So, making your own water kefir can all seem a bit daunting - like it's some kind of exclusive club?
Well, fortunately the process is actually really easy, and there are lots of places and people out there full of information! Not only that, you're getting your own fantastic and refreshing probiotic drink for a fraction of the price of buying expensive little bottles of drinking yoghurt full of additives.
As I happily share my surplus grains (when I can find people to share them with, living in the UK!), I've just put together this little post to help those starting out with live grains - once you get going, you'll find it's simple and you just need to drain the kefir water from your grains once every day or two (depending on the ratio of grains to water and sugar and the temperature of where they're stored) - you can tell when the kefir water is ready, as it no longer tastes sweet.
So, first things first - what equipment do you need, and which ingredients?
A large jar for the first ferment (at least 1.5 litres is good, doesn't need a lid)
Something to cover the jar e.g. a loose lid which isn't air tight, or some muslin cloth and something to tie it on with (I use a kilner jar without the orange rubber seal in it)
A non-metallic sieve
A large jug (or two smaller jugs)
Bottles to keep your kefir water in, and for secondary fermentation (I use the 2 litre bottles from the spring water that I buy, or you can use glass bottles - e.g. the ones with metal mechanisms holding on lids with rubber seals underneath)
Optional funnels if you want to make it easier getting the kefir water from the jug into the bottle, and also, getting sugar or other ingredients into the bottle for a secondary fermentation
Water kefir grains (live), at least 35g
Un-chlorinated water (I use bottled spring water - if your tap water is chlorinated you can filter or boil it to remove the chlorine - you can also use coconut water, but I've never tried. More information on water sources here)Sugar (you can use refined white sugar, but sugar with a medium to high mineral content is best, such as rapadura which I use, brown sugar [which is white sugar with the molasses added back] or less so, raw sugar e.g. golden caster/granulated sugar which has a medium mineral content as compared with rapadura or brown sugar - don't use honey as it will inhibit fermentation and has its own bacteria which can compete with the kefir, and coconut palm sugar and maple syrup/sugar can damage the grains. Molasses can be added to the water kefir in very small quantities, for minerals, but not as the main sugar source. Don't use sweeteners - your kefir grains may show a preference for certain sugars - and may even change their tastes at times!)
Optional, but strongly recommended
Organic lemon (half a lemon for each batch to lower the ph which helps prevent contaminants - especially with new grains)
Root ginger (one or two peeled 0.5cm slices for each batch - some kefir grains are apparently relatives of ginger bugs)
Dried, unsulphured fruit (for minerals and micro-nutrients e.g. for each batch, 1 dried fig, or 2 dried apricots, or 2 dried dates - I only ever used raisins once as they were a pain to pick out! Don't use berries or citrus.)
Before you take my method as gospel, remember that kefir grains can all be quite different, and have different 'tastes' in terms of their preferred environment, and that a sugar solution of 3-10% is generally what they like. I start mine off a tiny bit sweeter for the first couple of 'feeds' to make sure they're well nourished, then gradually diminish the sugar to water ratio (by increasing the water and keeping the sugar the same), and they seem very happy with this based on the rate of their growth!
Also, in the summer and warm environments, kefir water may be ready on a daily basis, whereas when the temperature is cooler, it will more likely be every two days. The first ferment is ready when the sweetness has gone, but you don't want it to turn vinegary.
I will put my own tips below, as well as links that you might find useful. I put my kefir into the bottles for a second ferment for a couple of days with a couple of rounded teaspoons of rapadura, which results in a lovely fizzy drink - but you can drink it quite happily after the first ferment. You can also flavour your second ferment with all sorts of things such as berries and citrus fruits, and I'll provide links for those too, but we quite like the taste of it as it is - quite dry, with a little gingery hit and notes of lemon, very refreshing!
So, without further ado, you've just received your new kefir grains, and your equipment is all clean and ready to go, and you have water without chlorine in it (all references to water from now on, refer to water without chlorine)...
1. Dissolve 70g rapadura or brown/raw/golden sugar in 100ml hot water (I microwave for 1 minute in a large mug with cold spring water, then stir).
2. Add 400ml/g* cold water to your jar and stir in, leaving to cool to under 26C - not necessary once adding more water (*600ml+ after first two feeds).
3. Rinse and pat dry your lemon and dried fruit, and peel your ginger. Add 1/2 lemon (don't squeeze it at all), a dried fig (or two apricots/dates) and a thick slice of ginger (1/2cm) to the sugar water - make sure your lemon is floating cut side down.
4. Put your kefir grains into a non-metallic sieve, and rinse with some non-chlorinated water, then tip them into your sugar water - keep metal implements away from the grains, only use plastic or silicone spoons etc. if you need to.
5. Cover the jar with a loose fitting lid (e.g. kilner jar lid without the seal), or some muslin cloth to allow air to escape but prevent anything getting into your kefir water and place out of direct sunlight into a warm-ish spot - the airing cupboard is perfect in cold weather (18-28C is the best range - not over 30C). Go to step 8 if this is not your first feed.
6. After 24 hours, drain the kefir water grains and set aside and remove the fruit and ginger (I discard the kefir water, lemon, ginger and dried fruit from the first feed). That is the first feed completed.
7. Repeat the exact same process from steps 1 to 5, except this time you don't need to rinse the kefir grains, and you can leave it for up to 48 hours. If it looks like it's being active (e.g. a few air bubbles may be released if the jar is tapped or moved, or grains dancing around) then feel free to have a little taste with a plastic spoon and see whether the sweetness has mostly gone to leave you with a very mildly sweet, sour/dry and very slightly bubbly drink with a hint of citrus and ginger.
8. All things being well, you have kefir water! Set your plastic sieve over a large plastic jug (you could use a non-metallic bowl or dish, but more difficult to transfer to bottles) and drain the contents of your jar through it, discarding the ginger and fruit (then see step 10 for what to do with the grains next). If you want to, weigh your kefir grains now, and from time to time, to check that they're growing - although it may be so obvious that you don't need to! Pour the contents of the jug into a clean bottle, leaving it around 1/4 empty to allow for further fermentation.
9. At this point, you can either refrigerate ready for drinking, or if you want a nice fizz to your kefir water and a bit more flavour, you can add some kind of sugar or fruit (see Tips), and set back into the warmish place for another 24-48 hours. I add 2 rounded tsp of rapadura to mine and give it a quick, gentle swill before putting it back into the airing cupboard with the next batch of kefir water - and I just repeat this process every two days. You may wish to 'burp' your bottles after 24 hours to avoid the pressure building up too much, especially if you're using glass bottles, and then burp again after 48 hours before refrigerating.
10. For the third feed (and onwards) repeat steps 1 to 5 again but this time with 600ml water instead of 400ml, keeping the other ingredient quantities the same. Again, there's no need to rinse the grains from now on, and then after 24-48 hours (depending on taste - it's 48 hours for me) repeat the process of draining and bottling the water in step 8 etc. you can now add a little more water each time - say 100ml, up until you get to a maximum of adding 2.2 litres (whereby the 70g sugar is diluted to a 3% solution, if you include the 100ml you dissolve it in) - although keep an eye / taste on how your grains feel about the reduced sugar as you go - they will also be growing during this time! Don't fill your jar more than 3/4 full for the first ferment, and if your kefir starts to taste sour, then it's time to lose a few grains - you can give them away, blend them up in smoothies, give them to your chickens, or just discard them if you have no other use for them.
Water kefir does contain tiny amounts of alcohol after fermenting. It is suggested that it is typically around 0.08% after a 48 hour ferment (so negligible) and if it is then put into airtight bottles for a secondary ferment for a couple of days (as described above) it is suggested that it can be up to 2-3%.
Bottles of water kefir that have been strained, and then stored in the fridge are best drunk within two weeks - although they should still be fit to drink in a couple of months, although they may be more sour and acidic and have a higher alcohol content.
For more information and FAQs about water kefir, its health benefits and much more, click here for a really good resource.
For information about storing, both short and long term (it is best to dry grains for long term storage, but not necessarily in a dehydrator), and rehydrating / reviving grains, have a look here. For short term storage, grains can be put into a fresh sugar solution and stored in the fridge for up to a week or so. When your grains have multiplied enough to have some spare, it's a good idea to dehydrate some, and refrigerate some in an airtight container for a 'back-up'.
Flavouring second ferment kefir water (after you've drained it from the grains and bottled it) is where you can let your imagination go wild! As I mentioned above, I mostly just add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to the second ferment, but you can add some fruit juice into the second ferment bottles, a good extra squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or some berries, chopped up fruit, dried fruit, extra ginger, fresh herbs or aromatics, some strongly brewed, cooled herbal tea (e.g. chamomile, nettle, mint) or whatever it is you fancy! Just remember to only add them to the strained kefir water in your secondary ferment (in bottles etc.), give them a day or two to develop the flavour and don't add them to the first ferment with the grains in it. There are some nice ideas here if you can't think where to start - otherwise just use the great Google and search for water kefir recipes.
Where can I get some?
The couple of batches I have bought this year and last were both from 'Happy Kombucha' who sell grains both through their own site, and via Amazon (UK), and they were both very healthy and increased by about ten times their weight in a week, so I am happy to recommend them as a supplier (they send you around 35-40g). If I have any spare grains, I am happy to share them for the price of the postage and packing being covered, and will send around 75g to you if you're in the UK (they don't want to spend too long in the mail without being fed), just use the contact form on the right of this site to get in touch.