If you are familiar with milk kefir grains, you might be wondering what water kefir grains are, and how they differ. They both have a similar symbiosis of bacteria and yeast that ferment a sugary liquid at room temperature into a healthy probiotic beverage, however they are not the same grain. The milk kefir grains use milk; whereas, water kefir grains use a sugar-water mix, typically supplemented with dried fruit. Milk grains look like soft opaque curds of cauliflower heads while water kefir grains looks like tiny semi-transparent crystal gems.
Milk and water kefir share some common strains of bacteria and yeast, but they also have many unique strains. People occasionally have some measure of success fermenting milk with water kefir grains or vise versa temporarily, however the grains never convert or physically change to be the other culture.
Water kefir grains ferment at room temperature typically for about 48 hours (compared to 24 for milk). A good rule of thumb is that for every tablespoon of grains, you need about 1 tablespoon of any kind of sugar (white, brown, raw, or a mix) and about 1 cup of water. Simply add a couple pieces of dried fruit for more flavor and nutrients (for the grains and yourself). You can also add in some fresh lemon if desired. In 48 hours you’ll have a delicious, refreshing and healthy probiotic drink.
One thing to keep in mind is that a big portion of the sugar is broken down and converted by the grains into acids, carbonation, small amounts of alcohol and other nutritious by-products. The actual sugar content and GL is lowered once it is ready to drink. It should taste mildly sweet and tangy when its done (never like plain sugar water). Longer ferments will also reduce the sugar content further. Water kefir can be a great choice for the sugar-conscious and even sometimes suitable for some diabetics.
You might be wondering what it tastes like. Water Kefir has a wonderful mildly zesty flavor, and can be likened to a natural, light and refreshing soda. It is more mild than milk kefir or kombucha, having just a slight tang (but can build more carbonation and tang if bottled for a short time). The dried fruit, lemon, type of sugar and other ingredients will largely determine its flavor as well. When bottling you can vary it up and be creative with any new flavor or find your own personal favorite combination to stick with.
Water Kefir Grains are a great alternative or addition to milk kefir. They’re economical, healthy, delicious and fun to experiment with. Most times the grains themselves out-live their owners.