Water kefir is an easy to make, naturally fermented drink that is allergen friendly and loaded with probiotics, B vitamins, and food enzymes.
Water kefir is one of our favorite household ferments!
This mild, lemony, kid friendly drink is not quite as strong as other popular fermented tonics like beet kvass or kombucha so it tends to be a nice way for newbie real foodies to introduce probiotic-rich food into their home.
How does water kefir work?
Water kefir grains are small, gelatin-like structures made up of various beneficial bacteria. These grains will thrive and even multiple indefinitely when kept properly, living in fresh mineral rich sugar water. The bacteria and yeasts in the water kefir grains feed off of the sugar and minerals in the water, infusing the water with loads of probiotics essential for gut health along with an array of B vitamins and enzymes.
Ok super cool! What’s the commitment here?!
Every 2-3 days your water kefir grains will need fresh sugar water since the bacteria eat it all up! It takes me 5 minutes of time to switch out the water every few days. It is a fantastic project or chore chart item for appropriately aged kids – my 2 older girls (aged 5 and 7) help me still – I would imagine slightly older children could do it themselves. It is a bit like having a “pet” and it is a fantastic, on-going science project to explore!
I’m ready to get started! Where do I get my water kefir grains?
If you hop on any “crunchy” Facebook group in your local area and ask for kefir grains, I have found many to be very willing to share! Especially in the warm summer months, those grains multiply like crazy when fed well, and people are more than willing to split theirs.
I have been using Cultures for Health water kefir grains for years, and they have always been so plump and healthy – very easy to work with!
How to make water kefir
The first step is to find a jar for your water kefir grains to live in. You’ll want a to use a quart or half gallon mason jar, and an air-lock lid or Pickle Pipe (I use a Pickle Pipe). A traditional style fermentation crock or even a Fido jar works well too. A fine mesh strainer for straining out the grains after brewing will be needed too.
While you can get a decent ferment with a mason jar and regular lid or cheesecloth, after reading this article from my friend Jessica a number of years ago, and doing some research, it seems these type of ferments do best in an “anaerobic” (no oxygen) type environment. I was shocked at how bubbly my first ferments were after making the switch to using an anaerobic seal. The Pickle Pipe is so easy to use, and really easy (read: quick!) to clean. It automatically “burps” your ferment so the gasses don’t build up too much, and I love not having to think about that! Your Pickle Pipes can be used for fermenting other things like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, etc too. They are one of my favorite real foodie tools!
Brewing the water kefir
Water kefir thrives best with mineral rich water and sugar. Since most of us do not have water that is rich with minerals, it is a good idea to supplement your water with a little sea salt and ConcenTrace. Both are teaming with minerals that will give your kefir grains what they need to grow and thrive.
Water Kefir Basics
- Heat the 1/2 cup of water stovetop and while that is warming put the sugar, sea salt, and ConcenTrace into a quart mason jar. (If you have more than 1/4 cup of water kefir grains, simply double this recipe into a half gallon jar).
- Pour the heated water into the jar with the sugar mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve. (Note that when working with ferments it is advised not to use metal utensils as it can disrupt the environment. I always use wooden tools)
- Fill the jar the rest of the way with fresh water, leaving a couple inches of headspace at the top. This is your sugar water! Add your kefir grains to the sugar water and put your lid on.
- Let the water kefir ferment at room temperature for 2-3 days. This ferment prefers to be in the dark so I place mine in a kitchen cupboard. A closet works too. The warmer the air temp, the faster your ferment will go so keep the weather in mind especially in the summer. If you live somewhere cold, it may take longer.
- After your kefir has fermented to your taste, make another batch of sugar water, strain out the grains and place the grains into the fresh sugar water to ferment again. The fermented water kefir left behind can be consumed right away (I like it with a squeeze of lime or lemon!), or chilled in the fridge to drink later. You can also do a "second ferment" on your finished water kefir to flavor it, creating a bubbly, "soda-like" drink.
“Second Ferment” tips
Doing a second ferment on your finished water kefir creates a bubbly, soda-like drink that you can flavor any way you like! Whatever fruit is in season makes for a fun, flavored drink that really feels like a soda pop.
Tools for creating a second ferment
Your second ferment will become bubbly with a tight fitting lid – I prefer to use grolsch style (flip-top) bottles as I have gotten the best result with them. A narrow funnel is also a good tool to have on hand to pour the water kefir into the bottles.
Brewing a second ferment
- 1/2 cup of chopped fruit or fruit juice (do 1/4 cup if using lemon or lime juice)
- 1 quart brewed water kefir
- Put the chopped fruit or juice into your flip-top bottles and use a funnel to pour the brewed water kefir into the bottles. Close the lids.
- Place the bottles in a dark cupboard or closet for 1-2 days. You may want to “burp” your bottles once a day to let some of the air out or your ferment will overflow upon opening! I tend to forget this part and just open my bottles slowly because they do get very, very bubbly!
- After 1-2 days of fermenting, move your bottles to the fridge to chill.
How to introduce water kefir into your diet
Water kefir is really considered more of a health tonic. While it makes for a really fun drink especially for kids to drink, making it a soda replacement isn’t advised. Starting out with 2-3 ounces for kids, and 4-6 ounces for adults is a good starting point. I tend to start toddlers/kids out with a couple ounces watered down a bit. Some to be sure they stomach the new bacteria ok, and some to tame the sweetness for young palates. Adults and big kids ought also heed starting out small to introduce the new bacteria to the gut. Once you know your body is tolerating the new bacteria well, enjoy a cup or so everyday – your gut will thank you!
A note about the sugar and alcohol content
Since the bacteria in the grains consume the sugar in the sugar water, the sugar content is actually quite low. Undoubtedly there will be questions about whether raw honey, coconut sugar, or other sweetener might work for the sugar and it really just doesn’t work. The beneficial bacteria feed best off cane sugar.
As with all fermented drinks, there is a small amount of alcohol produced when brewing water kefir. I have read anywhere from 0.5% to 0.75%. The longer the kefir is brewed, the higher the alcohol content.