Learn About Water Kefir
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FAQ: Adjusting Quantity and Timing
Questions in this Section:
How much or how little water (and grains) can be used?
What is the optimal water to sugar ratio?
Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?
How much or little kefir can I make?
How short or long can you ferment kefir?
Can kefir grains adjust to ferment more water?
What are the seasonal differences in kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?
How do you encourage sluggish kefir grains or relax over-active kefir grains?
How fast do kefir grains grow?
What temperature does water kefir prefer?
Can you use kefir liquid as a starter (instead of the grains)?
Can you use more grains in the winter to help the kefir ferment?
How much or how little water (and grains) can be used?

Kefir starting out (after being stressed during mailing or from being dried) will usually ferment between a 1:16 - 1:18 ratio. This means 1 tablespoon grains will ferment about 1 cup sugar-water, and in time it may increase to about 1:24 (1 tablespoon grains in 1 1/2 cup water) to even 1:32 or more (1 tablespoon grains in 2 cups sugar-water) in the summertime perhaps. Try using a ratio of grains to sugar-water of about 1:16 - 1:18 to begin. This ratio seems to always work well, and may need no adjustments at all. Not all kefir is the same; some kefir grains will ferment much quicker than others. We have seen some grains so sluggish it took 1/2 cup of grains to ferment 4 cups of sugar-water in 48 hours (especially in the winter). Both have benefits - if you have fast grains, you will need less and it could possibly ferment in about 12-24 hours (especially in the summer). On the other hand, if you have slow grains, you can use more, and have kefir every 24-48 hours (easier to keep up with). As long as they are growing and producing kefir, the speed and strength is more of just the character of the particular grain you have, and not something to worry about either way. If your kefir is too sour before your usual straining time, simply adjust to less grains, or more sugar-water, or strain it every day instead of every other day. If you use too much sugar-water and not enough grains, the solution may go off before the kefir grains have a chance to ferment it though, so be sure to understand how much it can do, and gradually increase from there. To get lots of kefir quickly with just a few grains simply keep sugar-water without straining. The finished kefir will act as somewhat of a starter along with the grains, quickly turning each addition to kefir. For example, with 1 tablespoon of kefir, you may pour in 2 cups of sugar water, wait 24 hours, add in another 4-5 cups then in about 12 hours you can top it off with another 9 cups and you will have a gallon of kefir in just about 2-3 days.

What is the optimal water to sugar ratio?

The optimal ratio is about 3-10% sugar-water solution, which is roughly 1 tablespoon sugar per 1 cup water (6.25%). In the summer you may find that a little more works best, such as 6 tablespoons per quart (9.37%). This is in reference to using about 1 tablespoon's worth of grains for every cup of water.

Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?

Water kefir needs to be fed at least every 48 hours (every other day). Kefir grains need to be strained every 24-48 hours (24 hours being hot summer weather, most of the time they can go to 48 or even another day in the cold winter months) and put in a fresh mix of water and sugar. If you or your grains would like to take a break, stick them in the fridge, refreshing them weekly with fresh water and sugar or simply put them in their finished kefir juice for up to a week or two. This can be done for a couple weeks, then they should be brought back out to room temperature. If you need a longer break, view our section on storage.

How much or little kefir can I make?

This is entirely dependant on the amount of grains to water that you are using. There is no specific amount, nor any kind of limit. If you would like only a cup of kefir a day, simply use just 1 tablespoon of grains. If you want a gallon a day, you will need to use around 16 tablespoons (or 1 cup) grains.

How short or long can you ferment kefir?

This is completely dependant on the temperature as well as the volume of grains per cups sugar-water that you are using. For example, if you have a cup of grains in a cup of sugar-water (not recommended), it will ferment very quickly. If you have a teaspoon of grains in 4 cups of sugar-water (not recommended either), it will ferment very slowly. If you place the kefir and grains in the fridge, the same ferment that will usually take 24-48 hours may take 5-7 days or more. Likewise, this same scenario in a very hot room may take a half day (12 hours). The traditional way to make kefir is to find the balanced ratio of grains to sugar-water (+ temperature of the room) that will create a ferment that is just ready at 24-48 hours. The traditional amount of time is usually 48 hours for water kefir. This produces the optimal flavor and consistency, and the grains seem to thrive off this schedule. You can also do a secondary ferment-hybrid by straining your kefir at 12 hours, and then letting it ripen for another 12-48 hours (without the grains) before drinking. It produces a mild full flavor and is especially good when done in a bottle with an airlock lid.

Can kefir grains adjust to ferment more water?

Yes, kefir grains will naturally try to adjust their metabolism to match the amount of sugar-water supplied within a given feeding but only to a certain point. If you want to try to increase your grains metabolism, simply increase the sugar-water in increments each time you strain and put your grains in fresh water. You can try starting at about a 5%-10% increase each time and see how they adapt. You can try as much as 100%, leaving it to kefir until its done (may take longer than the usual 24 hours), but this sometimes proves to be a bit too much in one go and can increase the risk for contamination. Decrease if they seem too sluggish for that much sugar-water and increase gradually, letting them adjust and come up to speed.

What are the seasonal differences in Kefir (summer vs winter, etc)?

Kefir, like all living organisms, goes through intricate and subtle changes with the seasons, climate, temperatures and environment it is in. Just like you can mark the seasons with a tree budding, growing, turning colors and discarding its leaves, kefir also will constantly be in flux and going through seasonal patterns. Kefir will ferment much more quickly in the summer and warmer temperatures. It may especially be inconsistent during spring and fall, or whenever there is a large disparity of temperatures (such as a cold night and hot day). Kefir will tend to be more mild in the winter and cooler temperatures (and more zesty and sour in the summer). Part of the beauty of the symbiotic nature of kefir is that each strain has a certain strength and weakness. Together, they are able to ferment at a wide range of temperatures. Keeping this in mind, you will realize that because of this, a certain temperature will allow some strains to perform much better, while others may be temporarily suppressed. This contributes to the differing tastes of kefir throughout the year. Water kefir tends to be in flux even more than milk kefir - changing shape and taste quite often - even when you are not sure what to blame it on. Give it a couple weeks and it will come around again usually to something you're more familiar with. For one reason or another water kefir tends to have 'down times'. It may just seem to lag and falter for a few weeks, and then pick right up again, suddenly reproducing 100-400% growth. We've found that kefir grains will still reproduce and ferment in very cold temperatures of 40-60 degrees. And we've found that trying to heat them does not seem to encourage them a whole lot in some cases. You will have to experiment for yourself come winter time in your home! We've noticed that our grains prefer easier sugars in the winter that will dissolve and digest more quickly (like white sugar with molasses) and more slower digesting sugars in the summer (like rapadura with white sugar).

How do you encourage sluggish kefir grains or relax over-active kefir grains?

Kefir grains can sometimes get a bit yeasty and zealous (usually due to higher temperatures), or a bit sluggish (stressed or cold). To correct this situation, its best to take them out and rest them in some clean water in the fridge for about 3 days. You may also help balance them by resting them in their own kefir liquid for 2-3 days. You can even do this for up to a week if desired. Then simply take them back out and resume fermenting. The first batch may be off-balance, or even over-active and we recommend to wait until it smells 'normal' in a day or a few to consume. We found one bottle in our fridge we had forgotten for about a month, and when we restored the grains they produced great kefir and reproduced at a steady healthy rate!

How fast do kefir grains grow?

Water kefir can reproduce rapidly under the right conditions and some luck. They will grow anywhere from 5%-400% within 48 hours. We've seen 5% in the winter and 400% in the summer, with other %'s everywhere in between (and not always with an answer as to why). Sometimes water kefir has 'lag times' where they will just slow down for one reason or another. In the winter they may have diminished growth because of the season. It is also interesting that smaller grains will reproduce much more rapidly than larger grains (this is because there is a greater surface area that can grab nutrients from the water).

What temperature does water kefir prefer?

In our observations water kefir successfully kefirs at a wide range of temperatures, with its favorite range being between 65º - 82ºF (18º - 28ºC). 71º F (22ºC) is the most ideal usually. Anything above 90°F (32°C) can be damaging. Kefir can actually still ferment anywhere from 39°F to 90°F (4C°-32°C). This is why it will continue to ferment in your fridge, just at a much slower pace. If you live in a tropical or very hot climate, you may need to make some adjustments so that your kefir isn't constantly exposed to excessive heat (86°F/30°C or more). You can try fermenting in the fridge during the day, and letting it sit out on the counter during the night. Or you can immediately place the kefir in a thick cooler after pouring cold water into it (or add cool water or a little ice pack in the cooler to help keep it cool). Water Kefir grains tend to do better and taste better in warmer temps than milk kefir grains

Can you use kefir liquid as a starter (instead of the grains)?

Kefir liquid actually also contains billions of bacteria and yeast that are effective at making more fermenting liquid if you add some fresh sugar or fruit juice and let sit out or in the fridge for atleast 24 hours. It will dilute and get weaker each time, so its best to start with freshly made kefir (from kefir grains) each time for the freshest and safest ferment. But this is a great option for fermenting other liquids or making a quick batch in a pinch (and to protect the grains themselves from harmful fruit juices that could hinder their growth).

Can you use more grains in the winter to help the kefir ferment?

Yes, as a matter of fact sometimes the grains do very well if you double up on your normal amount. You can try doing double the amount of grains and sugar, but keep the same amount of water. For example try 1/2 cup grains, 1/2 cup sugar, and 4 cups water. This high concentration of grains and sugar seems to ferment better in the cold, when the grains tend to be more sluggish.

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