Water kefir – natural probiotics for a healthy digestive system8 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I was introduced to kefir (dairy) while visiting a friend in America last year. She talked a lot about the health benefits of fermented milk products, so I came home ready to learn more about it. I knew about probiotics and was already taking a probiotic supplement, but didn’t know much about natural probiotics that occur in fermented foods. (Probiotics are for good gut/digestive health.) That led to a search for kefir grains and subsequently making our own milk kefir.

However a few months ago I decided that I wanted to cut my dairy intake to a minimum. I specifically wanted to cut out milk and yogurt, but still have some cheese occasionally. But what about those probiotics I was getting from the kefir?

I had heard of water kefir and had been told it was fiddly to make and hard to get right,  but as I really wanted the probiotics I decided to give it a go. So I have been making water kefir for about eight weeks now. There were some initial glitches in the system, but with some experimenting and adjustments to the recipe, we now have a `brew’ we really like. And it is soooo easy.

What is water kefir?

The simplest was to describe it is, fermented sugar water. It is made from kefir grains, also known as sugar grains, tibicos, tibi, or Japanese water crystals.  The grains make up a cultures of various strains of healthy bacteria and yeast, held together in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. The symbiotic relationship of the microbes produces a stable growing culture. The microbes feed on sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide, yielding a fermented carbonated beverage. Don’t worry, the alcohol content is usually very minimal, less than 1 %.

What are the health benefits of water kefir?

Fran at highonhealth.org says, `We all know that yogurt is really good for the health of our guts right? Well kefir is way better.
Kefir has an incredible amount of beneficial probiotics. It knocks the socks right off yogurt, and even those little inner health plus tablets you get from the health store.
Here is a list of super interesting reasons why it’s so good to add kefir into your diet-

  • Contributes to a healthy immune system
  • Promotes a relaxing effect on the nervous system
  • Helps relieve insomnia
  • Helps support your normal intestinal tract function, promote bowel movements and a healthy digestive system
  • Restores balance to the digestive tract, so VERY useful during and after a course of antibiotics and after food poisoning
  • Has been used to treat metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, allergic disease, tuberculosis, cancer and other gastrointestinal disorders
  • Rich in vitamin B-12, vitamin K and biotin’

How to make water kefir

water kefir - natural fermented probioticsEquipment:

This really is quite simple, but it is important to have the right equipment to make it easier. The most important thing is to never use metal utensils to handle your kefir grains as they really don’t like metal. So get yourself the following:

  • Plastic strainer – I like a largish one
  • Plastic measuring spoons
  • Plastic spoon for stirring
  • A large glass jar for `brewing’. I got a huge 4 litre glass jar at `Dollar King’.
  • Large jugs or bottles for storing the water kefir once it’s brewed. I prefer glass.

Ingredients needed:

  • Filtered or spring water or rain water

  • Water kefir grains

  • Organic raw cane sugar

  • Rapadura, Sucanat, or coconut palm sugar

  • Unsweetened, unsulfured dried fruit (apricots, figs or raisins)

  • Organic lemon (optional)

  • Molasses – organic, with no added sulphurs

  • Bi-carb soda

  • Celtic sea salt – a greyish, damp feeling salt that is packed with minerals

Notes:

  • Water – most tap water contains chlorine and fluoride, both of which may kill the grains. I use a water filter which removes the chlorine, but I’m not sure about the fluoride. (That said, I do have a friend who uses plain tap water and has not problems.)
  • Sugars – you can use all raw sugar if you like. It is good to add some of the darker sugars such as rapadura or coconut sugar as these are rich in minerals. Don’t, however, switch to all rapadura or coconut sugar as the grains don’t do well with that.
  • Fruit – you can use most types of  dried fruit. I have found that most recipes have fig as the first preference because of their high mineral content. I suggest going with fig for a while before you start experimenting. I had to hunt around for a while before I found dried fig without sulphurs.
  • Lemon – obviously an organic lemon is going to be the best. But sometimes you have to go with what you can get. I initially used lemons from the supermarket – far from organic and definitely with wax on the skin. They worked! But I’m now getting organic lemons from the Farmer’s Market.
  • Molasses – I found that most of the molasses on supermarket shelves contains sulphur. which is a natural anti-biotic, so not good for our bacteria containing grains. A little bit of hunting and I found an organic molasses at a local health food store. (No more expensive than the supermarket brand.)
  • Celtic sea salt – this is for the minerals it contains. DO NOT use regular table salt as it doesn’t contain any minerals. If you don’t have this one, just leave out the salt.

Recipe:

As I said earlier I have done quite a bit of experimenting to get this right – for our climate! I had some problems with the original recipe I was given and found that the grains were developing a slimey feeling and the kefir was tasting `not quite right’. They were over-crowded and so not getting enough nourishment to be producing the ferment. I’ve been using the ratios here (below) for some time now and it is working really well.

2 Tablespoons water kefir grains (That’s 20ml, Aussie tablespoons! Not the spoon you eat your soup or deserts with.)
8 cups water (I use filtered water)
4 Tablespoons raw sugar
1 Tablespoon rapadura
Pinch of bi-carb soda
1/4 teaspoon molasses
1 dried fig
Pinch of celtic sea salt
1/2 lemon (do not squeeze juice out – just leave it in a chunk)

Preparation

  • Add water to a large glass jar. (Do not fill the jar more than 3/4 full to leave room for fermentation.)
  • Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup of hot water and then add the rest of the cold water and other ingredients. It’s important to make sure that the mixture is not warm before adding the kefir grains.
  • Gently add kefir grains.
  • Cover top with a piece of firmly woven cloth and elastic band. Cover jar with a cloth to keep semi dark. I just throw a tea-towel over it. You could also put it in a cupboard.
  • Set aside to ferment at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours.

When ready….

  • Strain the water kefir off and store in the fridge. It will be a little paler than the original sugar water mix.
  • Wash and dry the jar and start all over again.
  • Your grains will have multiplied. You can simply make a bigger batch or give some away to friends. Very soon you will have a lot more than you can handle and, like me, will be looking for ways to use them.

The strained kefir is ready to serve, but it is more nicer if left in the fridge to mature for a day or so. It does develop a bit more fizz over that time. This is also the stage where you can experiment with flavours.

As you begin your adventure with water kefir you will no doubt have lots of questions and you will find a HUGE amount of information on the internet. This is probably the best site I have found with info on water kefir. They keep it simple and have some fantastic videos demonstrating the how to’s of making fermented products. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq

Where can I get some water kefir grains?

Do you know friends who have water kefir? They would certainly have grains to spare.
Otherwise you can usually get it through eBay quite easily. I paid $8.50 for my initial 2 Tablespoons of grains. (Even though the recipe didn’t work very well it gave me the basics and I was able to experiment.)
Do we sell them? Well, we don’t have a shop happening as yet. Though if you’re in Australia and contact us we may be able to get some to you.

Verdict:

We love water kefir and it is currently our beverage of choice. Ours tastes almost like a very mild ginger beer or ginger ale. We love ginger so will be trying that as an added flavour very soon. Certainly with summer coming on I’m sure we will be drinking water kefir more and more. Making it has become part of the routine and what took ages at the beginning is now quick and easy. I just spoke with my eldest grand-daughter (9) and she said they all liked it. She said `It tastes a bit like lemonade.’

Sharon: I made my first batch of water kefir over the past few days. I followed Mum’s recipe and it was successful from the start. The girls loved it, and want more.

Now that you have the basics of making your own water kefir, you can have a ready supply of natural probiotics to help keep your digestive system healthy.

We’d love to hear about your adventures with making it. Share your comments (or questions) so that we can all benefit form one another’s experience.

12 comments

    1. Di, the Woolworths Macro brand of dried figs don’t have sulphur. We also found that the brand, Colonial Farms, (from one of the supermarkets – greenish label) doesn’t have sulphur.
      Judith

  1. We’ve had someone contact us regarding the amount of sugar left in the finished water kefir……

    While certainly variation will exist between batches, generally speaking approximately 20% of the sugar you start with will remain following a 48- hour culturing process and almost all that sugar will have been converted to fructose from its original glucose-fructose state. Therefore if you use our recommend ratio of 1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart water, the finished kefir will contain approximately 1.4% fructose.

    My hubby has Type 2 diabetes and drinks a lot of water kefir (up to two litres/quarts a day) and it does not mess with his blood glucose levels at all. Thus I feel quite confident about there being minimal sugar content of the finished kefir.

    Judith

  2. I’ve been making water kefir for a while and inspired several family members to join on the brewing. It super easy and I’ve streamlined the process to a couple things and steps.
    I use:
    2 cups spring water (for its minerals),
    a tiny pinch baking soda (to feed the grains minerals)
    2 tbsp of sugar (never honey). I vary the sugar types based on the season.
    large mason jar and fabric cover rubber-banded to the top. (Fruit flies love Kefir.)
    1 liter flip cap bottle
    occasional piece of fresh ginger, or cranberry or lemon slice.

    Kefir knows the seasons of the year. In winter the grains clump together making large chunkier ones. Summer time, they are much smaller and lighter. The type of sugar matter because of the temperature. Rapidunda is a larger, more difficult sugar to digest. I use this in the summer time when the grains are more active. I allow 24-48 hours for primary fermentation of summer grains. Winter time, they ferment a little slower and I use a easier to digest sugar such as agave or light brown sugar. I give winter batches about 48-72 hours to primary fermentation. Every few batches I use unsulphered molasses to feed the grains. Molasses based kefir makes a great cream soda mimic.

    I never rinse the grains or the jar. The remainder dribble helps colonize the next batch. Never introduce chlorine, chloramine, metal or soap. These will harm your grains and stunt the growth.

    For secondary fermentation: the fun, fizzy part! Upon straining the grains, I bottle in a flip cap bottle or grolsh bottle. You can drink it after primary fermentation but its blah. I match the kefir amount to juice and cap up. Leave on the counter for a day or 2. Don’t open during this time, the carbonation will be hindered. Then place in the fridge. After a day in there is beautifully fizzy like fruit soda. I’ve produced kefir that fizzier than tonic water!

    1. Thanks for sharing your kefir making adventures Magola. It is interesting that you say the grains clump together in larger clumps in the winter. Mine had become smaller recently and I was thinking maybe something was wrong.

  3. I have been making water kefir for a while now. The second fermentation without the grains is the key to wonderful water kefir. One can simply add juice like pomegranite or cranberry and let it ferment once the grains have been removed. Adding various fruit, spices makes for delicious and interesting drinks too. Small pieces of lemon with grated fresh ginger makes a sparkling drink drink that begs for a few ice cubs; a stick of cinammon makes it spicy; adding lightly muddled mint or basil makes a delightfully refreshing drink. And when I want a little more bubble, I add a splash of sparkling water a la SodaSpring to the finished product. Just have fun and experiment. The only utter failure as far as my palate is concerned has been using coconut water rather than water and sugar. No, thank you!

  4. Hi everyone. Water Kefir has change my life it’s amazing. Apon realising for five years I have Hasidic pain in my lower intestines and pelvic area and no one could give a clear diagnosis. After changing my diet I felt a bit less pain but when I had this drink my pain is ninety percent gone. I stopped drinking it for a week just to see what would happen and sure enough all my pain returned. its amazing how beneficial it is. I wouldn’t of believed it unless I tried

Leave a Reply