You will need:
1) Heat one cup of the water. Put it in the jar and stir in the sugar until thoroughly dissolved. Add the rest of the water and stir again.
2) Add the Water Kefir grains to the sugar water. Cover & secure with elastic band. Allow to culture at room temp (68 to 78 degrees is ideal). Choose a draft-free spot, away from direct sunlight, where the jar won’t be disturbed. Dehydrated grains will take 3 to 5 days to rehydrate, live grains will be ready in 2 days.
3) When the dehydrated grains are plump & translucent, they are ready to make Water Kefir. Strain the grains from the liquid, using a plastic strainer. The first batch may have an off flavor when rehydrating- if so, it can be discarded.
4) For your next batch of Water Kefir, put the grains into fresh sugar water, following the same instructions. Let culture for 2 days. Longer culture times make a more sour product, shorter times make a sweeter product. As your grains increase in volume, you can move up to a larger container. Just use the same ratios: 1/4 c. sugar per quart. The more grains in the jar, the faster it will ferment.
There are many ways to flavor and use your Water Kefir. Check out our instructions for a Second Fermentation.
Download instructions here.
What Is It?
Water Kefir grains, aka “Tibicos”, are gelatinous, crystal-like globs of beneficial bacteria and yeast contained in a polysaccharide biofilm matrix (say that five times fast;). Although they are called “grains”, they aren’t really so. They grow in sugar water, and turn into a wonderfully bubbly probiotic beverage. Water Kefir is gaining popularity next to it’s distant cousin, Kombucha. It has a sweeter, milder, less vinegary flavor than Kombucha, and is a bit more palatable for children and folks who don’t enjoy Kombucha. It’s also a quicker fermentation process- only 48 hours. It’s basically probiotic soda pop!
The beneficial bacteria and yeast in the Water Kefir grains eat the sugars, converting the glucose to glucuronic and other acids, thus reducing the end sugar content. This fermentation process produces beneficial bacteria, yeasts, and acids, along with enzymes, B and K vitamins. Water Kefir typically contains a variety of good bacteria, including: lactobacillus, streptococcus, pediococcus, bacillus, acetobacter and leuconostoc. The beneficial yeasts associated are saccharomyces, zygotorulaspora florentina, lachancea, hanseniaspora and others. All of these wonderful byproducts help to get your gut in proper working order by balancing your internal flora and improving digestion. This in turn helps your overall health- by assisting your immune system, metabolism, and suppressing pathogens. Water Kefir is a great option for those avoiding dairy that still want to incorporate healthy bacteria into their diets. When first introducing it to your regimen, start slowly, with a small amount each day. It can initially have a bit of a diuretic effect, as the good stuff starts to populate your gut, evicting toxins on the way. Increase quantities as your body adjusts. Eventually your gut will begin to crave it!
Water Kefir is found worldwide, using many different names. No two cultures are exactly alike, much like we humans. Exact content of bacteria and yeast vary according to geographical areas, methods, etc. Some scientists believe that Tibicos originally formed on the pads of a specific cactus found in Mexico. These hard granules were discovered and rehydrated in sugar water, then cultivated and reproduced.
Water Kefir is starting to pop up on store shelves, but it is not always ideal. While convenient, and better than not having any at all, it is not always made with true live grains. Sometimes other bacteria and yeast are used to mimic the flavor of genuine water kefir, or some of the finished product is used for culturing instead of the actual grains. This results in a much lower bacterial content. Store bought kefir is also usually pasteurized to allow for longer shelf life which- you guessed it- kills the good stuff.
Making your own Water Kefir is fairly simple. Begin with your starter culture and ingredients. If you don’t have access to live grains, dehydrated grains work equally well. They just need to be rehydrated, which is easily done. Fresh, hydrated grains are then added to sugar water. Opt for water that is chlorine and fluoride-free, ideally with a higher mineral content. Do not use distilled water, as all of the minerals have been removed. Spring water is excellent, or you can allow tap water to “off gas” (fill a container and let it sit at room temperature, covered with a coffee filter or towel, for about 24 hours. This dissipates the chemicals through evaporation). As for sugar- the least processed, the better. Cane sugar is most appealing, creating a lighter, clearer, more easily-flavored beverage. But less refined sugars (rapadura, turbinado, sucanat) contain more minerals (which help the grains thrive) and add a more molasses-like flavor. A combination of sugars can also be used, to add minerals but make a lighter product. Do not use artificial sweeteners such as stevia or sucralose. Also, do not use agave or honey. If you feel your kefir is mineral deficient, unsulphured dried fruits (such as raisins or figs) can be added, or a liquid mineral supplement is available to boost your mineral content. We also don’t recommend growing the grains directly in juice, unless you have enough excess grains for experimentation. Juices will eventually begin to break down your grains.
Heat a small amount of your water, and mix with the sugar in a jar until thoroughly dissolved. Then add the rest of your water, and stir again. When safely at room temperature, add your Water Kefir grains. Cover with a coffee filter, or other breathable lid, and secure with a rubber band. Allow to culture at room temperature. 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, but they’re fairly tolerant and will accept temperatures a bit higher or lower.
If your house tends to run cool, think of a place that might be a tad warmer. A “micro climate”- maybe on top of your refrigerator or near another appliance, or wrapped with a towel.
With fresh grains, it will take 48 hours- give or take, to your taste. If rehydrating, the process will take a bit longer- between 3 and 5 days. It is ready when it no longer tastes like plain sugar water, is bubbly, has a pleasantly yeasty smell, and a slightly sweet-tart flavor. The longer you let it culture, the more sugar will have fermented out, and the more good bacteria will develop.
When it is to your liking, remove the grains by straining them through a plastic strainer and reserving the finished product. Do not use metal when working with cultures, as it will interfere with the bacteria.
These grains are reusable, and with the right care, will continue to make kefir for years to come. Over time, your grains usually will multiply. If you find that you’ve got too many, share with a friend, or grind them up in your smoothies for a real blast of probiotics. You can even use the grains or finished product to jump-start your vegetable ferments!
After straining the grains out, make fresh sugar water and add them to it, repeating the process for your next batch. The finished Water Kefir can then be enjoyed as is or flavored to your liking. It can be mixed with juice, tea, or flavored with a second fermentation.
Taking a Break
If you go on vacation and can’t find a sitter, or feel you need a break from making Water Kefir, you can put the grains in fresh sugar water and refrigerate. This will slow down the fermentation process and kind of put them to sleep. Don’t leave them refrigerated for too long, though- remember that they’re living organisms and eventually will need to be fed! When you bring them back out, put them in fresh sugar water. It may take a couple of batches for them to wake up fully, and for the kefir to get back to the right taste.
With a second fermentation, you will add fresh fruit (washed and cut into pieces), ginger, herbs, juice, or any combination of the above. You’re only limited by your imagination! Seal tightly with a canning jar lid and ring, or other airtight seal. Then allow to ferment for another day or two at room temperature. But be careful- these contents can become explosive! Make sure that the container you are using is made of strong, durable glass to prevent shattering. Consider draping a towel over your jar, and placing it strategically in case of an eruption.
Basically what’s happening is this: the addition of more sugars (fruit, etc.) jump-starts the fermentation process again, giving off carbon dioxide gases. These gases are trapped by the tight seal, producing natural carbonation while infusing flavor into your kefir. Keep an eye on your jar. If you see any buckling of the lid, loosen it a tad to allow some of the gases to escape. Once you feel your flavored Water Kefir is ready, refrigerate to slow the fermentation process. The finished kefir will keep for a long time if refrigerated.
If you haven’t yet tried this delicious beverage, please do- you won’t be sorry!