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.
WK is mildly alcoholic, usually around 0.5 to 1% alcohol by volume (abv). You can learn how to make it more boozy here.
- 1 quart/liter (32 fluid ounces) filtered water
- 50g (4 Tbsp. or ¼ cup by vol.) water kefir grains
- 50g (4 Tbsp. or ¼ cup or 60 ml) raw sugar
- 2g by weight / ¼ teaspoon/2 ml by volume molasses, piloncillo, jaggery, panocha/panutsa or other dark brown solid sugar form
- 25g (about a 1 inch/3cm sized piece) fresh ginger
- (Optional Secondary Fermentation) 2 Tbsp. fresh fruit or ¼ cup fruit juice, or 2 teaspoons/10 ml herbs (chamomile, lavender) for secondary fermentation
- Dissolve the sugar in water in a 1 gallon or larger glass or ceramic container. You can heat the water to hasten dissolution, but cool it back down to body temperature (100°F/37°C) or lower before adding grains.
- 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 2 to 3 days. (Taste it after 2 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.
- Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a swing top bottle (or other container that can seal). Remove the ginger pieces from the strainer and add a few slices to the bottle. Do not throw away the grains!
- Add some fresh fruit slices, fruit juice, herbs, or other flavoring. Add up to ¼ cup (120ml) juice per quart/liter of WK. A little goes a long way when it comes to fermentation, as flavors are amplified.
- Close the container(s) and let ferment for 3-4 more days (less in warmer weather). BE CAREFUL WHEN OPENING: Contents will build up pressure. As a safety precaution, "burp" the bottles daily to relieve excess carbonation from the bottle.
- Move to refrigerator. Enjoy chilled within a few weeks.
- 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.
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.