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Two jars of fermenting water kefir
Two jars of fermenting water kefir

Water Kefir is one of the healthiest probiotic drinks out there, especially if you make it at home. It is my personal favourite probiotic drink and I drink it every day. Brewing it is pretty straightforward and requires a fairly minimal setup and ingredients. The below information details my method of brewing water kefir.

Table of Contents

1. The Basic Idea of Water Kefir

Brewing water kefir requires three components: water kefir grains, water, and sugar. Water kefir grains are clusters of bacteria and yeast that look like little blobs of jelly. You place them in a jar of water and add sugar. The microbes from these grains eat the sugar and multiply themselves. The kefir grains also grow and multiply. After a few days or so of fermentation, the water will be filled with these microbes, and you have a fresh probiotic drink to enjoy.

After separating the water from the grains, you may drink the water whilst re-using your grains to brew another batch of kefir.

2. How to Get Water Kefir Grains

You need to buy them from a supplier or get some from a friend. You should be able to buy organic water kefir grains on the internet in most countries, you can get them shipped to your door.

3. Ingredients and Equipment

As I mentioned, water kefir ferments with water kefir grains, water, and sugar. I will go into detail about these ingredients, as well as specifying other things you'll need.

  • Water kefir grains - see above.
  • Water - preferably not tap water. Tap water usually contains substances, such as chlorine, which will negatively affect the microbes in your kefir, and possibly even kill them. I use glass-bottled spring water for my kefir. The water is clean, and the glass bottles are useful for keeping the kefir in. I use still water.
  • Sugar - essential for the fermentation to happen. Ideally, you want to use organic sugar in your kefir ferments. Regular refined sugar may work, but is likelier to be contaminated with chemicals that damage the grains.
  • Molasses - kefir grains thrive in mineral-rich water. Adding molasses to a kefir ferment is a great way to supplement minerals into the water. Molasses, a thick treacle that is the byproduct of the sugar refinement process, is rich in minerals. I highly recommend using molasses, though it may not be necessary if you are using a mineral-rich water. I suggest buying an organic product.
  • Glass jars - to brew your kefir in. Size and number of jars will vary depending on how much kefir you want to make. I brew kefir in a couple of two-litre glass jars, for a total of four litres of kefir.
  • Swing-top bottles - optional, to do a second anaerobic fermentation with (see below). During this process, the kefir becomes carbonated. A good swing-top bottle can withstand a lot of pressure from carbonation. Alternatively, if you buy glass-bottled spring water, you could use those bottles for the second ferment.

4. Activation Process

If you got your water kefir grains delivered in the post you will need to "activate" them. Because the grains have been sitting in an envelope and not in sugary water the microbes are "asleep" and you need to reawaken them.

To do so: Place your grains in a jar and fill it with some water. It is often suggested to use roughly 250ml of water per 20g of grains. Add about one tablespoon of sugar per 20g of grains to the water. Do not cover the jar with a tight lid. Instead, use something like a paper town to cover it, fastened onto the jar with an elastic band. This allows for an aerobic (in the presence of oxygen) ferment.

Leave the solution to sit at room temperature for a couple of days, after which the grains will be activated. You may discard the water, but the grains will be used to start brewing batches of kefir.

If you know the grains you have are awake already, for example your friend gave you some straight from a fresh fermentation, you don't need to activate them. They are already awake.

5. First Fermentation

Place the kefir grains in a glass container, fill the container with water, and add sugar. Mix the sugar into the water well. The standard recommendation is: per 20g of grains, use 500ml of water and a tablespoon of sugar. This is good to start out with, but as I have done more first ferments and my grains have grown and replicated, I use many more grains and more sugar than that. Once you have grown enough grains, you can experiment with using more grains and sugar too, as this can add a lot more probiotic value.

I also add molasses to my first ferment. I add about half a tablespoon per litre of water, and I mix it in well.

The first ferment is aerobic, in the presence of oxygen, so don't cover the container with an airtight light. Like with the activation process, cover the container with a paper towel or cloth, fastened onto the jar with an elastic band.

The amount of time needed for the first ferment various, usually you will need at least two days. If you have done numerous first ferments and have many grains, you probably won't need more than two days unless the room temperature is cold.

To get an idea of my own current process: I have a two-litre glass jar I use to do a first ferment. In the water I mix in six or seven tablespoons of sugar, and a tablespoon of molasses. I have over 100g of grains in the jar. I let the first fermentation water sit for around two days.

Once the first ferment is finished, separate the water from the grains. You then re-use the grains to start another first ferment, in a continuous brewing process. You may drink the water, or use it to start a second ferment (see below).

6. Second Fermentation

A second fermentation will increase the microbe content of the kefir and carbonate it, improving the taste and probiotic value.

Take the water from the finished first ferment and put it in a sealed glass container. This could be inside a swing-top bottle, or a jar or glass bottle with an airtight lid. Swing-top bottles, designed to hold carbonated beverages, are recommended. Alternatively, if you are not bothered about carbonating the kefir, you can just do the second ferment open air like the first ferment.

To carbonate the kefir, you must ferment it in an airtight container from which the carbon dioxide gas produced by the microbes cannot escape.

Before sealing the container, add a bit of sugar in, perhaps a teaspoon or two, to keep the microbes fed during the second ferment. Don't add molasses to a second ferment, the water will have enough minerals already from adding it during the first ferment. You may also add some fruit to flavour the drink. I like to add slices of lemon and orange. Finally, if you have enough grains from doing many first ferments, I suggest adding roughly a teaspoon of grains into the second ferment water. This helps speed up the fermentation and improves the kefir's probiotic value.

I usually allow two days for the second ferment. Depending on the climate you're in, you may need more or less time. It's up to you to see how your kefir reacts.

You may wish to "burp" your kefir occasionally to release some gas, preventing the carbonation from getting excessive. For example, I may open the lid on a bottle of second ferment kefir one day after starting the second ferment, before resealing it. Again, experiment with this yourself and see how often or not your kefir needs to be burped. In warmer climates, the kefir can carbonate very quickly. Either way, take care since too much pressure can cause explosions.

I wrote a post about how to achieve a speedy second fermentation. You can read it here: Water Kefir Fast Second Fermentation.

7. Storage

As I mentioned, fermenting the water kefir in glass containers is best. The kefir should be kept out of direct sunlight and at room temperature. Some may wish to use an electric heating blanket, as suggested in my fast second fermentation article.

During the second fermentation, I keep the fermenting bottles of kefir in a box covered with a towel. There is always a slight chance of explosions, so don't place the kefir in the open, such as on a kitchen counter, as flying broken glass cloud hurt you and others.

You may place the first ferment kefir in the open. Being an aerobic ferment that is not carbonated, there is no risk of explosion.

8. Cleaning and Contamination

Occasionally I take the water and grains out of my glass jars to clean them. I rinse them with some warm clean water and dry them. There is no need to sterilize your glass equipment, rising well in water is enough.

Some people suggest rinsing your grains in water between batches, but I have not found this necessary.

It's possible, but highly unlikely, for kefir to get mouldy. Kefir is highly resistant to contamination from external microbes, but it's good to keep an eye out for signs of mould. White froth on the surface of the water is not mould, it's just the result of yeast growing, which is perfectly healthy. After many months of brewing my own kefir, I've never had mould problems and most people don't.

If mould starts growing, I would suggest throwing out the water and getting new grains. You don't want to risk using contaminated grains, even if you don't see mould on them.

Water Kefir and Milk Kefir are both fermented probiotic-rich drinks that are excellent for gut health, far better than virtually any other probiotic if you make them yourself. Here I'm going to state some of the pros and cons of each. This will involve looking at the microbe content of each drink, the taste, and so on.

Probiotic Value

This one is straightforward - milk kefir wins. Milk kefir has many more strains of beneficial yeast and bacteria. Water kefir is said to have 10 to 15 strains, while milk kefir has a least double that.

Taste

I'd say this is largely a matter of preference. Water kefir is a fruity fizzy drink, milk kefir is a creamy and somewhat fizzy drink. When made properly either one tastes good, so I'll call this a tie.

Nutritional Value

While water kefir is quite nutritious, since the microbes break down the sugar and create various vitamins and minerals, milk kefir is much more nutritious overall. It contains more vitamins and minerals, while water kefir also lacks protein and fat.

Ease of Making

Both are easy to make, with the correct ingredients. Water kefir requires clean water, organic sugar, organic molasses, and some organic fruit. Milk kefir requires high quality raw milk, as well as possibly some organic fruit to flavour it with. I'd say this is a tie since it depends if you have access to a steady supply of raw grass-fed milk or not. If you don't, water kefir should be your drink of choice.

Food Intolerances

Water kefir is suitable for anyone who can't, or doesn't want to, consume dairy products. Even high-quality dairy products can be very problematic for some people. There are many potential problems such as lactose intolerance, or the high calcium content of milk.

Water kefir wins this one because obviously it lacks these dairy-related issues.

Conclusion

Personally, I don't think one is substantially better than the other. The main trade-off is that water kefir lacks the potential problems posed by dairy, but milk kefir is a more potent probiotic. Personally I like to drink mostly water kefir, but now and then I drink some milk kefir for the extra probiotic boost.

When you start making water kefir, over time you'll notice your grains growing and multiplying. Once your grains become really active they'll replicate especially quickly, as long as they are well-fed. You'll often end up with an excess of grains and you must decide what to do with them. You may use them to start brewing even larger amounts of water kefir, but if you want an extra probiotic boost you can just eat them too.

Eating water kefir grains is safe and gives you a substantial boost of beneficial bacteria. The grains sit in your gut for a while, producing new bacteria and further enhancing digestion. Drinking water kefir gives you a quick hit of bacteria and yeast, while eating the grains gives you a gradual stream of microbes.

Some people who cannot tolerate kefir well find they benefit a lot from eating the grains. Kefir grains are excellent probiotics in their own right, so much so that you do not have to drink any liquid kefir if you really don't want to. That said, doing both things - drinking the kefir liquid and eating the grains - will give you the best probiotic boost.

I put roughly a tablespoon of grains in my mouth and swallow them with a mouthful of water kefir. I eat the grains just after or during a meal, just like when I drink water kefir. You can try swallow the grains whole to keep them intact, but if they are large then it's fine to chew them a bit to break them up.

If you make milk kefir you can eat milk kefir grains too - but milk kefir grains tend to grow slowly and don't multiply as much. Unless you have a large milk kefir operation running, you won't be able to eat excess grains often. On the other hand, my water kefir grains grow quickly enough that I can eat one or two tablespoons of them per day.

So if you're having gut issues or otherwise seeking out an extra probiotic boost, eating kefir grains is extremely helpful.

Tibicos, or water kefir, is a powerful probiotic drink that is easy to make and perfect for anyone who does not wish to consume dairy kefir. However second water kefir ferments can take a while, 3 to 5 days or even longer in some climates. How can you speed it up?

After a bit of experimenting I have come up with a way to get a finished second ferment in 1 to 2 days. In warmer climates (I'm in England during the colder months) it should even be quicker.

Most people doing a second ferment add fruit to their kefir and seal it in a glass container. I like to add slices of lemon and apples to my second ferment. The lemon is mostly for flavouring, whilst the sugary apple slices help speed the fermentation up. I will usually slice up half and apple and put it into one litre of second ferment kefir. Slicing the apples up increases the surface area and exposes the sugar more easily to the microbes in the kefir.

You may also wish to experiment with adding an extra tablespoon or two of sugar into the second ferment, giving even more food for the bacteria and yeast and growing them quicker.

However to really help speed up the second ferment, you can add a tablespoon or two of kefir grains into it. Not only will the fruit feed the existing bacteria, the grains will also be producing new bacteria, adding extra probiotic potency. You can then drink the grains along with the kefir once the fermentation is done, or reuse them for another ferment.

Finally, another option to help speed up the fermentation in colder climates is to use a heating blanket to heat your jars of kefir. You can use one for first and second ferments. Note that the ideal temperature for water kefir is a bit over 20°C and using too high a temperature may damage or kill your grains! You also need to ensure the blanket emits low levels of electromagnetic radiation, as radiation may also damage or kill your grains. I don't use an electric blanket myself but you should be able to find something if you search for "low EMF blanket" on Google or shopping sites.

Hopefully these tips will guide you on your way to faster fermentations!

How to Make Milk Kefir

22 February 2022

Milk kefir is a fermented probiotic-rich drink that helps restore and maintain a healthy gut microbiome, essential for optimal health. It's an especially powerful probiotic in terms of the variety and number of bacteria it contains, much more potent than other probiotic drinks such as Kombucha or yoghurt.

It is ideal to make it yourself at home rather than buy it from the supermarket. Homemade kefir is vastly superior in terms of its nutrition and probiotic value than the standard supermarket stuff. That said, some farms do sell high-quality kefir.

Things Needed

All you need are milk, and milk kefir "grains" - not grains in the literal sense, but blobs of bacteria and yeast. The microbes from these grains eat the lactose (sugar) in the milk and ferment it. The grains grow and multiply over time and you re-use them with each ferment.

You can buy organic milk kefir grains online and have them delivered to you in most countries. Make sure they are organic and don't buy water kefir grains by accident (water kefir is a different drink).

The milk you use needs to be as high quality as possible. Usually people use cow, sheep, or goat's milk. The ideal is raw organic grass-fed milk from a healthy animal. By raw I mean the milk should not be pasteurized or homogenized, processes that damage the nutrients and natural bacteria in the milk. Absolutely bare minimum, the milk must be organic and unhomogenized.

Note that coconut or other plant milks are not suitable for making milk kefir, they do not contain the nutrients needed for the grains to survive and multiply.

Activation Process

If you get kefir grains shipped in the mail then you definitely need to do this. The grains will be dehydrated and dormant, having not been in milk for some time, and in need of "re-activating". Put the grains in a bowl of milk (around 250ml of milk or so) and leave it at room temperature for 1-2 days at room temperature. Cover it with something such as a cloth or paper towel. I use a paper towel with an elastic band to hold it onto the bowl. When the milk starts separating, the grains are ready. If there's no separation for 2 days, you can strain out the milk and replace it with new milk, and see if there is any separation after another 1-2 days.

First Fermentation

Milk kefir may go through one or two stages of fermentation before you drink it.

For the first fermentation, place your grains in a glass bowl or jar and add milk. Many suggest using 250ml of milk for every 5g of kefir grains, though I have deviated a bit from this guideline without issues. Then cover the bowl or jar with a cloth or towel and leave it for 1-2 days. In hot climates the fermentation may only take 12 hours or less. It's a good idea to stir the kefir occasionally too.

When the ferment is done you'll see the kefir grains floating at the top of the milk, the milk will look thicker, and you'll see some separation of curds and whey. Strain out the milk into another bowl/jar, separating it from your grains. You then reuse the grains for another first ferment. By now it's likely the grains have grown and multiplied somewhat.

You may drink the milk you just strained out, or refrigerate it to drink later. Alternatively you may do a second ferment with it.

Second Fermentation

The second fermentation further increases the kefir's bacteria count and nutritional value.

Put the kefir milk taken from the first ferment into a glass container. Cover it and leave it for 12-24 hours, though again in a hot climate it will ferment quicker, perhaps in 6 hours. Unlike the first ferment, I usually do the second ferment anaerobically by putting the milk in a sealed jar or bottle, carbonating it a little. However this is totally optional and if you don't want to risk an explosion then you may do the second ferment aerobically like the first one.

You may also put some sliced fruit into the milk for the second fermentation, to add some extra probiotic value and flavour. For milk kefir, I like to add some chopped blueberries.

When the second fermentation is done, the milk will have heavily separated, like a large white blob sitting on top of a layer of clear pale liquid. You can stir it up or even put it in a blender to create a consistent texture. Drink it straight away or you may refrigerate it for later.

Dos and Dont's

Keep the grains and milk in glass containers, not plastic or metal ones. Exposure to plastic or metal for long periods may damage the grains and bacteria.

Don't wash the grains, this will damage them. Keep them and the milk outside of sunlight too, otherwise unwanted bacteria and pathogens may start growing.

Milk Kefir is very resilient to contamination, but it is good to check for any obvious signs of mould. If you find any you should probably ditch your grains and buy another set. After months of fermentation mine never went mouldy, but you never know.

If you have any excess grains, you can eat them for a little extra probiotic benefit.

If you're going away and not taking your grains with you, or want to take a break from making kefir, put your grains in a large bowl of milk and store it in the fridge for up to one month.