Real Food

What if Your Water Kefir Grains Aren’t Growing?

June 2, 2013
A picture of water kefir grains in a strainer with the blog post title "What if Your Water Kefir Grains Aren't Growing"

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Are you interested in keeping your water kefir grains healthy? Here are some tips if they aren’t growing well!

I love making water kefir, a natural, fizzy, soda-like beverage that is full of probiotic goodness. Sometimes I simply crave carbonated beverages, and since I absolutely won’t drink soft drinks, I love that I can make water kefir as a natural soda substitute and that it is super good for my tummy as well!

Water kefir is fermented with the use of “grains”….a culture of bacteria and yeast that thrive and cause fermentation when placed in sugar water. These little grains (also known as tibicos) amazingly release carbon dioxide during the fermentation process and that’s what creates the fizz.

When given the right conditions, these little buggers grow and multiply like crazy! But what if your grains refuse to grow? Does it mean that they aren’t fermenting anymore? Or are they just being little diva grains?

The good news is that just because they are not growing does not mean that they aren’t fermenting their little hearts out. And there are a few things that can contribute to them not wanting to grow.

Here are the main reasons why your little grains aren’t growing:

Temperatures that are too high and too low will prevent growing

Temps above 100 degrees F will likely kill your grains completely. The ideal temperature range for your grains is 70-80 degrees. Temperatures cooler than that are fine but will create a slower fermentation period.  Keep grains away from excessive heat sources and direct sunlight.

Not enough sugar

If you leave your kefir to ferment too long and the grains run out of sugar to eat, they will not grow. That’s why it is important to feed your grains every 24-48 hours. If it is hot outside, they will consume sugar more quickly. Water kefir grains do prefer sugar that is higher in mineral content, such as Sucanat or Rapadura. Turbinado or organic sugar is fine as well. Avoid using honey! Honey is anti-bacterial and will ultimately destroy your grains!

You’re using the wrong type of water

The type of water that you use to make water kefir is important. Distilled water has had all minerals stripped, and since the grains need minerals to thrive, using distilled water will prevent your grains from thriving. Tap water is also not a good idea. Kefir grains don’t do well when exposed to fluoride. Your best bets are mineral or spring water.

Low mineral content

Even if you are using the right water and the right sugar, sometimes your grains may not have enough minerals to nourish them. One way to help and ensure that your water kefir grains are getting enough minerals is to supplement with trace mineral drops. This can help to boost their growth. I have used these from time to time with great success.

There are too many grains

If you have too many grains being used to ferment, they will eat through sugar far more quickly. This will prevent them from getting the food that they need to thrive and as a result, they will not grow. Keep the number of grains that you use to no more than 1/4 cup per quart. That will make for happier grains!

Wrong environment for them

Some people have their grains in an environment that allows the grains to multiply like crazy. But let’s face it, not every home is going to have the right environment for water kefir grains to grow. It is just an unfortunate fact of life.  There are some people that no matter what they do, their grains just won’t grow.  When this happens, many people wonder if their grains are still fermenting. Usually, they are. One easy way to check is to gently move the jar that you are fermenting. If you see plenty of bubbles when moving the jar, then your grains are doing exactly what they need to be doing to provide you with fizzy, probiotic goodness. You won’t have lots of grains to share with others, but you will be able to continue making water kefir!

If you have too many grains, then you have a few options:

  1. You can share with family and friends and let them make some great water kefir too!
  2. You can sell extras on sites like Etsy.
  3. You can eat them! Who needs a probiotic supplement when these little grains are packed with probiotic goodness.
  4. You can give them to your pets. My dog LOVES to eat both milk and water kefir grains! They are like special treats to her.

Do remember that water kefir grains don’t like metal, so be sure to not use metal utensils or strainers. Here’s to health, happy water kefir grains, and some great fizzy kefir to drink!

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