Water Kefir: A Refreshing Probiotic You Can Make at Home

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Have you ever considered making your own water kefir? It’s a refreshing probiotic drink that you can create at home. All you need is water, a few tablespoons of sugar, and kefir grains. In this post, I’ll show you how it works.

Why do we need probiotics?

Our intestines are populated by about 100 trillion beneficial microbes. These are tiny organisms that live in a symbiotic relationship with us, meaning: We keep these organisms happy, and in turn they help us break down complex carbohydrates and support our immune system.

That the immune system has anything to do with our gut may come as a surprise, as many of us take our intestines and its health for granted. This is the lowdown from Oregon State University’s Department of Biomedical Sciences:

“Asked about their immune system, most people might think of white blood cells, lymph glands or vaccines,” said Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, author of a new report in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, and assistant professor and physician in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences. “They would be surprised that’s not where most of the action is. Our intestines contain more immune cells than the entire rest of our body.

“The human gut plays a huge role in immune function,” Shulzhenko said. “This is little appreciated by people who think its only role is digestion. The combined number of genes in the microbiota genome is 150 times larger than the person in which they reside. They do help us digest food, but they do a lot more than that.”

We can support our beneficial microbes by eating a healthy food that’s rich in fiber. In addition, we can ingest probiotics. Here is what this will accomplish, according to German scientists Michael DeVrese and Jürgen Schrezenmeir:[i]

  1. Alleviation of lactose intolerance symptoms and prevention of diarrhea that’s due to the ingestion of antibiotics.
  2. Elimination of cancer-promoting enzymes from the intestines.
  3. General improvement of gut functioning.
  4. Healing of inflammatory diseases in the gastrointestinal tract.
  5. Improvements in the ability to pass stool.
  6. Prevention or alleviation of allergies in children.
  7. Prevention of infections in the respiratory tract (cold, flu), prevention of other infectious diseases, and alleviation of urogenital infections.

Why water kefir?

You can find probiotics in a range of products, but most of them – think yogurt and regular kefir – are based on milk. There are quite a few people who prefer not to consume dairy products because they are either lactose intolerant or follow a plant-based diet. For them water kefir is a good alternative.

How do you prepare water kefir?

Preparing water kefir is easy:

  1. Add half a cup of kefir grains to a glass jar that can hold seven cups of liquid.
  2. Dissolve six tablespoons of turbinado sugar (or table sugar if you can’t find turbinado) in six cups of water that you have dechlorinated.
  3. Add the sugar water to th jar, then close the jar with a coffee filter. Using a filter rather than a lid will allow any gases from the fermentation to escape, while keeping fruit flies at bay.
  4. Let the jar sit at room temperature for two to three (or perhaps even four) days.
  5. Strain the beverage into a glass bottle, reserving the kefir grains for your next round of drink-making.
  6. Refrigerate the bottle without sealing it. This way the ferment can keep breathing inside your fridge. Drink your beverage over the following week.

As you can see, there is little to it. Added up, all the steps I just listed require at most ten minutes of work – it beats making the drive to the grocery store to buy a bottle of milk kefir or yogurt.

How much sugar does water kefir contain?

Water Kefir: A Refreshing Probiotic You Can Make at HomeThat’s a question I asked the folks at Cultures for Health a bit over three years ago. They explained that at the sugar-water ratio I am recommending in this post and after a culturing period of 48 hours, 1.4% of the solution will be sugar.

So how many teaspoons of sugar is that? Answering the question requires a simple conversion: A cup of kefir equals 48 teaspoons. Hence 1.4% of a cup equals 0.7 teaspoons.

This means that after 48 hours of fermentation, one cup of water kefir will contain 0.7 teaspoons of sugar. Bearing in mind that you started out with 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup, ending up with 0.7 teaspoons is pretty good. This amounts to about ten calories per cup of water kefir.

You might notice that the kefir you are drinking tastes plenty sweet – sweeter than a cup of water to which you add 0.7 teaspoons of table sugar. That’s because table sugar is fifty percent glucose and fifty percent fructose, but the sugar left in kefir is almost exclusively fructose, which tastes sweeter than table sugar.

A happy gut

If you are following the world of media nutritionists, you will know that we eat way too much sugar. Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, points out that Americans, on average, eat a whopping 28 teaspoons, or 450 calories worth, of added sugar per day, a lot of it hidden in processed foods or sodas.

Kefir contains sugar as well, and some medical experts advise that the fructose part of table sugar is worse than glucose. So if you add kefir to a diet that’s already high in sugar, you may not do yourself any favors, because you are nearing insulin resistance. The very first thing you need to do for yourself is cut back on sugar. But if you eat healthy, a cup of kefir each day will make your gut contract with satisfaction.


[i] De Vrese, Michael, and Jürgen Schrezenmeir. “Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics.” In Food biotechnology, pp. 1-66. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2008. Find book here.

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