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Water kefir grains for making the probiotic fermented beverage

Are you a new water kefir brewer? Are you an experienced brewer, but just want a little refresher? Then, this page is for you! I wanted to address some of the most common questions I am asked regarding water kefir. If you have a questions that's not on this list, please feel free to leave me a comment and I will answer it!

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1. What is water kefir?

Water kefir is a lightly carbonated, probiotic beverage that is incredibly simple to make. In my opinion, it is the easiest of all fermented drinks to make. All it takes is sugar water and kefir grains. You can also use coconut water for a less sweet, more fizzy beverage. The kefir grains feed on the sugar and minerals in the water and naturally ferment it to become tart and fizzy. True health starts in the gut, and kefir (both water and milk), is a great way to get those beneficial yeasts and bacteria into our system.

To learn more about water kefir, check out these posts:

How to Make Water Kefir

52 Weeks of Bad A** Bacteria – Week 23 – Water Kefir Revisited

Water, Water, Everywhere, and Lots of Drops to Drink!

2. My kefir grains are multiplying so fast that I have them coming out of my ears! What do I do?

This is a great problem to have, in my opinion! When you have more kefir grains than you know what to do with, you can (a) Eat them plain – I just pop them in my mouth and chew. They have an interesting texture and not a lot of flavor. (b) Add them to smoothies or your morning yogurt. In other words, eat them, but if the thought of eating them plain grosses you out, then blend them in to something else. (c) Give them away to friends and family. Not only does this help them get started on the probiotic, fermented beverage road, it is a fun way to connect with people on a different level. Food is such an integral part of our lives.

3. My kefir grains don't seem to be doing anything. Am I doing something wrong?

Probably not. As long as you're following the basic recipe found here, then you should be fine. Kefir grains will sometimes be a little dormant the first few batches of kefir you make. It took about 8 batches before my grains really got up and running at their full potential. Since then, they are multiplying like crazy. So, give them some time. Experiment with the minerals you add to the water. Try placing the jar in different parts of your house. If the house is too cool (below 68 degrees), the grains will be really slow to work their magic. On the other hand, if the house is too warm (above 78), the grains will ferment rapidly. Just keep trying it and if they still seem to be defunct after 10-12 batches, then try again with some new grains (affiliate link).

4. How do I know if my grains are bad?

Kefir grains really don't go bad. Because of the high levels of good bacteria, it is rare that bad bacteria will survive long enough to make them go bad. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that kefir grains are capable of eliminating infections like E. Coli and H. Pylori. A safe way to check if your kefir grains are still functioning properly is to smell your kefir when it's done. If something's wrong, you will definitely know. In all the experimenting I have done and people I have talked to, I have not once heard of a bad batch of grains. Your finished water kefir should be very mild in flavor, slightly sweet, and a tiny bit yeasty. If something is off, you will know either by smell or taste.

5. Where do I get grains?

This is one of the most interesting part of kefir. While there are lots of places to buy grains online (affiliate link). I think the best way to get started with some kefir grains is to get some from your friends or family. Like a reader once told me, they're kind of like heirloom seeds – passed along from generation to generation. I think it's really cool how we can share these with one another, in all corners of the country and world! If you can't find any locally or through a friend, then I recommend my affiliate partner, Kombucha Kamp. They are a great company and not only provide fantastic products, but they have lots great information on their site.

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6. I would love to try fermented beverages, but I'm a little nervous to start.

I completely understand how you feel. When I first started experimenting with fermented and cultured foods, I was nervous and intimidated too. It took awhile for the courage to build up. As a matter of fact, I STILL get nervous when I ferment! The biggest thing for me is overcoming the stereotype that foods must be refrigerated and if they sit out on the counter for days or weeks, they'll go bad. Even to this day, I sometimes have a little fear when taking that first bite or drink of the fermented food. But, I'm starting to overcome that! Water kefir is a great way to start experimenting with fermented beverages. It's really easy to make and pretty much fool-proof. And, with all fermented and cultured foods, you will be able to tell if something's wrong with a batch by the smell. If these foods go bad, there's no way you could get past the smell to eat them, so you needn't worry about getting sick.

7. How do I know when my kefir is done?

The time that it takes for your kefir to ferment is going to depend on a few things, primarily the temperature of your house. Between 68 and 78 degrees is optimum temperatures. Also, it will vary depending on if you use water and sugar or if you use coconut water. The sugar/water combination will take anywhere between 12-48 hours, depending on the temperature of your house. The coconut water kefir, however, seems to take much less time, typically between 12-24 hours. The best thing to do is to taste it periodically during the fermentation process and let it go until it tastes right to you. Some people will like a sweeter kefir, some like it less sweet. Once you find a flavor that you like, you'll know how long you can let it go without opening the container.

8. My kefir smells yeasty. Is that normal?

Yes. Kefir grains are very interesting in that they adapt to their environments, meaning that they take on the “flavors” of the natural bacteria and yeasts present in your house. So, if you do a lot of baking, then your kefir will most likely have a more yeasty taste and smell than non-bakers. It is completely normal to smell some yeast in your finished kefir. Remember that kefir grains are sources of both beneficial bacteria and yeasts. Over time, your grains will adjust to your home. It's also important to understand that the yeasts present in kefir are not the same as a harmful yeast like C. albicans Candida.

9. I don't like the taste of water kefir, but I still want to drink it. What should I do?

Flavor it! That's the wonderful thing about kefir – it's a clean slate that allows you to flavor it any way you want! You can add lemon or lime juice, fruit juice, dried fruit, fresh ginger, stevia (both plain and flavored), vanilla extract … the list goes on and on. Experiment and find your favorite combination. My two favorite combos are lemon juice with fresh ginger and fresh squeezed tangerine juice. And, if you make a flavor combination that doesn't quite work, then just try to gulp it down anyways. Get those good bacteria in there!

10. Can I overdose on kefir?

No, you can't overdose in the traditional sense. However, if you don't consume a lot of probiotic foods, it's important to introduce them slowly to your diet. If you consume too many probiotics at once, you might experience some gas, bloating, loosened bowels, etc. However, this isn't harmful and it's a sign that your body is cleansing itself. Just start slowly with an ounce at a time and then work yourself up depending on how you feel. Most people won't experience any adverse reaction, so it's not cause for a lot of worry.

11. How many batches of kefir will my grains make?

If your grains are well kept, they will last forever! As long as they are receiving adequate nutrition and minerals, then you have a kefir source indefinitely.

12. Water kefir seems to have a lot of sugar in it. That concerns me.

I completely understand. From the research I've seen, the grains will consume around 80-90% of the sugar in a batch of kefir. What is left can be compared to a piece of fruit. However, if you are concerned about the amount of sugar in your water kefir, I recommend using coconut water. You don't have to add any extra sugar and you end up with a much less sweet beverage.

13. What kind of water do I use?

Water is important when it comes to making water kefir. You want to use spring water, well water, or filtered water with minerals added back in. Never use city water from the tap, as the chlorine will kill the grains. If you don't have access to filtered water, you can boil tap water and let it sit out in order for the chlorine to evaporate. If you use filtered water, it's important to add minerals back in because the grains need minerals to survive. You can use a drop of liquid minerals, a small pinch of unrefined sea salt, a clean egg shell or some blackstrap molasses. I personally use reverse osmosis water, because I strive to avoid fluoride and that is the easiest way to do that.

14. Is there a specific kind of sugar I should use?

The best type of sugar to use is organic cane crystals, sucanat, or rapdura. You should not use honey because of it's natural antibiotic properties. Don't use artificial sweeteners of any kind. Also, stevia will not work because it doesn't contain any natural sugar.

15. Can I give water kefir to my children?

Yes! This is a great source of probiotics and children need those just as much as adults do. Water kefir (especially coconut water kefir) is a great substitute for soda. I have heard of a number of families who switch to a real food diet and replace their commercial sodas with water kefir with great success. I think most children are going to love it if it's flavored right. But, it all comes down to your comfort level as a parent and what you think is best for your child.

16. Does water kefir contain alcohol / Can I drink it if I am a recovering alcoholic?

Yes, but it is a negligible amount. All fermented beverages (kefir, kombucha, etc.) are going to contain a small amount of alcohol. The amount of alcohol depends on the amount of fermentation, as well as the tightness of the lid. Most people have said that it contains between 1 and 3 percent alcohol. One of the best known real food bloggers, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, actually did her own independent study to find out how much alcohol was in her kefir. She found that it was 0.64% alcohol by volume using her recipe. You can read the full study here.

In regards to recovering alcoholics, it is advised that the person speak with their health practitioner, therapist, or sponsor if they are interested in trying it.

17. What types of bacteria and yeasts are in water kefir?

From what I have read, water kefir is FULL of all sorts of strains of yeasts and bacteria. I found a comprehensive list of strains on the Cultures for Health website. You can read the full list here.

18. Do I need any special supplies to make water kefir?

Nope. That's the beauty of it. It's simple and easy for anyone to make. All you need are the kefir grains, an anaerobic fermenting jar (affiliate link), and bottles for the second. For the second ferment, I use the flip-top hermetic glass bottles (like Grolsch beer bottles). I have found them at Sur la Table, Ross, TJ Maxx, and even online. The hermetic bottles work great for making the kefir more fizzy during the second ferment. Always leave a half inch to an inch at the top and use caution when opening because it can build a lot of pressure in there.

19. Can I store my kefir grains if I need to?

This answer depends on who you talk to. Some people say that you are not able to store them since they are live, active cultures. Others say that you can refrigerate them in sugar water for up to two weeks. I have read reports of people who have frozen and/or dehydrated them and had success with that, however, I have not personally tried that. When I need a break from making kefir, I put all my grains in a glass jar with some extra-sugary mineral water, and then just leave them on my counter. I have had no problems leaving them like that for a few weeks on end – I change out the sugar water every week or so. If you refrigerate them, they will be slow for the first few batches, while the cultures “reactivate” so to speak. I recommend taking some extra grains and experimenting with the storage process that works best for you.

20. Can I feed my animals kefir or kefir gains?

Yes. Animals all need good bacteria in their guts too. I recommend feeding them milk kefir instead of water kefir because it has less sugar. You also want to feed them kefir in moderation – maybe a tablespoon or so over their food until you see how they react. It's not going to harm them, but it could have similar effects as it does on humans who are introducing new, beneficial bacteria to the gut. Start slow and feel it out as a pet owner. You can also sprinkle a few of the grains on their food.

21. How do I flavor my water kefir?

Thanks for asking! Check out this Water Kefir Flavor Guide for lots of ideas on how to flavor your water kefir.

Do you have a question that is not included in this post? If so, let me know and I'd be happy to add it to the list! I'd also love to hear about your water kefir experiments and what you've found works best! Leave a comment below and let's discuss!

For more information on water kefir, check out these posts:

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About Jessica Espinoza

Jessica is a real food wellness educator and the founder of the Delicious Obsessions website. She has had a life-long passion for food and being in the kitchen is where she is the happiest. She began helping her mother cook and bake around the age of three and she's been in the kitchen ever since, including working in a restaurant in her hometown for almost a decade, where she worked every position before finally becoming the lead chef. Jessica started Delicious Obsessions in 2010 as a way to help share her love for food and cooking. Since then, it has grown into a trusted online resource with a vibrant community of people learning to live healthy, happy lives through real food and natural living.

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