Learn how to make water kefir, a fermented, vegan probiotic drink! It’s easy to make at home, and is a delicious, light, and flavorful alternative to milk kefir or kombucha.
Where are my kombucha fans?
For those of you who buy store-bought kombucha, you may have noticed another type of bottled drink appearing right next to it on the shelves. A lighter, less vinegary drink that tastes faintly like sparkling juice or sparkling lemonade. A drink that is perfect for summer heat.
Not sure if you’ve seen it? It isn’t always labeled clearly– sometimes it’s marked “vegan probiotic drink.” The easiest brand to find right now is Kevita. It’s almost always flavored– my favorites are lemon cayenne and lemon ginger.
Just like kombucha, water kefir tends to cost about $4 a bottle– a price tag that’s fine for once in awhile, but can really start to add up if you drink it often. The good news is, making water kefir is EASY. This post will walk you through how to make water kefir at home!
Water Kefir vs. Kombucha: What’s the Difference?
Both water kefir and kombucha are lightly fermented, probiotic-packed drinks. Both are made with sugar water, both are typically sold carbonated, and both are often sold flavored.
Kombucha is made from black tea and sugar, and the caffeine-free water kefir is made simply from sugar water. Water kefir is also quicker and simpler to make than kombucha.
Both use a starter culture– or a colony of yeast and bacteria– which helps transform the unfermented beverage safely into a fermented one. In kombucha, the starter culture is a SCOBY, and in water kefir, the starter culture is water kefir grains.
Water Kefir vs. Milk Kefir: What’s the Difference?
Another drink you might have seen is milk kefir. Milk kefir is a thick, probiotic milk drink that’s generally found in the dairy section near the milk and cream.
Both water kefir and milk kefir are made with kefir grains– but they’re slightly different strains of bacteria. And as the names suggest– milk kefir grains ferment milk into milk kefir, and water kefir grains ferment sugar water into water kefir.
Learn more: Here’s how to make milk kefir.
Can I Use Milk Kefir Grains to Make Water Kefir?
Maybe. You can try using your milk kefir grains to make water kefir, but it might not work, and the grains may not live. If the grains DO live, they might not continue to reproduce.
Keep in mind that if you do successfully convert milk kefir grains into water kefir grains, you can’t use them for milk again.
I recommend using water kefir grains, not milk kefir grains, for this drink.
Where Can I Buy Water Kefir Grains?
If you have a friend who makes water kefir, check with them first! Kefir grains multiply quickly, and they probably have extra to share.
If you need to buy kefir grains, try checking in local health food stores, or buy them online. I’ve had better success with live, active kefir grains than with dehydrated kefir grains.
Do I Need Special Equipment?
Other than the grains, the only “special” equipment you might want are pressure-resistant bottles for carbonating the water kefir.
You can use plastic soda bottles, reuse store-bought kombucha or water kefir bottles, or use pressure-resistant, swing-top bottles or growlers intended for brewing beer or other carbonated drinks. (I use bottles like these.) Avoid using decorative bottles to carbonate water kefir– they might explode.
Don’t want to find the right bottles? You can also skip the carbonation phase.
You might also want a funnel to help pour the water kefir into the bottles.
How to Make Water Kefir with Flavors
Just like with kombucha, you can either add flavored juice or lemonade directly to your water kefir, or do a second fermentation with diced fruit and herbs.
Keep in mind that using juice will usually give you a sweeter water kefir, and fruit a slightly less sweet kefir.
How to Make Water Kefir: Flavoring Ideas
- Lemon-Ginger: Use a combination of both flavoring techniques. Do a second fermentation with sliced ginger for 1-2 days. Add lemonade when bottling.
- Lemon-Cayenne: Use a combination of both flavoring techniques. Do a short second fermentation with one dried cayenne pepper. Taste the water kefir after 2 hours, and ferment longer if desired. Add lemonade when bottling.
- Coconut Water + Herbs: Use a combination of both flavoring techniques. Do a second fermentation with fresh mint and/or basil for 1-2 days. Add coconut water when bottling.
- Fruit Juice: Add your favorite fruit juice when bottling
- Apple + Spices: Do a second fermentation with diced apple, cinnamon, and clove for 2 days. Taste, and add more sweetener (juice, simple syrup, stevia etc.) if desired when bottling.
How to Make Water Kefir
Basic Water Kefir:
- 8 cups water (dechlorinated water or previously boiled water)
- 1/2 cup sugar (white, turbinado, or brown)
- 1/4 cup water kefir grains (amount approximate)
- 1 lemon, juiced
Optional Flavoring Add-Ins:
- fruit, spices
Equipment Needed While Fermenting:
- half gallon glass jar (or multiple smaller jars)
- paper towels or napkins (avoid using cheesecloth if you have a problem with fruit-flies)
- rubber band
Equipment Needed While Carbonating / Storing:
- mesh sieve or strainer
- 1 2-liter soda bottles OR 3 16-oz bottles, PLASTIC or PRESSURE-RESISTANT swing top glass bottles
- Add water and sugar to the glass jar, and mix until sugar is dissolved. (This is easiest if the water is warm.)Note: If water is hot, allow it to cool to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.
- Add the water kefir grains. Cover with a paper towel or napkin, and secure with a rubber band. Allow to ferment for 48-72 hours. Is it Working? There will be few, if any, signs that your kefir is fermenting until you move onto the carbonation step.Fermenting Time: The first time using your kefir grains, they may be sluggish. Give them the full 72 hours to ferment. In warm rooms, your kefir will generally ferment quickly (48 hours) and in cooler rooms, it will likely take longer (72 hours).Tip: Write the start and estimated end date on the paper towel.
- Pour the kefir through a mesh sieve into a clean jar or pitcher to strain out the water kefir grains.
- Add the lemon juice to the fermented water kefir.
- Set the grains aside in a clean jar or bowl, and then add more sugar water to start the process over again.
Tip: If you need to store the grains, store them in a new batch of sugar water, or in some of the current batch of sugar water.
Making Flavored Water Kefir: (Optional, but Recommended)
- Technique 1 (2nd Fermentation):Add fruit, spices, and / or herbs to the jar of fermented water kefir. Cover with a paper towel and rubber band, and ferment another 1-2 days.Tip: Never add the fruit (or other flavorings) to the water kefir while the kefir grains are still in the jar-- it could harm the grains.Strain out any added flavorings, and proceed to the bottling step.
- Technique 2 (Flavor Added to Final Bottling):Add desired amount of juice or lemonade to the kefir.
Bottling Water Kefir:
- Use a funnel to pour the water kefir into bottles. Refrigerate immediately, or proceed to the carbonation step.
Carbonating Water Kefir:
- Seal bottles. Check after 24 hours, or after 12 hours in warm rooms. The water kefir is ready when the plastic bottles are rock hard, or when glass bottles begin to fizz when opened.
- Ferment longer: It likely wasn't fully fermented. Try fermenting your next batch for one day longer. This is especially likely to happen on your first batch of kefir with grains that have been in storage. You can still drink the kefir, just ferment the next batch for a longer time period.
- Go organic: Try using organic sugar.
- Soak the Grains in Minerals: Add 1/8 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp molasses to the sugar water. Soak grains for at least a week, or up to a month. Don't drink this batch-- drain the liquid away and add the kefir grains to a new batch.
Additional Water Kefir Resource: True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home