Getting started with water kefir

What is water kefir?

Water kefir is a probiotic beverage made from water kefir grains. These grains can be used to culture other liquids/ beverages.

What are water kefir grains?

Water kefir grains are made up of both bacteria and yeast. Despite the name, water kefir grains don't actually contain any grains (for example, wheat).

What is the difference between water kefir grains and powdered kefir starter culture?

Water kefir grains consist of more probiotics than powdered kefir started culture. Whereas water kefir grains can be used indefinitely to make water kefir, powdered started culture can be used only a few times, but will eventually cease culturing. Lastly, powdered kefir started culture costs less than water kefir grains initially, but as mentioned previously, will eventually require you to repurchase new cultures as it cannot be used indefinitely.

What do I need to make water kefir grains?

Water kefir grains can be grown in organic sugar and filtered water.

What is the difference between water kefir and milk kefir?

Water kefir contains less bacteria and yeast than milk kefir. However, water kefir contains more cultured products than milk kefir.

How long long do water kefir grains last as opposed to a powdered kefir starter culture?

If cared for, water kefir grains can be used indefinitely. Powdered starter culture, on the other hand, will need to be replaced and can only be cultured about 2-7 times.

How long does it take to make water kefir?

It takes between 24 and 48 hours for water kefir to culture, but naturally the time can vary due to certain factors such as temperature.

What amount of water kefir grains are necessary to make water kefir?

To culture 4-8 cups of water kefir, 3-4 tablespoons of hydrated water kefir grains can be used.

Does water kefir have a distinctive taste?

The taste of your water kefir can vary depending on the amount of sugar used and the time you allowed it to culture. Generally, water kefir is fairly sweet, but most people prefer to add some flavouring to it.

Is water kefir a good alternative to milk kefir for someone who is allergic to dairy?

Absolutely, as water kefir is grown in filtered water and organic sugar and it contains no dairy whatsoever.

Is water kefir gluten-free?

Yes. Water kefir grains do not contain gluten.

Can I add flavouring to water kefir while it's still culturing?

Adding flavouring in the culturing process can be damaging to the water kefir grains.

What does the second ferment mean when flavouring?

Second fermentation takes place after the grains and finished kefir water have been separated after the first fermentation. Here is now where you are going to add your flavourings to the kefir water and bottle it in an airtight container.  This container will culture for 24 – 48 hours (also on your kitchen shelf) and this will create a wonderfully fizzy, carbonated drink. 
NOTE: when culturing coconut water kefir; it does not get quite as fizzy as sugar water gets.

Can water kefir grains multiply?

Absolutely, even though they are sometimes reluctant to do so.

How will I know that my attempt at making water kefir was unsuccessful?

Instead of becoming sweet the flavour will become sour and tangy. It may also have a unpleasant aroma.

I see I should alternate the kefir between water and coconut. Does this mean after every coconut batch I need to make a water batch?

Water kefir grains need the sucrose and minerals that are found in normal sugar to metabolise and grow. If we alternate with coconut water the grains will still culture the coconut water but you will not be feeding them anything. If they don’t get fed you will notice that they will start to culture slower and after prolonged starvation they might even die. The recommendation is to alternate batches to keep your grains culturing strong – but you can definitely stretch it out to every 2nd, 3rd or 4th batch, just keep a close eye on how well they are performing and adjust accordingly.

How will I know if my water kefir grains are healthy?

Kefir grains are very resilient and will strive to maintain their health at all times. As long as your grains are converting the sugar-water mix to kefir that is not 'off' they are just fine. They may get stressed or be responding to seasonal changes and change shape or smell a bit (more yeasty or increase/decrease in size). They are constantly adapting and working in tandem with their environment and it's not a concern if they don't look the same in winter as in summer - this is a result of their ability to adapt (different strains do well at different temperatures, making kefir an amazing symbiotic blend that is able to survive at many temperatures). They range from clear to an opaque dark brown in colour depending on the sugar and dried fruit it is with (some fruits like figs will be pink). Even when they are not growing they can still often produce a healthy drinkable kefir, though it's best to give them optimal conditions so they can grow.

How will I know if my grains have become contaminated?

It's very difficult to have truly contaminated kefir due to the very nature and composition of the amazing amount of cultures it contains. If however it is contaminated, it will be off in colour, with a thick texture to the water and/or off smell and you will easily recognize this (it will not be subtle). In most cases it will just be a fuzzy spoilage mold of some sort (the same stuff that grows on everything else that spoils).

Avoid spoiled fruit or sugar that you may be scooping dirty or food-covered spoons into the bag. Also, fermenting too little grains or too much sugar may encourage the bad bacteria to compete and out-do the small amount of grains (too warm of a room can encourage this further). As long as you are using clean utensils, washing your hands, keeping the room temperature reasonable and maintaining reasonably clean jars (its ok to re-use them for a few weeks before washing), following the recipe and covering the jars properly there is little risk of contamination.

How often should water kefir grains be rehydrated?

It is highly recommended that your water kefir grains be moved to fresh sugar water after a maximum of four days.

What else can I use to make water kefir?

Juice and coconut water are great ideas. However, honey is not advisable.

Do I need to rinse the water kefir grains between batches?

No, in fact doing this can be quite harmful to their health. However, the jar/ container should be clean before starting a new batch each time.

How much sugar is there in finished water kefir?

The amount on sugar in finished water kefir depends on the ingredients used and the time it cultured (for example, water kefir which was cultured for 24 hours will contain more remaining sugar that water kefir cultured for 48 hours).

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