Water kefir is an easy to brew carbonated drink you can make at home. It is rich in probiotics and minerals and good for your immune system and gut. This post isn’t about the wondrous health benefits of water kefir – the Internet is full enough of that already. I have learned many things in my time brewing water kefir, including a simple way to brew it, and I share these below. Informed Papa and I both drink about a litre of water kefir a day each. Our children (ages 3 and 4) both also consume about a cup or two each day, and have for the past 15 months or so.
What you need
Water kefir grains (tibicos) – ask around with friends or look on Gumtree. Water kefir grains are a symbiotic mass of microflora and are fairly easy to come by.
Pure/filtered water (no chlorine). Mineral water works beautifully, however can be costly. See note below regarding coconut water.
Cane sugar – I alternate between organic rapadura and organic raw sugar.
Glass airlock jar such as a Fido jar for brewing in, plus jars/bottles for storage.
Important ratio – 1 TB sugar: 1 TB water kefir grains: 1 cup water. You can scale this up to make a batch as big as you like, for example, I use 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water kefir grains, 4L water each batch.
How to make
1. Put your grains in a large empty glass Fido jar.
2. Add the same amount of sugar as grains. Just pour or sprinkle the sugar on top of the grains.
3. Fill the jar with water at the appropriate ratio (1 cup water per each TB of grains), allowing some headspace for the gases .
4. Close the lid and swirl the jar or tip upside down gently a few times to help dissolve the sugar. When I first started making water kefir I would dissolve a small amount of the sugar in boiling water, then I would cool that before mixing through. For over a year now I have skipped that step and just add the sugar straight in, making sure I give it a swirl.
5. Set jar aside, out of direct sunlight. This is called the first ferment. You can burp it a couple of times a day if you remember, especially if you find the liquid to be quite fizzy.
6. After 3 days remove 3/4 of the liquid and strain through a cloth (I use a funnel with an in-built strainer instead of a cloth) into new glass containers/jars/bottles.
7. Check the level of grains. It is not unusual for them to double each batch, however you will observe over time they though go through periods of high growth and activity and periods of low growth and activity, often for no apparent reason. Excess grains can be removed and refrigerated in a small amount of sugar water in a glass jar with a lid.
8. To the newly bottled and strained liquid, add fruit, such as 5 sultanas, pulp from a passionfruit, a slice of fresh lemon and fresh ginger, 6-8 frozen blueberries, a small amount of fresh apple juice, some strawberries etc. You will soon learn which fruits you prefer, or you can even leave it plain if you would rather not add flavour. Ensure there is headroom at the top of the bottles to allow for carbonation – if there is too much liquid and not enough air space you can experience an explosion. If you think there is too much pressure building up you can burp the containers.
9. Put the lid on the bottles and sit on the bench for another 1-2 days. This is called the second ferment. You can drink the second ferment after 2 days or put it in the fridge until you are ready to drink it. The cold will slow down the fermentation.
10. Add fresh sugar and water to the grains and repeat the process. As your grains multiply you can increase the amount of sugar water you use so that you are getting more water kefir to drink.
When you first start brewing water kefir, I recommend tasting a small amount each day so you can see how it is fermenting. It will become less sweet each day and after 3 days or so (see notes below) will be like a mild apple cider vinegar. I also recommend tasting the sugar water when you have freshly made it so you have an idea when comparing sweetness. The best way to know that your grains are working is to observe the change in sweetness over time.
– Less processed sugar works well, such as rapadura. If you are using white sugar you will need to add some molasses also as the grains require and thrive on minerals. I do not recommend using coconut sugar. I mistakenly used coconut sugar once and my grains deteriorated to the point of looking like sand. I have also read testimonies of coconut sugar causing the liquid to go slimy and stringy, although this did not happen for me.
– The finished product can be as sweet or as fermented as you choose. You decide at which point you strain the first ferment and at which point you drink the second ferment. If you are working to reduce sugar in your diet, you will want a highly fermented finished product. If that is unpalatable to you, start sweeter and slowly ferment for longer until your taste adjusts. As the drink ferments, the grains feed off the sugar and convert it to kefir, making lots of amazing strains of good bacteria. The less sweet the finished product is, the healthier it is for you, as it contains higher probiotics and less sugar.
– Some people use a cloth and rubber band, not a lid, to cover the first ferment. Water kefir does not need that much oxygen and I have found I get better carbonation when I use a lid.
– If you prefer a super fizzy kefir, use Grolsch style bottles (see pic) for the second ferment. You can buy these at home brew shops. I steer clear of similar ones from bargain shops, as the glass may contain lead and may not be strong enough to withstand the build-up of gases, leading to an explosion of shattered glass. It is a good idea to burp Grolsch bottles daily by gently releasing the lid and then re-sealing. If you’re not as concerned about carbonation, any glass bottle will work well.
– Excess grains can be eaten, added to smoothies, fed to chickens, given away or put in the fridge in fresh sugar water to rest. If your body is not used to lots of probiotics it may take a little while for your gut to adjust to water kefir, and in this case I recommend not eating the grains until you feel your body can handle it.
– If you would like to use coconut water for making kefir, complete the process as usual but omit the sugar and use coconut water instead of filtered water. It is important that you do not make more than one batch with coconut water without a regular water batch in between. That is, alternate one batch coconut water followed by one batch regular sugar and water, and repeat.
– In warmer weather fermentation will happen quicker, so adjust accordingly. I typically brew my first ferment for 4 days in winter and 36 hours in summer.
– Water kefir grains are delicate and sensitive in some ways, but also hardy and good survivors in other ways. They are pretty hard to completely kill, but do thrive on being cared for well.
– If your grains seem a little slow or sluggish, add a pinch of high-mineral salt to the first ferment, such as Himalayan salt.
– Water kefir grains are entirely different to dairy/milk kefir grains and they two cannot be used inter-changeably.
– If you use Facebook, check out the group called I Love Water Kefir for support and ideas.
Soon I will write a post about another fermented health drink that I brew – Jun tea, which is similar to Kombucha, but a different scoby which feeds off green tea and raw honey.