Water Kefir: Probiotics that Taste Like Fruity Soda

100_3775I had never heard of water kefir until Christmas of 2012. My sister-in-law introduced me to it, and it has become a much-loved staple in our house.

Water kefir is a probiotic drink. Basically, fermented sugar water. What’s so great about probiotics? According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, “clinical studies have established that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women. …Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.”

Water kefir is a tasty way to add probiotics to your diet. And it’s even cheap to make. Way less expensive than yogurt or wine and with only a tiny fraction of alcohol (usually significantly less than 1% – source). It’s also dairy-free, so it’s great for those who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to milk.

During the 48-hour fermentation process, about 80% of the sugar gets consumed by the kefir “grains” (a mix of bacteria and yeasts), leaving only about 20% of the sugar in the final product in the form of straight fructose. (Source)

100_3770So how do you make water kefir? You just need water kefir grains, water, a brewing vessel (i.e. glass jar), a container or individual bottles for your finished product, and sugar. For detailed instructions, click here. Basically, though, you put sugar water and your kefir grains in a jar and let it sit on your counter for 48 hours. Then you strain off the water into another container or individual drinking bottles and let it sit for another 24 hours to build up natural carbonation. You can add flavorings either at the beginning or for the second 24-hour process, depending on the flavoring. (You don’t want to damage your kefir grains.) My husband and I love adding lime juice for the second 24-hour process. Tastes like a sparkling limeade.

I got my water kefir grains from my sister-in-law. If you’re in Nashville and would like some grains, just let me know and I can hook you up. (They multiply, so you’ll have extras to give away.) Otherwise, you can purchase them online from stores like Amazon or specialty sites. I bought my 2-liter brewing vessel and some 17-ounce drinking bottles at The Container Store. I use grolsch/wire-top/hermetic/EZ-cap bottles (they go by many names) to maintain the natural carbonation.

There are tons of different flavoring options, but I haven’t tried too many of them. I tried adding vanilla extract to attempt a cream soda version, but I couldn’t get the vanilla amount to be strong enough to really taste like cream soda without making it too alcohol-flavored. After all, vanilla extract is vanilla bean in alcohol (plus sugar). Lemon/ginger/raisin is good, and so is molasses. We just keep going back to lemon or lime, though, because we like them so much. Especially lime.

Update January 2014: We’ve tried a lot more flavor options, so I wanted to add those to this post. I pulled out my juicer and juiced a bunch of different fruits to try as flavors for the kefir. I froze the juice in ice cube trays, then put the cubes in bags in the freezer and defrost a few at a time for the kefir. Watermelon came out great, and let me tell you….one watermelon creates a ton of juice! Orange and strawberry are fantastic. Cantaloupe and honeydew are so-so. Another great one is ginger, which creates a ginger ale type of flavor. Peel and chop/grate a few inches of fresh ginger root and steep it in boiling water. Use some of the ginger water to flavor the kefir.

Have you tried water kefir? Got a favorite flavoring?

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24 thoughts on “Water Kefir: Probiotics that Taste Like Fruity Soda

    • Well…water kefir has a much faster fermentation process — 48 hours vs 5 to 30 days. The article you linked to states that for kombucha (not water kefir), most people don’t brew it long enough for the majority of the sugar to be consumed by the SCOBY. However, if you want minimal sugar content, you just have to brew longer and give the SCOBY long enough to consume the sugar. The website I linked to in my post states that in the 48-hour fermentation process for water kefir 80% of the sugar is consumed by the kefir grains, and 20% of the sugar remains as fructose. Most water kefir websites warn that brewing longer than 48 hours (or simply using less sugar than called for) will starve your kefir grains. Here’s another website that comments on the sugar content of water kefir after fermentation — http://www.yemoos.com/faqwaintro.html — “Kefir grains are an amazing symbiotic matrix of bacteria and yeast that work together to feed off the natural sugars (and sometimes proteins and fats too, especially in the case of milk kefir) found present in the sugar-water and dried fruits. The yeast and bacteria co-operate, making the nutrients that are inaccessible to one digested into accessible nutrients for the other. Yeasts break down the simple sugars like glucose and fructose, turning them into ethanol and acetic acid. Lactic and acid-producing bacteria (such as lactobacilli) convert sugars (such as sucrose) and complex carbohydrates (starches, etc) into simpler sugars and lactic acid. Lactic and acetic acids naturally preserve as well as stave off harmful foreign bacteria. The result is a drink that has had much of the sugar converted to simpler sugars, lactic and acetic acids, carbon dioxide and ethanol.” I read on a couple sites that if you want to test the sugar content, you can buy glucose test strip (designed to detect excess sugar in urine) over-the-counter at a pharmacy and test the finished product with those.

      • Thanks. I knew it was a kombucha article… I was just thinking that if it’s such a huge myth that bucha leaves very little sugar, maybe it’s also a myth for kefir. 20% isn’t too bad. Maybe I’ll pick up some glucose strips and see what happens. Besides, it’s so refreshing when it’s warm outside! I’ll probably just limit my intake and try to incorporate more fermented foods. :-)

      • Yeah…we’ve been trying to include more fermented foods in our diet. We tried kombucha for awhile, but we prefer water kefir, so we ditched the kombucha. We’ve also been doing homemade raw milk yogurt and homemade (truly fermented) pickles, which the whole family gobbles down. If you’re interested, here’s the website I got info from for making my homemade pickles: http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2012/02/how-to-make-lacto-fermented-vegetables.html

  1. This is fascinating! I would love to try to make this! Can I get some grains from you? I have a kefir starter but it’s for milk.

    • No, it doesn’t taste like vinegar. It’s a light sweet taste, but the flavor really depends on what you put in it for the second fermentation. You can use any fruit juice — orange, lime, and watermelon are all great. You can also use ginger for a ginger ale flavor (mince fresh ginger and steep in boiling water; then add some to your kefir for the second ferment). If the kefir starts to smell/taste funny, the grains are probably undernourished and need to go through a rest/recovery treatment (see here for info: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/rehabilitating-fixing-repairing-damaged-water-kefir-grains). Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I just found your blog! :-) I live in Nashville and would like to have Kefir water grains. If you have some to share, I would like to have them. Thanks!

  3. Hello, I live in Nashville also. Can I get some grains from you? I already drink kombucha and love it, but I heard that water kefir is a great fermented drink. I am ready to expand my fermented foods. I already make sauerkraut and am going to try the pickles you talked about.

  4. I’m new to water kefir. I am trying to get a good recipe for flavoring. Grape juice after 24 hrs on second ferment tastes like bad wine. I had been doing first ferment in molasses and brown sugar but don’t like the taste, so switching to sugar, i hope for better results.

    • Yeah…I don’t like the taste using molasses either. The mineral content of the molasses is good for the grains, but I don’t like the taste. I generally use organic white sugar. I’ve never tried using grape juice on the second ferment. Try testing some other juices and see what you like. Orange, cherry, strawberry, lime… Thanks for reading my blog!

      • Thanks. I have 2 batches going that should be ready tomorrow. I’m going to throw some strawberries in one and lemon and ginger in the other. I just hope I didn’t kill my grains. I kept one batch of the brown sugar and molasses going, just in case.

  5. Hi there! I just moved to the Nashville area and would love to make some water kefir. Are you still providing grains?

    • I’d be happy to still pass along some grains. Unfortunately, I’ve got about 5 people waiting on grains at the moment and my little guys are not multiplying very fast. At this rate, it would probably be a year before I could get you any grains! You may just want to buy some online unless you’re willing to wait a really long time. (If you’re willing to wait that long, I’ll add you to my list….) Welcome to Nashville and thanks for reading my blog!

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