All things Water Kefir
Updated: Feb 25
The wonderful world of fermented foods has to include the super-simple, yet slightly mysterious kefir grains. Kefir grains are not actual grains but symbiotic clusters of microbes. Commonly used are two different varieties; one feeds on sucrose sugar added to water, the other on lactose sugar naturally found in dairy milk.
Placed in either the sugared-water or the milk for 24 hours, the grains feed on the sugars and start to ferment the liquid. Both water and dairy kefir provide an array of beneficial microbes from their fermentation process yet, due to the substrate they're feeding on, the end results taste and look completely different.
We'll start with water kefir. Loved by those that cannot tolerate or choose not to consume dairy produce, water kefir lends itself to so many different flavours. In fact you can get super -creative and add fruits, spices, herbs and even botanicals such as flower petals like calendula and rose for a deliciously delicate fizzy flavour.
Ok so how do I make water kefir? First you'll need to source yourself some healthy grains. We often have them to give away at our nutrition and yoga workshops, but other options would be to order from kefirgrains.ie, the fabulous Caroline at EveryGoodThing or look to see if there is a local Facebook group where you can swap fermentation cultures and ideas.
Next you'll need a decent sized, clean jar and a piece of muslin cloth with a rubber band. You could also invest in a Kefirko jar and lid which removes the need for a muslin cloth, rubber band and seive.
Step 1. Pour 500ml of filtered or tap water into the clean jar.
Step 2. Add 2 tblsp of demerara sugar to the water and stir till dissolved.
Step 3. Add 2 tblsp of water kefir grains to the sugared water.
Step 4. Secure muslin cloth on the jar with rubber band and place somewhere at room temperature, out of direct sunlight for 24 hours.
Step 5. After this time you should be able to see bubbles rise from the grains in the water- this is a good sign and means fermentation is taking place. Now strain the water kefir into a glass bottle, leaving the grains in the plastic sieve. Your water kefir is ready to drink and your grains are ready for their fresh batch of sugared water.
The fun-with-flavour can now begin if you wish to add so to your water kefir- this is called a second fermentation. If you are new to kefir, start with a simple addition such as chopped fruit or fruit juice- maybe some berries or some orange juice. Add your chosen flavour mode to the water kefir in its bottle and close the lid. Leave on your kitchen counter for a further 12-24 hours for the flavours to infuse. Your water kefir will also likely increase in carbonation (more fizz!) After this it is definitely ready to drink or you can keep it chilled in the fridge.
Once you get confident with making water kefir and would like to try different flavours, you can get as creative and imaginative as you like. Try adding herbs to fruit combinations such as thyme or basil and strawberry, mint and lemon, cardamom and orange or edible flowers such as rose, calendula and borage.
Trouble shooting if you find your water kefir is flat still after 24 hours in sugared water and or the grains aren't growing in size and quantity, you may need to consider what else it needs.
Colder temperatures can slow fermentation. I find making water kefir in the winter months takes at least an extra 12-24 hours, and so I keep it just next to the stove.
Is the ratio of grains to sugar to water correct? Grains that aren't in enough sugared water will not thrive. They need enough sugar substrate to grow healthy and multiply to ferment.
Water kefir grains also require some minerals. This depends on the water where you live and that you are using. For some people tap water works great, for others its filtered water. In each case, if the kefir grains are small and not growing well it may be a sign they need some extra minerals. My preferred method is to add a washed out egg shell! You could also add a little molasses or coconut sugar, a few raisins or dried apricots or even a pinch of sea salt to the water. Experiment with what you have and take note of how happy your kefir grains are.