How to Make Water Kefir (Probiotic Soda)
The pitcher in the back is sugar-water-molasses ready to be fermented by the water kefir grains. The jar in the front is vanilla flavored water kefir that’s ready to drink. The color contrast between start and finish is not always this drastic, but it is usually noticeable.
I’ve tried a variety of ferments. I’ve fermented all kinds of vegetables (the only one that has become a staple is ketchup), made kombucha (currently in hibernation), made milk kefir (which worked well for flavor, but was hard to consistently have fresh milk for at the right times, and my grains eventually died) and made tepache (which requires have fresh pineapple around, so it’s a fun occasional drink, not a staple).
I’ve only make making water kefir for about a month now, and I’m still working on how to achieve maximum carbonation in the finished product, but I have my routine down, and I’m thinking water kefir could be a new staple around here.
The real fun of water kefir is that it can easily be used to make homemade sodas ranging from any fruit flavor to ginger ale and root beer to herbal teas to whatever crazy flavor combination you want to try. However, unlike kombucha which quickly gets a strong tart flavor as it ferments, plain water kefir was a pleasantly mild flavor with just a bit of tart and sweet. While not particularly interesting, it is very drinkable on it’s own.
Both kombucha and water kefir seem to give me a similar energy boost when I drink them and I’ve been drinking quite a bit of water kefir, especially as I’ve realized that with its quick fermentation time, I don’t have to hoard it for ‘if I need it later’.
My favorite flavor of water kefir so far has been made by grating fresh ginger into the water kefir after its first fermentation. I’ll do some individual posts with more detailed water kefir soda recipes, but in the meant time, after straining out the water kefir grains you can try flavoring your soda with fresh ginger, or mix your water kefir half and half with any flavor of juice or tea (sweetened or unsweetened) before doing a second fermentation. (My husband really liked the water kefir I flavored with sweetened peppermint tea.)
Healthiness Rating: Healthy
The only possible health concern here is the sugar, and since water kefir takes a relatively small amount of sugar, most of which is consumed by the grains themselves AND does best on unrefined sugars such as turbinado, I don’t see that being a barrier to a healthy rating.
Water kefir also contains a wide variety of beneficial yeasts and bacteria, which most of us could use a lot more of in our diets.
Yumminess Rating: Yummy
Sure, you can mess this up if you try a flavoring that really doesn’t work right. (I’m going to give you a heads up that while I’ve never tried it with water kefir, I’ve had a bad experience trying to make celery soda.) But the basic flavor of water kefir is good, and gets even better with judicious flavorings.
1/2 cup water kefir grains
1/2 cup turbinado sugar or evaporated cane juice
1-2 tsp molasses (optional)
1 cup hot water
7 cups cold water
flavorings of choice
Let us assume that you are starting with a jar or baggie of water kefir grains. If they are active grains, such a might be given to you by a friend, you’re ready to go. If they’re dehydrated grains, such as might be ordered online, you’ll need to follow the instructions for rehydration first.
Once your grains are ready to go, you’ll need a container suitable for fermentation. I’ve been using these pitchers, which are a bit on the expensive side, but they’re really just the best for every kind of pouring, storing or fermenting. You could also use a two quart canning jar, or do half a batch in a regular quart jar.
Put the sugar and molasses (if using) into the bottom of your fermenting container. If using turbinado sugar the molasses is unnecessary, but more refined sugars need a little boost from the molasses to keep the water kefir grains healthy.
Pour about a cup of hot water over the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. (There’s no need to measure this exactly–estimating is fine.) Add cold water until the fermentation container is almost full.
You’ll want to use filtered water for this, because water kefir grains are sensitive to chlorine.
The water should now be about room temperature, but if it’s still hot, you’ll need to wait for it too cool down before adding the kefir grains.
Add the water kefir grains to the sugar water mixture. Loosely cap the container, or cover it with cheesecloth or a clean dishtowel and let it sit out and ferment for about two days. (I’m finding that two days may be too long, as the kefir tends to ferment past the time of peak carbonation after two days of primary ferment and two days of secondary ferment. Experiment a bit to see how long works best for you.)
The color of your liquid will often be lighter after fermentation as the kefir grains have digested many of the nutrients in the molasses and given you happy probiotics in exchange.
Strain the liquid into a new container (another pitcher or jar or two quart jars). I generally use a nylon mesh strainer, but from what I’ve read, a stainless steel strainer is unlikely to harm the grains, despite some anti metal hype in connection with water kefir grains.
I like to leave my water kefir grains sitting in the strainer while I begin the process of making sugar water again in the first jar. I don’t wash the jar every time, as I figure it’s just growing more of the same good bacteria, but I do rinse it with hot water after every few uses or if it starts to look or smell like it needs to be washed. If you feel the need you can wash it or use a new jar for every batch.
The finished water kefir can now be flavored as desired, tightly capped and left out for a secondary ferment for 1-2 days. At this point strain out anything you don’t want left in (such as tea leaves or grated ginger) and transfer it to the refrigerator.
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