Wild and Lazy Fermentation

Real Water Kefir and Dom

I wrote a while ago about making water kefir using milk kefir grains.  When made that way it’s not suitable for strict vegans, and it risks the health of the grains, but in a pinch it will do the trick.  I recently broke down and bought some real water grains, because of a certain someone.  A man.  And I’m not talking about my (basically perfect) husband.

I’ve been holding out on you, dear reader.  I never told you about Dom.  If you are any kind of kefir veteran, you already know Dom.  If you’re new to fermenting, or kefir, maybe you aren’t familiar, but I think you are about to be as in love as I am.  I myself have never met Dom, but love is not too strong a word.   Why?  Because he has apparently devoted a significant portion of his life to some pretty rigorous experimentation surrounding my very favorite culture, kefir.   Furthermore, he shares the results of all of his efforts with the rest of us for free on his site.

It might not be love at first site for you.  Maybe you like your urls to be shorter than 23 words.  Okay.  Maybe you prefer the simple color schemes that websites have developed in the last decade to two decades to the wild and crazy color choices of the 90s internet.  I hear you.  But I love Dom just how he is (and I think if you have a problem with that stuff I just mentioned, you’ll get over it once you see what the man has to offer).

I have used Dom’s site (Dom’s kefir in-site, to be exact) as a resource for milk kefir for quite some time.  And it was Dom who finally convinced me to take the plunge and get some water kefir (or as he calls them, sugar kefir) grains.  It was seduction, pure and simple.  I was pouring over some of his milk kefir info for the 29th time when I decided to take a peek, just a tiny scroll, into water territory.  Just to see.  And what a slippery slope it was.  It’s too sweet, I thought.  I’m satisfied with what I have.  I have other cultures in my life.  They deserve my time and loyalty.  A glance become a look and then I was staring, and their translucent sugar-munching bodies suddenly held an appeal they’d never had before.  It was like I was seeing them for the first time.  Dom’s fantastic explanations of increasing growth rate, best flavoring practices and secondary fermentation strategy put my mind in a dither and before I knew what I was happening, I’d printed out my order form and mailed it off to the always wonderful GEM.

Now here I am a couple months later not enjoying exactly daily batches of the sweet stuff, but it definitely enters into our weekly repertoire.  The sugars you put in are converted not just to CO2 and alcohol, but also to fructose*, which is why water kefir retains such a sweet taste even after fermentation is complete.  From a health standpoint, this is still a decent dose of sugar.  But if you are, for instance, a person trying to kick a soda habit, water kefir might just be your perfect transition.

You can get more than enough amazing info from Dom’s site, and I highly suggest you do, but in the meantime, I’ll share my very simple process with you.  Just know that everything I do right is thanks to Dom and any errors are my own.

A note on grains: neither water kefir nor milk kefir grains are actually grains.  They are most likely called grains due to their granular appearance, but in reality they are cultures made up of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBYs, if you will) that contain no grain at all.

Some close up grains

Water Kefir

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT THE EXCELLENT ADVICE THAT CAME FROM YEMOOS.

Makes 1 quart

Unlike milk kefir grains, water kefir grains sink to the bottom.  So although this is a process of anaerobic (airless) fermentation, you don’t really need a sealing container.  I like to use a container that seals because it makes the final product fizzier, like a pro-biotic pop, even if I don’t do secondary fermentation.  When you put your kefir in a sealed container, you definitely want to leave a few inches of space at the top.  In a long-neck bottle, don’t fill the neck.  Your grains are creating CO2 and that can cause explosions.  This is also why you don’t want to let your container ferment for much longer than two days, and why, even once it’s in the fridge, you need to open it up every so often to let that CO2 escape.  Although this has never happened to me, it is a real risk to be aware of.

  • 3 cups of filtered water
  • 4 tablespoons cane sugar of your choice (processed sugars are okay, but honey is a no-no due to its antibacterial properties)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar, sucanat, molasses or other unprocessed sugar
  • ~1/2 cup kefir grains
  • 1 slice of scrubbed lemon
  • 1 date or a couple dried, unsulphured apricots (in warm weather only)

The Process

  1. Add sugars to water and stir until dissolved
  2. Add kefir grains (and then optional flavorings above) to your container and cover it
  3. Let  it sit at room temperature for 48 hours
  4. Strain out your fruit and compost it
  5. Strain out your kefir grains with a non-metallic mesh strainer and put them into fresh sugar solution to repeat process.  Once in fresh sugar solution, you may choose to store them in the fridge for up to a week before making your next batch
  6. If you like your drinks extra fizzy, put your finished, strained water kefir into a container that seals, such as a swingtop bottle and let it sit at room temp for 1-2 days more.  You can also add all varieties of flavorings once your kefir grains are removed.  Apple and grape juice, coconut water and vanilla beans are all great choices that yield excellent results. BE VERY CAREFUL AT THIS STEP.  EXPLOSIONS FROM WATER KEFIR SEEM TO BE THE MOST COMMON EXPLOSIONS. IF YOU A BOTTLING IN GLASS, YOU MUST BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL!!!
  7. Stick it in the fridge or cold storage to let it chill before serving.

Special thanks to Mari Jaye Blanchard for the lovely photos in this post.

*Learned that fact on culturesforhealth.com, where there are excellent videos for beginners.

10 Comments

  1. Posted March 5, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Unbelievable! The grains look like granita. And the water kefir looks strangely refreshing…

  2. Amanda
    Posted March 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    It is refreshing! If nothing else, I do throw a lemon wedge in for primary fermentation and even that taste like something that should be served at the spa!

  3. Malgorzata
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible to use agave or maple sirup instead of sugar?

  4. Amanda
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Yes, however, I would try this with a spare set of grains. Make sure they are still reproducing normally before you use your primary set of grains, and be aware that there is a risk you will kill them. Both agave and maple syrup have antibacterial properties and they can impact the long term health of your grains. I would not recommend it for that reason, but it will work. Other sugars, like raw sugar and succanat work great. Darker colored sugars may dye your grains, but that does not impact their effectiveness.

    If you are concerned with the sugar content, remember that the sugar is reduced by 80% during fermentation (according to Dom), and the sugar that remains has been converted from sucrose to fructose, so this is definitely not like drinking soda from a health standpoint.

    Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  5. Dritan
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    would stevia be an option?

  6. Amanda
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dritan,

    No, stevia does not work, unfortunately. Reb A is the compound in the stevia plant that makes it sweet, but it is not a sugar. I am definitely not a chemist, so I can’t tell you what exactly it is, but your grains feed off of (and convert) sugar (could be sugar from fruit or sugar from the cane) but stevia doesn’t have sugars for your grains to eat. Sorry about that! Remember that in the fermentation process, 80% of the sugar is removed and remaining sucrose has been converted to fructose, so it’s more similar to drinking a bit of fruit juice than drinking a soda.

  7. Susan
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    So if I really, really don’t want to be consuming extra sugar, water kefir is not for me. Is that right?

  8. Amanda
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I would say there are definitely better places to get your good bacteria if you are concerned with sugar intake. As I mentioned, the sugar is converted to several things, one of which is fructose. If you’re okay with sugar from fruit juice, this would be the same kind of sugar. Having said that, there are so many wonderful ferments that have little or no sugar, and I would encourage you to try those if you’re avoiding sugar. Good Luck!

  9. Susan
    Posted May 5, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Amanda. I make my own vinegar and nut-milk yogurt. I guess I’ll have to pass on the water kefir.

  10. Amanda
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Yum! Sounds great! Have you tried lactofermented pickling? No added sugar there, and much of what naturally occurs in the plants is digested by the LAB in the fermentation process. Could be a great option for you!

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