Water kefir is a fizzy fermented beverage made by adding a water kefir culture (also known as WK or tibicos) to a sugar-water mixture. The culture is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts, (aka SCOBY). WK SCOBY cultures are organized into loose “grains” (see picture). They are not actually cereal grains. Contrast this with a kombucha SCOBY, which forms a single slimy pancake-like structure to keep its culture together.
The tibicos culture is believed to have originated in Mexico from a cactus in the genus Opuntia, aka prickly pear.
WK grains should not be confused with milk kefir grains, a dairy culture. Although they look similar, WK grains are more translucent, and they are made up of different microorganisms. WK and milk kefir are not interchangeable.
Unlike kombucha, water kefir tolerates certain fruits and adjuncts with it in the primary fermentation. In fact, it enjoys the trace minerals from fruits such as dates, raisins, etc. This recipe calls for only ginger in the primary fermentation, and uses small amounts of dark sugar (like molasses) for minerals. In fact, I will often simply bottle the WK for a secondary ferment to increase carbonation, but with no additional flavors.
You can make this with coconut water, too. Simply omit the water and sugar source and replace with 2 cans (about 1 quart/liter) of coconut water.
WK is mildly alcoholic, usually around 0.5 to 1% alcohol by volume (abv). You can learn how to make it more boozy here.
Care and Feeding of The Culture/Taking a break
The grains you strain out from the primary fermentation will likely have multiplied. If you want to take a break, then add the grains back to a “kefir korral”– a container to store your grains when you are not actively fermenting WK. The container (ideally a one quart or even larger glass jar with a lid) should have a solution of sugar water to keep the grains submerged and slowly feeding. To start the jar, dissolve 1 Tablespoon/15 ml sugar to 1 cup/ 250ml of water. Then add the grains to the korral.
The korral can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks or even months.
If you’re taking a long break (over a month), it’s best to replace the sugar solution every month or so.
Note that if you take a long break, you may need to make a few batches of water kefir from the dormant grains before you notice the same flavor and performance. It’s okay to toss out those first few batches if you don’t like them.
Cultures for Health sells high quality, live water kefir grains. [Note: We are an affiliate of CFH and we earn a small commission for each product sold through this site.]
- 2 quarts (liters) filtered water
- 100 g (1/2 cup) or 60 ml raw sugar
- 4 g by weight / ¼ teaspoon/2 ml by volume molasses piloncillo, jaggery, panocha/panutsa or other dark brown solid sugar form
- 50 g 4 Tbsp. or 1/4 cup by vol. water kefir grains
- 25 g about a 2 inch/5cm piece fresh ginger root
Secondary Fermentation (optional)
- 120 g (4 oz.) fresh fruit OR
- 120 ml (½ cup) fruit juice
- 5 ml (1 tsp.) dried herbs (chamomile, lavender)
Make Solution for Primary Fermentation
- Add water to a large (1 gallon or more) glass or ceramic container. You can warm the water (up to 100°F/37°C) to speed up the sugar dissolving in the next step.
- Add molasses or other solid sugar and stir until it dissolves.
- Slice ginger into thin slices, or grate it and add it to a muslin tea bag. Add slices or bag to container.
- Add water kefir (WK) grains.
- Cover with a clean dish or tea towel, or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.
- Store in a warm place for 1 to 2 days. (Taste it after 1 day and if you like it, you're ready to bottle and/or secondary ferment.)
- If you used a bag for the ginger, remove it from container, and squeeze to get every last drop of gingery goodness. Compost the spent ginger.
Transfer to Bottles for Secondary Fermentation (Optional)
- Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth and funnel into swing top bottles (or other bottles that can seal tightly, such as upcycled kombucha or mineral water bottles. The grains and fruit will be left in the strainer. Remove the fruit pieces from the strainer by hand and add to the liquid. Do not throw away the grains!
- Add some fresh fruit slices, fruit juice, herbs, or other flavoring. A little goes a long way when it comes to fermentation, as flavors are amplified.
- Close the container(s) and let ferment 2 to 4 days at room temperature. Check every few days and "burp" the bottles by opening them gently over a sing. BE CAREFUL WHEN OPENING! Contents will build up pressure.
- Move to refrigerator. Enjoy chilled within a few weeks.
Care and Feeding of WK Grains
- Add the grains back to your kefir korral (a jar filled with solution of sugar water). dissolving 1 Tablespoon/15 ml sugar to 1 cup/ 250ml of water. Store grains in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks.