Water Kefir Troubleshooting

by lydia on June 24, 2012

I have received numerous questions lately in regards to the process of water kefir (tibicos) fermentation. I’d like to address those on here for you. And please, if your question is not addressed, feel free to contact me and I’ll add them to this post.

1. How many grains do you need to start brewing? Can you reuse the grains?

There are various recipes for water kefir out there, the recipe I came up with uses 1- 1 1/2  cups grains to 15-16 cups water, or 1/2-2/3 grains to 7-8 cups water and so on, you get the idea. The grains reproduce each time you brew and can be used again and again so long as you feed them regularly with fresh sugar water. (a basic ratio of 1/4 cup grains to 1 quart water). They should last indefinitely, so long as they are properly cared for.

Here is my post on how to brew water kefir anaerobically

2. Does water kefir taste like kombucha? Are the benefits of water kefir the same as kombucha? How is water kefir different from kombucha.. either in the healthfulness or ease of prep?

Water kefir and kombucha are two totally different types of brew and do not taste the same. Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea using a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts), whereas water kefir is fed on mineral rich sugar water. Water kefir tastes like a mildly sweet bubbly soda type beverage. Both water kefir and kombucha have saccharomyces boulardii, a strain of bacteria and yeast. They both have a lot of the same benefits due to that fact and that they are probiotic beverages, though there are some differences. The difference in brewing is that kombucha has an initial aerobic portion of the ferment, once the scoby forms it becomes anaerobic, and the brewing process takes longer than that of water kefir. Water kefir can be ready in as little as 2-3 days, whereas the minimum for kombucha would be 7-10 days. Water kefir is an anaerobic ferment, therefore the end result is lactic acid bacteria as opposed to the glyconic acid in kombucha.

3. What is the alcohol content?

The alcohol content is VERY low and only occurs in the second ferment from what I understand. If you want your brew to have the least alcohol possible, keep the second ferment brief to one day or less. I’ve accidentally allowed a few bottles ferment longer and I could taste and sense a bit more of an alcohol content, but it’s still not much. So if you are pregnant or serving this to children, keep the second ferment to 1 day max. Here’s an interesting experiment on the alcohol content in WK. Also, if you add any fruit juice to the second ferment that can create alcohol, but again, just keep the second ferment brief. The alcohol content will still be very minimal.

4. Is it safe to drink during pregnancy?

If your concern is alcohol, than see above. It has very minimal alcohol, so I’d say it’s safe on that front. As for the probiotic effects, if you are used to consuming fermented foods then continue to do so as you were. If it’s a new food/beverage for you and you are not used to any probiotic foods or supplements, I’d say introduce it very slowly. Try a small glass with 1-2 ounces and see if it cause any kind of reaction. The issue with fermented foods some people have is that it can cause a ‘die off’ effect, as the beneficial bacteria and yeasts go in and do their thing. It may be unpleasant to you and if so back off and introduce it even more slowly. I’d suggest limiting your consumption to 4-8 ounces a day, since it is a very cleansing beverage. Save the deeper cleansing for when you are finished with pregnancy and lactation, but go ahead and enjoy a small amount. It will benefit you during your pregnancy and it’s a very good idea to be getting those good bacteria into you for your baby. You may want to double check with your doctor or a holistic doctor if you have any heavy metal toxicity in your body while you are pregnant or nursing. I would not recommend starting anything cleansing while you are nursing, but if you are already accustomed to fermented foods, beverages or probiotics it would be okay to drink a small amount during lactation.

5. Why is my water kefir not fizzy?

First and foremost, the grains need to be happily nourished. Try bottling after the first 48 hour brew. Strain out the grains, and pour the water kefir into some kind of wire stopper bottles, add a pinch of sugar or some fruit juice to the bottle. Let sit out for another 24 hours, then check again. If it’s still not fizzy, let it go a few mores hours up to another day (though you likely won’t need to and may not want the added alcohol). The carbonation occurs mostly during the second ferment. If this trick doesn’t work, consider how you are brewing. Have your grains sat for any length of time without refeeding?

Are you using quality water? If you are using reverse osmosis water, are you sure to add minerals to the brew? If you are using tap water, it likely has chlorine in it which will inhibit the growth of the grains. Make sure you are using good quality filtered water, not tap and preferably not distilled as there are no minerals and distilled water will pulls minerals out of the grains (just like RO, so you must add extra mineral drops to the brew).

Do a little troubleshooting, try to be consistent in how you brew and see if that helps. I have had a batch here and there not get very carbonated, but for the most part it is always quite fizzy.

Consider checking the pH of your water kefir, it should be somewhere between 3.0-4.6. You can add a tiny pinch of baking soda to the water kefir before bottling it and see if that helps as well. I wouldn’t add it to the bottles individually, simply because a little goes a long way and likely the one pinch for the whole batch will suffice. Consider purchasing ph strips to test your brews if you want to be more certain.

6. How do I store my kefir grains when I am not using them?

Store your grains in a sugar water solution, using the same ration of sugar to water as you would in brewing. Water Kefir grains stored in a Fido You can keep them in the fridge for a long time, so long as you change out the sugar water regurlarly. I make sure to do it once per week. Though if you find you need to go away for longer they should be okay once in a while for a longer stint (3-4 weeks), just be sure to refeed them as soon as you can and maintain a regular feeding schedule.

7. Is there any dairy in water kefir grains?

NO. Water kefir grains are fed on mineral rich sugar water, not milk.

8. Should I cover my water kefir while brewing or not? Use a lid or a cloth cover?

Unfortunately I’ve seen it both ways, however since it is an anaerobic fermentation process that you are seeking to achieve with water kefir (unlike kombucha) you need to cover it while brewing. It is best to do it in an airtight vessel, such as a jar with a swing top wire lid or a Pickl-It Jar.

9. My WK grains have lost their pebble shape and have become mushy and sludge like. Have I ruined them?

They should not be mushy and sludge like.

Let’s trouble shoot; Are you using an airtight vessel to brew in? Are you maybe using too little sugar or going to long in between brews? Is your water clean pure water with no chlorine? Do you add minerals or every use unrefined blackstrap molasses?

Here’s what I would try – rinse them off with pure water and set them in a fresh sugar solution (1/4 cup sugar to quart of water) in an airtight vessel for 2 days. Strain them out – look at them if they are still sludgy and mushy rinse them again and try one more time in sugar solution. If they start to perk up again, refeed them yet a third time for 2 days and then start a new brew.  Refer to my post, here for brewing instructions

http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2011/11/water-kefir-healthy-homemade-soda-alternative/

Consider what vessel you brew in, if you use a mason jar with 2 piece lid they are not truly airtight. Look for a wire stopper container like a Fido – they are very affordable and you can get them at a BB&B or a Marshalls, Home Goods or TJMaxx or even online. It will be worth investing in the long run. I use a Pickl-It jar for my brewing.

10. After the second ferment in an air tight bottle (already flavored and remineralized), how long can these bottles be stored in our pantry?  Do you refrigerate the 2nd brew during its 24-48 hour time and let it stay in the fridge until consumed OR in a dark place, again, until  24 hours are over and then move to the refrigerator?

The second ferment needs to be done in a dark cupboard for 24-48 hours (or less if you prefer). You can go a little longer if you wish, BUT it will slightly increase the alcohol content and could get very carbonated. If you second brew for 48 hours or more be sure to put it in the fridge first before opening it. Just trust me on this one! (unless you like sticky water kefir all over your kitchen!)

Once that phase is over it’s time to move to the fridge. The finished bottles of WK won’t  last long in your pantry, you have to refrigerate them. In the fridge they can last awhile, kind of like beer. (I’ve read you can keep homemade beer for up to a year) Keep in mind that it may continue to ferment at a very slow rate, so if it’s already very effervescent to begin with it may be more like champagne. (this is just my hunch though) If you had a cold basement you could store them there as well, but it would have to remain consistently cool like the temp of your fridge. I have a second fridge in my basement just for this purpose.

11. Can you convert milk kefir grains into water kefir grains, or can you use them to brew water kefir?

I have never done this personally, but have read many places that you can. Read here about how to convert.

Also, from Dom’s Kefir site;

But I’ve discovered that a variety of water-kefir may also be cultured with milk kefir-grains in place of SKG, by transferring milk kefir-grains to a sugar solution. When doing so, the first few batches take 4 to 5 days to ferment. This is because of the sugar-water media and the microflora of milk kefir-grains has to adjust to utilize the new media. [This period is scientifically referred to as Lag phase]. But after three or so batches, the organisms have adapted sufficiently to the new media, and from that point on, fermentation occurs within 24 to 48 hours. This is because the native microflora of milk kefir-grains need time to adapt to the new source of energy [sucrose and fructose instead of lactose or milk sugar]. So one should expect this to occur, if they want to use milk kefir-grains in this manner. I recommend brewing with patience for the first few batches if deciding to transfer milk kefir-grains to a different medium in any recipe explained below.

If you are going to use milk kefir-grains for this, do not use all your milk kefir-grains, but only spare grains. I suggest to keep milk kefir-grains, transferred to a sugar-solution, for that purpose only. So, once the grains have established in fruit-juice and sugar-water-based medium, do not transfer the grains back to milk later down the track.

12. Why does my water kefir smell like sulfur?

If you are not fond of the sulfur smell of your grains, then consider giving them a ‘rest’. Make sure you are brewing in optimal conditions, clean water with no fluoride, enough sugar and minerals, but not TOO much of either. You can rest the grains in a Fido in the fridge to let them have a time to ‘reset’. You may also gently rinse the grains prior to storing them in clean water -though usually this is not necessary, however if you notice the grains are off in other ways -such as slimy or not really reproducing -rinsing is okay. You can rest your grains for 1 week to a month. Just make sure they have enough ‘food’ (aka -mineral rich sugar) to eat during that time.

Those are the questions I have run into in regards to brewing water kefir. If you have a question that is not on here, feel free to ask in the comments. Or you can do some further reading, here and here. Just remember wherever you read about water kefir that it is an ANAEROBIC ferment. It must be airtight while brewing, not covered with a filter or cloth like many sites mention. When you ferment that way, that is an AEROBIC ferment and you are not getting the good bacteria count that is desired in the brew and are likely getting undesireable bacteria. For more on a true anaerobic ferment, read here. I recommend using a Pickl-It or Fido jar, as even a mason jar with a two part metal lid is not airtight. Though I have used a large gallon honey jar with a screw top lid with success, it is not perfectly airtight, but would be a good starting point until you could get a better jar like the Pickl-It or Fido. Keep in mind that when brewing beer you need special equipment to do the job right, the same goes for the anaerobic lacto-fermentation that water kefir requires.

Also, check out my friend Jessica at Delicious Obsessions post; ‘Water Kefir Revisited‘, where she discusses switching from an aerobic method of water kefir brewing to anaerobic in airtight Fido jars. She is having fabulous success with it too! If you are needing to purchase water kefir grains, I recommend buying LIVE FRESH grains, it’s worth the little bit extra you will spend vs. the dried grains. Kombucah Kamp is a great place to purchase water kefir grains!

 

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LydiaLydia Joy Shatney is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Additionally, she is the chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Delaware County, Pa. (Find the group here on Facebook). Lydia is also a member of the Nourished Living Network. Lydia founded Divine Health From The Inside Out in March of 2010. You can find Lydia on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest. Sign up for the Divine Health From The Inside Out newsletter! Pick up a copy of Lydia’s eBook; ‘Divine Dinners: Gluten-Free, Nourishing, Family-Friendly Meals’.

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