REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Water Kefir

waterkefir

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Every day I happily drink a cup of strawberry water kefir, feeling it replenishing my body with probiotic goodness and happy little enzymes.  Unlike soda with it’s syrupy-sweet empty calories and artificial carbonation, water kefir isn’t an indulgence.  Water kefir is a probiotic drink that supports the balance of bacteria, or flora, in your digestive tract.  In fact, I think the reason we crave lemonade or soda or sweet drinks is because we evolved to have naturally-fermented beverages that benefit our health.  And water kefir is just that: a traditional, lacto-fermented drink that is tried and true.

I always have a batch of water kefir fermenting on the counter, just like the photo above.  I love strawberries, and since I live near California strawberry country I tend to have strawberry water kefir around most often.  But use any fruit you like personally.  I have tried many combinations depending on the fruit in season: lemon-mint, raspberry, mixed berry, plum, orange, and pomegranate.

I have even made root beer water kefir!  I used a blend of spices to resemble my childhood memory of drinking creamy root beer out of chilled aluminum cans after my softball games.  You can find my root beer recipe in my cocktail book.  But let’s not get distracted: choosing flavors is for later.  First, we must learn about what water kefir is, why we care to make it, and how to brew it at home.

What is water kefir?  Water kefir is a lacto-fermented drink made by placing water kefir “grains” into sugar-water and allowing them to eat the sugar as they produce probiotics.  Then the water kefir grains are removed and the remaining probiotic drink is flavored with either diced fruit, juice, or coconut water.  The bacteria continues to eat the sugars in the fruit, juice or coconut water, and is ready for consumption (after being strained, in the case of diced fruit).  The water kefir grains are not really grains, but are simply the size and shape of a grain.  What they really are is a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria, grown from organic sugar.  They are alive.

Lacto-fermentation itself is the process of sugars being converted into cellular energy and lactic acid.  This fermentation process creates probiotics, and a natural fizziness.  You can lacto-ferment almost anything.  Similar lacto-fermentation processes produce kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and pickles.  So think of water kefir in the same way: alive and good for you!

Why should you make water kefir?  Well, let’s start with another question: why do we eat yogurt?  The answer is probably something like “it has good bacteria in it” or “it’s good for digestion”.  Well, the good bacteria in yogurt is similar to the good bacteria, or probiotics, in homemade water kefir.  You should make water kefir because you will feel better.

You can also make water kefir as a replacement for soda.  If you are a soda-drinker, this can be your ticket to kicking the habit.  Soda is bad all around.  If you drink diet sodas, the chemical sweeteners are probably altering your brain chemistry.  If you drink regular sodas, then you have to deal with the evils of high-fructose corn syrup, and plain sugar.  Not to mention the artificial carbonation and how difficult that is on your digestive system.  Making water kefir at home can be your proactive way to break away from your addiction.

Making water kefir at home can be a lot of fun, too.  It can be wonderful to connect back to the Earth and where you came from by making your food yourself.  Every time you drink your water kefir, it is the fruits of your labor.  Every time you rotate the fermenting jars, you are tending to your body and the bodies in your family.  You are being a healer.

Water kefir grains are also economical: they never need replenishing if you take care of them properly.  I have had my water kefir grains for about one and a half years, with no signs of slowing down.  I like that my water kefir grains and I have been together for a while, living life side by side, and then symbiotically.  It’s a lovely reminder of the circle of life.

If you have children, making water kefir can be an opportunity not just to do something together, but also to learn about how bodies work.  My sons love to help put the strawberries in the jar, and then to watch me pour the finished water kefir through the seive to cap it and let the fizziness build.  And they know why we drink it: it keeps us healthy!

How do I brew water kefir at home?  First you need water kefir grains, which you can order here and hydrate when they arrive.  They will come with instructions, so don’t worry!  Then make sure you have your basic equipment:

You can usually find glass canning jars at local stores, although they usually only carry jars as large as quarts.  I like to use half gallon mason jars, which you can buy here.  The other items are hopefully the kind that you have on hand.  I buy plain organic sugar, like this brand, to make water kefir.  Yes, regular sugar!  And this is the only reason I buy it: because it gets chomped up by kefir grains!

Depending on your water, you may need mineral drops or a pastured eggshell.  For example, do not use regular tap water or Brita-filtered water.  The flouride and other toxins can kill your kefir grains.  At this point most people are either left with the option of getting reverse osmosis (RO) water from a water supply store, unless they get a home filter.  I don’t have a home filter, so I get my water from a place down the street from where I live.  They happen to have RO water and something called MPP water.  MPP water still has minerals in it, unlike RO water.  If you have RO water, that’s fine.  Just make sure you add mineral drops or a pastured eggshell to your water kefir batches.  The minerals are great for your kefir grains!

For me, it’s worth going out of my way to get water that won’t kill my kefir grains.  After all, kefir grains are live bacteria, like the kind in my gut.  I don’t want to be drinking the same water that kills kefir grains, because I know that that water is killing the good flora in my gut lining as well.  I want to drink the water that keeps kefir grains alive and well.  Like they say about drinking water: get a filter or be a filter!

Water Kefir

1 package hydrated kefir grains, should be 1/4 cup or so (buy kefir grains here)
filtered, mineral rich water
1/2 cup organic sugar (buy organic sugar here)
1-2 tablespoons molasses, optional (buy molasses here)
1 pastured egg shell, rinsed clean, optional
5 drops mineral drops, optional (buy mineral drops here)
1 cup fruit, diced (large) OR fruit juice OR coconut water
.
  1. Day One: Fill a half gallon glass jar with filtered water, leaving a couple of inches.  Now pour a little of the water into a saucepan and bring to a boil while you measure out the sugar and add it to the saucepan as well.
  2. Turn off heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Then pour sugar-water back into the jar to fill it up again.
  3. Add molasses (if using) to the jar of water and stir with a wooden spoon to mix in.  Gently add water kefir grains and eggshell (if using).
  4. Cover with a dish towel or cheesecloth to keep dust and bugs out, but still allow the kefir to breathe.  Let sit on the counter for 1-2 days (one day for warmer days, two days for colder days).  Taste it to see if it’s too sweet, or just right.  When you are ready, move to the next stage.
  5. Day Two-Three: Then, pour contents through a strainer into a clean jar (my kefir grains are in a muslin bag, so I don’t need a strainer for this part).  Discard eggshell.  Save strained kefir grains for your next batch (i.e. put them in another new jar with sugar water).
  6. With the strained kefir in the new jar, you can now choose a fruit or juice or coconut water to flavor the kefir.  I like using strawberries.  Add diced fruit or juice or coconut water to kefir jar, cover again, and let sit at room temperature for 1 more day.  You can also put the fruit in a new jar and pour the strained water kefir from the first ferment over the fruit.
  7. Last Day: Remove cloth cover and replace with a screw top lid, or transfer to Grolsch-style bottles with flip-top lids made for brewing.  Leave at room temperature for a couple of hours to build up fizziness.  Place in refrigerator to stop the fermentation process, and drink nice and cold with a straw and a slice of lemon.
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Comments

  1. Ok, I’m totally trying this–we are embarrassingly big soda drinkers we are around here!

    Are there health benefits for using eggshells and molasses or are those for flavor? (well, maybe not the eggshells :) )

    Also, I was wondering if I could add honey in place of the sugar. I’m thinking lemon-ginger with honey would be delicious, but I suspect you would have told us to use honey as a substitute if that was an option.

    • Check out the Water Kefir FAQ too, they have a lot of good information that can help frame how to start brewing water kefir: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/?a_aid=4d2b665b094b8

      And like Jamie said below, you can use honey but it will gradually subdue your kefir grains over time since it’s a natural antibiotic. I use honey for everything (being on GAPS I have to), except water kefir. For some reason it just doesn’t work as well with another sweetener. But even being on GAPS, I am allowed to drink water kefir. The sugars are changed enough (and eaten up enough) to be very digestible and low calorie.

      As far as the molasses goes, it’s mostly for feeding the kefir grains and keeping them healthy. That being said, my water is mineral-rich enough that I don’t need to use it anymore. Plus, I like the flavor better when I leave the molasses out. Although I think something like ginger water kefir would be really tasty with molasses added! Yum!

      The eggshell is good to use, but don’t use it unless you have a pastured egg that is NOT from the store. I can even save some eggshells for you for the next time I see you :) But again, if you have mineral-rich water then this is optional. The eggshells can help revive your kefir grains if they ever get sluggish. You’ll get a feel for it as you go. And please ask me anything when you start, I can help!

      • Why do you make the distinction between sugars? I think I’ve been using the whole cane sugar thinking it would be more minerals for the grains.

        Also, I use a distiller with added minerals for babies water. Is that good?

        Thank you.

        • Also, is there any place I can look at pictures of healthy and unhealthy kefir? Some of my grains float at the top and there are little strings of different colors sometimes. I take those out but I am not sure about the floating grains. I wonder if those are dead or unhealthy.

          Thanks, again.

  2. You can’t use honey instead of sugar in the beginning because honey is naturally an antibiotic. It will kill your grains. But I imagine you could use honey in the very last stage to flavor it, but I’m still not sure I would do it then either because you still have the probiotics working. That’s what makes the fizz. It probably wouldn’t fizz using honey.

    • Honey will fizz just fine, I use it in second ferment of my water kefir quite often. Honey works fine in ferments; afterall fermented honey and water make mead! (But making mead takes way more honey than the amount of sweetener used in water kefir. More sugars = more alcohol.)

  3. I’m ordering my grains today! It’s about time I got around to doing this. Thanks for the great instructions! :)

  4. HI, this is a great reminder. I used to make coconut milk kefir and water kefir. I only stopped because of concern over the alcohol content. My 3 year old got really dehydrated one time and in the blood test they found alcohol, … which I know was from the lots of water kefir i was giving him when sick. How do I not worry about this!!

    • That’s true, there is a little alcohol in it. But I don’t worry about giving my kids one glass per day (the percentage of alcohol is very low, around 1%) Of course, if your kids were sick and drinking a lot of it, I can see why the alcohol would build up a little. Here’s what the Culture for Health Water Kefir FAQ says about it: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq

      Q. How much alcohol does water kefir contain?

      A. As with all cultured and fermented foods, a small amount of naturally occurring alcohol is typically present in the finished product. Although the amount will vary from batch to batch, the amount should be quite small (usually significantly less than 1%). Using the prescribed ratio (1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart water) simply does not contain enough sugar to result in hooch. The exception to this general rule is when brewing 100% juice (rather than sugar water), the higher sugar content can result in a higher alcohol level. If you do not desire a higher alcohol level, we recommend limiting the fermentation period to 24 hours when working with straight fruit juice.

      Also, Kelly the Kitchen Kop did her own measuring of the alcohol in her home-brewed water kefir, which she brews the same way that I outline in this post, and she found the results to be around
      0.64%. http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2009/10/kefir-sodaan-alcoholic-beverage-real-food-wednesday.html

    • Oh, and Jessica, when my kids are sick and/or dehydrated, I generally give them plain coconut water. It’s like nature’s Gatorade/Pedialyte. So I would give only one glass of kefir, even when they’re sick. Then use plain coconut water.

      Also, have you tried milk kefir? I know that alcohol isn’t an issue with milk kefir, just water kefir in large amounts. Milk kefir might not be the best for when they’re sick. But it is probiotic if they can handle it in a smoothie or something. Does that help?

  5. I want to try this now. It looks yummy. What does it actually taste like?

    • It tastes like a strawberry soda, but with a deeper flavor that moves toward a fermented taste. I happen to love it, especially if I DON’T use the molasses and I used diced strawberry for the fruit/second ferment. I think that’s the most tasty combination I have found. And after you are used to it, it’s easier to try other flavors and see what you like. The taste does take getting used to, but I didn’t have to try that hard. It’s yummy!

  6. Sharon Rieske says:

    I wrote all this down, it will help me a lot. Thank you. Oh! One question-do the jars need to be strealized first?

    • I don’t sterilize my jars for this. Mostly because they are only being used for about 4 days by the time we drink it. Plus we aren’t canning this and sealing them up for a long time to grow bad bacteria. That being said, just always taste it and smell it. If it smells good, then you’re doing it right! Good luck :)

  7. My strawberry water kifir turned out a little vinegary, did I leave it on the counter too long?

    • That is usually what happens to mine. If I leave it too long I get a hint of vinegar, or just more alcohol! Just save that batch for you and S! Make sure that you are tasting it as you go the first couple of times. That’s the best way to keep it from overfermenting, but also to achieve the level of sweetness you want.

      How long did you leave it out? And does the strawberry kefir (finished product) taste vinegary only, or does the first ferment (with the grains in it) taste vinegary as well?

    • Acetobacter causes it to turn vinegar. Leaving it out too long, if open to air, can cause it. (One reason to use a lid, rather than a cloth cover. Another reason for a solid lid is to keep from drawing bugs.) Fruit flies carry acetobacter. If one has landed on anything you’ve used (jar, spoon, juice, etc) it will speed the process of getting vinegar. It still will take a few days (faster in hot temperatures, though.)

      • Oh good to know. I didn’t know this useful bit of info. I use a cloth and get fruit flies often enough to notice them (in summer mainly), but mine doesn’t usually turn to vinegar (it’s only happened once). I suppose that I am finishing my ferments in time to still curb the vinegar transformation.

        • Carol Bu says:

          One way to stop fruit flies, is to wash the fruit as quick as you get it home, especially the bananas. They lay eggs on the end where the bananas are hooked together….(sorry, do not know what you call it). Washing destroys the eggs so they will not hatch out……..read this somewhere.

  8. Is it okay to start drinking this while nursing or pregnant? I’ve read conflicting info regarding kombucha due to the alcohol content and possibility of detoxing. Would water kefir be a safer ferment to start with??

    • I would personally drink water kefir during pregnancy. But if you are nervous then you can just stick to milk kefir (you can buy them at the same link as the water kefir grains.) The alcohol content is very low, less than one percent. (I have some stats & links in a comment above).

  9. Hi, Kendahl. This may be a bit wild for me, but tempting. I invited my dad and a sister to check it out. My dad has made sauerkraut this year.

  10. I make water kefir with ginger and raisins and it makes a nice gingery-ale drink. I want to make the strawberry water kefir soon! after you put the strained water kefir with the strawberries and let it sit for a day, do you then strain out the strawberries before putting them in grolsch bottles in the frig?

  11. I have tried making water kefir with a slice of lemon and raisins. The taste is very pleasant after 24 hours fermentation, but I am not sure it is supposed to taste like that ( a bit sweet). Also I have no fizz at all after the second fermentation. Is it supposed to be bubbly? Or should you just taste a bit of alcohol?

    • On the second ferment, try capping it in a grolsch-style bottle or just screw a lid on as tight as you can. Leaving it that way at room temperature for a few hours should make it fizzier. It shouldn’t taste like alcohol, but it does have a “fermented” flavor/smell.

  12. Anxious to try this out soon. I’m curious, do the water kefir grains grow like milk kefir grains? Is it possible to get extra grains from somebody that might have too many? I have given away half of my milk kefir grains and they’ve doubled in size again in only a few months. Thanks for all the detailed info given here, can’t wait to try it.

    • I haven’t had mine double, and I think I remember reading somewhere that it’s a little harder to get water kefir grains to multiply. However, I have heard of people in my local WAPF chapter having extras, so I would definitely check!

  13. My water grains double every 48 hours…it is getting very hard to handle!!
    That said I got vinegar this morning after only sitting out for about 36 hours, with a lid. Thinking it was the abundance of grains…maybe too many for the jar? The temp in my kitchen is right around 80.
    So far my secondary ferments have not turned out that good tastewise, but they are super fizzy! This definitely has been an adventure and I encourage everyone to give it a shot! :)

  14. Is it ok to use an eggshell from a hard boiled egg or must it be raw? I won’t need to use an egg right away and would rather not waste it. I am excited to give this a first try!

  15. Can you please explain why I am not supposed to use sucanat?? I don’t have any white sugar…I am on a very strict diet and we don’t even eat grains. I haven’t bought anything “white” in a long time. :S

    • You can use sucanat, but the flavor will not be nearly as palatable. And the white sugar is almost completely eaten up by the kefir grains, so you are left with finished water kefir that contains sugars from the fruit juice or fruit pieces you used in the second fermentation. That is why I think it’s okay to use unbleached organic white sugar for this recipe.

  16. Hi, this looks facinating. Can you please tell me, are the water kefir grains the same as the milk ones? Can I turn milk grains into water grains? Thanks so much for your time! :-)

  17. I would love that recipe for Root Beer Water Kefir! I’m trying so hard to give up diet soda and root beer is my favorite!

  18. will well water work for the keifer?

Trackbacks

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