Water kefir is a fermented beverage and a great dairy-free and caffeine-free option for getting probiotics. Making water kefir in an easy process, but it does require regular maintenance. When I first started making water kefir, I found it too intensive, since a batch is ready every 36-48 hours, so I took a break from brewing, gave away my grains and went back to brewing kombucha. When I started making milk kefir, I decided to give water kefir a second chance. The second time around, I didn’t find it as intensive, since I had already developed the habit of tending to my milk kefir. In some ways it is easier than kombucha since I don’t have to brew a batch of sweetened tea nor wait a week for the brew to be ready. I make 1 1/2 quarts of water kefir every two days or so and my family drinks all of it.
In this post, I will walk through the steps of the first fermentation and the second fermentation. The second fermentation is optional, but it is the step where you would flavor the water kefir and it also makes a fizzier drink. I always secondary ferment because my family and I don’t like plain water kefir as much.
These are kefir grains:
The color of the grains will depend on what types and color of sugar you use. If you use white granulated sugar only, they will be white, if you use only unrefined, darker sugar they will be quite dark. Since I use a mixture of white sugar and sucanat, mine are a tan color.
The method and ingredients I am describing are what work for me. Your home has a unique environment and what works in my home, may not work exactly in yours. I know of people who swear by using coconut water in their water kefir and others who say it killed their grains; there are many types of sugar that can be used. I have never had a problem using tap water for my water kefir, while other people do have issues. Some websites will advise to cover with cloth secured by a rubber band, others say that anaerobic fermentation is necessary and suggest an air-tight lid. You may need to experiment and see what works best for you.
These are the things you will need to make water kefir:
- Strainer (preferably non-metal)
- Wooden, plastic or rubber spoon/spatula
- 1/2 gallon glass jar or pitcher
- Lid for your brewing jar or pitcher
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup water kefir grains
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons sucanat
- 1 slice lemon
- 1 dried prune (or equivalent raisins, currants or other dried fruit), unsulfured
- 1 slice peeled ginger (optional)
Some things to be aware of: You shouldn’t use metallic equipment in preparation, unless it is stainless steel. Use unsulfured dried fruit. Dried fruit is frequently sulfured to inhibit bacterial growth; when fermenting kefir, you want to promote bacterial growth. I use prunes that we dried ourselves and they work perfectly.
How to make water kefir:
Fill jar with 5 1/2 cups of water. Add sugars, lemon, prune and ginger. Stir well. Add kefir grains and stir again. Place lid on jar, finger tighten and leave at room temperature for 36-48 hours.
You will notice that when you first start the kefir, the dried fruit will sink to the bottom of the jar along with the sugar and kefir grains. The lemon slice and ginger will generally rise to the top. As the fermentation process continues, the fruit will begin rise and it will become more bubbly. After 36-48 hours, it will be ready; the fruit will be floating on the surface and the surface of the liquid will be fairly bubbly; the water kefir grains will generally remain on the bottom of the jar and you won’t be able to see any sugar left on the bottom.
The water kefir is ready to drink after straining the kefir grains and fruit out. It tastes a bit tart and the fermentation process imparts what I think of as a sourdough-y type of flavor. We prefer to do a secondary fermentation and not drink it at this stage.
Secondary fermentation is an easy process. You can use either a clean 1/2 gallon jar or use bale-top bottles, which keep the fizz in better. For flavor, you can use a variety of things: maple syrup, honey, fruit juice, berries, essential oils, extracts. The key is that whatever you choose must have some type of sugar; the kefir will continue to ferment from this secondary sugar addition. I frequently use maple syrup and vanilla extract to create a cream soda type of flavor. Crushed berries are very nice and make a very pretty beverage.
The process I use is this: Open two clean quart/liter sized bale-top bottles. Add sugar source. To give you an idea of quantities, for this size of bottle I would use 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1/4 cup of home-canned grape juice, 1/4 cup crushed berries, 1 tablespoon of honey, or 1 ounce extra-light syrup from home canned fruit. Add in any other flavoring: vanilla extract, ginger, citrus zest, herbs, or essential oils. Place funnel and nylon strainer over opening and pour half of finished water kefir into each bottle. Close bottles tightly, gently shake to combine and ferment at room temperature for an additional 24 hours. You will know that it’s ready when you see some small bubbles beginning to form on the surface; you can double-check by opening the bottle; if it hisses or pops, it’s ready! As you can see in the photo below, when you pour the water kefir into the bottle, it gets quite bubbly, but these initial bubbles will dissipate, it’s the second round of bubbles after 24 hours or so that will indicate it’s ready (or very close).
With the quantity of water kefir that I ferment, this yields approximately 3/4 quart of finished kefir in each bale-top bottle.
Whether you do a secondary ferment or not, when you have strained the kefir grains and fruit out, save the grains for your next batch and compost the remaining contents (lemon slice, dried fruit, ginger). If you are not making a new batch immediately, you can store the water kefir grains in some water kefir liquid and place in the refrigerator. Your grains will multiply slightly with each batch, when you have 1/2-2/3 cup, divide in half and give some grains to a friend, compost or start making a larger batch.