Water kefir is not only easy to make, it is a delicious, probiotic-rich, dairy-free beverage your whole family will enjoy.
What is Water Kefir?
Water kefir is a lacto-fermented beverage made from sugar water, juice, or coconut water. Unlike its more famous cousin milk kefir, water kefir is a dairy-free beverage. The term lacto-fermentation refers not to lactose (milk sugar), but to the conversion of the sugar into lactic acid to support the beneficial yeast and bacteria.
Water Kefir Starter Cultures
Water kefir grains are the traditional starter culture used to make water kefir. Water kefir grains do not contain any "grain" such as wheat, rye, etc., but rather are called grains due to their grain-like appearance. Water kefir grains generally contain over 450 strains of beneficial yeast and bacteria! With proper care, they can typically be recultured indefinitely making a new batch of water kefir every 24 to 48 hours.
Supplies for Making Water Kefir
- Water kefir grains
- Sugar: 1/4 cup per quart of water
- White sugar (preferably organic) or unprocessed sugars such as rapadura or Sucanat work best.
- Honey can be used but does not have the proper balance of sugars and will not nourish the grains properly.
- Water (non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated)
- Well water or spring water is best due to higher mineral content.
- We do not recommend using water filtered through a carbon activated filter (e.g., Brita or Pur) or reverse osmosis water due to the depleted mineral levels. If you must use distilled, reverse osmosis, or filtered water, we recommend adding some mineral drops to the water to improve the quality.
- If using tap water, remove the chlorine prior to making water kefir either by boiling the water for 20 minutes and allowing it to cool, or by aerating the water for 20 minutes using a blender. If your water contains chloramines rather than chlorine, the chloramines must be removed by filtering.
- Fluoride must be removed by filtering through reverse osmosis or another method specifically designed for fluoride removal.
- One glass jar: quart to half-gallon size
- One plastic or wood stirring utensil (We recommend avoiding metal when working with kefir grains; stainless steel is acceptable.)
- One towel or paper coffee filter to use as a covering for the jar
- Optional: A fine mesh strainer (plastic or stainless steel) for removing the kefir grains from the finished kefir
Please note, if your water kefir grains are in a dehydrated state, click here to learn how to activate the grains prior to making water kefir.
Making Water Kefir
- To make a quart of water kefir, dissolve 1/4 cup sugar in a small amount of hot water. If making 2 quarts of water kefir, use 1/2 cup of sugar. Add enough cool water to almost fill the jar leaving 1 to 2 inches of headspace.
- When the water has cooled to room temperature, add the kefir grains. Cover the jar tightly with a towel and rubber band to keep out fruit flies and ants.
- Allow the kefir to culture for 24 to 48 hours. 24 hours will yield a sweeter water kefir. However, if you are sensitive to sugar, culture the kefir for 48 hours to give the grains a chance to consume a larger portion of the sugar. Do not let the kefir grains culture longer than 72 hours. As the kefir grains culture, you may notice tiny bubbles forming and traveling to the water surface. (Do not be concerned if no bubbles appear; see below.)
- Once the kefir has cultured for the desired period of time, strain off the finished liquid into a separate container. (Use a fine mesh plastic strainer if possible; stainless steel is acceptable if necessary.)
- Add the grains to a new batch of sugar water and proceed with your next batch.
- Add flavoring to the kefir you've just strained from the grains, and cover the kefir with a tight lid. Let the flavored kefir sit at room temperature for another couple of days. Finished water kefir does not require refrigeration, but can be refrigerated if you desire a cold beverage. (Before bottling the water kefir for the second ferment, check the bottles for hairline cracks as cracks can weaken the integrity of the bottle. Also, if you are using a very airtight container such as a Grolsch-style bottle, we recommend "burping" the bottle occasionally to relieve excess pressure.)
- Please note, it is common for kefir grains not to appear active for the first few weeks. This is not an indication of whether they are working; rather, dehydrated kefir grains can simply take some time to become fully active. Please see the “Troubleshooting” section below for more information.
- If you are culturing multiple products (e.g., different varieties of yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, kombucha, etc.) be sure to keep a distance of at least several feet between cultures so they don’t cross-contaminate each other. Over time, cross-contamination will weaken the cultures.
Troubleshooting Water Kefir
- Click here for extensive water kefir troubleshooting information.
- After rehydration, you may not see very many (or any) bubbles forming in the liquid. That’s okay and does not indicate a problem. Often the bubbles are so tiny and infrequent, you would need to watch very carefully for an extended period of time to see them. Transfer the grains to new sugar water and proceed with making your first batch.
- To determine whether the grains are “working” simply taste the liquid before and after the fermentation process. Although finished water kefir will still be sweet, it will not be as sweet as the original sugar water. Also, the color of the liquid will change over the 48-hour fermentation period (generally will become lighter in color).
- It can take a few batches before your kefir grains effectively remove sugar from the water. This is a normal part of the process.
- Water kefir carbonation may vary greatly from batch to batch. A lack of carbonation does not indicate a problem with the water kefir grains. Factors influencing carbonation include the type of sugar used. (Using less-processed sugars such as rapadura or adding molasses to white sugar will generally produced a more carbonated beverage.) After fermentation (following removal of the grains), fruit juice can be added to the finished kefir and the mixture stored in a container with a tight lid for several days to improve carbonation. (Use caution when removing the lid!) See the recipe section below for more information.
- Water kefir grains are occasionally reluctant to multiply. Even if the kefir grains do not multiply, they can be used repeatedly to brew water kefir.
- Water kefir grains can sit directly in the liquid or can be contained in a large fabric pouch. Be sure the pouch is large enough to accommodate the multiplication of kefir grains should it occur, and is sufficently loose to allow the water to flow through and contact the grains. The pouch may need to be secured with a rubber band to ensure the kefir grains do not escape.
- Water kefir can be flavored with dried or fresh fruit, flavoring extracts, or juice. Dried fruit can soak in the finished water kefir for up to a week. Fresh fruit must be changed daily.
- Water kefir grains can be used with fruit juice rather than sugar water. We recommend caution however, as some juices (citrus for example) can harm the grains. Please keep in mind that juice can be very hard on the kefir grains and we recommend waiting until your kefir grains multiply and you have extras before culturing some kefir grains in juice.
Click here to view ideas for flavoring water kefir.