Water kefir is a great way to kick the soda habit, and an easy way to get more probiotics into your diet. My kids like it better than kombucha, because it has a milder, less acidic flavor.
I was inspired to give water kefir (kefir d’acqua) a try late last year after reading Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s post 5 Reasons Why Homemade Kefir Soda Pop Is Better Than Kombucha Tea. I read Rebuild From Depression’s post about Fruity Kefir Cocktails, and that sounded good, too.
I ordered the water kefir kit from Cultures for Health to get started. I debated about just getting the kefir grains, but thought that the strainer set included with the kit would be helpful. I’m glad I purchased the kit, as I ended up eventually ordering milk kefir grains as well, and the strainers have been very handy.
Here’s what the grains looked like when they arrived:
They were a bit lit little chunks of dried fruit. I rehydrated them according to the package directions, and started experimenting with different flavors. Rapadura sugar was just too strong flavored for our family (at least so far). My sons didn’t care for palm sugar, either, although I thought it worked just fine. Lately I’ve been using Florida Crystals. Here’s what my grains look like now:
To make water kefir
- 1/4 cup sugar, less refined is better, but not honey, as it may negatively affect your kefir grains
- 1 quart water – high mineral well water is great (see more below)
- 1 tablespoon (or more) kefir grains
You can use filtered or unfiltered water, but you must avoid chlorine, nitrates and other toxic compounds, as these are bad for both you and your kefir grains. I use our unfiltered well water, which is high in minerals. If you use filtered water, such as RO water, you should add back in some mineral drops (included in the kefir making kit) or a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of baking soda and a clean shell from a pastured chicken egg (or duck egg).
To make one quart of water kefir, dissolve 1/4 cup sugar in one cup of warm water. Mix in the rest of the water. Check to make sure the liquid isn’t too hot, and then add the kefir grains. We’ll typically mix the sugar and water in a pyrex cup, then pour the sugar water in a quart mason jar and fill the jar to near the top. Cover and let sit, out of direct sunlight, for 24-48 hours, then flavor as desired (see below).
If I wanted to make six cups of finished kefir, I’d use 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons sugar, and so on. Maintain the ratio of 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) sugar per quart of water.
Plastic, glass or wooden utensils are recommended. Metal is supposed to burn the kefir grains. When I first started brewing, I always added the egg shell, but later I found out too much calcium will make your kefir grains slimy and your brew stinky.
After 24-48 hours, I strain the grains out with those handy little strainers and transfer them into the next batch, or into some sugar water in the fridge. I’ve tried holding a finished brew in the fridge, but to me the flavor becomes less pleasant as it sits with the grains in, even in the fridge. It’s really best to culture it out every 24-24 hours to keep your grains happy and healthy.
To Flavor Water Kefir
Lemon Lime water kefir: For lemon-lime water kefir, I use the zest and juice from one lemon and one lime (preferably organic) for five to six cups of water kefir. I like to zest my citrus with my microplane grater (thanks to my friend, Julie, for this handy gift).
Shortcut Lemon Lime water kefir: While I love the depth of flavor I get from the fresh fruit, sometimes I just want something QUICK! So, I bought a bottle of organic lemon juice and organic lime juice, and use two tablespoons of each per quart of finished water kefir. Vitamin C is light sensitive, so you’ve got better odds of getting vitamin C in your drink when you use the fruit and keep your bottles covered, but in this case my main concern is the probiotics.
Raspberry Lemonade water kefir: For raspberry lemonade water kefir, I use the juice and zest of one lemon along with a handful of fresh or frozen raspberries, lightly crushed.
When you’re ready to bottle, strain out any fruit or herbs bits before bottling. I think this is recommended to make the bottles less likely to explode. I like to place a small strainer right into my funnel as I fill.
I purchased my bail top bottles locally at the House of Homebrew, but they are available online at Amazon.com and other retailers. I write the flavor and date bottled on masking tape and stick it on the jar to keep track of my various brews.
The more sugar in your second ferment, the more fizz you’re likely to get. My lemon lime batches don’t tend to get too fizzy (unless it’s warm or they sit a long time), but the raspberry lemonade and fruit juice batches can get quite explosive. See the bubbles? Leave these too long or leave them in a warm place, and you’ll have a geyser. I still have a bit of raspberry stuck under my cabinets from a crazed bottle of kombucha.
Root beer kefir: I’ve also experimented with a more “kid friendly” option by using root beer extract and a little extra sweetener. I used one teaspoon of root beer extract combined with one tablespoon of sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water, and mixed both into one quart of finished kefir. It makes a drink very much like minimally carbonated root beer. The longer it ages, the less sweet it will be. We use it on sno-cones, too. (See my youngest with the sno-cone maker here.)
Fuzzy Navel water kefir: We’ve found another fun flavor combination that we like a lot. To each quart water kefir, add 1 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup syrup from homemade canned peaches. This one is really good! I love this because the kefir ferments the sugar into bubbles, so you get less sugar but all the flavor. I think this would be a great way to use the syrup from other home canned fruits, too. If you’ve got a juicer, you could substitute fresh peach juice for the peace syrup, in season.
I’ve also tried various fruit juices. Cheeseslave’s post on kefir soda pop has a long list of suggestions. The I Love Water Kefir group on Facebook has some creative ideas, too. The strangest combo I’ve tried to date is pomegranate juice with nettle and rose hips. The flavor was a pleasant twist on an herbal infusion.
While the flavor of water kefir is milder and less acidic than kombucha, there’s still a certain muskiness to it from the fermentation. (Compare water kefir and kombucha.) You’re not going to pass this off as regular soda, but it makes a nice, naturally carbonated option for those of us who avoid sugary drinks and artificial sweeteners. Once you purchase your grains, you should be able to continue culturing indefinitely. Way cheaper than buying soda or carbonated water, healthier, too.
Need more reasons to try out water kefir soda? YourKefirSource.com lists over 70 different health benefits of kefir. I can’t vouch for all of them, but I do enjoy my water kefir and plan to keep experimenting for years to come.
Have you tried water kefir? What flavors do you recommend? Any other tips you’d like to share?