How to Make Water Kefir – Part 1

New to fermentation? First check out my post: The Truth About Fermented Foods

How to make water kefir - Living Homegrown

Plump water kefir grains & dehydrated grains

What is Water Kefir?

Water kefir is a probiotic, fermented beverage that can be flavored with a variety of juices. Some people drink it as a healthy alternative to soda.

Making water kefir has a definite cool factor to it.

  • It is not as well known as milk kefir. So, most people say, “Whoa – what’s that?” – Thus giving you a chance to spread the word.
  • Others have heard of it, but not tried it themselves so you become the expert to tell them how fabulously easy it is. (And it is very easy!)
  • When you mention it to people “in the know”, you are seen as a true fermenter who is taking control of your health in a fun, creative way. They get where you are coming from.

So Here’s Some Basic Info:

  • Kefir is made with kefir “grains”, but they are not in any way related to grains like wheat. They are really a combination of yeast and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship. (Translation: They rely on each other to live and multiply.) They are called “grains” due to their shape.
  • The grains turn sugar into lactic acid, carbon dioxide and sometimes a tiny bit of alcohol (less than 1%) and the good bacteria multiply like crazy creating a very nutritious, probiotic beverage. In fact, it has a much higher concentration of probiotics than yogurt and store-bought milk kefir.
  • Although kefir is very different from Kombucha (a fermented tea that is also made from a combination of yeast and bacteria) there are similar chemical processes going on.
  • Yes it is made with sugar water, but because the grains consume much of the sugar, the resulting beverage is actually fairly low in sugar. The longer you ferment, the less sugar you have left.
  • Once fermented, water kefir can be consumed straight or flavored with any combination of juices.
  • You can also give it a second ferment and create carbonation, which essentially makes it taste like custom soda.
  • Kefir grains are living things. They are fed by the sugar water and give back the probiotic benefits.
  • It is easily made at room temperature on your kitchen counter.
  • The grains are reusable – meaning that you can reuse them from batch to batch without ever having to buy more.

So let’s get started…

How is it Pronounced?

There is no right or wrong way to say kefir.

Some people say ka-fear and others say key-fur. Personally, I say the later because that is how most people around me pronounce it. But really…who cares as long as it tastes good?!

Say it however you want.

Water Kefir vs. Milk Kefir

How to Make Water Kefir - Living Homegrown

Dried water kefir grains

Milk kefir might be more familiar to you. It is made from animal milk (cow, goat, etc.) or from milk alternatives such as coconut milk. You can also find it in the grocery store, though store-bought versions are not as beneficial as homemade.

Milk and water kefir use different grains but they are fermented in a similar way.

However, water kefir:

  • Is dairy free
  • Can be made from sugar water, fruit juice or coconut milk
  • Is easy to flavor in unlimited ways
  • Is easier than milk kefir to consume in larger quantities

What Water Should You Use?

Your water must be free from chlorine and fluoride because both can kill or hinder the yeast and bacteria in the grains.

Filtered water is good, but might lack some minerals and kefir grains love minerals. (I use filtered water)

Here are your options:

  • Filtered or bottled water: Will work well. You can add mineral drops to the water if you want to keep the grains in peak condition but it is not absolutely necessary. I made kefir water for years without drops and all was still right with the world. I do use them now. You can also occasionally use a spoonful of molasses to add some minerals.
  • Tap water : Will probably have chlorine and other chemicals, so treat it first. You can boil the chlorine out, use a blender to aerate it out or let it set on the counter for 12 hours so the chlorine evaporates.
  • Well water: is great for kefir and full of minerals
  • Coconut water: is another great choice. It gives you more benefits and avoids any chemicals that might be in regular water. (I will cover this in another post)

What Sugar Should You Use?

There are many choices. Standard white sugar offers the least amount of nutrition to the grains. I alternate between organic raw, cane sugar and sucanat. I alternate because I don’t always have sucanat on hand and it is more expensive.

I list all the options below.

The only sugar you cannot use is honey because it is hard on the grains and may kill most of the bacteria. (Honey is not nutritious for the grains and is antibacterial) Technically, you can use honey occasionally and then refresh the grains with several batches of other sugar to get them going again. But you cannot use honey on a regular basis and still reuse the grains. Most people avoid honey all together.

Keep in mind that if your sugar water or juice has a color, the grains will take on the color also. This is not a problem – I just want you to be aware.

Your choices include:

  • Organic Raw Cane Sugar
  • Sucanat and Rapadura – both are whole unrefined cane sugars. They are darker in color. Of the two, rapadura is processed less and the molasses is never removed from the product whereas the molasses is removed and then blended back in with sucanat.
  • Molasses – a by-product of sugar production where much of the minerals are still present. Some people combine cane sugar with a spoonful of molasses to get a more well rounded sugar.
  • Fruit Juice: Some people use straight organic juice because it has natural sugars. Although it may have different fermentation times based on the sweetness of the fruit, it works just fine.
  • Processed white cane sugar: Yes, you can use it. No, it is not the best for the grains. But I do understand that sometimes you just have to use it in a pinch. Try not to use it all the time as there is better nutrition in the other sugars listed above.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Water Kefir:

Making water kefir is not an exact process. Everyone has a little bit different method and timing that they prefer. It is okay to experiment with timing and flavorings. I have outlined below how I do it and I noted in a few places where people do it differently. When touching the grains, always use glass, plastic or wooden tools and utensils. Some metals can hinder the grains.

Important Note: If you have never had water kefir before or if you do not regularly eat foods high in probiotic bacteria, you need to ease into drinking this or you may get an upset stomach or other not so fun reaction. I would suggest starting with just a spoonful or two each day for several days and then slowly add more until you can drink a glass. No reason to shock your system!

You will need:

  • A clean, quart-sized jar
  • 1/4 cup sugar (whichever kind you choose from the list above)
  • 3-4 cups water
  • 3-4 Tbsp. plump, reconstituted water kefir grains (see note)
  • Paper coffee filter
  • Rubber band or canning jar ring
  • Plastic strainer

Note: You must buy the grains or get some from friend who has extra (They multiply like crazy!). If you buy dehydrated grains, follow the instructions on the box to revive them. It usually means letting them ferment for 3-5 days the first round. After that, start at step 1 below. I buy my grains here

First Ferment:

 1) Dissolve the sugar in some of the water:  I do this by heating about 1/2 cup of water with 1/4 cup organic raw sugar until completely dissolved. Some people just use warm water and swirl it until mostly dissolved. Others do not heat the water at all and do not dissolve the sugar. Your choice. 

How to make water kefir - Living Homegrown2) Cool the water and add all the water to the jar: After the sugar is dissolved, I pour it into a clean, quart-sized canning jar. Then add enough cold water to make about 3-4 cups of water. (If using a quart jar, fill to about 2 inches from the top.) The cold water cools the warmed water to room temperature. It is important that your water is NOT hot or it will kill the grains. If it is still hot, let it sit until cooled.

3) Add your kefir grains to the room temperature water.

4) Cover the top with a paper coffee filter. You do this to keep bugs out of the liquid and also allow the fermentation to breathe. It will create carbon dioxide while fermenting. You can secure the filter with either a rubber band or screw on a canning ring (not the flat lid) over the filter.

5) Ferment: Let the mixture sit on the counter for 24-48 hours. I always do 48 because I want more of the sugar consumed.

Making water kefir

6) Strain: Use a plastic strainer if possible because some metals can affect the grains.

water kefir grains

At this point, you can drink the water kefir as is, flavor it with juice or do a second ferment to get carbonation. It is sort of bland at this point but can be added to smoothies or other drinks. It has a slightly sweet, yeasty taste.

7) Make a new batch of sugar water for the strained grains (step 1 above) and start the process again. The grains can’t live long without food.

Part 2: Adding Flavor & Carbonation

How to make water kefir - Living Homegrown

Next up is Part 2 of this process: Flavoring and/or Second Ferment. There are SO many delicious ways to flavor it. I want to give you a nice list of possibilities and that is best done in a second post.

How about you …Have you ever made water kefir?

Are you thinking of trying it now?

Tell me below in the comments!

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About the Author

Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive TV Producer and the On-Air Canning/Homesteading Expert for the national PBS gardening TV series, Growing A Greener World. She is a lifetime canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program. She studied both sustainable horticulture and professional culinary arts and she is a wrangler of chickens and two teenage children. (Not necessarily in that order.)

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • barbara May 10, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for this Theresa! I am intrigued – especially since I have to drink so much liquids in my work place and plain water just doesn’t quite do it. I also never drink commercially made sodas. So having this easy way to create a really healthy low sugar flavored drink is wonderful.
    Once question… once you start using the kefir grains how to you keep them alive and happy when you don’t need to make more kefir water? Thank you!

    Reply edit
    • theresa May 10, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Hi Barbara!

      GREAT question!

      If you need to put them on hold for a week or two, you just make a new batch of sugar water, cover them and stick them in the refrigerator. They sort of go into a hibernation. When you bring them out, it make take a few batches to get them back up to full speed.

      If you need to stop making kefir for a few months, you can rinse them in non-chlorinated water and lay them out on a paper towel or tea towel (on a cookie sheet) to dry. Once they are completely dehydrated, you put them in a baggie and keep them in the refrigerator for up to six months.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply edit
      • barbara May 10, 2014 at 8:37 am

        That’s so easy! Thanks – I just was afraid of having to baby something else in my life forever but they sound pretty easy to keep happy long term!

        Reply edit
        • theresa May 10, 2014 at 9:52 am

          It is easy. But if you do happen to kill it (I did once because I forgot it at the back of the frige…for a very long time), you can always start over. If you get a friend hooked too then you can get fresh grains from them without ever having to buy them again.

          Reply edit
      • Naomi May 13, 2014 at 6:06 am

        I’m in a very humid area. Can I use a dehydrator to dry out the grains or would the heat probably kill them?

        Reply edit
        • theresa May 13, 2014 at 7:08 am

          Hi Naomi,

          Heat would definitely kill them, but doesn’t your dehydrator have a low setting? How hot does it get in its lowest setting? (You could put a thermometer inside and see) What you need is air circulation rather than heat to dehydrate the grains without killing them.

          But here is another option for you. I have not tried it yet, but have been told that you can freeze them for several months at a time. You are supposed to just seal them in a baggie and freeze. When you defrost, they are supposed to take several rounds of fermenting before they gain their strength back. Maybe freezing would be a better option for you.

          ~Theresa

          Reply edit
          • Naomi May 13, 2014 at 8:26 am

            Thanks. Dehydrator does have a low setting but the freezer may indeed be a better choice. Guess I could experiment a little too and find out which works best.

            edit
  • Susan May 10, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Questions:

    I understand that allowing tap water to stand, exposed to air, will dissipate the chlorine. But what to do about the fluoride?

    You mentioned cane sugar can be used but later in the post you did not mention cane sugar. I realize that organic, raw sugar would be preferable but is not always available nor is it cost effective.

    Thanks /S

    Reply edit
    • theresa May 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Good points Susan – Sorry for the confusion. I will add some notes to the post to clarify – But here are your answers.

      Fluoride: I do not believe there is an easy way to remove it from water other than filtration. And I am not even sure filtration will remove it. Our tap water has fluoride and so, that is why I use filtered or bottled water.

      Cane sugar: You absolutely can use regular, processed white cane sugar. It is just that it is not the most nutritious for the grains. But yes, you can use it. I will add it to the list so that is more clear.

      Reply edit
  • Rosemary Schaub May 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I purchased some kefir from your recommend place and I just received it.
    I can’t make it for a week so how do I store the grain in the meantime ?
    It came in a plastic sealed baggy.
    Can’t wait to try it!

    Reply edit
    • theresa May 14, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Rosemary,

      If it is dried grains, then you can store it in the refrigerator for several weeks. (They will be dry to the touch)

      If the grains are wet, then I would make up a batch of sugar water (1/4 cup sugar to 3-4 cups water) and drop the grains in. Cover them with a coffee filter and rubberband and then set them in the refrigerator. They will be okay for a week.

      Have fun!
      ~Theresa

      Reply edit
  • Naomi May 14, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Since I can’t just follow directions, could I make the kefir with a coffee base (or would that be gross)? I often sweeten my unflavored coffee with molasses already, so I started wondering.

    Reply edit
    • theresa May 16, 2014 at 5:43 am

      Hmmm – That is a question I have never been asked before Naomi. I think you could certainly flavor your water kefir with coffee, but I am unsure about culturing in the coffee for two reasons:
      1) There is no sugar in coffee. So you would have to add it.
      2) But more importantly, I have no idea what caffeine does to the grains. They are alive and would be affected. It may not be good for them. If you add some strong coffee to your finished water, it may be better because the grains will already be pulled out and unaffected.

      Reply edit
      • Naomi May 17, 2014 at 3:57 pm

        Well, I’d meant “If I’m already using molasses for sugar,” but I guess that wasn’t clear. I can definitely see that the coffee could both flavor and color the grains and make them unappealing.

        Reply edit
  • Arlene May 16, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Hi. I have been making water kefir for over a month now. Problem is that despite the fact that my grains are multiplying a lot, they don’t seem to have much of an appetite for sugar and the water kefir wont carbonate even during the second fermentation. I have made a lot of water successfully before now so its not that I don’t know how and the grains seem very healthy, floating, multiplying and bubbly. I have tried a variety of recipes but still no carbonation nor much of a sugar appetite. I have had it standing on a warm windowsill and on the counter. I got my grains from a friend who had them stored in the fridge for a few months but i don’t think she fed them much but they seem very healthy now. What do you think I should do. Thank You!

    Reply edit
    • theresa May 16, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Arlene,

      I am thinking that they were in a bit of hibernation due to the refrigeration. But they certainly should be up and running by now. And the fact that they are multiplying means they are alive, so I don’t think you have a problem there.

      I would give them the very best nutrition you can and to give them a bit of a “kick start”. Try this:

      1) First, make sure that you are using chlorine-free water. (I’m sure you are, just wanted to be sure)
      2) Make sure that you are sealing them up tight upon second ferment. (Again – I’m sure you are, but just needed to state it for anyone reading this who is a newbie)
      3) Add some black strap molasses to the mix with your sugar. Try a tablespoon in the first and again in the second ferment. I find that molasses helps create more carbonation. Try it on the next round and see if that helps. If it helps a bit, but not enough, then add more molasses on the next round. Molasses has minerals and more nutrition than regular sugar.
      4) You didn’t mention what sugar you are using. If you are using white sugar, switch to something like Rapadura.

      Let me know how it goes!

      T

      Reply edit
  • Rosemary May 24, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I am a little confused on the second ferment ,
    Do I add again the sugar solution to the existing solution or do I drain it and add just juice to the existing 1 st fermented solution???
    I don’t understand the process of the second fermentation?
    Thank you Rosemary

    Reply edit
  • + T.K. Anthony June 19, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    I just started drinking milk-based kefir, using it to zip up my smoothies. I have a friend who is very dairy-intolerant, and she can’t use it in her smoothies. I’m interested in trying this but I have a question…if I’m out of town for a few weeks at a time, what can I do to ensure the kefir grains are still alive when I get back?

    Reply edit

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