How To Make (and what the heck is??) Water Kefir

February 9th, 2011 - filed under: The Food » Recipes

Ensconced in my current obsession with all things cultured, I’ve spent the last few months struggling to crack the water kefir code. Water kefir should be light and refreshing, mildly sweet and fantastically fizzy. So fun! It’s basically homemade fruit soda – but with a probiotic twist. And finally, finally I’ve got a technique down pat and I can share it with you guys. But first . . .

What the hell is this stuff?? Called water kefir – Tibicos – Japanese Water Crystals – Bébées – African Bees . . . mmm, sounds pretty mysterious, right? And it is! It’s magical stuff, man.

Similar to our old friend kombucha, water kefir ‘grains’ are a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts (a SCOBY). But unlike the gelatinous alien blob SCOBYs associated with kombucha, kefir grains are held in a molecular matrix that gives them their delightful crystalline aesthetic. Well, at least I think it’s delightful!

Like all properly fermented foods, water kefir contains probiotics. These essential, amazing microbugs colonize our guts and confer to us all sorts of incredible benefits. It is my emphatic opinion that a healthy diet must include fermented foods. Lucky for us, they’re heaps of fun and they taste good, too! So, here’s how to go about making your water kefir:

Step One – Procure Grains
I got mine at my local co-op, and those of you in bigger cities may be able to do the same. I’d also check Craigslist and Freecycle and your health food store bulletin board – and post a want ad! Finally, you can always order online. I hear good things about the kefir lady.

Once you have your grains, reconstitute them as directed.

Step Two – The First Brew

The measurements here are imprecise, and depend more on the size of your brewing vessel. Always brew in glass! You’ll need enough water to fill it up, so either purchase some filtered water or ‘clean’ some tap water by boiling it for 10 minutes. Then add to the water:

- about 1/4 cup sugar (no subs! must be real sugar/organic evaporated cane juice)
- half an organic lemon or a splash of 100% lemon juice
- about a tablespoon of dried fruit, unsulphured (I use raisins)

Once the sugar is completely dissolved and the water has cooled to room temperature, add the kefir grains. Cover with a breathable barrier like a coffee filter or a rag and secure with a rubber band. Allow to ferment on the counter top for 24-48 hours.

You’ll know it’s working because bubbles will form and the fruit will float to the top. It’s carbonated!!! Mmm, fizzy fruit.

Step Three – The Second Brew

Carefully fish out the floating fruit (never let metal touch the grains). Eat that fruit! Pour off the water kefir into a second glass container. You can drink it as is but it’s not so tasty. The next round will add flavor while increasing the probiotic load.

So now you have your grains, separated, and your water kefir liquid on it’s own. Set the grains aside. To the liquid, add about 1/2 – 1 cup fresh organic fruit (chopped). I like juicy fruits like pineapple, raspberries, etc, as opposed to things like apples or bananas. Add the fruit, re-cover with your breathable barrier, and allow to ferment on the counter top another 24-48 hours.

Meanwhile, take your kefir grains back to step one, rinse them off, and start over.

In this way, you’ve got a continuous stream of water kefir coming in. After the second ferment you can ‘bottle’ it (I use glass mason jars) and store it in the fridge.

I like to drink my water kefir in my morning green smoothies, but it’s great on its own – a homemade healthy soda! Enjoy it with dinner. Having something fermented with every meal is a great habit, as it greatly aids in digestion.

If ever you need a break, go on vacation, or just get tired of water kefir for a while (say it ain’t so!), you can always store your grains in the fridge. They’ll happily hibernate in a sugar/lemon water solution.

  • Alayna @ Thyme Bombe

    Neat! I’m interested in home-brewing kombucha in the future, this is a fun alternative that takes up less space and looks tasty!

  • Richard

    Hmm interesting, I really should give kombucha another go, I’ll have to get another scoby and some better bactera proof paper.
    How is this with alckyhols ;)

  • Rachel

    So cool… I’ve never heard of this but it sounds delicious, and looks way less frightening than kombucha :)

  • Teany Tiny Star

    This sounds so cool. I cant wait to try it :)

  • Bridget

    I love this!
    When you “bottle” it again in a mason jar, is it a jar with a plastic lid, or is it okay to use the standard metal ones since it’s no longer fermenting? Also, no water is added during the second fermentation…?

    I’m so glad you’ve posted this because my mom threw away my scoby thinking it was something moldy :-/ hahaha. Now all I need to complete my life is a coconut kefir recipe :)

  • sarah

    Oooh! Good one! I’m trying to find something my soda-loving husband can drink instead (I don’t buy it, so really the only time he has it is at the in-laws, but still). I’m fermenting some root beer at the moment (first batch) so I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’m definitely trying this though – I’ve been wanting to buy some kefir grains anyhow.

  • Kylie

    I’m doing it. I’ve wanted to for a long time but I didn’t realize how simple it was.

    I feel like a tool for asking, because you specifically said NO SUBSTITUTIONS, but what do you think of honey? I’m not sure if you just meant no fake sugar like splenda or something.

  • MaidenOregon

    I am SO on this!! I think this is the perfect introduction to “all things cultured” for me. I am ordering my kefir from “the kefir lady” tonight. There is simply nothing like this offered where I live. Again, you have truly enlightened me and enhanced my life. Amazing. Thank you.

  • Courtney

    That looks really interesting! My hubby and I drink…regular(?) kefir. I have some with breakfast during the week. I’ll never get him to drink kombucha, but he might try this. I just have to get my hands on some grains…

  • Sarah

    Would all kefir have been cultured in some kind of milk? The kefir lady’s is. Do you think it’s ok for people with casein sensitivity/allergy? My son’s allergic to cow/goat milk protein. I really want to try this!

  • Meghan

    I echo Sarah’s question, but as a vegan rather than an allergic person.

  • Sayward

    I looked around The Kefir Lady’s site and I couldn’t find any reference to using water kefir grains in milk.

    Remember that milk kefir and water kefir are totally different organisms, not interchangeable. When she says ‘kefir’ (without delineating water or milk) she always means the milk kind. When she is talking about water kefir, she will always say ‘water’.

    Is there some place where she talks about putting water kefir grains into milk? If not, I’m willing to bet they haven’t been contaminated. But you could always email her to double check!

  • Sayward

    @ Richard – It does have a bit of alcohol! Not much at all though – I would totally give it to Waits.

    @ Bridget – A metal lid should be fine for storage, since it’s just the liquid and not the grains. And no, you do not add any more water to the second ferment – just fruit!

    @ sarah – Can’t wait to hear about that root bear! =D

    @ Kylie – I have tried agave and maple syrup and it did not work. Honey is not suitable for ferments because it is antibacterial – it kills the good guys!


    So glad you guys are into this! Yay!

  • Sarah

    No, she doesn’t talk about putting the water kind into milk. I misunderstood how it worked. It’s a little confusing because of the kefir vs. water kefir thing! :) If I order from her, I will ask about it, just to be safe and let you know what she says!

    Regarding alcohol content–there’s alcohol in ketchup and grape juice too :D

  • Sayward

    @ Sarah – Yeah, it can be kind of confusing, I’m sorry I didn’t address it more clearly. But definitely ask her, just to be on the safe side. =)

  • Sarah

    I’m totally going to call this ‘pop’ too to sell it to my boys.

  • Lenn

    So wanting to try this.

  • Theresa

    This is such a timely post for me! I’m on my second batch of kombucha, it’d be cool to try something new. Do the grains multiply at all? I’m wondering if you can ever increase the pace from 1 bottle at a time w/o purchasing more grains.

    Nourished Kitchen (always taken with a grain of salt) just emailed me about a 13-part ecourse series on fermented foods, so ferments are on my mind (and in my tummy!) this morning. There are tons of things I’m curious about including kvass, sourdough breads and fermented fruits and soy.

    I know you mention above that you’d give Waits kvass, but what about kombucha? I had been giving it to my 2.5 yo son w/o a second thought until I started brewing my own and got scared by the internet. Since he “wuva boosha” I’ll still let him have a bit, but I’m much more restrained about it.

  • Neko

    Thank you for posting this! Funny, I’ve been really excited about water kefir lately, too, and I am waiting to get some grains from a friend.

    I do have one question, do you know if the brew is okay for little ones? I have two young children (kindergartener and a toddler) and I’d love to share it with them. I’d read that kefir is very mildly alcoholic due to the fermentation, so I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for young children to drink it or not.

  • Neko

    Okay, nevermind. I have since read the other comments and my question has already been answered :D Maybe I’ll read before I post, next time!

  • Sandra

    EEEEEEEKKK! I am so excited for this! I am making a Scoby from your directions now, I have another week and a half, and now I have to try this! You are awesome!

  • Shango

    Fab post, Sayward! I have been experimenting with fizzy replacements for soda and so far have nuzzled up to aloe juice and Club Soda but this concoction sounds like it will top that. Great weekend experiment.

  • @tishushu

    All I can say is WHOA! Definitely trying this!

  • Meghan

    Ah. I just got confused by he FAQ which mention culturing kefir grains in goat milk. I will definitely ask if I decide to order some. I’ll poke around locally first.

  • Sayward

    @ Theresa – Yes! They do multiply, how quick depends on the conditions. It’s much slower growth than, say, a kombucha scoby.

    I’ve let Waits lick kombucha off my fingers. I wouldn’t give him like, a whole 8oz glass or anything, but I don’t worry abut him having it. For a 2.5 yo I think it’s totally fine . . . what was the concern you ran into on the internets?

    @ Neko – I know you already saw, but yeah – all ferments are going to have a little alcohol. It’s a very small amount but it’s totally up the the parents judgement and what they’re comfortable with!

    @ Shango – Ooh you should use the grains to ferment aloe juice! People do it with coconut water, I bet it would totally work in aloe too.

  • Meghan

    Oh! Question! Does it… taste good? I mean, I know that is totally subjective, but I just think kombucha is gross. I imagine it might be an acquired taste, but not one that I’m up to acquiring just yet!

  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – I think it’s really nice, especially after the second ferment. It’s *much* mellower than kombucha!

  • MaidenOregon

    What are you using to strain the kefir grains? You said no metal, so I was curious.

  • Meghan

    In case anyone who reads this later wonders, here is my response from The Kefir Lady:

    “Hi Meghan,

    My water grains are totally vegan.

    Water grains are in stock at present. You will get good instructions. Total cost is $20 cash only please, no checks. No need to prepay. All I need for now is your complete name and mailing address and I’ll confirm everything in the next e-mail.


  • Meghan

    Sorry for having another question, but if I boil my water to “clean” it, should I let it cool before using? I don’t want to kill my grains with too much heat!

  • Sayward

    @ MaidenOregon – I do the “fill with water, swoosh around, pour off, repeat” method. =)

    @ Meghan – Yes! Definitely let them cool down. =)

  • Meghan

    Oh! Yes! If I would have read the instructions more carefully I would have noticed that you already said that. Thanks!

  • Meghan

    Does one need to keep the fruit in the second ferment submerged as with pickles and sauerkraut?

    Sorry for all of the questions! At least you know I’m actually reading and doing stuff you suggest. ;-)

  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – I don’t worry about keeping it submerged, since it’s only for a few days. =)

    No worries about the questions! I’m so excited that you’ve got so many ferments going!

  • Meghan


    I just started the second ferment today. Last night (after 24 hours) I was bemoaning my non-fermenty kefir, because my raisins weren’t floating. I fretted and worried that I somehow killed them. But when I woke up, they were all afloatin’!

    The kefir seems a little more… viscous than I was expecting. Is some viscous-ness normal?

    With much trepidation I ate a raisin or two. Then my husband put a big handful in his mouth and was like “EUGH!!!!!! TASTES LIKE ROTTEN RAISINS! HERE PUT A BUNCH IN YOUR MOUTH!!” Uh… no. But I’ve been eating one out of the bowl I put them in every time I walk by. :-)

    You should put a link to this post at the bottom of the “Eat your beasties” post, where you have links to kraut, pickles, kombucha and yogurt.

  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – HA!

    As for viscous . . . mine never really changed consistency. But as long as it tastes and smells alright, I wouldn’t worry about it. Sometimes I do get little white ‘floaters’ that are sort of gelatinous. Could that be the same thing?

  • Meghan

    I dunno, there are no floaters, just pure homogeneous snot. My googling suggests that snotty kefir is not good, but I didn’t find any suggestions on how to fix it. So I emailed the Kefir Lady (I bought my grains from her) and she suggested rinsing the grains really well, then just letting the grains chill out in water + sugar for a while. She says NOT to use lemon with the grains (although I can add some after the grains are removed for flavor) because they can cause the grains to break down and/or die. Interesting!

  • Sandra

    I just got my first ferment done, and I’ve added pineapple for the second one now. I’m worried reading these comments because my raisins didn’t float to the top at all…

  • Meghan

    How long did you let the first ferment… Ferment?

  • DeniseC

    Sayward, I use pure, dark, organic maple syrup for making my water kefir and have for quite a while (after experimenting with sugars – evaporated cane, brown, muscovato(?), turbinado… – and finding I preferred the flavor of the maple syrup best). I do not put any lemon in them during the fermenting, and that may be the difference. Lemon juice is used as a preservative and for “cold cooking,” so I bet it may interfere a bit. Maybe the raisins give a sugar boost that offsets the lemon? I add the fruit(s) for the second ferment. I have recently discovered that kefir makes a yummy lemonade, especially when I have Meyer lemons. I just add fresh lemon juice and a tiny squirt of agave nectar and ice. Very refreshing!

  • Meghan

    Oooh, I may try maple syrup. Ever since the snot kefir fiasco I’ve actually just been feeding my grains new sugar water every week and otherwise ignoring them. So far none of the sugar water has turned to snot, so hopefully I’ll be brave enough to start using them soon.

    I suspect that lemon may bonk up the process during fermenting… The Kefir Lady advises against using it. I’m not sure if that was what caused my snot though. Incidentally, I tried fermenting some carrots this week, and they made snot too! My sauerkraut did not though. I don’t know what’s up.

  • DeniseC

    Meghan, I haven’t had the kefir “snot” so I’m not sure what that’s about, but rinsing the kefir grains, after pouring the kefir water into a new, clean jar, may help. And I use plastic lids on the mason jars, because no matter how careful I was, the lids would rust.

    Also, my grains grow wonderfully well, though a bit slower in the winter. So I end up with more grains than I need. I eat some (they are slightly sweet and have the texture of cooked grain) and put the rest in a mason jar with water (just to cover) and a bit of maple syrup or agave nectar. Then, later, I blend some into homemade salad dressing or a smoothie or homemade raw nut/seed cheese or raw sauce. I’ve also sprinkled some into a raw kale salad.

    I could not find a plastic mesh strainer to drain the kefir water (since grains should never touch metal). It took me a while to figure something out. I finally lit upon a plastic sprouting cap. It is made for mason jar sprouting so it works fine.

    I love water kefir. I hope it works out for you.

  • DeniseC

    I thought I might clarify how maple syrup works for me. I add a quarter of a cup (4 tablespoons) of maple syrup for a quart of water. I first add the syrup to about 1 cup of water and stir until it completely dissolves, then add more water and about 1/2 cup of kefir grains (put the extra from the last batch in water and into the frig to use in dressing or other as mentioned in last post). I fill the mason jar the rest of the way with water and screw on a plastic cap. Then I leave it in my kitchen for 48 hours wrapped in a towel to keep the light out. *I have two jars going at a time, since I first had such a surplus of kefir grains.) After 48 hours, I pour the kefir into a new clean jar, add some grapefruit juice, cap and let sit another 24 hours for a second ferment, more fizz and a lovely flavor. Then I may add some freshly grated ginger and set the kefir in the frig until I’m ready to drink some.

    I hope that helps.

  • Brandy

    Um… is it supposed to smell like beer??? lol

  • Sayward

    @ Brandy – Yes! A little bit “beer-y”, as it’s got that same fermented quality. And water kefir does have a wee bit (*very* wee) of alcohol in it.

  • Brandy

    k Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I kind of got my grains in the mail and didn’t open them for over a week because I was very sick but went ahead and did the first brew this weekend anyway. But… I think I prettymuch ruined them because they don’t look like yours and they kind of smelled like beer before I made them… ahhhhh

  • Sayward

    @ Brandy – Hmm, did they carbonate the water? If there were bubbles it means they’re still alive.

  • Brandy

    Yes it did. Should I just start over I kind of left it at the first stage for 4 days.. lol

  • DeniseC

    @ Brandy – I would start again. Also, you should end up with more kefir grains than when you started. Sometimes a little, sometimes it doubles (esp. in warmer weather). What to do with the extra? You can eat them (they’re pretty good), start making extra batches, blend them into dressing, dips, sauces, or smoothies, sprinkle into salads, or hopefully give some away to others interested in water kefir. Or, you can cover them with water and a bit of sweetener (not artificial or stevia) and keep them in fridge as back up or until you’re ready to blend them into something.

    Oh, I tried Sayward’s trick of using up the last of the __ butter in a jar. I put some quinoa flakes in my sunflower butter jar with water kefir and shook up really well and put it into the fridge last night, then ate it for breakfast this morning. It was pretty good. I’ll have to remember this trick from now on. And the water kefir took care of the phytic acid binding enzymes and minerals. Win win!

  • Sayward

    @ Brandy – You know, it’s tough for me to troubleshoot it without being able to see/smell it. I have to say just go go with your gut!

    @ DeniseC – Thanks for weighing in. You’re our resident kefir expert!

    And glad you liked the overnight “oats”. =)