Water kefir is an all-natural probiotic soda that’s easy to make at home. Start with just a pinch of water kefir grains (culture) and you’re well on your way to homemade soda.
Fizzy drinks are the best, and my family absolutely loves cold seltzer. There’s something so satisfying about the bubbles in your mouth, and it makes the drink all that much more refreshing.
Humans, believe it or not, naturally love carbonated drinks or bubbly fizzy beverages. It seems strange, given that the process of carbonating drinks is a relatively new technology.
At least, the process of artificially carbonating drinks is new…humans have been drinking naturally carbonated beverages (and foods) for centuries.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, and all manner of fermented beverages were staples in households until the past century when soda filled that craving for carbonation.
Everyone knows our ancestors drank a lot of beer, both as a source of “liquid bread” but also because it was a lot safer than drinking the water before modern sanitation.
Few people know about all the other delicious traditional fermented beverages that were also made in cottage kitchens. Most of these are more like soda than beer, and they’re probiotic too!
Water kefir is one of the simplest fermented beverages to make at home, and once you’ve made a batch you can keep using the culture indefinitely.
What is Water Kefir?
Water kefir is a probiotic-rich beverage made from water kefir culture.
That means it’s not only thirst-quenching, it’s also beneficial for gut health and for maintaining a healthy immune response. It’s also a great replacement for sugary soda, and is so easy and hand’s off to make that we pretty much always have a bottle (or three) in the fridge at all times.
The culture for water kefir is usually called kefir “grains,” which can cause some confusion. The “grains” themselves are probiotic colonies, similar to a kombucha SCOBY. Their shape is different, and they tend to look like grains of rice, thus the name.
Made from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, water kefir grains feed on sugar that is added to water and allowed to ferment over the course of 12 to 48 hours.
If you typically avoid sugary or overly sweet drinks, don’t skip out on trying water kefir. The grains consume most of the sugar, leaving you with a mildly sweet, pleasantly tart, and delightfully effervescent finished product that can be easily adapted to suit any taste with fruit and other ingredients.
You can even change the level of fizziness if you’re someone who loves a super-carbonated drink (or likes to add them to cocktails).
Water Kefir Compared to Milk Kefir (and Other Fermented Drinks)
So what makes water kefir different from other fermented drinks?
Milk kefir is made using a similar method, but is actually comprised of completely different types of bacteria and yeast. The name is the same because the cultures take a similar “grain” like growth habit, but beyond that, they’re a completely different probiotic.
Ginger bug, another type of fermented drink, is made from a mixture of sugar and fresh ginger. The natural wild yeast present on the fresh ginger creates a unique fizzy beverage with a delicious ginger flavor.
Kombucha is made using a type of SCOBY that feeds on tea and sugar, it’s also caffeinated which can be a plus (or minus!) depending on how often you’re drinking it.
The best part about water kefir, or really any probiotic fermented beverage, is that they’re really easy to make at home.
Making water kefir is an incredibly simple task, and requires very little in terms of actual equipment. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if you can combine water and sugar in a jar, then you’re capable of making water kefir in the comfort of your own home.
Where to Buy Water Kefir Grains
Water kefir grains used to be incredibly hard to come by, and you could only get them if you happened to know someone willing to share.
These days though, dried water kefir grains are available online from places like Cultures for Health.
They’re also available on Amazon, but I’d suggest going with a supplier that specializes in live cultures. Ordering from just anywhere you never really know what you’re getting, so stick with a reputable source.
Buying water kefir grains should be a one-time purchase, too, since healthy water kefir grains will last, well, basically forever.
Ingredients for Water Kefir
To make your own do-it-yourself water kefir you’ll only need a few very basic ingredients: kefir grains, sugar, and water. There are several options in terms of sweetener options, as well as some options that are ultimately harmful to the kefir culture and the fermentation process. I like to use white sugar, as it’s readily available, but different sweeteners produce different results.
Refined white sugar and organic cane juice crystals will produce a simple, sweet water kefir that will allow other flavors to shine through. This is a good choice for fruit juice or flower petal flavored water kefir soda (ie. rose petal water kefir).
Turbinado or raw sugar will produce a sweet water kefir, but one that is slightly less sweet than those made with white sugar or cane juice crystals. The flavor is still relatively mild.
Brown sugar can be used to make a more intensely flavored, sweet water kefir. The molasses adds warm caramel notes to the finished water kefir, which can complement some flavors like apple.
In general, avoid using coconut palm sugar, maple syrup or sugar, honey, or molasses because they’re much harder for the water kefir to metabolize and it may result in stuck fermentation. They’ll work for a few batches, but will weaken the culture over time.
Sugar substitutes such as stevia, monk fruit, Splenda, or aspartame simply won’t work at all. The cultures need sugar to metabolize and calorie-free sweeteners will not feed the microbes.
For a complete list of sugars, as well as their varying effect on kefir grains, try reading this article which is incredibly helpful and interesting, and it also details the best (and worst) kind of water to use when making water kefir at home.
Beyond the basic recipe for water kefir, you can add all kinds of flavorings to make the beverage uniquely yours.
My favorite way to serve water kefir is with a generous squeeze of lemon juice added directly to the finished beverage, but there are many ways the drink can be altered (which I’ve outlined below in the “Water Kefir Variations” section below).
How to Make Water Kefir
As I mentioned above, the equipment needed to make water kefir is very basic — there’s probably a very good chance you have these items at home already.
In general, it’s a good idea to keep activated water kefir grains away from metal, plastic, and ceramic containers (read why here). The best option is glass, which is easy to clean and won’t interfere with the water kefir grains as they’re culturing.
To make water kefir you’ll need the following pieces of equipment:
- one quart-size glass jar (no lid required)
- a nylon mesh strainer*
- cheesecloth, butter muslin, or a paper coffee filter
- a rubber band
- swing-top glass bottle or quart-size jar with plastic lid (to store the finished water kefir)
*When I separate the water kefir grains from the water kefir, I like to pour it through cheesecloth instead of a strainer. It’s slightly (and only slightly) more tedious, but it results in a smooth batch of water kefir without any floating chunks or slimy bits. You’ll still get a smooth batch using a strainer, so use whatever piece of equipment you’re comfortable with.
Activating Water Kefir Grains
If you’re buying new kefir grains, you’ll need to activate the grains by rehydrating them before making your first batch of water kefir.
You’ll want to plan on rehydrating the grains a couple of days before making your first batch of water kefir using this method:
Begin by heating up 3-4 cups of water until it’s hot enough to dissolve sugar. Combine the hot water and the sugar together in a jar, stirring in 1/4 cup of cane sugar into the water until completely dissolved.
Cool the sugar and water mixture to between 68° and 85° F (about room temperature).
Add the dehydrated, unactivated water kefir grains to the sugar water.
Cover the jar with a breathable fabric such as muslin or cotton, or use a paper coffee filter secured with an elastic band.
Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for the next 4 days, after that period of time the grains should be pale yellow, plumped up, and slightly translucent.
Pour grains and water through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer.
The water kefir grains are now activated and ready to be used.
(Discard the first batch of liquid, this won’t be good water kefir.)
To make water kefir, we’re going to combine 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup hot water in a quart-size jar. The hot water doesn’t need to be boiling, just warm enough to dissolve the sugar completely before proceeding to the next step.
You can stir the mixture to dissolve or gently swish it around the jar until the water is clear and there are no remaining grains of sugar.
Carefully add 3 cups of room-temperature water to the sugar water along with at least 1 tablespoon of active water kefir grains. (You can use more than a tablespoon, and if it’s your first batch, use the whole yield from activating a packet of dried water kefir grains.)
Cover the jar with cheesecloth, butter muslin, or a paper coffee filter and seal with a rubber band.
Keep the covered jar at room temperature (again, between 68°F and 85°F), out of direct sunlight and away from any cold drafts, and let the water kefir grains ferment for the next 12 to 48 hours.
Resist the urge to follow the “more is better” train of thought, after 48 hours the probiotic effects of kefir begin to decline. If you’re looking for more fizz and probiotics, you can always (and easily) do a second ferment, which I’ll outline further down.
Once fermentation is complete, filter out the grains and bottle your water kefir (saving the grains for the next batch).
When the water kefir grains have finished fermenting, it’s time to strain out the grains and enjoy your homemade water kefir.
Don’t throw away the grains!
They can be used again immediately by repeating the sugar water/fermentation steps above, or you can “rest” them if you don’t plan on making more water kefir in the immediate future.
The method you use for resting water kefir grains will vary depending on your timeline and I’ve included instructions for caring for kefir grains below.
If you’re someone who loves a super-fizzy, possibly fruit-flavored drink consider giving your newly made water kefir a second ferment.
Simply transfer the finished first batch to a swing-top bottle (I use a plastic funnel) and add 1/2 cup of your favorite fruit juice — I recommend using either homemade fruit juice or organic commercially made fruit juice to avoid accidentally damaging the kefir grains with preservatives.
(Sodium benzoate present in some fruit juices, for example, will kill the cultures.)
Let the bottle sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, the longer it sits the fizzier it will become and it’s important to open the bottle once a day to release pressure buildup if you leave it out longer.
Store the finished water kefir in the fridge, it will likely be quite carbonated, so be careful when opening the bottle.
Caring for Water Kefir Grains
Unless you’re making endless batches of water kefir back-to-back, chances are you’ll need to “rest” your water kefir grains during periods when they won’t be used. Whether you’re thinking short-term or long-term, resting water kefir grains is an easy process.
For breaks up to 3 weeks in length:
- Add water kefir grains to 1 quart of sugar water (1/4 cup of sugar completely dissolved in 1 quart of hot water — let come to room temperature first before adding the kefir grains).
- Seal the jar with a plastic lid (or, if using a metal lid, don’t let the sugar water touch the metal).
- Store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks (if you’re home during this period, change out the sugar water once a week).
- When you’re ready to use the grains again, strain them from the sugar water and use as instructed for making water kefir. You might need to “perk them up” over a few batches of water kefir before they “wake up.”
For breaks up to 6 months in length:
- Rinse the water kefir grains with filtered water (chlorinated water can damage the grains).
- Spread the grains out on a piece of unbleached parchment paper and dry at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. You can also use a dehydrator for this step, keeping the temperature below 85° F.
- Store the dried kefir grains in a plastic resealable bag in the fridge for up to 6 months.
- When you’re ready to make more water kefir, follow the instructions for activating water kefir grains as written above.
Water Kefir Variations
Once you have a healthy colony of water kefir grains, they can be used to ferment just about any flavor of homemade soda. Start with juice, coconut water, or your favorite herbal tea, and then add a bit of sugar to feed the wee beasties.
A delightfully fizzy fermented drink that's like a probiotic homemade soda.
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 3 cups room-temperature water
- 1 packet or 1 Tbsp. water kefir grains, rehydrated (see: How to Make Water Kefir section for full instructions)
- Add the sugar and hot water to a quart-size jar. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Add 3 cups of room-temperature water.
- Add rehydrated kefir grains.
- Cover the jar with a layer of breathable fabric, such as a cloth napkin or muslin.
- Keep the jar in a warm place (between 68° and 85°) for 12 to 48 hours.
- Strain the kefir grains from the water kefir, keeping both the water kefir and the grains.
- Drink the kefir immediately or bottle and store in the fridge.
Optional second ferment: For a fruity and even fizzier twist on the traditional fermented beverage, add 1/2 cup of fruit juice and the water kefir from the first ferment to a swing-top bottle. Seal and let rest at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, opening the bottle to release pressure build-up every 12 hours or so.
Store in the fridge and use caution when opening the bottle.
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Easy Fermented Beverages
Looking for other easy homemade ferments?
- Naturally Fermented Turmeric Soda
- Dandelion Soda
- How to Make Mead (Honey Wine)
- Small Batch Winemaking
- Finnish Fermented Lemonade (Sima)