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How To Make Water Kefir ft Cultures for Health

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Join Nicole and Carly, Fermentor Mentor from Cultures For Health, as they talk about making water kefir!

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Cultures for Health sells high-quality starter cultures and everything you need to get your fermentation projects going. But what makes Cultures for Health special is their extensive amount of free information and customer support.

Cultures For Health would like to offer a 20% promo code off of any kefir-related product: BACKYARDKEFIR20

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    Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now, here's your host, Nicole.

    Nicole: Hello everybody, thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host, Nicole, and today we're joined by Carly, the fermentation mentor at Cultures for Health, and today we're going to talk about water kefir, Carly, thank you so much for joining me today.

    Carly: Thank you for having me today, Nicole.

    Nicole: So I've been a customer of yours many times. You guys make amazing products and I really used cultures for health as a resource, not only to supply products, but also the knowledge when I just got started into fermenting foods. So-

    Carly: That's awesome.

    Nicole: Yeah, you guys have so much information and I think that that's really helpful and I on a personal level, definitely appreciate that.

    Carly: Well, we're glad you've been able to take advantage of our educational resources in addition to our products.

    Nicole: Yeah. So one thing that I wanted to talk about today or the focus of today was water kefir. We did an episode a couple of weeks ago with SoulyRested about kombucha, but water kefir's another alternative to that or something you can use or brew in addition to maybe if we could just jump right in and can you explain to us a little bit more about what water kefir is?

    Carly: Yeah, of course. So water kefir is a culture that is sometimes confused with milk kefir because they're both in grain form. That's what you use to ferment the beverage, but they're actually two completely different cultures. It's still a considered a SCOBY, which means symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast, and they happen to feed on sugar water, whereas the SCOBY/grains for milk kefir feed on milk. So the cool thing about water kefir is it's appropriate for people with dairy allergies or who just want to stay away from dairy in general. It's a great substitute for soda. If you're trying to kick that soda habit, it can be mixed with cocktails or in place of cocktails, if you're trying to curb your drinking habit a little bit. It just has so many possibilities in terms of flavorings and carbonation. And it's just a very popular culture once people get ahold of it because it tastes very accessible as opposed to, kombucha is also delicious in my opinion, but it can be a little on the sour side, whereas water kefir is much milder and it's just so much more customizable, if you will.

    Nicole: Sure. I actually brew both, but I probably have to admit if I had to pick one, I like water kefir a little bit more because I have a sweet tooth and I drink it in place of soda.

    Carly: Yeah, that's great.

    Nicole: So what would you say is the biggest difference between and kombucha other than the flavor?

    Carly: Kombucha will give you a little more in terms of the strains and probiotics, but my aunt is a nutritionist and she said something to me when I was younger, which really stuck with me. And that's try to go for something that you actually enjoy consuming because you're more likely to stick with it. If you're really forcing something into your diet, you're just not going to stay with it. And with water kefir, it's still a healthy beverage, even if it's not quote unquote, the best beverage for you out of all the fermented beverages. It's also just a gateway into the world of fermented beverages, especially if you have kids or people who aren't necessarily accustomed to all the fermented foods and beverages. So that's why it's been becoming more and more popular, and I can see why.

    Nicole: Sure. So you mentioned that it doesn't necessarily have the same amount of probiotics as kombucha, but does it still have enough to make it worthwhile?

    Carly: Oh yeah, definitely. It still has about at least a dozen strains, depending on which grains you're working with. Another cool thing about them is that they're an heirloom culture, meaning that the strains that I have might be slightly different from the ones you have. So they're just constantly evolving and changing to go with the conditions. So even though they don't have quite as many strains as kombucha, you're still getting that probiotic benefit.

    Nicole: So if water kefir tends to have about a dozen strains for comparison to how many strains does kombucha usually have?

    Carly: Ooh, that's a good question. I'm really not great at memorizing numbers, but I would say it has maybe double the amount of strains as water kefir.

    Nicole: Okay. And so what are some of the other benefits other than the probiotics of water kefir, or just kind of the fermented beverages in general?

    Carly: Well, another cool thing about fermented beverages is that you can add flavorings to them and you can make them more or less healthy depending on what flavor you're going for. For example, you can add ginger to it. People might not like to just consume straight up ginger tea with no sugar in it or eat a chunk of ginger. But you can make it more delicious by adding it to a water kefir for drink, which will make it tastes more like ginger beer. You can add elderberry syrup to it or fruit juice. Really the sky's the limit in terms of what you want to add on top of the probiotic benefit to it.

    Nicole: So kind of just getting some basics of water kefir for out of the way. Does water kefir have alcohol in it like kombucha potentially can?

    Carly: it's very similar to kombucha in that it can contain a little bit of alcohol, but how it works when you're working with a SCOBY, which contains both yeast and bacteria, the yeast consumes the sugar, which turns the sugar into alcohol, and then the bacteria turns the alcohol into enzymes and beneficial acids. So you're never really going to get that alcohol content up too high.

    Nicole: Okay. So it's not something that would be inappropriate to have with your breakfast before you go to work, before you drive to work or something.

    Carly: Right. And I mean, everybody's different. And if you have concerns about alcohol consumption for whatever reason, it's best to talk with your doctor about that. But yeah, a lot of people give it to their kids, they drink it at any hour of the day. And as long as you consume it in moderation, just like any other food, most people are able to tolerate it just fine.

    Nicole: And what about sugar content? I mean, obviously this is a fermented sugar water. So what about people that are either trying to cut sugar out, or people that might be diabetic, or sensitive to sugars?

    Carly: Sure. Again, that's kind of a question in terms of your particular health history. So if you're concerned about it, I would talk to a doctor, but I like to see water kefir as a healthier alternative to soda. It's not necessarily void of sugar, although there are some things that you can do to reduce the sugar in it. So if you're not familiar with the process of making it, essentially what you'll do is you mix up some sugar water, add the grains to the sugar water, and then you let it culture for 24 to 48 hours depending on the room temperature. It's going to ferment more quickly in a warmer environment and a little more slowly in a cooler environment. So if after 48 hours you still detect some sugar in your water kefir, you can remove the grains, get the grains in just some fresh sugar water, but then you can let your finished water key for brew without the grains for an additional 24 to 48 hours. And instead of flavoring with juice or more sweetener, you can always add something like Stevia or an alternative sweetener that's not going to interfere with your blood sugar as much.

    Nicole: Okay, and this might be maybe a more appropriate question for later on down the road, but I'm going to ask it now. You mentioned that, to taste it and see if you can still detect the sugar, but if the finished product is supposed to be sweet, how do you determine the difference between still has sugar in it and a sweetened fermented beverage?

    Carly: It takes a little bit of practice to get a feel for how it's quote unquote "supposed" to taste. I always generally recommend people just try it first and you can find it at the grocery store next to the kombucha and things like that. It's not going to taste exactly like the water kefir that you would make yourself. And in fact, the stuff at the store is going to taste a little sweeter probably than what you're going to make at home. But when you mix the sugar and the water together, just take a tiny little sip of that and take note of how sweet it tastes. So then at the end of 48 hours, you can tell if it's gotten less sweet or not. And so this might be skipping ahead a little bit, but in order to carbonate it, it's going to need at least a little bit of sugar left. So if you're not tasting any sweetness at all, it probably won't carbonate much. But if it's still as sweet as the sugar water you started with, then you'll probably want to do the secondary ferment, which I was referring to without the grains, if that makes sense.

    Nicole: Okay. Yeah, that, that does make sense. I know when I first started brewing it, I tasted it and I was like, 'Well, it's still sweet and it doesn't taste like kombucha and I don't know if I'm doing this right." And so I probably just dumped out, I saved the grains but dumped out the first several batches that I made just because I wasn't really sure what it was supposed to taste like. But there is a pretty distinct difference in the sweetness and the obvious sugar in the sugar water mix that you make versus the sweetened flavor of the finished beverage.

    Carly: Right. And another thing to look for is if the liquid turns cloudy, that's how you know that the microbes are doing their thing. So you can kind of take the visual along with the taste and determine where it is in the fermentation cycle.

    Nicole: Okay. So we have our water kefir grains and our sugar water mix. And what is the ratio or or how do you know how much grains to sugar to water to make?

    Carly: We start with the ratio of two to three tablespoons of water kefir grains and ours come dehydrated. So that's another thing. Just rewinding a little bit to what you said about throwing out the first couple of batches is since they're dehydrated or even if they come fresh, they might need a couple of batches in order to get back to their original strength. Just because the stress of being transported can cause them a little stress. So they need to be fed a couple of times until they're brought back up to speed. And I'm sorry, what was your, what was the original question?

    Nicole: You're fine. The ratio of grains to water to sugar.

    Carly: Oh, okay. So we recommend two to three tablespoons of grains, to a quarter cup sugar, to one quart of water. And once your grands multiply, you can up your batch size to a half a gallon. But we find that increasing your batch size beyond that makes it a little difficult for the grains to consume all the sugar that they possibly can in the liquid. So yes, stick to either one or two quarts.

    Nicole: Okay. And what do you recommend as sugar, which sugar is best for brewing water kefir?

    Carly: We use a sugar called Rapadura in our kitchen, which tends to have the perfect balance of minerals. Another great one is called Sucanat, but really any sugar that is a medium brown color, for example, light brown sugar, turbinado sugar, those are all great choices because they do need some minerals but you don't want to give them too many. So for example a coconut sugar contains too many minerals and that can damage the grains or a dark Brown sugar that contains a little too many minerals too.

    Nicole: And I assume that we want to use filtered or unchlorinated and unfluorinated water with these.

    Carly: Exactly, and I mean I live in the city and I prefer not to buy water and I find that my city water works fine. You might just want to do a little bit of research to see if your city or town is known to have an elevated level of chlorine and fluoride. But a lot of the precautions that I see floating around the internet are a little bit overkill in my opinion. And I mean even on our website, we go a little bit on the cautious side just so we can absolutely ensure success. I personally find that fermentation is more relaxed and easier than what the internet makes it out to be.

    Nicole: Sure. Yeah. I know that for our water kefir after some training, I say I trained them, that's not the right term, but I went from having to change the sugar water every 24 to 40 hours to now I do it every three to five days just depending. And that has made life a little bit easier. But I think that there's the way to do it that ensures success and then there's other ways to do it that might not necessarily be by the book, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work.

    Carly: Yeah, exactly. And we strongly encourage people to experiment. It's part of what makes fermentation fun. It's just we can't guarantee our products unless they're given the special treatment, if you want to call it that.

    Nicole: Sure. So now that we have kind of covered the basics of how to actually brew the water kefir, let's say we've got our first batch that's finished. What do we do next? You said that we can let it do a secondary fermentation.

    Carly: Yep. There's a couple of different options. You can just take the grains out and drink it as is or put it in the refrigerator and then drink it later as is. Or you can remove the grains and then whenever you remove the grains, you're going to want to get them into fresh sugar water right away. But for all intents and purposes, I'll just call water kefir after culturing for 48 hours. Finished water kefir, even though you might want to do other things to it, but you can take that finished water kefir and add some juice or other to it and then drink it like that. Or you can take it one step up and add it to a sealed container along with juice or other sweeteners or any other flavoring that you'd like and then seal the bottle or airtight container for another two to say five or six days depending on the ambient temperature and it will carbonate because there will still be some enzymes left in the solution that will continue to ferment the sugars out and produce carbon dioxide. So that's how you get it fizzy and tasting a lot like soda.

    Nicole: And you mentioned being able to flavor it. What are some of the fan favorite flavors or ones that you enjoy the most?

    Carly: I really like lime and ginger as a flavoring. You can mix it with pomegranate juice, that's another one of my favorites, or orange juice. You can add a green tea to it or we sell flavor kits on our website and surprisingly one of the staff favorites was beet ginger and I'm not saying you necessarily need to buy the kit that we sell, but you can also add beet juice and sugar to create a beet ginger water kefir. Yeah. One of the things that I find the most fun about water kefir is just experimenting with all the endless possibilities of flavors. We actually had somebody write in to tell me that he uses his water kefir with one of those beer extract kits that you buy in the store, so he just adds a little bit of water kefir to the malt extract kit and then creates kind of like a low to no alcohol, beer beverage. So I'm very excited to try that.

    Nicole: Yeah, that sounds interesting. I know that I just finished up a batch a couple of days ago and I put in raspberry and lemons and that was probably my favorite one yet.

    Carly: That sounds delicious.

    Nicole: It was.

    Carly: Oh, I just remembered one of my favorite recent success stories. I added it to mostly white grape juice and added just a little bit of purple grape juice just for color to make kind of like a mock rosé and my friends really liked that. It's just nice to have a special beverage when you get home from work and it doesn't need to contain alcohol, just something bubbly and tasty to help you relax after the work day.

    Nicole: Yeah. Yeah, I usually like to have a glass of water kefir. Sometimes I'll have it in the morning with my breakfast, but usually after dinner

    Carly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's good stuff.

    Nicole: Yeah. So obviously the water kefir greens will propagate and continue to multiply. So how do you know when you have too many and once you reach that level, what are some things that we can do with the extras?

    Carly: So you'll want to keep an eye out for about two to three tablespoons and most places that sell them to you, we'll give you about that much. Either fresh or else they'll rehydrate to that much if you buy them rehydrated. So once you see them multiply beyond that, that's when you know you should probably cull some or increase your batch size to accommodate. So if you decide to go the culling route, you can give them to your friends or coworkers or family. You can throw them in your smoothies, give them to your chickens, just eat them, you can just kind of get created with them

    Nicole: If you wanted to share them with friends, what's the best way, like should we just like make a little jar with some sugar water or can you mail them?

    Carly: Yeah, you can mail them. I would recommend sticking to the ratio of a quarter cup of sugar to a quart of water, but you can reduce that to say one tablespoon per cup of water or even less than that if you're mailing them. Usually they'll mail just fine. We dehydrate them before mailing them just to keep them a little more stable and you can actually dehydrate them yourself too. That's a bit of a safer bet and dehydrating them just entails straining them off and then spreading them out on a paper towel or a clean tea towel and letting them sit at room temperature for a day or two. You can expedite the process by putting them under a fan or something like that, but you just, you don't want to expose them to too much heat.

    Nicole: Oh, okay. So if let's say I need to take a break from brewing water kefir maybe I'm going to go on vacation or something. If this stuff needs rotated out with fresh sugar water every 24 to 48 hours, what's the best way to be able to step away from it for a week or a month or whatever without having to try to take it with me?

    Carly: Ultimately, the best thing to do, would be to find a friend who would want to be the kefir green caretaker, but I know that's kind of a tough sell. Unless you're, you have fermentation nerd friends like I do, but what you can do is just mix up your sugar water like you normally do. Put the grains in and then stick it in the fridge and they'll last at least a week like that, but upwards of two to three weeks.

    Nicole: Okay.

    Carly: Otherwise for longer breaks, as I mentioned before, you can dehydrate them and then you'll have to kind of coax them back to life. But they should bounce back after a couple of batches.

    Nicole: Okay. And if we refrigerate them, do they also need the same coaxing or are they just ready to go right out when you get back?

    Carly: If you only refrigerate them for about a week, they should bounce right back. But it's a little longer than that, you might need to coax them. And I usually tell people, if you see any sort of sign that they're fermenting, like the sugar water turns cloudy, or you notice a change in flavor or aroma, that means they're alive and they just might need a couple more batches to fully bounce back.

    Nicole: And what would you say are some of the beginner mistakes or problems that people have when they first get started?

    Carly: The question I get most often, people don't realize this is the problem, but the issue that I find the most common is the culturing temperature. Water kefir can live fairly comfortably between 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but if it's at 68 degrees or below, or even between 68 to 70 while they're activating, sometimes it's a little tough to notice fermentation happening and when they're activating they also might need a little babying. So I always recommend keeping them in a warmer spot. Like if you have a seedling mat, place your jar on top of that, that's like perfect. Or you can put it on top of a warm appliance, like the top of people's refrigerators will generate a little bit of heat or keep it next to your furnace. Just a low tech thing like that to just keep them a little bit warmer.

    Nicole: Sure.

    Carly: A lot of people will also accidentally use something other than cane sugar to feed their grains. A lot of people think that they can feed them like Stevia or monk fruit or something like that, but you need something with actual calories in it because they're living things and they need something that actually gives them calories. And then you also want to stay away from sugars like maple syrup, or honey, or non cane sugar options for the most part because they can contain too many minerals or for example, honey contains antimicrobial compounds which can affect the grains. So just stick to cane sugar, if you want to keep it easier for yourself, then you can move on to, well, sorry I don't want to introduce too many options and make it confusing, but once you get your grains going, you can experiment with coconut water, coconut water kefir's absolutely delicious. You'll need to refresh them back into sugar water every couple of batches too.

    Nicole: Okay, so if somebody wanted to get more information and get started in brewing their own water kefir, what resources do you have available for them?

    Carly: We have a very extensive website. You'll just want to go to and then hover over the link that says learn and then you can learn more about yogurt, milk kefir, kombucha, and then there'll be a section for water kefir. And then we also have lots of recipes and videos and things like that to get you started,

    Nicole: So you guys were generous enough to offer a 20% off of kefir products for our listeners with the code backyardkefir20 and we'll put that in the show notes as well.

    Carly: Excellent.

    Nicole: Awesome.

    Carly: Yes, please feel free to take advantage of that and our website, we have a contact us page if you want to get in touch with me and the other fermentor mentors. We're always happy to help and answer all your questions so you feel comfortable getting going on your fermentation project.

    Nicole: Absolutely. I know that I've reached out to you guys and your customer service and your products are both really amazing.

    Carly: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate that.

    Nicole: Of course. Well Carly, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk to us about water kefir and help everybody get started on the right foot.

    Carly: Yeah, of course. Nicole, thank you so much for having me. This was a really fun experience.

    Nicole: Yeah, I enjoyed it as well, and for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty, and we'll see you again next week.

    Announcer: Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at [email protected] Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.

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