How To Make Water Kefir

by Meg Cotner on March 5, 2012

If you’ve been watching my Harmonious Belly Facebook page over the past couple of months, you know that I’ve been doing a lot with water kefir. It’s been really interesting, a lot of fun, and yields a very tasty beverage. I’ve gotten some positive feedback on the water kefir drinks I’ve created, so I must be doing something right. I thought I’d share a little bit of what I’ve learned. I tend to take a simple approach to making this probiotic beverage, and some of my practices may be controversial, but they have served me well so far.

1. I bought my kefir grains from Cultures For Health. They arrived dehydrated and I rehydrated them with water and organic sugar. It was very easy to do this. Instructions come with the kefir grains.

I had heard that water kefir grains were more crystaline than dairy kefir grains. I was under the impression that they were hard, like actual crystals. Turns out they are soft, and you could crush them with little effort between your fingers. From a visual standpoint, though, they do look like bits of crystals.

2. I use regular old tap water to make my water kefir. NYC has some of the tastiest water in the country – we drink our water at home pretty much exclusively from our tap. NYC water also contains both chlorine and fluoride, which some people really don’t want to ingest. I have not run into any problems with them from a robust fermentation standpoint.

Most literature on water kefir says to avoid water with these things added to it. If I could easily and practically avoid them, I would. You may prefer to get rid of the chlorine (not much can be done about the fluoride), and that is done by boiling the water and letting it sit overnight. I’ve also read that you can just let it sit out for 24 hours and the chlorine will evaporate.

I could put my water through a Britta or PUR type filter, but I really hate that everything involved with a filter like this is plastic-based. I really don’t want to add more plastic to my life. Plus they are not cheap. So, after taking all things into account – convenience and cost being the primary issues – I decided to experiment with plain tap water. I have had great success – my grains are healthy, not slimy and  they have no off odor or color. I check them each time I make a new batch of kefir.

3. I use organic sugar aka “evaporated cane juice.” I tried sucanat because I’d heard it was better because it was higher in minerals. I did not like the taste at all. I much prefer the lighter tasted of the evaporated cane juice, and I think it melds better with the fruit I use in the second fermentation (see below). Sucanat or rapadura can also cause a sort of slick membrane to develop on top of the kefir. This is neither a bad thing, nor will it damage the kefir liquid, so you can just discard it.

My preferred proportions are 4 cups water, 1/4 cup sugar, 3 tbs kefir grains.

4. I always do the first fermentation simply – just water, sugar, and kefir grains – with nothing added beyond that. It’s possible to initially ferment the sugar water along with fruit of some sort, but I prefer to leave the fruitiness to the second fermentation. I really like having a sort of blank canvass with which to work on a second fermentation. I don’t like to complicate things at this point.

5. Consequently, I like to do two fermentations. I do the first fermentation in a 1/2 gallon mason jar with an old tea towel secured with a rubber band covering the jar opening. It sits on my kitchen counter for a couple of days; in the summer with the heat, that timing will no doubt speed up. This yields a flat, sweet beverage. I could just drink that, but I really want something fizzy and fruity tasty in my water kefir. That means I must do a second fermentation.

I do the second fermentation with fruit or fresh fruit juice. I take the flat water kefir, and strain out the grains, pouring the liquid into a big glass Pyrex bowl. I currently use a stainless steel mesh strainer – the grains have not suffered, though at some point I want to get a mesh strainer (this means mail order and I just haven’t had time to sit down and place the order). I only let them spend time in the strainer for about 10 seconds, and then I transfer them to a glass or plastic bowl.

I add fruit juice or whole fruit (berries are great, as are small pieces of organic citrus, peel and all) to the container I use for the second fermentation. This is a large (33 oz) swing top bottle. I add the strained water kefir to that bottle, cap it, then put it somewhere warm. The probiotics in that flat kefir will go to town on the fruit sugars and add more interest to the beverage. And by capping it, it traps the gas and makes things bubbly and fizzy.

On the average, the second fermentation takes 2-3 days. I’ve found that raspberries ferment the fastest. I’ve also used ginger, lime, blueberries, grapefruit juice, and tangerine juice. All have yielded a very tasty drink.

To tell if the second fermentation has created enough carbonation, I take the bottle and hold it over the kitchen sink, then open it. A loud pop is a good sign! I like to open it over the sink in case it has fermented to the point of overflowing when the pressure is released. I expect the second fermentation will speed up when it gets warmer.

6. I strain out the fruit chunks into smaller swing top bottles. This helps the kefir retain its fizziness. Putting the kefir into regular Ball-type canning jars I find lets the beverage go flat again. I like the 8.5 oz Italian swing top bottles for single servings. A batch of kefir fills about 3 of those small bottles.

The way I strain out the fruit is to use a small, fine mesh strainer – about 4 inches in diameter – sitting in a narrow mouth funnel, which fits easily into the opening of the small swing top bottle. This fine mesh strainer keeps out most citrus pulp, which can get kind of, for use of a better term, slimy in the kefir. I find that to be really unappealing. It’s also aesthetically displeasing, at least for me.

The spent fruit at this point is not really useful for anything except composting.

7. If you let the kefir go too long in the first fermentation, you’ll get a kind of kefir vinegar. It smells quite sour. You might even find a gelatinous “mother” starting up, floating on top of the liquid. I love vinegar, but haven’t felt inclined to keep any of the kefir vinegar.

By the way, in my experience the kefir does have that fermented odor – a bit sour, and earthy. It is not a neutral aroma.

8. If you don’t like the way the kefir tastes, smells, or has an off-color, throw it out. Really. I’ve thrown out a couple batches over the last couple of months and felt no guilt about it. One of the batches I had let go way too long – 6 days! Basically, I had forgotten about it. Oops. It happens.

Making water kefir is one of my favorite fermentation projects. It lets me be creative and I get a delicious fruity probiotic drink out of it. For those of you that are trying it out, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Feel free to ask questions in the comments – I’m happy to be a resource for you.

Basic Water Kefir Recipe

1/4 cup organic granulated sugar or evaporated cane juice
4 cups water
2-3 tbs water kefir grains

1/2 gallon mason jar

Dissolve 1/4 cup sugar into 1 cup warm water. Stir until all sugar has dissolved and there are no granules remaining. Add this to your mason jar, and fill it up to the 4 cup line with cold water. You do not want the sugar water to be too warm.

Add the water kefir grains. Cover the opening to the jar with a piece of fabric or several layers of cheesecloth. Secure with a rubber band. Set on your counter where it’s out of the way.

Allow the kefir to ferment for a couple days in cold weather, 1 day in hot weather. When the kefir is ready, it will smell sort of sour, and may have changed color. It is now ready to drink on its own or to use in a second fermentation.

Resources:

Cultures for Health water kefir grains (their FAQ is also helpful)
Tibicos, the other name for water kefir grains

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{ 17 comments }

Lynette @ Victory Homemaking March 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I’ve been making Kombucha for ages and am wanting to give water kefir a try, too. Am wondering your source for your bottles? That’s my only complaint with my kombucha that it goes flat so quickly in quart jars. Would love to be able to keep the fizz! Thanks bunches for a great post!

Amara March 6, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Hi Meg – I just got some water kefir grains today, so this post is super helpful and right on time! I can’t wait to try the second brew with different flavors. One question: d you know if the grains reproduce easily? I only have 3tbs right now, but I’d love to be able to make water kefir in a larger batch.

Re: NYC water – have you heard of the Big Berkey? After years of thinking about getting a water filter and not wanting to drink fluoridated tap water, I finally broke down and invested in one of these earlier this year. It’s perfect, especially for us NYC apartment dwellers who are short on space! It’s also really easy to set up, and is cost-effective (both me and my roomate use it) I got the Berkey Light model: http://www.bigberkeywaterfilters.com/berkey-filter-systems-c-1. Might be worth looking into.

Marija March 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Its so interesting that you say to make it with only a towel. I was surprised by that so I looked several places online and I did see some places say to use a lid and at least one place that said not to! I think that is amazing they are so versatile. My first concern was that vinegar is made with open container so I would have thought it would make the water kefir more like vinegar, but evidently not!!

I also don’t bother with stirring my sugar to dissolve it. I dump it right on top the grains in the water and they seem to eat it up just fine without the extra work. But I just read a couple of places that say you should put a lemon wedge in with the grains and I haven’t been doing that either.

I use sucanat and I like the taste, but I’ll try the evaporated cane sugar next time I need to buy something.

I also tried to make it with JUST coconut water (no added sugar) and that was very bitter and it seemed to do something weird to the grains! They got kind of flaky.

But the fruit from the second ferment? We LOVE to eat it. In fact, my son hates dried apricots but he was fighting me for the fermented ones!

Heather June 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

The first fermentation is aerobic (uses air), so the container needs to breathe. The fine mesh is mostly to keep out critters that will really like the sugary liquid. I use a coffee filter held on with a rubber band.

I’ve been making Kombucha Tea that way for a few months, and have never had bugs (like a friend warned me about, as fruit flies had a party in hers, easily passing through the cloth she used).

Sarah March 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I just started the second fermentation with my first batch! I’m making one bottle with blueberries and one with raspberries. How do you keep the kefir grains happy if you don’t want to start another fermentation right away?

lucia April 14, 2012 at 1:17 am

Even if NYC had clean water with no chlorine or flouride in it, the pipes in New York City are dirty, old, leach lead and many other toxic substances. There’s a good description of why you might want to filter NYC tap water at http://healthyfamilychronicles.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-dirty-is-your-water.html?m=1. A picture of a filter in Brooklyn that was beige when installed, shows that it is pitch black after only two weeks ?! My filter in the East Village gets a dark, slimy, reddish brown after a few weeks.

And, it is not true that you cannot do anything about the flouride in the water. The Doulton filter comes with two units, one for chlorine and other impurities, and one for flouride and heavy metals. You can purchase it at http://www.cwrenviro.com/ or at http://www.radiantlifecatalog.com/ for a few hundred dollars and it is absolutely worth every penny! It is self evident to me that this expense is an investment in my family’s future health. So please reexamine this issue! If we go to all the trouble of nourishing our bodies with nutrient dense foods, the quality of the water (and the food) cannot be glossed over for the sake of “convenience and cost”.

Marija May 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm

We have a Doulton filter for flouride also. When we look at the filter and see how disgusting it is, we are really glad we have it. As Sarah once quoted to me, you either use a filter or your body is the filter. I have heard the Berkey filter is also good and it requires no installation, it sits on the counter top. But you are welcome to come to my place to fill some gallons of water if you want.

Meg June 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Marija, I may come by and check out the Berkey filter, thanks! Would be nice to see how the water tastes, too.

Marija June 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Sure Meg! I have the Doulton which is installed under our sink. If you don’t want to drill your countertop, you may want to go with the Berkey but I don’t know much about it. A couple mutual friends recommended it though.

Cristin Cogen July 20, 2012 at 5:48 am

I’ve been looking for an kefir recipe and finaly found your blog! This looks delicious, can’t wait to try it!

Lily July 31, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Wow. Those look beautiful. What brand of swing top jars do you use? Where do you get them? I had one break during a second ferment, so I’m looking for something sturdier.

Fionnuala August 24, 2012 at 7:59 am

Hi, I have been making water kefir for a couple of weeks , They more I read however the more confused I get, as every article seems to be suggesting different methods. I love your post and will try your method. One question though how does one safe guard against bottles exploding after second fermentation.

Stacy August 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I have been making water kefir for a couple weeks, but the odor and taste are making it very difficult to continue. Blech! :( I will keep experimenting. Questions: Where did you get your bottles? Also, I keep reading conflicting things about the resulting alcohol content of a second ferment. I give my kids the kefir so I’d like to find a real answer to this. Any thoughts?

sara September 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Hi Meg,

When you forgot to care for your Kefir for 6 days did you keep using the same crystals?

I have gone much longer .. actually quitting but haven’t thrown it out.
Sooooooo much vinegar!
Today I diluted some and blended the”mother’ with lots of water and put around some seedlings and replaced the mulch.

Does the “mother’ contain probiotics ???
Does the vinegar with its mother have properties similar to Bragg’s Vinegar?

Tyranny Watch October 4, 2012 at 2:07 pm

As a cheap alternative, use bottled *spring water*. Most brands that get water from fresh spring sources don’t add fluoride. If your not sure, email or call the company you want to use.

Alexis B November 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I was wondering if you add sugar or some kind of sweetener to your second ferment or do you just put in the fruit or juice? I’m new to fermenting water kefir and I’ve thrown out about all of the batches that were made because I just couldn’t get a good flavor. Any advice would be a great help.

Marianna Jarrett December 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Great info here! Thanks for sharing. I have one quick question. How much fruit juice do you add on your second ferment? I made some ginger syrup and I have heard that is a good add in but can’t find anyone that says how much to add. Thanks!

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