Water kefir (“keh-fear”) grains — also called sugar kefir, tibicos, tibi, Japanese water crystals — are similar to kefir grains, which are used in milk to make a fermented dairy drink.
Water kefir grains tend to be translucent, whereas milk kefir grains will be whiter, looking a little bit like cauliflower. Because water kefir grains tend to be used in a variety of liquids, they will sometimes appear different colours, depending on the colour of the liquid. So in this video I use dark molasses and coconut sugar, which turns them brown. If you use white sugar, which I don’t like to, because it’s been refined, they’ll turn white.
No two batches of water kefir drink or grains are exactly the same in their bacterial makeup. This also means that you may find some variance in taste between two batches that you make, even with the same grains.
Like kefir grains, water kefir grains are a mix of bacteria and yeasts, which feed on the sugar in many different sugary liquids to produce lactic acid, very small amounts of ethanol, and carbon dioxide, which carbonates the drink on the second stage fermentation, as I show in this video.
The main benefit of this process is that probiotics are produced in the final drink. These are beneficial to the human intestines, creating an environment that aids digestion.
Water kefir grains cannot be grown from scratch; they have to come from a donor. The good news is that you only need a very small amount to start growing them from that first batch.
Here are the instructions for growing kefir grains. The grains need a high amount of sugar to feed on.
For making water kefir and growing more grains
- 6 cups spring water
- 1/4 cup water kefir grains
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
- 1/8 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate
- Place all ingredients in a glass jar and cover with a breathable tight mesh material, such as a nut milk bag.
- Allow to stand at room temperature for up to 48 hours.
- Strain the liquid and reserve the grains.
- The resulting water can be drunk as is or added to smoothies for an extra boost of probiotics.
- You should notice an increase in the volume of the kefir grains that came out, compared to when you started.
- Repeat this process until you have enough grains to keep this process going and also make coconut kefir.
Young coconut water doesn’t have enough sugar to actually make the kefir grains grow very fast, but it does have enough sugar to make the coconut water ferment into kefir.
When you team up growing the grains with the next instructions on how to make the actual kefir, you should be able to provide your daily kefir requirements on a ongoing basis.
For coconut kefir
- 1/4 cup kefir grains
- 6 cups young coconut water
- Combine the water kefir grains and the coconut water in a jar.
- Allow to stand for up to 48 hours at room temperature. You can check every 12 hours to make sure the fermentation isn’t going too far. You’ll know if it’s strong enough by taste testing. (The longer you leave it, the more pungent and sour it gets.) After you’ve made a few batches, you’ll get a feel for how you prefer it. The more grains you have in the water, the less time it will need to develop. Warmer room temperature will also result in quicker fermentation.
- Strain the coconut water kefir from the kefir grains, reserving the grains for another batch or to grow more. Set the coconut water kefir aside for a second stage fermentation.
Second stage fermentation
- Coconut kefir (instructions above)
- 1/2 to 1 cup juice of your choice
- Combine the coconut kefir and juice in a bottle that has a tight-sealing lid.
- Leave to stand at room temperature for 48 hours. This will cause a second stage fermentation, where the kefir will break down the sugars in the juice and go fizzy.
- If your kefir is already quite fizzy or you just like the taste of the kefir with the juice without actually fermenting for that second stage, then you can simply add the juice and put it straight in the refrigerator, which will slow the fermentation down.
Things to look out for
- Rinse the grains after each brew, avoiding tap water as it may contain contaminants that harm the grains.
- You can store kefir grains in the fridge in sugar water for up to a week. You can also freeze them for up to 6 months. If you have too many grains, you can add them directly to a smoothie.
- The only metal that can touch your grains is stainless steel, as this is nonreactive.
- During fermentation, you’ll see the grains rising and sinking, as they produce gas when growing. This is a good sign.
- To get a fizzy second stage fermentation, you must use a tight-fitting lid on the bottle.
- The water and coconut kefir will keep for several months in the fridge.
- If your grains aren’t reproducing, it’s because you’re not using enough sugar in the mixture. Use the recipe for growing the grains, in those amounts, to revive and get your grains going again.
- After freezing the grains, it will take several harvests to get the grains reproducing fully again.
- You can buy grains from eBay in most countries. Just search for ‘water kefir grains’.