    Kelly

    Reply

    42 Dorothy January 16, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Hello,
    I just made my first batch of kefir and I used kefir grains, and now I canno find any in the batch to save for next time. I let it sit for almost 24 hours and it looks good and tastes ok, but no grains? Any ideas? Thank you Dorothy

    Reply

    43 KitchenKop January 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Hmmm, that’s odd. Try straining out the kefir water and you should see the kefir grains there. They’re very light-colored, almost translucent.

    Kelly

    Reply

    44 Kim May 9, 2014 at 1:57 am

    I’m having carbonation issues with my water kefir grains! I’ve been making the kefir water as instructed, but the carbonation just isn’t happening.

    I used organic cane sugar, distiller water, let the grains sit for 48 hours….added organic fruit juice, bottled it, let it sit out for 20 hours….no carbonation.

    I’ve done 2 batches with similar results….anyone have ideas for me?

    Reply

    45 KitchenKop May 9, 2014 at 5:29 am

    Kim, I don’t know about the distilled water, it seems like I’ve heard something about that not being a good idea, but can’t remember for sure now. You also might try palm sugar instead of organic cane sugar. I’ll bet the biggest issue, though, is that you just need to let it set longer than 20 hours after the 2nd bottling. Mine takes about 18 hours to get fizzy, but sometimes a little less, sometimes longer, it just depends on the temps in your house, and probably on other things, too.

    Kelly

    Reply

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