Kefir (“kuh-feer” although “kee-fur” is also heard) grains are cultures of various strains of healthy bacteria and yeasts which are held together in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. The symbiotic relationship of the microbes produces a stable growing culture. The microbes feed on sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide, yielding a fermented carbonated beverage. The alcohol content in kefir varies with the fermentation time, and is usually less than 1%.
While some people have successfully converted milk kefir grains to culture in sugar water, water kefir grains are different from milk kefir grains. Milk grains are white and look like cottage cheese or cauliflower florets. They are squishy, kind of slimy, and rubbery in texture. Water kefir grains are translucent white and break easily under light pressure. They more closely resemble irregular crystals. To the tongue, water kefir grains have a very mild taste and remind me of eating hominy. Milk kefir is quite chewy and tough. Both kinds of grains are safe to eat or put into smoothies. Water kefir grains are sometimes called tibicos, tibi, or Japanese water crystals. Kefir grain cultures may vary in numbers and types of microbes. Typically Water Kefir grains have a mixture of healthy (friendly) strains such as: Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus casei rhamnosus , Lactobacillus alactosus, Lactobacillus casei casei, Lactobacillus pseudoplantarum, Lactobacillus plantarum, Streptococcus lactis, Streptococcus cremeris, Leuconostoc mesenteroide, Saccharomyces florentinus, Saccharomyces pretoriensis, Kloeckera apiculata, Candida lambica, Candida valida and possibly others. Lactobacillus brevis has been identified as the species responsible for the production of the polysaccharide matrix that forms the grains.
The health benefits of consuming water kefir are endless. They are a natural supplier of probiotics to our digestive tract. Probiotics refers to the healthy bacteria that usually feeds on the “bad” unhealthy bacteria in our stomach and intestines. Bacterial overgrowth can lead to many illnesses some of which include fungi, yeast infections, indigestion, obesity, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, skin disorders, etc. By drinking water kefir you will bring balance to your internal microflora. Many people take a probiotic supplement daily for this particular reason but I prefer to drink the water kefir. It’s much tastier and more affordable in the long run.
Dr. Gabriel Cousens, a leading expert in the raw food community, writes in his book “Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine“:
“Kefir grains produce right-rotating L(+) lactic acid, which is an important constituent of the human body. It is particularly important in the prevention of cancer and has been used experimentally with success in the treatment of cancer. In addition, right-rotating lactic acid may help maintaining healthy functioning of the heart. According to some researchers, the cells of the heart muscle obtain their energy primarily from right-rotating lactic acid.”
Another health advantage of water kefir is that people who do not wish to consume dairy or have a vegan type diet may find that water kefir provides the living probiotics without the need for dairy or tea cultured products, like kombucha. Vegans also may like to know that through the fermentation process kefir becomes an excellent source of vitamin B12, and is high in vitamins B1 and B6.
Diabetics, in particular, could greatly benefit from drinking kefir. Since the finished product, if bottled, will produce a carbonated beverage, it provides an alternative to sweet soda drinks. In that sense, anyone from children to adults can enjoy water kefir guilt-free.
Effects of kefir From experience of generations, here are some of the properties possessed by the real kefir.
- Regulates the body’s immune system and improves resistance to diseases.
- Regulates the blood pressure, blood sugar and cures diabetes.
- Heals the lungs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, asthma, allergies and migraine.
- Has a positive influence on the heart and blood, heals circulatory conditions.
- Heals various eczema, all skin disorders and leads to cure of acne.
- Heals the kidneys, the urinary tract and protects prostate.
- Has a positive influence on cholesterol, osteoporosis and rheumatism.
- Supports enzymes production and heals the pancreas.
- Improves the liver and gallbladder, regulates bile production, and influences positively hepatitis.
- Regulates metabolism, digestion and heals diseases of the colon.
- Heals colitis, diarrhoea, catarrh, reflux, leaky gut syndrome, candidiasis and more.
- Rebalance the intestinal flora and stomach acid, heals duodenum and cures ulcers.
- Produces its own antibiotics, eliminates unfriendly bacteria, and cures internal and external inflammations.
- Heals lactose intolerance and provides full digestibility of milk based products.
- Produces own anti-cancer compounds, prevents metastasis, and leads to cure.
- Slows the aging process, smooths and improves skin, hair and muscle tonus.
- Reduces anxiety, depression, increases energy and feeling of wellbeing.
- Produces all necessary vitamins and beneficial bacteria needed for our healthy daily life.
Almost century of scientific and medical research confirming the above is available from Diary Research Institute in former USSR. With the worldwide cost of medical care getting inflated by chronic diseases, real kefir is gaining popularity not only for its health benefits, but also for its effects in lowering medical cost. With increasing resistance to antibiotics, intensive research of the real kefir is conducted in Europe and Japan. The results are supporting the experience of generations.
Notes 1: it’s very important that you NEVER use any metal utensils or tools when handling living cultures such as kefir grains. They don’t like metal and may be adversely affected if exposed to it.
Notes 2: never use tap water because it contains chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride. They will kill the grains. Make sure the dried fruit doesn’t have any sulphur dioxide added to it. Many conventional brands add this chemical to keep the dried fruit looking bright and fresh.
Water kefir provides this benefit without the use of dairy products. It can be a healthy and valuable substitute for sugar soda products. Sugar is added to the kefir recipes because that is what the kefir eats; however, there is far less sugar in the finished kefir beverage. Stevia or chemical sugar substitutes will not support kefir fermentation and growth.
What’s the difference between water kefir and kombucha?
Both have excellent probiotic value, but water kefir has a much faster ferment and more mild flavour. Just like kombucha, it can be bottled to increase carbonation, and flavoured. Kombucha takes about 5-14 days to ferment, whereas water kefir is ready within a day or two.
Water kefir is simply sugar-water that is fermented at room temperature with kefir grains for about 24-48 hours. It has many wonderful health benefits and can be better tolerated than a soda for diabetics because of its lower GL (due to its acidic nature). It’s a wonderful alternative for those who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to casein in dairy. Water kefir is full of probiotics and can have just as many (if not different) benefits than traditional yogurt or milk kefir. The affordability of sugar and water makes it not only healthier than most beverages, but cheaper too. The reusable, sustainable grains also make it more economical.
Kefir has gained in popularity lately, due to interest in local, economical and responsible eating, combined with a greater awareness of the health benefits of probiotics.
But with that popularity has come a load of misinformation and deceiving products on the web. Authentic kefir can only be made by real kefir grains, not from any kind of packet or powder. Kefirs available at the stores are simply imitations. This is due to regulations to ensure consistent products, ingredients, bottling procedures and to comply with packaging and shipping standards. As with most nutritious foods, real kefir can only be made and experienced at home.
Basic water kefir formula:
- 1 Cup of water
- 1 Tbsp. of sugar
- 1 Tbsp. of kefir grains
- Few pieces of dried fruit
Notes: The ratio of 1-1-1 is what you need to follow.
Supplies and Ingredients
Water kefir is pretty simple to make, you may find you already have most of what’s needed: Step 1
- You will want some basic measuring cups and spoons – plastic is best.
- You will want a strainer on hand – fine plastic/nylon *Strainers with large holes (like pasta strainers) don’t work well – the smaller grains may pass right through into your kefir drink, rendering it somewhat un-storable – it will continue to ferment quickly in the fridge. Though it’s not a health hazard to drink them, you will lose part of your culture (and over-ferment your drink).
- As for the jars and bowls, you will need a bowl to capture your strained kefir, a jar and breathable lid to ferment your kefir in, and a jar or bottle for storing your strained kefir in the fridge.
- You will need a sterile wood or plastic spoon to help stir in the sugar.
- You may want to have an unbleached muslin bag (or tea bag) that can hold any dried fruit you may be using (more on dried fruit in step 2). This is optional, as is the lemon and dried fruit.
- Some sugar – White, brown or whole cane sugar (or a combination of these) – about 1 tablespoon sugar per 1 tablespoon of grains. Water kefir grains function best on a combination of white sugar and dried fruits, or a combination of white sugar and less processed sugar (brown, whole cane, molasses, etc). There are truly a variety of combinations you can try. Experiment and see which one tastes best to you! To familiarize yourself more with all the kinds of sugars available and what works for water kefir.
- And of course, some water – roughly 1 cup of water per 1 tablespoon of grains. *Non or low-chlorinated, high mineral water is preferable. Minerals help your grains to function and properly metabolize the sugars. Filtered and distilled water are low in minerals and usually don’t work well; if this is your only source of water, additional minerals may be necessary (more on this below in the guide). We recommend starting out with spring or mineral water and then testing on back-up grains with your tap or filtered water before using one type exclusively. Hold off on experimenting with other liquids such as juice or coconut water until your grains have become established and balanced in your home.
Step 2: Deciding on Dried Fruit
Dried fruit lends further mineral and nutrient support and great flavour. It’s especially helpful if you’re using only white sugar.
Dried non-sulphured fruit is best. Avoid sulphured fruit (a preservative added to many dried fruit that can suppress or even harm the grains). A handful of dried fruit per 4 cups is sufficient. Amount of fruit: You can visually get an idea here of about how much a ‘handful’ is. You can get by with less than this, too. The fruits pictured work well with water kefir, either by helping nourish the grains or lending a great flavour, and in many cases both.
NOTE: We have found some fruits like dried strawberries just don’t do much for the flavour or the grains. Raspberries on the other hand, work very well for flavour. Keep in mind some of these fruit will dye your grains a bit! Banana can be ok, but is sometimes a bit ‘oily’ and doesn’t lend as much flavour as you’d think.
Now it’s time to prepare your grains to be fed.
- To prepare your grains, strain off and discard any liquid they came in. Sometimes they are ‘naked’ and that’s ok too – either way, give them a quick rinse with spring water if they’ve been in transit for a couple days. The easiest way to do this is to place them in a clean bowl with the spring water or milk after they’ve been strained and gently stir them to dislodge any cream stuck to them. Strain and repeat if desired. Do not worry too much about getting them pristine – a gentle rinse is sufficient.
- If your grains are dried, simply place them in your fermenting jar. No rinsing is necessary. They will take a little longer (2+ days) to make a good water kefir, since they need to activate and balance from their dried state.
- Place the grains in your fermenting jar. Make sure it’s big enough to hold all the water you will be adding (1 tablespoon grains per 1 cup water), plus extra head space (you don’t want to fill to the brim).
Step 4: Feeding the Grains
Now that your grains are strained and gently rinsed, they are ready to be fed.
- Simply add some sugar straight into the jar (1 tablespoon per 1 tablespoon of grains, roughly). Some good sugar blends include:
- all white or brown sugar
- a handful of dried fruit
- 40-80% white sugar + remaining % unrefined sugar
- 80% white sugar + 20% molasses
- a blend of white sugar, unrefined sugar, and dried fruit
HONEY: You can try honey but it is cautioned that due to its antibacterial properties (especially raw), and different ratios of sugars (higher amounts of fructose than sugar) it may weaken the grains. We highly recommend experimenting, there are SO many sugar and dried fruit options. But, we stress waiting to do so until you have enough extra grains to experiment in a separate jar.
- Make sure the jar is big enough to have at least a couple centimetres space between the water and the lid. A quart jar typically works well if you are working with 4 tablespoons of grains or less. Also make sure there is no soap residue – antibacterial soap will damage the bacteria in the grains.
- Temperature can affect the ferment speed and thus the grains need for sugar. They may require more sugar in the summer, and less in the winter.
- If you decided on using dried fruits, you can add these now, or after stirring the sugar.
- Now, add the water. Be sure to allow some space at the top (don’t fill to the brim). Cold, cool or room temperature is best (never hot). Stir with a wooden or plastic utensil until the sugar is mostly dissolved. If you are adding a lemon wedge, it’s easier to do so after stirring.
- Lastly, add in the lemon wedge if desired (anywhere from 1/8 of a lemon to a half lemon). If you’re unsure what may be on the lemon (wax, chemicals, etc.), simply peel the skin off. It’s not necessary to squeeze the lemon, but you can do this at the end when you are ready to drink, if you prefer a stronger lemon flavour.
Step 5: Cover and Ferment!
Now your work is done, and the kefir grains’ work begins!
- Cover the jar with something breathable like a papertowel, coffee filter, or dish cloth. *Avoid cloth with large holes – you want something breathable but not something that dust or fruit flies can fit through.
- Simply place the jar in a cupboard or other area that has a relatively cool and stable temperature. It does not need sunlight (which can heat it too much, anyways). Indirect light is ok.
- Let it ferment about 24-48 hours (the usual amount is 48 hours). Read on to determine when it’s done.
After 48 hours, you water kefir will be ready to be strained and fed once again.
When you are new to making water kefir, you may not know exactly what taste you’re looking for, but as you continue to make water kefir, you’ll get a feel for when you need to strain the kefir. When it’s over-fermented it tends to be sour and flat, while under-fermented water kefir tends to be too sweet. Somewhere right in the middle you catch a tangy, slightly sweet kefir (like a mild kombucha).
that it’s so subtle. Carbonation takes place under anaerobic conditions (no air). You can easily increase the carbonation of you water kefir once you’ve strained it by bottling it in an air tight bottle (such as special beer and soda bottles). More on this in step 7.
TEMPERATURE: Temperature can greatly affect the speed of fermentation (it can take half as much time during the summer). Experiment and see what tastes right (and digests right) for you. They will not die if they’re ready at 24 hours, but you strain at 48, so don’t worry too much!
- Place your strainer over a bowl (Glass, wood or plastic -preferably with a pouring spout) and pour your entire water kefir ferment into the plastic strainer.
- Pick out any fruit or lemon. You can eat these (once your kefir is balanced), discard, or even keep in your bottled water kefir. You can also re-use fruit for one more ferment if desired. If you used lemon, you can squeeze it into your strained kefir for a stronger lemon flavour if desired.
SURFACE: It’s normal to see some grains, the dried fruit, foam and occasionally some ‘scum’ floating near the top (especially when using less refined sugars and/or dried fruits). It’s also normal to see a perfectly clear surface, too. Sometimes this can indicate inactivity though – taste to see if it still tastes like flat, sweet sugar water – this indicates the grains did not convert much of the sugar.
Step 7: Bottle Your Kefir, Flavour and Repeat!
Once your kefir is strained, you’ll need to measure your grains and place your grains back into their jar. You can rinse or wash the jar if desired, but it’s not necessary every time. Rinse or change jars once you notice excess build-up. The build-up can cause your kefir to ferment too quickly, or make it too yeasty.
- Measure out the amount of grains you want to use in your next recipe and place them back in your jar or a clean one. If your grains grew and you want to make more water kefir, you can add more sugar and water this time (and maybe a bigger jar) in the same ratios as used before!
- Pour your strained water kefir into your storage bottle(s) or drink right away! Chilling it promotes the flavour to ‘mellow’ and blend a bit (in the fridge), which also allows it time to increase in B vitamins, folic acid (as well as carbonation) and to be flavoured if doing so.
*Store your kefir in tempered glass jars or bottles if you can (designated canning or beer/wine bottles – which are less likely to explode) with at least 2cm of space between it and the lid. The carbonation build-up over time can lead to the jar exploding. To prevent explosions, you can store it with the cap on loosely, or simply ‘burp’ it once a day to allow any built-up air to escape (open the lid and close it again – this will not hinder the carbonation – it will still get carbonated).
- To avoid harming the grains, a majority of flavouring is done in a ’secondary ferment’. This is after the grains have been taken out and you are bottling. You can now mix in some fresh fruit, dried fruit, honey, fruit juice, veggie juice, maple syrup, or extract (about 1 tsp per 1-2 cups) to flavour! You can also experiment with your favorite bags of tea, herbs, candied ginger, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, etc.! There are truly endless ways to flavour your kefir. Allow the kefir to sit another day or two and ferment the newly added flavours. You can do this on the counter, or in the fridge, just make sure to ‘burp’ (open the lid) once a day, to prevent explosions (believe us, these do happen – carbonation needs a way to escape!). Burping will not hinder carbonation build-up either, you’ll still get a nice fizzy drink. If you don’t want it fizzy, put in your flavours and leave the lid on loose or put on a towel with a band for a lid. Grape juice is an excellent flavour to try out – just add 1/4 cup or more grape juice to your water kefir!
- Now simply feed your grains again and repeat!
Flavoured Water Kefir Recipes
- Coconut Water Kefir If you love coconut water, then making it into kefir is even better! Just substitute the water portion with fresh coconut water from Young Thai coconuts. Those can be found at Asian markets and cost about $1.99. You will need about 6-8 coconuts to get 6 cups of coconut water. You do not need to add sugar to the mix because coconut water is naturally sweet and it will feed the grains on its own. Also, you may skip the dried fruit and lemon.
- Creamy Ginger Spice After 24 hours of fermentation with just ginger and sugar, strain the kefir, take the liquid and add ½ Tb. vanilla extract and 1 cinnamon stick per quart. Let sit for another 24 hours on the counter, or 24-48 in the fridge. Tighten the lid for more fizz! Serve cold with whip cream on top. Or add some scoops of caramel vanilla ice cream for a delicious float!
- Lime Pineapple After 24 hours of fermentation with a slice of lime (instead of lemon), strain the kefir, take the liquid and add a half cup pineapple chunks per quart, squeeze in the lime juice and discard the lime slice. Let sit for another 24 hours on the counter, or 24-48 in the fridge.
- Raspberry Mango After 24 hours of fermentation, strain the kefir, take the liquid and add ¼ cup mango (or similar tropical fruit juice) per quart. Add in ½ cup raspberries. Let sit for another 24 hours on the counter, or 24-48 in the fridge. Tighten the lid for more fizz!
- Strawberry Lemon After 24 hours of fermentation, strain the kefir, take the liquid and add 1/2 cup purred strawberries and squeeze out the juice from the lemon into it. Add a couple whole strawberries if desired as well. Let sit for another 24 hours on the counter, or 24-48 in the fridge. If this is too tart, add in some sugar or honey at the end to taste.
- Cola Cherry After 24 hours of fermentation of just sugar and grains, strain the kefir, take the liquid and add ¼ cup cherry juice per quart. Add a couple whole cherries if desired as well. Let sit for another 24 hours on the counter, or 24-48 in the fridge. Mix in sugar to taste if desired.
Storing Extra Kefir Grains
After your first few batches you will notice that your kefir grains grow rapidly (considering you take good care of them). You can do four things with the extra grains:
- Eat them! They are very nutritious, packed with many beneficial probiotic bacteria. You can add them to your smoothies if you wish.
- Short-term storage – you can store water kefir grains in sugary water in the refrigerator for up to a week. The cold temperature will slow down their growth. Just make sure to rinse and change their water on weekly basis.
- Long-term storage – you can put the extra grains in a glass jar and freeze them. They can last for about 6 months or longer. Keep in mind that it may take a few batches to revive them after they’ve been frozen. They should be fine after that.
- Share them! As you accumulate more water kefir grains, just share the joy of making water kefir with family and friends. Give them your extra grains and teach them how to make their own natural “soda” at home. 🙂
Water kefir contains very large amounts of good bacteria and yeast as well as being high acidic. For some people it can be a little bit of a shock. Everybody reacts to it differently, so we always recommend starting out slow to see how your body takes to it. The majority of people do not have any adverse reaction, but if you do, usually it’s just a matter of starting out slow and slowing increasing over time. Start with a tablespoon and go from there. Sometimes drinking in the morning is best as many people report that they do much better with kefir in the morning.
10 More ways to Flavour Water Kefir
- Water Kefir Lemonade Make water kefir and remove the kefir grains. Add ¼ cup lemon juice to each quart of water kefir. Serve cold.
- Orange Zest Water Kefir Add the kefir grains and several strips of organic orange zest (not the juice) to a standard batch of sugar water. It is important to use an organic orange to avoid exposing the kefir grains to pesticides. Allow the water kefir grains to culture 24 to 48 hours. Remove and discard the orange zest. Remove the kefir grains and serve the kefir cold.
- Cream Soda Water Kefir Make water kefir and remove the kefir grains. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons quality alcohol-free vanilla extract per quart of water kefir.
- Blueberry-Pomegranate Water Kefir Make water kefir and remove the kefir grains. Add 1/2 cup blueberry-pomegranate juice per quart of water kefir. Serve cold. Variation: Use cherry juice or your favorite juice flavour.
- Raspberry Juice Water Kefir Add kefir grains to 1 to 2 quarts of organic raspberry juice. Allow the juice to culture for 24 to 48 hours. Please note, a longer fermentation period will yield a higher alcohol content due to the amount of sugar in the juice. Please use good judgment if serving kefired juice to children.
- Fruit Flavoured Water Kefir Make water kefir and remove the kefir grains. Add fresh or dried fruit to the water kefir. If using fresh fruit, change the fruit out every 24 hours; dried fruit can be changed out as infrequently as once a week. Allow the fruit and kefir to sit for 1 to 7 days. Remove and discard the fruit. Avoid adding fruits to the water kefir with the grains, as some fruits may be damaging to the grains. Slices of organic lemon or organic raisins with no added oil are the only exceptions, and may be added to the initial ferment with the grains.
- Grape Juice Water Kefir Add kefir grains to 1 to 2 quarts of organic grape juice. Allow the juice to culture for 24 to 48 hours. Please note: a longer fermentation period will yield a higher alcohol content due to the amount of sugar in the juice. Please use good judgment if serving kefired juice to children. Variation: Use organic apple juice.
- Water Kefir “Soda” Make water kefir and remove the kefir grains. Combine four parts water kefir and one part fruit juice in a truly air-tight bottle such as a Grolsch-style flip-cap bottle or an old wine bottle with a new cork. Allow the mixture to sit for several days at room temperature before refrigerating. Adding the juice continues to feed the live yeast and bacteria in the water kefir (even though the kefir grains themselves have been removed). This process creates gas and normally some level of carbonation. Use caution when opening the bottle! Variation: Use water kefir made with fruit juice and bottle as directed above.
- Coconut Water Kefir Add the kefir grains to 1 to 2 quarts coconut water. Culture for 24 to 48 hours before removing the kefir grains. Refresh the grains in a batch of sugar water after making coconut water kefir, to keep them healthy.
- Herbal Infusion Water Kefir Mix one part finished water kefir (kefir grains removed) with one part herbal infusion (e.g., nettle leaf, red raspberry leaf, etc.). Herbal infusions can be made by combining a handful of fresh or dried herbs with one quart boiling water. Allow the herb and water mixture to sit for 6+ hours. Be sure the herbal infusion is completely cooled prior to mixing it with the finished water kefir.
- Water Kefir Smoothie Use water kefir as the liquid base in your Favorite smoothie recipe.