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FAQ: Health and Consumption of Water Kefir
Questions in this Section:
How is kefir consumed in other cultures?
Why is water kefir sometimes ok for diabetics to consume?
How can I reduce the amount of alcohol in kefir?
What is the advantage of taking Kefir instead of a probiotic supplement?
Why is kefir good for your health?
Is water kefir as beneficial as milk kefir?
What's the difference between milk kefir and water kefir?
Does water kefir have different strains of bacteria and yeast than milk kefir?
What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?
Is kefir a good option for those with Candida?
Is kefir a good option for those with digestive problems?
Is kefir appropriate for everyone?
Has kefir ever made anyone sick?
How are kefir grains different to powder starter (such as Body Ecology's products) or store-bought kefir?
What are kefir grains composed of?
Does Kefir contain alcohol?
What part of the kefir is considered the drinkable kefir?
How much kefir should I drink?
What kinds of sugars can you use?
Do the ingredients have to be organic?
How do I de-chlorinate my water?
What about reverse-osmosis water?
What about well water?
Does ginger help your kefir grains?
Is it ok to consume kefir that is still in the process of balancing or re-activating?
How long can you store kefir/when should you drink it by?
Can you eat the kefir grains too?
Can pets have water kefir?
What if a grain drops onto the counter or floor?
What if I'm having adverse reactions to drinking kefir?
Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?
How do you know if its contaminated?
Does is matter what water you use?
Do kefir grains have a water preference?
How is kefir consumed in other cultures?

Water kefir is primarily used in the Latin culture to make a popular drink known as Tepache (which has grown in popularity recently) and also as the traditional water kefir recipe. Water kefir grains are usually known as Tibicos within the Latin community. It is also popular amongst those who are familiar with the Ginger Beer Plant, a very similar culture that has possible origins from Tibet. Water kefir is less well-known internationally than milk kefir currently, but is gaining popularity amongst the fermenting-savvy!

Why is water kefir sometimes ok for diabetics to consume?

The bacteria and yeast produce enzymes that break down the sucrose (the double sugar that sugar is composed of) into fructose and glucose. Fructose is digested by the liver and does not spike the blood sugar of diabetics like sucrose or glucose. Because of the fructose, it makes this drink a lower GL. Also the added acetic acids and carbonation from the fermentation lower the GL as well. We've noticed and had people share that the best way for diabetics to consume water kefir is to do a secondary ferment with pure fruit juice (high in fructose) and a portion of the finished water kefir which results in a low-sugar (and low GL) beverage. You can read about secondary ferments here. It is not safe for all diabetics, and is ultimately up to you to determine how your blood sugar levels respond after consuming water kefir. 'Ripening' kefir can even further reduce the sugar content (but raise the alcohol and acids) if desired.

How can I reduce the amount of alcohol in kefir?

There isn't really a way to reduce alcohol save boiling the kefir (which then negates all the healthful properties of the living probiotics). To discourage increases in alcohol simply keep your lid on loose while fermenting and during storage as well. This oxidation encourages acetic acids (which turn wine into vinegar) to balance the process. Alcohol is formed by yeast in a mostly anaerobic/no air environment. Lactic acid is formed by the bacteria in a low-oxygen environment. Store with ample room between the kefir and the lid to provide more oxygen. This will encourage the various bacteria to be as balance out the yeast, and diminish the amount of alcohol it is able to form. The alcohol produced will also depend on the type and amount of sugar, grains and fermentation time. More sugar will create a higher alcohol content (especially if bottled in an air-tight container). A shorter ferment will also be too high in sugar and not high enough in the acids that help to counter balance the alcohol activity.

What is the advantage of taking Kefir instead of a probiotic supplement?

Fermented products such as kefir are considered functional foods because they offer enzymes, pre-digested nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, calories/energy and billions of probiotics. Probiotic pill supplements contain just one or a select variety of bacteria, and usually that's it. It's always better to eat something in its whole form when possible, because each part makes the other more digestible. This is why companies are now adding fiber back into cereals and fruit juices, and citric acid into calcium - you often need all the parts to assimilate nutrients correctly.

Why is kefir good for your health?

It is loaded with valuable enzymes, easily digestible sugars, beneficial acids, vitamins and minerals. Water kefir is also generally suitable for some diabetics (though personal discretion is advised). It also is a nice option if you are trying to avoid the caffeine present in kombucha, but still seeking a probiotic drink. Water kefir supplies your body with billions of healthy bacteria and yeast strains. Some store-bought probiotic foods or supplements can help, but they are not as potent, and do not contain the beneficial yeasts usually (just bacteria). Within your body there are already billions of bacteria and yeast. Your internal microflora support proper digestion, synthesis of vitamins and minerals, and your immune system by warding off foreign and harmful bacteria, yeast and viruses. It has thus long been known to promote and aid in digestion and overall health. Some studies show it may be anti-mutagenic and help manage free radicals in the body. Folic acid (and B vitamins) increases as the length of the ferment increases. Some people let the strained kefir sit on the counter or the fridge another day to increase the folic acid and B vitamin content before drinking (this will increase the acidity too). Kefir may also help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. As with most things we've personally found, food and health is too difficult to reduce to facts and statistics. While kefir is not a magic bullet for health (what is) we believe kefir has a myriad of possible health benefits, and those will be individual for everyone. Some feel it helps them digest better, others get colds and viruses less often, some get more energy, and some people feel nothing much in particular, but enjoy the taste and value of it over store-bought yogurt, kombucha or kefir.

Is water kefir as beneficial as milk kefir?

The short answer here is yes. This is because what works for someone may or may not work for you. Milk kefir has some wonderful health benefits, but those cannot be enjoyed if you are simply sensitive to milk in general. Water kefir is simply another probiotic beverage option which has its own strengths and weaknesses (too much sugar for some). You can ferment minerals, herbs, fruits, grains etc with the help of water kefir grains, thus really opening the doors to a custom blend of nutrients that you can create. For example if you think coconut boosts your overall well-being, then perhaps you can derive a lot of benefit from water kefir with coconut in it. Or perhaps you are into the anti-inflammatory property of cranberries or cherries, and would like to add that to your water kefir. This is where water kefir shines! You can also eat the grains of water kefir (just as you can milk kefir) and get a mega dose of probiotics! Some people decide neither beverage works for them, but the grains themselves do!

What's the difference between milk kefir and water kefir?

Milk kefir grains and water kefir grains behave similarly by both fermenting a sugary liquid into a probiotic beverage (similar to yogurt for the milk kefir, or kombucha for the water kefir). However, they are seperate cultures, and are not 'made' from one another. Although you may try to ferment juice with milk grains, or attempt to ferment milk with water kefir grains, they will not switch to be the other culture or look like the other culture. Milk grains look like soft opaque curds of cauliflower heads while water kefir looks like tiny sem-transparent crystal gems.

Does water kefir have different strains of bacteria and yeast than milk kefir?

Yes, absolutely. They do share some common strains, but have many unique ones of their own, too. To view a detailed list of each, visit our pages on strains for milk kefir or for strains for water kefir.

What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?

To view a list of all the bacteria and yeast strains found in kefir, please view our Strains section.

Is Kefir a good option for those with Candida?

Many people experiencing Candida issues have reported that Kefir has been beneficial for them. Kefir is a balanced symbiotic relationship of both bacteria and yeast, which is also what we strive to achieve within our bodies for optimum health. Kefir grains and kefir itself does not contain Candida Albicans and has no reason to aggravate the symptoms of Candida. Some sources say that the kefir yeast can even help to decrease the candida yeast. But as with all things, the best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time).

Is Kefir a good option for those with digestive problems?

Many people have shared that it has helped a wide range of problems from acid reflux to GERD to bloating to intestinal issues. If you have an ulcer, it may not be advisable to drink this until the ulcer has healed (due to the acidic nature of kefir). All of the microflora and easily digestible nutrients in general make kefir a very good option for those with digestive problems. Some people have reported better digestion when they have a small glass before a meal. The carbonation and properties of kefir can even act as a digestive aid and/or stimulant. If you are experiencing pain or gas this could possibly be because your system is sluggish and the stimulating nature of kefir can be too harsh for some (in this case, start with drinking just a spoonful and work your way up slowly so your body can adapt). Again, the best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time).

Is kefir appropriate for everyone?

The best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time). More doesn't always = better, either. Drink what feels reasonable, sometimes a small amount can be more beneficial than a large amount. As with most things, moderation is truly key. All of the microflora and easily digestible nutrients in general make kefir a very good option for most. The carbonation and acidic properties of kefir can aggravate a sluggish, tired, weakened or injured digestive system, so be sure to slow down or temporarily stop your consumption if you feel any pain or discomfort (in this case, start with drinking just a spoonful and work your way up slowly so your body can adapt). If you have an ulcer and/or feel any pain, it may be best to address that first (aloe, bananas, soothing foods) and then come back to stronger foods like kefir at a later point. Always use your own common sense and do not ignore your gut instincts!

Has kefir ever made anyone sick?

Kefir is very safe and there isn't any need to worry when following the simple steps on how to kefir properly. Research has shown time and again that because of the symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that make up a kefir grain it naturally wards off outside invaders (such as dangerous bacteria, mold or harmful yeast). It does so by freeing up antibiotics within its bacterial complex that helps to ensure the resistance to foreign pathogens and ultimately ensuring its own colony for survival. Some studies have shown kefir to ward off salmonella and E. Coli samples that have been injected into it as well as possessing the capability to kill H. Pylori. This is not to say that some people don't react to kefir, especially when first trying it. This is based upon other properties including the acidic nature of the drink, your body not being acquainted with so many live probiotic cultures, or a reaction to the kefir itself (some people are sensitive to the acidic nature of fermented foods). It is also not recommended for those with Niemann-Pick Disease (types A and B) which is a rare genetically-inherited disease caused by a deficiency in the enzyme Sphingomyelinase. Contaminated kefir has only been shown to happen with commercial kefir, which was contaminated during the manufacturing and processing of imitation kefir. Research has even shown that kefir innoculated with E. coli was able to inhibit the growth of that microorganism. Most people in all their years of making kefir have never had a bad batch once. As with all things, use your best judgement and some good old reliable common sense - if your kefir smells terrible or looks colorful like an easter egg, just toss it and start fresh.

How are Kefir Grains different to powder starter (such as Body Ecology's products) or store-bought kefir?

Genuine kefir is different than the pricey kefir you can buy in the stores. Manufactured kefir is a simulated drink, mimicking the flavor of genuine kefir. It is not produced by the traditional method. It is produced instead by a variety of bacteria and yeast (that they purchase individually) and combine. These are typically freeze-dried powder forms of bacteria and yeast, and like the Body Ecology products, are not reproducible. Traditional Kefir Grains are a formed symbiotic mass colony of various bacteria and yeast that are living, and will thrive and grow on their own in the sugar water sometimes out-living its owner!

What are Kefir Grains composed of?

The grains are a symbiotic relationship of many different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast which produce lactic acid, carbon dioxide and ethanol when consuming the sugars. The bulk of the grain that you see is a matrix of insoluble polysaccharides (complex sugars), mostly due to the L. casei and L. Brevis in it. It does not produce the stringy kefiran that milk kefir's grains produce, which is a protective mucus that is predominately soluble polysaccharides.

Does kefir contain alcohol?

Yes, its been found in a couple studies now to contain about 0.038% - 2% alcohol, or 16-38 g/L (grams per litre). With the normal amount being around .08 or less (for a 48-hour ferment). Kefir that is stored and ripened for a few of days will continue to increase in alcohol, up to 2-3% (when it is sealed tightly). For reference, beer contains about 4-7% and wine 8-14%. Because kefir contains bacteria (and not just yeast like beer or wine) the amount of alcohol kefir can produce is limited by the acetic bacterium which convert the alcohol (produced by the yeasts) to beneficial acids.

What part of the kefir is considered the drinkable kefir?

Although it may seem obvious, we actually wondered this ourselves back when we were first introduced to kefir. Kefir is simply the sugar-water that has been fermented by the kefir grains. The kefir grains live off of the sucrose, glucose and fructose and minerals found in the sugar, dried fruit and water, producing acetic and lactic acids (and other small by-products such as carbon dioxide and alcohol) that give the sugar-water its new tangy flavor and slight carbonation. The grains are strained out and the remaining liquid is the kefir. Some people do not like the dried fruit and will toss it, or prefer a more tangy and bubbly kefir and so will bottle it a day or two.

How much kefir should I drink?

It's smart to start anything new in small amounts, kefir being no exception to that rule. You may drink as much as you wish eventually, being reasonable. Ask yourself how much juice you would normally consume in a day, making sure not to leave out other important foods or meals. A usual amount is around 1-4 cups daily. Balance is key to good health. Some people struggle with it at first possibly because of its acidic nature, carbonation, alcohol, or large population of probiotics (or any combination of those). It is a wise idea in this case to take it slowly to let your body and digestion get acquainted with it. Start with 1/8 cup a day (you can even mix this into a full glass of water or fruit juice at first), then gradually increase to 1/4 for a week or so (maybe skipping a few days here and there to give your body a break). Most people find it helps to first try your kefir with meals, such as a little with lunch. While milk kefir seems to go down well at breakfast, the slightly higher sugar and alcohol content of water kefir may make it more suitable for you around lunch or dinner. After a week or two, try increasing it again in this fashion until you gradually reach amount you wish to consume. Kefir can be used medicinally in large amounts for a short period if desired (such as after chemo-therapy, where 4 cups a day may be helpful). Following the advice of others, we typically give ourselves a break once a week or so, where we do not consume kefir for atleast 1 day. It's never a great idea to eat the same thing continually without a break (just like its never recommended to exercise continually without a break - the body needs time for recovery and variety). Even in Tibet there's a belief that it's best to drink only 2 cups a day (of milk kefir, though it would make just as much sense with water kefir) and after 20 days take a 10 day break, completely abstaining from kefir.

What kinds of sugars can you use?

Palm (coconut), Sucanat, Rapadura, Muscavado, Demarara, Panela, Jaggery, Turbinado, brown sugar (both light and dark), molasses (both light and dark), maple syrup (pure maple), white sugar, sugar cane juice, whole cane sugar, raw sugar, powdered sugar, basic white sugar, swizzle sticks (sugar cane stalks), and Piloncillo (evaporated sugar cane juice in a cone-shape found in Mexican markets).

Do the ingredients have to be organic?

No, they do not - the lemon can be peeled to avoid the conventional waxes and sprays on the rind, and the raisins can be conventional or organic (preferably preservative free either way). The grains respond to conventional and organic sugars only by quality and not necessarily by whether its organic or not. Sometimes organic products have less additives in them (like molasses), and the kefir grains do respond more favorably to that, but it is not absolutely crucial that your ingredients be organic.

How do I de-chlorinate my water?

You can let your tap water sit out in an open container for a minimum of 6 hours (chlorine will fully evaporate in an open container within 6 hours according to the city works department site) with most recommendations set a little longer at 12-24 hours (according to some aquarium and tropical fish experts). Chloramine is another form of chlorine that will not evaporate - if you're concerned about this you can find out from your local water department whether they treat your water with this. If you're worried about the cleanliness of your water or other contaminants besides chlorine, boiling kills off most types of organisms and is the most recommended purification technique in this case. Boil the water at full rolling boil for 1 full minute, then let it cool (if you are more than one mile above sea level boil 3 minutes longer).

What about reverse-osmosis water?

Reverse osmosis water has in most of our observations led to eventual kefir grain death even. It just doesn't contain enough of the various and vital minerals found in normal tap, spring or mineral water. It is what we like to call 'processed' or 'refined' water, basically an empty water devoid of its normal nutrients and properties, much like white sugar is compared to whole cane sugar. It's an unbalanced and empty nutrient.

What about well water?

Well water can have some interesting things in it sometimes, but generally will provide good water for your water kefir grains. If it seems to be stilting their growth, try comparing it to a store-bought spring or mineral water for a few weeks to verify it is indeed the water. If you are concerned what might be harming them, have your well water tested for contaminants.

Does ginger help your kefir grains?

Some people have noticed good growth with freshly peeled ginger slices, candied ginger, or ginger juice. In some cases this may be because the grains are actually ginger beer grains and not water kefir (they look extremely similar). Since even within the water kefir grain species, grain 'families' can differ, you will have to experiment for yourself to see if your water kefir likes it. And just because it doesn't show any indication of liking it at one point, you may notice it take off and grow rapidly at another time (water kefir is always in flux and changing). We have found it fascinating that water kefir tends to also have cycles of preferences - for example, just as someone might really have a banana craving for a couple weeks, and then tire of it and move on to another snack, water kefir also likes variety. It seems that they are most healthy when exposed to a wide range of nutrients, and are also resting from other nutrients (and then returning to them). For example, you may give them apricots for a couple weeks, then dates, then figs, then ginger slices, then repeat.

Is it ok to consume kefir that is still in the process of balancing or re-activating?

When you are reactivating or rebalancing shipped, stored or fasted kefir grains it is not advisable to drink the kefir until it has reached a point of relative balance, exhibiting proper kefiring of the liquid and a balanced aroma. Although it is mostly safe to drink, it is not optimal since the strains are still struggling to come into an orchestrated balance with one another. It simply won't be as balanced nor as beneficial for your health. This means that yes, the sugar-water will be wasted during this phase. This is why it's a good idea to make only what you need, and then share, eat or store the extra grains. If you can find someone else to enjoy your kefir (and feed it) while you are away, this is better than freezing, drying or refrigerating your grains, since you will not have to waste ingredients to awaken them again.

How long can you store kefir/when should you drink it by?

It is best to drink kefir within a week or two. Kefir can be stored for quite a long time, since the bacteria and yeast actively and continuously preserve it. However, the alcohol content will increase and it will get increasingly sour and fizzy over time. Bottles left and forgotten in the fridge for a couple months might smell like pickled juice, or wine upon opening them (though not at all rotten!). You can continuously add your freshly strained kefir to your existing kefir, giving it a shake to distribute, or you can start fresh each time, dumping what you haven't consumed.

Can you eat the kefir grains too?

Yes. They are rather bland - flavorless except for the lingering flavor of the kefir (or sugar-water) that they are in (unlike delicious milk kefir grains which are like sour gummy worms). They are however very benificial for your health because they're chalk full of probiotics. Many people choose to eat their extra grains, or feed them to pets. What's even better is the option to eat just the grains, if your body is not tolerating the acidic nature or the sugar content of your kefir drink. Just blend up some grains into a normal smoothie or any drink that isn't boiling (which will kill the microflora). You can also dry them and eat them dried as a seasoning (crush them into powder and sprinkle on your salad or pasta) or treat as well. The dried form is not as flavorful as dried milk kefir grains either, but can make for an excellent home-made probiotic. Just dry your grains, throw them in a coffee bean grinder or food processor/blender and you will have your own probiotic powder supplement! Some small studies have shown them to have anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory and blood pressure normalizing properties. They have also helped some people in the reduction of high blood cholesterol as well as proven for some to be a beneficial treatment for IBS, Ulcerative Colitis and gastric ulcers. You can try taking as much as 1/8 cup a day for a short period for medicinal purposes (or daily for overall health if consuming just a few grains). Moderation is always key - be sure to allow your body a rest once in awhile, even from this!

Can pets have water kefir?

Yes! Just like people, some take to it more than others, and some benefit from it more than others. In our own opinion it is probably more healthy for your pets to consume milk kefir than water kefir because of the sugar content, but a little once in awhile is beneficial for them due to the probiotics and other nutrients within it. Let your pet decide if they like it for themselves, and monitor for any reactions at the start. Milk kefir also makes a great addition to chicken feed and is a wonderful supplement in a pigs diet, and you can try feeding them your excess water kefir grains.

What if a grain drops onto the counter or floor?

Immediately rinse it under cool or cold clean water with clean hands and gently rub it to make sure all dust and debris are rinsed away. It will usually be just fine to join back in with the other grains and ferment as usual. If you are uneasy about adding it back in to your ferment, just rinse it and eat or toss to your pets or your garden!

What if I'm having adverse reactions to drinking kefir?

If you believe you're having a major allergic reaction (extremely rare) stop consuming it and see your doctor. Otherwise, wait atleast 3-4 days and try again to see if the symptoms return. Always start out with small amounts of anything new, especially if you have a sensitive or reactive system. Sometimes this can be an indication that your body is struggling to find a new balance with this new food. There are many who believe this can be a 'herxheimer' reaction, where the body is detoxing due to the loads of probiotics in kefir. Do your best to listen to your body and your gut instinct. The internet and your doctor do not make up for the invaluable ability to trust and listen to your own individual body. If it feels wrong, stop consuming the kefir and try again later. If it feels like you are just re-adjusting, try drinking it gradually (refer to 'How much kefir should I drink'). Kefir is believed to be a digestive stimulant, and may prove to be too stimulating for those with a sluggish, fatigued or otherwise delayed digestive system. In this situation its best to drink very small amounts (and gradually increase over time if desired), with the best times usually being alone or at the beginning of a meal, otherwise it may cause pain, bloating, gas etc.

Do you have to wash or rinse your grains?

Some people like to do this, but it was never done traditionally and is not necessary at all. By nature, they are a symbiotic mass of microflora that has self-inoculating properties, protecting itself from foreign bacteria or yeast. The lactic acid it excretes also protects it from becoming contaminated. Many have observed that when they stopped rinsing their grains, they grew better and produced better kefir. This pertains to the jar as well - which does not need to be washed each and every time. Sometimes they can get a filmy coating on their surface that may indicate they need a gentle scrub and rinse (along with less minerals, fruit, or unrefined sugars too) though. If you wish to rinse them, make sure it is clean, non-chlorinated water. Simply run them under flowing water or swish them around in a bowl of clean water and drain off.

How do you know if its contaminated?

It's very difficult to have truly contaminated kefir due to the very nature of the billions of cultures in contains. If however it is contaminated, it will be an off color, thick texture to the water and/or off smell and you will be able to recognize this (it will not be subtle). In most cases it will just be a fuzzy spoilage mold of some sort (the same stuff that grows on everything else that spoils). Avoid spoiled fruit or sugar that you may be scooping dirty or food-covered spoons into the bag. Also, fermenting too little grains or too much sugar may encourage the bad bacteria to compete and out-do the small amount of grains (and too warm of a room can encourage this further). As long as you are using clean utensils, washing your hands, keeping the room temperature reasonable and maintaining reasonably clean jars (its ok to re-use them for a few weeks before washing), following the recipe and covering the jars properly there is little risk of contamination.

Does it matter what water you use?

Water is one of the crucial ingredients for water kefir. What water you use will make a difference. Since most of us don't have the equipment to test what is in our water, let alone on a day-to-day basis, this usually requires some experimenting. Water kefir generally prefers a nutritious highly mineralized water (also called hard water, or mineral water / spring water if its from a bottle). Soft water, filtered water, carbon-activated, ionized or otherwise altered water does not seem to encourage the same amount of growth or vitality in our observations. Reverse osmosis water has in most of our observations led to eventual kefir grain death even. It just doesn't contain enough of the various and vital minerals found in normal tap, spring or mineral water. Also, chlorine can be an issue and should be avoided if possible. To remove some of the chlorine you can let your water set out (without a lid) and it will evaporate in about 24 hours. Some forms of chlorine such as chloramine won't dissipate as easily. If you are unsure what your tap water contains, contact your local water facility for details.

Do kefir grains have a water preference?

Because there are many other variables like the fruits and sugars you use, it's difficult to suggest one water over another. However, kefir grains do usually fair better in mineral-rich water (mineral, spring, well, or hard water). Reverse-osmosis seems to damage them over time and is not recommended. They also do not like heavily chlorinated or otherwise chemically enhanced or treated waters. Water kefir grains will use what they can get, within the combination of the sugar source, fruit source and water source. If you want to rely more heavily on your water, then mineral-rich is preferred - in this case your grains will most likely require less help from unrefined sugars (like molasses, brown or rapadura for example) and less help from dried fruits (like coconut or apricots).
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