How to make kefir

By USA TODAY 10Best March 13, 2018 9:41 pm

Probiotics are all the rage lately – just look at the ever-growing rows of kombucha and kefir options at your local Whole Foods. But, as we’ve mentioned before, not all probiotics are necessarily good for your health.

One that generally does have a wide variety of health benefits, though, is kefir – a fermented milk drink from the Caucasus region. Unfortunately, some commercial brands contain sugar and preservatives.

That’s why you should make your own kefir, which is filled with probiotics, contains 50 strains of healthy bacteria, and has three times as many live cultures as yogurt.

*Recipe courtesy of The Food Channel.

  • 1/2 teaspoon live Kefir grains
  • 1 pint whole or reduced-fat milk, raw, or pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), and preferably organic. (It won’t work with nonfat milk, but feel free to use other forms of dairy like goat or sheep milk).

  • 1 Place a 1/2 tsp of grains into a pint-sized mason jar of milk.
  • 2 Cover it with a plastic lid, coffee filter or a tight (woven) cloth like a tea towel secured with a rubber band around the lip of the jar.
  • 3 Set on a counter away from the light. The ideal room temperature is 75 degrees, If it’s colder it will take longer to ferment. It will take 12-36 hours depending on the grains’ strength, temperature, and your personal taste. It is usually ready within 24 hours. Keep an eye on it because if you let it go too long, it will get very thick and the milk will separate, creating a layer of whey at the bottom of the jar. At that point, you will be halfway between milk kefir and cheese kefir.
  • 4 Strain the Kefir through a fine meshed strainer into a mason jar, cover with a lid, and store in the refrigerator. It is ready to drink or use. Reserve the kefir grains.
  • 5 You can use the strained grains to start the same process over again to make the next batch of Kefir. If you need to take a break from Kefir-making, place the grains in a small mason jar, fully cover grains with milk, and seal it with the mason jar lid. Label your jar and store it in the refrigerator. It will last for about 6-10 days before you’ll have to reactivate.
  • 6 For longer term storage, follow the steps through #5 but place grains in the freezer. It will take longer to activate them but with little effort, your grains will be as good as new.


By Volume By Weight
Water 1 C / 250 ml 250 g / 9 oz
Sugar* ½ C 100 g / 3.5 oz
Fresh water kefir grains** 4 T 11 g/ 0.4 oz
Additional water, non-chlorinated 6½ C / 1.6 L 1.6 L / 56 oz

*Preferably a less-refined type such as organic blonde sugar Do not use honey.**If the water kefir grains are dried, they need to be properly hydrated and activated before the first use.

Equipment: Brod & Taylor Folding Proofer, a stainless steel or plastic funnel (no aluminum), a fine stainless steel or plastic strainer and heat proof mason jar(s), not more than 8” / 20cm tall. An instant read thermometer is helpful for making sure the water mixture has cooled adequately.

Get Ready. Set up the Proofer with the rack in place and the thermostat at 75 °F / 24 °C. Glass mason jars and a thermometer (if used) should be thoroughly clean and dry. Set out coffee filters or clean cloths and rubber bands to cover jars.

Make the Water Mixture. Combine all of the sugar with 1 C / 250 ml of water and heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves (about 150 °F / 65 °C). Remove from heat and cool for ten minutes.Transfer the warm sugar water to mason jars, dividing evenly between jars if using more than one. Add additional non-chlorinated water to the jars to fill, leaving a small space at the top to prevent spills.

Check the Temperature. Before adding the culture, make sure the sugar-water mixture is below 85 °F / 29 °C. If necessary, allow the mixture to cool.

Add the Water Kefir Grains and Cover. Add the grains to the sugar water, using about 2 T / 5.5 g of grains for each quart / liter. Cover the jars with a breathable cover such as a coffee filter or clean cloth, secured with a rubber band. The culture does not require oxygen, but a breathable cover prevents leaks and explosions in the Proofer and also helps minimize trace alcohol levels produced by the culture.

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Ferment for 48 Hours. Place jar(s) in the Proofer to ferment. For the most accurate temperature control, arrange the jars so that they are not directly over the center of the Proofer. Allow the culture to ferment for two days / 48 hrs at 75 °F / 24 °C. For a riper flavor or stronger carbonation, the temperature can be increased to 78 °F / 26 °C, or up to 82 °F / 28 °C.

When the water kefir is done, the surface will have a few visible bubbles, it will smell a bit yeasty (like bread dough), and should taste mild and slightly sweet. Even though the acidity will have increased with the pH at about 4.3-4.5 at this point, the water kefir will not yet taste very tart.


Non-Carbonated Water Kefir for Smoothies

The easiest way to finish your Water Kefir is to store it plain and use it for smoothies. No flavoring is needed, as water kefir has a slightly sweet, neutral taste that will blend easily with many different smoothie recipes. Plain water kefir can also be blended with fresh or frozen fruit and frozen in popsicle molds.

When the 2-day fermentation is complete, fit a clean storage jar with a non-aluminum funnel and fine strainer, then pour the fermented water kefir through, allowing the grains to collect in the strainer. Seal jars with loosely screwed on lids and refrigerate. Use the grains to start your next batch, or store them according to the directions here.


Create Naturally Carbonated Water Kefir

Water kefir turns into a delightful sweet-tart probiotic soda through a second fermentation in the bottle. We recommend using swing-top bottles because they are strong enough to prevent explosions and tightly sealed enough to capture carbonation.

If you’re just getting started with water kefir, consider flavoring your bottles with one of the following beginner-friendly options:

  • Sweet Fruit Juice: fill each bottle about one-fourth full with juice. Grape, cherry, apple, or orange juice are all great options. The juice will be less sweet and a little more tart after fermenting in the bottle.
  • Citrus Water Kefir: add about 1 T / 15 ml lemon or lime juice per 8oz / 250ml, or fill bottles about one-fourth full with grapefruit juice. If desired, add about ½ tsp / 2 g sugar per 8oz / 250ml to offset the tart juice and encourage carbonation.
  • Ginger: add plenty of thin-sliced or minced fresh ginger to each bottle. Use a little more than you think you need and consider storing a day or two in the refrigerator after the bottle fermentation is complete, as the ginger will be somewhat slow to impart its flavor.

After adding flavoring to your bottles, fit one with a non-aluminum funnel and strainer. Before pouring in the fermented water kefir, give it a good stir with a spoon to evenly distribute the probiotics. Then pour it into the bottles, allowing the grains to collect in the strainer. Leave a little airspace at the top of the bottle. Use the grains to start your next batch, or store them according to the directions here.

Water Kefir Grains from Milk Kefir Grains

It is possible to covert milk kefir grains to water kefir grains? When starting the process, ensure that the milk kefir grains are activated fully. Before converting the milk kefir grain, it is important to ensure that they are rehydrated and fully activated. The conversion process can be a complicated one, it often fails even when all the necessary steps are taken. The grains might be lost in the process thus it is important to set aside some backup grains if you want to try this method again. The grains can be converted back to milk kefir grains once the process is complete.

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To convert the milk kefir grains to water kefir:

  • Dissolve ¼ cup of sugar in 1 liter of water.
  • Put 1/8 teaspoon unrefined sugar. Next, add active milk grains that have been thoroughly washed and rinsed with the water-sugar solution.
  • Shake the mixture and then store it at a room temperature and allow it to ferment for about four to five days.
  • After the fermentation period is over, separate the grains from the solution and add them to a new solution of water and sugar. Ferment it at room temperature for 3-4 days.
  • Repeat the above step and shorten the fermentation time by 12-24 hours with each batch until you are left with a culturing period of 2 days or less.
  • At this stage, the grains have been fully changed to water kefir grains. For best results, it is recommended that you continue culturing for one to two days per batch.

You can use these grains up to three times after which, you can dispose them or rinse them and convert them back to milk kefir grains.  You must, however, note that the milk kefir grains don’t grow in sugar water but once added back to milk they will begin to grow once again.

Water kefir is quite versatile and thus it is recommended that you experiment with varying flavors and sweeteners. You can, for instance, try using honey or maple syrup. The choice of the sweeteners is all yours but you must ensure that it is well mixed and dissolved in the water before adding the grains.

What is Water Kefir?

Water kefir is a probiotic, fermented beverage that can be flavored with a variety of juices. Some people drink it as a healthy alternative to soda.

Making water kefir has a definite cool factor to it.

  • It is not as well known as milk kefir. So, most people say, “Whoa – what’s that?” – Thus giving you a chance to spread the word.
  • Others have heard of it, but not tried it themselves so you become the expert to tell them how fabulously easy it is. (And it is very easy!)
  • When you mention it to people “in the know”, you are seen as a true fermenter who is taking control of your health in a fun, creative way. They get where you are coming from.

So Here’s Some Basic Info:

  • Kefir is made with kefir “grains”, but they are not in any way related to grains like wheat. They are really a combination of yeast and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship. (Translation: They rely on each other to live and multiply.) They are called “grains” due to their shape.
  • The grains turn sugar into lactic acid, carbon dioxide and sometimes a tiny bit of alcohol (less than 1%) and the good bacteria multiply like crazy creating a very nutritious, probiotic beverage. In fact, it has a much higher concentration of probiotics than yogurt and store-bought milk kefir.
  • Although kefir is very different from Kombucha (a fermented tea that is also made from a combination of yeast and bacteria) there are similar chemical processes going on.
  • Yes it is made with sugar water, but because the grains consume much of the sugar, the resulting beverage is actually fairly low in sugar. The longer you ferment, the less sugar you have left.
  • Once fermented, water kefir can be consumed straight or flavored with any combination of juices.
  • You can also give it a second ferment and create carbonation, which essentially makes it taste like custom soda.
  • Kefir grains are living things. They are fed by the sugar water and give back the probiotic benefits.
  • It is easily made at room temperature on your kitchen counter.
  • The grains are reusable – meaning that you can reuse them from batch to batch without ever having to buy more.

So let’s get started…

Water Kefir vs. Milk Kefir

Milk kefir might be more familiar to you. It is made from animal milk (cow, goat, etc.) or from milk alternatives such as coconut milk. You can also find it in the grocery store, though store-bought versions are not as beneficial as homemade.

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Milk and water kefir use different grains but they are fermented in a similar way.

How to Make Water Kefir - Living Homegrown

Dried water kefir grains

However, water kefir:

  • Is dairy free
  • Can be made from sugar water, fruit juice or coconut milk
  • Is easy to flavor in unlimited ways
  • Is easier than milk kefir to consume in larger quantities

What Water Should You Use?

Your water must be free from chlorine and fluoride because both can kill or hinder the yeast and bacteria in the grains.

Filtered water is good, but might lack some minerals and kefir grains love minerals. (I use filtered water)

Here are your options:

  • Filtered or bottled water: Will work well. You can add mineral drops to the water if you want to keep the grains in peak condition but it is not absolutely necessary. I made kefir water for years without drops and all was still right with the world. I do use them now. You can also occasionally use a spoonful of molasses to add some minerals.
  • Tap water : Will probably have chlorine and other chemicals, so treat it first. You can boil the chlorine out, use a blender to aerate it out or let it set on the counter for 12 hours so the chlorine evaporates.
  • Well water: is great for kefir and full of minerals
  • Coconut water: is another great choice. It gives you more benefits and avoids any chemicals that might be in regular water. (I will cover this in another post)

What Sugar Should You Use?

There are many choices. Standard white sugar offers the least amount of nutrition to the grains. I alternate between organic raw, cane sugar and sucanat. I alternate because I don’t always have sucanat on hand and it is more expensive.

I list all the options below.

The only sugar you cannot use is honey because it is hard on the grains and may kill most of the bacteria. (Honey is not nutritious for the grains and is antibacterial) Technically, you can use honey occasionally and then refresh the grains with several batches of other sugar to get them going again. But you cannot use honey on a regular basis and still reuse the grains. Most people avoid honey all together.

Keep in mind that if your sugar water or juice has a color, the grains will take on the color also. This is not a problem – I just want you to be aware.

Your choices include:

  • Organic Raw Cane Sugar
  • Sucanat and Rapadura – both are whole unrefined cane sugars. They are darker in color. Of the two, rapadura is processed less and the molasses is never removed from the product whereas the molasses is removed and then blended back in with sucanat.
  • Molasses – a by-product of sugar production where much of the minerals are still present. Some people combine cane sugar with a spoonful of molasses to get a more well rounded sugar.
  • Fruit Juice: Some people use straight organic juice because it has natural sugars. Although it may have different fermentation times based on the sweetness of the fruit, it works just fine.
  • Processed white cane sugar: Yes, you can use it. No, it is not the best for the grains. But I do understand that sometimes you just have to use it in a pinch. Try not to use it all the time as there is better nutrition in the other sugars listed above.

Part 2: Adding Flavor & Carbonation

How to make water kefir - Living Homegrown

Next up is Part 2 of this process: Flavoring and/or Second Ferment. There are SO many delicious ways to flavor it. I want to give you a nice list of possibilities and that is best done in a second post.

How about you… Have you ever made water kefir?

Are you thinking of trying it now? Tell me below in the comments!

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