I can’t believe I’ve been making water kefir for over eight years already! That’s a long time! It’s pretty funny to think about those first experiments with how to make water kefir and testing it out on my family.
I’ve changed my strategy a couple of times, and I wanted to make sure you had the fastest, easiest method for making this probiotic drink. (My water kefir grains are Cultures for Health brand, by the way, and have lasted for years!)
Watch me Make Water Kefir!
Here’s a video of how I make water kefir in 2 minutes or less:
If you can’t see the video above, click to see the how to make water kefir video on YouTube.
Video Notes on Making Water Kefir Quickly
I always include a few notes for those of you who don’t have time to watch videos (although this one is really short, just over 2 minutes):
- I used to use a bag to contain the “grains” and rinse it each time, but now I just pour off the finished kefir, leave the grains swimming (no strainer or rinsing) and add 1/8 – 1/4 c. sugar, some mineral drops, and de-chlorinated water.
- My Berkey takes the chlorine out; you can also just leave a jar of city water on the counter, uncovered, for 24 hours to let it evaporate OR boil it uncovered OR whiz it in a blender.
- I used to “season” it only with concentrated cherry juice (ours is this local brand from Traverse City, MI cherries) – now I alternate with organic lemon juice from Costco (this brand). It’s not that much for two large bottles, which last months each, and there are zero added ingredients. Some of us prefer the lemon, others the cherry, and some just like to switch it up. The cherry juice has the added benefit of a hefty dose of antioxidants.
- I do a “second ferment” on accident most of the time, since I leave the finished kefir on the counter and we don’t drink it all right away. That depletes the sugar content of the added juice even further. If you get swing top bottles, you can really get some fizz going! (Just add the juice, bottle it up, and leave for 24-48 hours on the countertop.) But they’re not required for success. Hint: I got mine for <$2 at ALDI because they were full of lemonade!
- You can use the kefir grains for a half gallon or a quart, either way.
- Traditional Cooking School’s Fundamentals and Fermentation eCourses also have lots of ideas for other flavors.
- I recommend buying water kefir grains from Cultures for Health.
- An important note: When you don’t want to make kefir for a few days or are going on vacation, you can “hold” the grains in a bit of fresh (non-chlorinated) sugar water in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. You could also put the finished kefir with the grains in it right into the fridge if you’re short on time to transfer grains.
My Early Water Kefir Experiments
The first time I made water kefir, I wasn’t totally sold.
It was ok, and I knew I could make myself drink it, but it wasn’t instant love. I was drinking it straight, on ice, with no other flavors! No wonder.
Once I started adding juice, we all liked it better, especially my kiddos. But not my husband…
I even tried making some water kefir with his favorite (at the time) Powerade. I thought I killed half of my kefir grains doing it too. They turned fluorescent yellow, yikes!
I asked guests to my house to try it, too, and got reactions like, “It smells terrible, but it doesn’t taste too bad,” and, “It’s not something I would order on purpose!”
That being said, many “healthy foods” take some getting used to. Shucks, a lot of people make themselves get used to things like beer and coffee after despising their first taste, so why not water kefir? It didn’t take too long to grow on me…
A Little Background on Kefir
Water kefir and milk kefir are both probiotic beverages, fermented drinks that deliver healthy bacteria to your system.
Kefir has quite a few more strains of probiotics than yogurt, which makes it a powerful tool for immune-boosting and digestive health.
As it turns out, water kefir has a similar arsenal:
- 32 strains of bacteria from 5 different species
- 12 kinds of yeast from 5 different species
You can see a list of all of them HERE…Try fitting THAT on the side of a yogurt container!
A lot of people ask me, voices literally dripping with curiosity, “But what IS water kefir? What are “grains?”
Here’s the explanation from Cultures for Health:
Originating in Mexico, water kefir grains (also known as Sugar Kefir Grains) allow for the fermentation of sugar water or juice to create a carbonated lacto-fermented beverage.
I usually say, “It’s fermented water,” which gets me more quizzical looks. I have to add:
“I add sugar to the water, which gives the bacteria something to consume, and they ferment the water by adding good probiotics. Then I can flavor it with juice.
It’s super easy – quicker than Kool-Aid!”
Health Benefits of Water Kefir
Ultimately, no matter how easy it is, WHY bother making kefir in the first place?
For us, it’s a way to offer choices other than “water or milk?” for our kids at mealtimes. Besides that, there are a lot of health benefits to water kefir source:
- probiotics – more than yogurt
- active yeast – which yogurt does not have and balances the system similarly to probiotics
- B vitamins
- folic acid
- may boost immunities
- may improve digestion
As far as “why are they called GRAINS,” I don’t know the answer, but they have nothing to do with grain, the food group, like wheat, oats, etc. The little globules are colonies of yeasts and bacteria. When I call them “the little guys” my friends kind of laugh uncomfortably, since it sounds like I am keeping pets in the kitchen.
And I am, sort of. I feed them, they feed us!
Refined vs. Unrefined Sugar
In general, the less processed the sugar, the more fizz you’ll get. I bit the bullet and purchased my first “evaporated cane sugar” (that’s just organic white sugar) and “palm sugar” when I was learning to make kefir.
It felt like a serious commitment: whereas I could get 5 lbs. of white sugar for $2, this stuff was $3 and $5+ for a pound, respectively. Yikes.
But when I opened my first jug of kefir made with the unrefined sugar: “Psssssst!” It had some serious carbonation! The fizz is a LOT closer to soda pop. Admittedly, that’s pretty fun!
I’m not exactly sure how much of the sugar remains in kefir after a first or second ferment. Some say only 20% of what you put in, maybe even less – still more sugar than I’d consume in plain water, but a very tiny amount overall. The longer you ferment, the less sugar is left.
When I first started making kefir, I learned quickly that juice is the best (easiest, quickest) option.
A few people said that they put a cup of blueberry pomegranate juice in a quart of kefir. I thought, “I’ll never buy blueberry pomegranate juice. It sounds exotic and expensive.” Then I ran into some at Meijer. It WAS expensive, but it was on clearance, so I sprang for it. Nowadays though, I usually use lemon juice or cherry concentrate (expensive but lasts a long time; I only use 1-2 Tbs. per quart of kefir).
Other Ways to “Flavor” Water Kefir
If you don’t want to buy juice, you can also use whole foods to flavor the kefir. For all these options, add them in after the first ferment, then strain out after a day or two.
- sliced fresh ginger
- fresh strawberries
- fresh mint
- …really, just about any fresh or dried fruit you can think of! Chop it up so that it can infuse into the liquid most effectively.
One reader recommended this long ago (for a 1/2 gallon):
- 1/2 lemon (peeled if not organic, cut into chunks)
- 2 Tbs. raisins
- about 2-4 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger (not exactly sure of amount)
- about 4 fresh apple mint leaves
I just don’t take a lot of time bothering to flavor mine, but apparently this tastes a bit like ginger ale.
Getting Into a Rhythm With Water Kefir
Something I learned early on was to get a simple rhythm set up in my day somewhere since kefir needs attention every day in some way or another. It’s short attention, but needed daily.
This was my routine when I first got started:
- Leave a quart of water out overnight to let the chlorine evaporate. (I have city water.) You could also whiz it in a blender or boil it, but I’m all about lazy.
- Add 1/4 cup sugar to the water, cap and shake until dissolved. (Again, you can use a bit of boiling water to dissolve the sugar, then add it to room temp water, but I choose simplicity.) Sometimes I have to shake, then wait, then shake, but I’m always doing something else in the kitchen, so no big deal.
- Put kefir grains into the jar. If you can get a muslin bag to hold your grains, it is so much less work when it’s time to take them out.
- Cover with something breathable: I use a coffee filter, but you could use cheesecloth or a cloth napkin or thin washcloth. Secure with a rubber band, or the ring of a canning jar.
- Leave at room temperature for 24-48 hours.
- The pic is my lineup, circa 2009!
Your Water Kefir Calendar
Copy this out if it helps you:
- Day one: pour a jar of water (to give the chlorine time to evaporate)
- Day two: add sugar and kefir grains, pour a new jar of water
- Day four: move kefir grains to new sugar water, cap finished kefir, pour a new jar
- Day five: move finished kefir to fridge (if there’s any left!)
- Day six: repeat day four and so on!
I would recommend keeping a little checklist of the dates you start and finish the kefir. It starts to get confusing as to when the stuff is done!
Nowadays, I just have one jar as shown in the video, but it’s always good to see where I started! For example, here are our early reactions about whether water kefir would be a decent substitute for soda pop.
Your Turn to Get Started!
You can reuse the grains indefinitely, so in the long run, this is a pretty frugal investment and really stretches the juice, if your family drinks juice with breakfast anyway.
As part of a detox diet, pair kefir with bone broth for super duper health benefits.
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