December 15, 2011

Brewing Water Kefir, part 1

This recipe is divided into 2 parts because I normally brew my water kefir twice. In this part, I will talk about what water kefir is, how to get started and how to brew a batch of “fresh or raw” water kefir. The second part will talk about recipes for mixing and bottling water kefir to create home-made fruit sodas.

What is water kefir? If you do an Internet search for “water kefir” many detailed articles will come up so I will keep it simple: water kefir is a probiotic drink (think good microbes for your gut) that is fermented in a pitcher or jar on your counter or in a cupboard. There are 2 types of kefir, actually: dairy kefir and water kefir. I will talk only about water kefir.

Do I really want to make water kefir?

You should ask yourself this question before spending any money even though water kefir is really cheap to make. I thoroughly enjoy the daily routine of bottling water kefir and starting another batch, but it’s a commitment. You know, when you get a puppy you have to walk it e v e r y  d a y. Well, with water kefir you need to do the daily routine of feeding the kefir grains. Once every great while you can rest the grains in the fridge, but 95% of the time you need to rinse and feed them.

How can I get started brewing water kefir? If you don’t know anyone who makes water kefir (they’ll frequently have spare microbes they can share) you can purchase some of the microbes (commonly called water kefir “grains”) online. You’ll need to assemble some ingredients and supplies, many of which you already have, including some sugar—I use organic unrefined whole cane sugar from Rapunzel. The sugar is for the microbes, not you!

  • Sugar (different people use different types but I stick with the least processed, most complete type called rapadura
  • Water kefir grains
  • Baking soda
  • Bone meal or egg shell (cleaned)
  • Salt
  • Fresh lemon
  • Organic unsulphured/unsweetened raisins
  • Unsulphured/unsweetened fresh or dehydrated figs
  • Non-chlorinated water with normal minerals (don’t use city water or distilled; use well water, spring water, etc.)
  • a glass 2-qt pitcher, fairly wide-mouthed
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • Cheesecloth, a piece large enough to make a 2-layer piece about a foot long
  • A large strainer, either plastic or stainless steel
  • 2 glass 2-cup measuring cups
  • 1 tbsp plastic or stainless steel measuring spoon
  • Wooden spoon
  • Coffee filter, rubber band

Note: The items that I said “2 of” are for convenience and you could get by with only one.

How do I start drinking water kefir?

The recipe below will make 4 cups of water kefir, which is as much as a typical starter set of water kefir grains (several tbsp) can produce. Be prepared for the first few batches to be weak or sour as your kefir grains adjust to your home's water and temperature.

You can taste the water kefir at all steps at any time during fermentation; it will be sweet at first, because it’s just sugar water, then it will become less and less sweet as the microbes eat the sugar. At first just taste a tablespoon or so once or twice per day. Let your GI tract get used to the good microbes you are introducing.  When the kefir is done (not too sweet, not too sour) you should plan to toss the first batch or two—NOT the kefir grains, just the strained liquid--after drinking your small amount.

By the third batch, you should notice that it’s tasting better. That will be because your kefir grains are settling in and you are getting used to the taste. Gradually increase how much you drink every day. With luck, your kefir grains are now multiplying and you can increase to 6 cups of sugar solution if desired. Just remember, 1 tbsp of sugar for each cup of water.

I drink 2-5 cups of water kefir every day, but I took 2 weeks or so to build up to that amount and you  may  need more or less time to become fully accustomed to this new beverage.

How do I make a batch of water kefir? Okay, let’s go!

Kefir Grains
Fruit for Fermentation
  1. Measure out one or more cups of water based on desired amount of kefir. Again, this should NOT be chlorinated or distilled; you need well or spring water.
  2. Add one tablespoon of the Rapunzel sugar for EACH cup of water you will have in the pitcher; for the first batch, start with 4 tbsp (you can use any type of sugar, but if you  use refined sugar you need to add some blackstrap molasses—check online for recipes using other sugars.)
  3. Heat a little of the water (a cup or less) and the measured sugar just hot enough to dissolve the sugar. While it’s heating, put the rest of the cool water into a mixing bowl.
  4. Stir the heated water and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour it into the bowl of cool water. The bowl of solution should barely feel warm,  about room temperature. If it's too warm, just let it sit and cool a while.
  5. Add tiny pinches of the salt, baking soda and bone-meal/egg-shell into the sugar water that’s still in the mixing bowl.
  6. Remove your kefir grains from the container or storage liquid and rinse them with cool clean water (not part of your brewing liquid, and again it can’t be chlorinated.) Put them into the glass pitcher you’ll use to brew the water kefir.
  7. Pour the pleasantly cool sugar water into the pitcher.
  8. The fig, ¼ fresh lemon (well scrubbed on the outside) and 6-8 golden raisins should be tied up in the cheesecloth. You don’t have to use the cheesecloth but it makes it much easier to discard the used fruit later; without it, you’ll be picking the raisins out of the kefir grains. The lemon is important because it adds acid to the brewing solution.
  9. Drop the cheesecloth sack into the pitcher.
  10. Put a coffee filter or two over the mouth of the pitcher and hold in place with a rubber band. Put the pitcher on the counter where it won’t get direct sun or in a cupboard.
Brand New Brew Solution

That’s it! If you’re around, stir it occasionally with the wooden spoon. Check the brew after about 24 hours. If it no longer tastes sugary sweet and the color of the liquid is much lighter (with my whole sugar, it goes from dark brown to honey color) the batch is done. The longer you let it brew the more tart it will get. If it’s not done, you can let it brew up to 48 hours but with the first batch or two plan to prepare new sugar water (steps 1-5 above) after 24 hours because you are trying to encourage the grains to grow.

Strain the water kefir you're going to drink or store into a cup or container. Any liquid you're not going to keep can be strained into the sink. Rinse your kefir grains--now in the strainer--in cool, clean non-chlorinated water and put them in the new liquid and also rinse your pitcher out. 
Ready to Strain and Drink/Flavor

Freshly Strained Water Kefir--Good!
If your grains multiply, you will reach a point where you need to make more water kefir at a time OR you will need to throw some of the grains away--or give them to friends and family. It's good if they grow as it means they're happy and probably making terrific water kefir!

Please note that water kefir grains can starve if left too long after all the sugar is gone from the brewing water. My water kefir has always been ready after 24 hours. Don't put too many grains in the sugar water or they'll run out of food and could starve.

If you want to bottle the water kefir you can, but I recommend you just sample and toss the first two batches because you’re only drinking small quantities per day anyway. I normally use the bag of fruit at least twice before discarding it, rinsing the cheesecloth in non-chlorinated water and putting new fruit in it.

Fresh water kefir from the first brewing cycle (not yet flavored or carbonated) is not particularly sweet or fruity, although I enjoy about 1/2 cup of it in the morning. It is somewhat like apple cider if you're off sugar, more like vinegar if you're adapted to a high-sugar diet. It is, of course, teeming with the good bugs for your gut.

In part 2, we’ll add flavor and seal the water kefir in an airtight bottle or container so it becomes carbonated. If you don't want to add anything for flavor, just seal it loosely if you don't want bubbles and tightly if you do.

Important: If you put water kefir into an airtight bottle or jar, it should be "burped" once or twice a day to release carbon dioxide. After a day or so, put it in the fridge for a day or two and the fermentation will slow down so you can stop worrying about pressure but always open water kefir slowly and move the top carefully in case it's very fizzy.

Resources: I recommend you check out Basic Water Kefir Instructions and this  YouTube video


  1. Hi Nance,

    Awesome post! I followed it almost literally, couldn't find a good source of raisins and couldn't find a cheescloth though.

    Unfortunately, I've been waiting for 24 hours, I tasted my first batch, and it's still very sweet... Could the kefir grains be dead or something?



  2. Hi, Korion, welcome! If you've been off sweeteners for a while, fresh water kefir will taste sweet to you (and like vinegar to people on SAD.)

    If these are new grains, it will take 2 maybe 3 batches for the grains to acclimate and become fully operational. So don't worry, toss this batch of water kefir and run the cycle again. Again, you want it to be a much lighter honey color when done. I'm in a warm climate so that takes no more than 24 hours but if it's cool where you are it could take 48 hours.

    If the color has changed to a much lighter one and there are a few bubbles and kefir grains on the surface it's perfect. In fact, if you're off sweeteners it's not good if your water kefir tastes sour. It should only be sour in comparison to sugary drinks.

    Other signs that everything's fine are if your grains looking larger or if you have more than you started with. I'm currently making small batches so I add only a heaping tablespoon of grains to a cup of water plus the sugar and fruit. A day later I have about 3 tbsp of grains and have to discard some or make a larger batch.

  3. Hi Nance! I got some water kefir grains today - dehydrated - so now I am hydrating them. So if i get this right, the ratio should be:
    1 tbsp kefir grains
    1 tbsp sugar
    1 cup water

    then you add the lemon and dried fruit, eggshell, soda and salt (all to feed the microbes). So if I had a big jar I could do 6c water, 6T grains, 6T sugar.

    What fun. I don't have a lemon, do you think it's necessary for the re-hydrating phase? One video said you have to leave them for 3-5 days to rehydrate in a sugar solution, so that's what I'm doing. But I can go buy a lemon and add it to the jar if it's important.

  4. Hi, Gydle! Happy Saturday morning to ya!

    You have the ratios perfect. On the lemon, it helps offset the soda and eggshell by adding some acid. I don't know just how urgent it is, but I'd add some lemon as soon as possible.

    I started with live grains, so I'm no expert on rehydration. If the place you have the jar is warm I'd taste your liquid daily to make sure it's still sweet, though. Personally, I'd rather make new solution I don't need than risk letting the grains get hungry.

    Have fun with it! My friends talk about my "still" as in moonshine, but I call the grains my "counter pets" or "kefir kids." Regards, Nance

  5. Thanks Nance.

    I had a lime, so I peeled it (it wasn't organic) and put half in. It's fizzing away, and getting less sweet, but it still tastes a bit sweet so I think I'll wait until morning to change it out.

    I love fermenting stuff on the counter. I have milk kefir going in one jar and now the water kefir in another. I feel like a mad chemist. I may just have to blog about this one of these days. :)

    Thanks for the advice.

  6. I wrote up my "adventures in fermentation" on my blog. THanks for your advice!

    - Gydle

  7. Thanks for this, Nance. I've bookmarked this page, as I plan to make it very soon.

    Gut health is my number one priority.