Home Fermentation Recipes A Guide to Water Kefir Grains

A Guide to Water Kefir Grains

by Kaitlynn Fenley

Are your kefir grains too small and not multiplying? Are you looking to add more bubbles to your water kefir? Learn how to grow water kefir grains and keep them healthy with this comprehensive guide to water kefir grains.

Where do Water Kefir Grains Come From?

Water kefir is a cultured drink also known as Tibicos. This drink is thought to have originated in South and Central America.

Originally, tibicos was a fermented drink made in Mexico from the sweetened juice of the prickly pear cactus since water kefir grains naturally form in the cacti.

The grains naturally form on the pads of Opuntia cacti as microbes feed off the sugars and water in the succulent plant.

large water kefir grains that have been fed with a sugar water mixture including molasses and sea salt.

Do Water Kefir Grains Multiply?

We make water kefir by culturing sugar water with water kefir grains. These “grains” do not contain any actual grain. They are called grains simply because of their shape.

The kefir grains are just symbiotic microbial communities living in a polysaccharide matrix. Sounds complicated, right?

Just think of it as a mixed population of little microbes who build little houses to live together. When they have all the nutrients they need, they multiply.

Water kefir is similar to kombucha, but kombucha contains mainly yeasts, while water kefir has a heavier bacterial population.

The Yeast and Bacteria in Water Kefir Grains

Most of the microbial species living in these little water kefir grain communities are probiotic.  Lactobacillus brevisLactobacillus caseiLactobacillus hordeiStreptococcus (Lactococcus) lactisLeuconostoc mesenteroides, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae are just a few of the great microbes that live within water kefir grain communities.

These microbes provide gut health benefits! When they ferment the sugar-water liquid into water kefir, they produce beneficial and healthy byproducts called “postbiotics.”

The fantastic thing about water kefir grains is that they are reusable forever, as long as you take care of them! You can share some with friends and eventually brew gallons of water kefir at a time.

What Color are Water Kefir Grains?

Water kefir grains can be in many different neutral shades ranging from clear to dark golden brown. Mainly, they are translucent and have different shades of golden brown.

The color of water kefir grains depends on the color of the sugars and other ingredients in the primary fermentation mixture.

For instance, I sometimes use molasses to feed my grains; when I do, they appear golden. When I feed them plain organic cane sugar, they appear translucent white.

How to Store Water Kefir Grains

Typically, when brewing water kefir, people use a sugar-water mixture for the primary fermentation and feeding the grains. 

When I make my primary fermentation mixture, I add a pinch of salt and some pure, organic unsulphured molasses. This provides nutrients and conditions to select for more beneficial bacteria to thrive within the water kefir grain communities.

Adding salt and molasses also provides essential nutrients to encourage the microbes to multiply and build the kefir grains.

This method encourages a lot of growth and multiplication. We suggest using our feeding instructions if you want to share grains with friends.

How to Grow Water Kefir Grains That are Big and Multiply

Want to know my secret, though? I let my water kefir grains sit in primary fermentation for a week at room temperature about once a month.

This room temperature “resting period” helps keep my grains big and structurally strong. The long primary fermentation allows more microaerophilic and anaerobic bacteria to thrive in the grains. These microbes produce compounds to build the grains.

My Water Kefir Feeding Recipe (1 Quart):

  • 2 Grams Sea Salt 
  • 50 Grams Organic Unrefined Cane Sugar
  • 5 Grams Organic Molasses (or sub honey, apple juice, maple syrup)
  • 1 Quart of Purified Water (about 1000 mL)

Combine all the ingredients and mix until it’s all dissolved; bring to a boil, then allow it to cool. This makes about 1 quart/1 liter of primary fermentation-feeding liquid.

I recommend using organic molasses. Just 5 grams of molasses provides the microbes in the grains with manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin B6, selenium, iron, and calcium.

You do not have to feed your grains like this or with salt every time you make water kefir to see better growth and stronger grains. You can try feeding them this way once or twice a month.

how to grow water kefir grains: add a bit of sea salt and a little molasses to the sugar water mix.

How to Store Extra Kefir Grains

To care for your kefir grains and continually make fresh water kefir, place them in a new batch of sugar water mix every 24-48 hours.

To hibernate them, make a fresh batch of sugar water mix, add the kefir grains, and refrigerate immediately. When hibernating your grains in the refrigerator, it’s best to put them in a fresh batch of sugar water every two to three weeks.

If you leave your kefir grains in the fridge without feeding them for an extended period of time, they will be fine. Just note that the longer you leave them in the fridge without feeding them, the longer they will take to revive when you want to start brewing again.

Water kefir grains can also be dehydrated for long-term storage! I teach our students how to do this in The Cultured Guru School of Fermentation.

Where to Buy Water Kefir Grains

Here is the link to where I bought my water kefir grains that I’ve had for 7 years:

Easy Recipes You Should Try & More Blogs to Read

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How to Grow Water Kefir Grains

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Are your kefir grains too small and not multiplying? Are you looking to add more bubbles to your water kefir? Learn how to grow water kefir grains and keep them healthy with this comprehensive guide to water kefir grains.

  • Author: Kaitlynn Fenley
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 1 liter
  • Category: fermented drinks
  • Method: mixing

Ingredients

  • 2 grams sea salt
  • 50 grams cane sugar, organic
  • 5 grams molasses, organic and unsulphured*
  • 1000 grams filtered water

Instructions

  1. This makes about 1 liter of primary fermentation/feeding liquid.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients and mix until it’s all dissolved
  3. Bring to a boil
  4. Allow it to cool
  5. Add to a large jar with 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of water kefir grains.
  6. Allow to ferment for 48 hours before straining the grains from the cultured sugar water.
  7. Feed again with fresh sugar water.
  8. You can use the cultured sugar water you strained from the grains for secondary flavoring and carbonation in a pressure safe bottle.

Notes

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a 5-star review below if you loved it! Tag @cultured.guru on Instagram

 

Nutrition information is auto-calculated and estimated as close as possible. We are not responsible for any errors. We have tested the recipe for accuracy, but your results may vary.

author avatar
Kaitlynn Fenley Author, Educator, Food Microbiologist
Kaitlynn is a food microbiologist and fermentation expert teaching people how to ferment foods and drinks at home.

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60 comments

Farzeen January 14, 2021 - 7:49 am

Hi! Is this recipe for a 1/4 cup of water kefir grains? Or is there a specific quantity weight-wise that you use? Thanks!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 14, 2021 - 8:29 am

No, I don’t measure my grains by weight. I just use about 1/4 cup of grains per quart (950 ml) of liquid.

I think around 100 grams of grains per 1 liter would be a good place to start.

Reply
Jan January 15, 2021 - 10:04 am

Hi Kaitlynn, love this post! How long do go for the first round? Looking for any signs to know it’s done? What about second ferments?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 15, 2021 - 12:21 pm

You can check out any of our water kefir recipe blogs, and the recipes at the bottom of this blog post to learn about fermentation times and second fermentation procedures.

Reply
Rae January 23, 2021 - 7:22 pm

Hey Kaitlynn! So glad I came across your article – I’ve had the same kefir grains for nearly 5 years and they just do NOT multiply! I’ve never tried adding salt before though, and sometimes I let my water ferment for way longer than 2 days… Question: do you add salt every time you make water kefir and does it make your finished product salty?

Thanks!
Love your content!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 24, 2021 - 9:20 am

I don’t add it every time, probably every other time. Or when I notice my grains aren’t as active as I’d like. Since I just add 3 grams of sea salt in a quart of liquid, that tiny amount doesn’t make it taste salty.

Reply
Gottfredson Shelly March 28, 2021 - 11:49 pm

What if I was given only 1/2 Tablespoon of Kefir grains. Is it possible to still multiply? Everywhere I read it refers to 1/4 cup of grains. Can you advise?
Thank you!
Shelly

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley March 29, 2021 - 12:40 pm

Yes! They will still multiply. You can still use my feeding recipe here with the grains you have.

Reply
Joe April 15, 2021 - 3:25 pm

Hello Kaitlynn,
I have read a lot about fermenting online and I enjoy your site and advice best. Concerning water kefir, I thought all the sugar was consumed by the bacteria and drinking it every day was okay. The thing is I wouldn’t know what to do with the fermented water kefir that I make if I didn’t drink it every day or the grains if I didn’t keep feeding them. Hibernate them, perhaps? Just curious how you manage your grains since you drink water kefir so seldom. Also, if you don’t continuously replenish the bacteria in your gut (every day) don’t you end up with a lack of these beneficial bacteria in your gut? I have read elsewhere that they don’t stick around. Thank you for a wonderful site, great advice and recipes.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley April 15, 2021 - 3:38 pm

Hi Joe!

The sugar is consumed by the bacteria, but not all of it. There’s still sugar present. When bacteria consume things they create byproducts. Some of their byproducts are acids, and some is just sugar broken down into simpler sugars. It would take a very long time for water kefir microbes to metabolize ALL of the sugar in the kefir, and if they did it would be more like drinking potent vinegar.

I hibernate my grains in the fridge and feed them fresh sugar water every two weeks. I may not drink water kefir every single day, but I do eat some fermented vegetables and other fermented foods every day, so I’m still continuously replenishing my good gut bacteria 🙂

Reply
Lana Rose April 28, 2021 - 1:32 am

Hello! My kefir grains dont look very healthy, they are much more mush like than grainy. is that normal? What can i do to help them? when i hibernate them in the fridge should i include salt then?
Thank you!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley April 30, 2021 - 8:07 am

Hello! Have you been feeding them following our recipe or a different recipe?

Reply
Cheryl Ann July 9, 2021 - 9:45 am

Where can I get quality water kefir grains?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 10, 2021 - 11:09 am

A good place to look is on Etsy! There are a lot of sellers, and you can get them for cheap.

Reply
Tom September 13, 2021 - 1:31 am

Hi. With your primary fermentation of water kefir – have you tried both anaerobic fermentation and aerobic fermentation? Which do you prefer and what, if any differences did you notice?
-Tom

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley September 13, 2021 - 8:08 am

I wouldn’t word it like that, but, yes, I guess I have.

Normal primary fermentation lasting about 48 hours, in a vessel with a cloth covering, is considered aerobic/microaerophilic.

About once a month, I let my water kefir grains sit in primary fermentation for a couple of weeks at room temperature. After this long period, even with a cloth covering, the liquid is anaerobic (there’s no pellicle on the surface fixing oxygen like in kombucha). This helps keep my grains big and structurally strong because the long primary fermentation allows more microaerophilic and anaerobic bacteria (like Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc) to thrive in the grain communities. I discard the long primary fermentation liquid though.

Reply
KOBI ENG July 16, 2022 - 6:41 am

Hi Kaitlynn,
I have 2 questions regarding your response:
1. If long primary fermentation allows beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus to thrive, why discard the liquid? Or can we still drink the liquid because it’s supposed to contain a lot of good bugs?
2. Can we apply the principle of long primary fermentation to Milk Kefir also?

Thank you so much!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 16, 2022 - 8:55 am

You can keep it for use as a vinegar-like substance. But you shouldn’t drink a lot of it. It is very acidic, and drinking a cup of it can cause issues.

No, milk kefir is very different, because milk is not just sugar, it also contains a lot of protein and fat. Long fermented milk kefir would be more like making soft cheese.

Reply
Serge October 2, 2021 - 12:59 pm

Hi Kaitlynn,
Can you discuss the differences in yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream vs. Fermented veggies?
Is GABA present in yogurt?

Thanks,
Serge

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley October 4, 2021 - 3:44 pm

I’ll see about writing a blog that discusses this!

Reply
Zora January 4, 2022 - 2:02 pm

Hey KAITLYNN,

thanks so much for all your tips! your site is amazing.
I have a question: the above mentioned feeding recipe… do I understand it correctly that you let it sit in it without any additional fruits etc. and without a exchanging it for new liquid for a whole week?

best
Zora

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 6, 2022 - 11:14 am

Thank you! Yes, I only let it sit for a week occasionally though… Then I discard the liquid and start with a fresh batch, only fermenting for 48 hours before moving on to secondary fermentation.

Reply
Patricia Alger January 6, 2022 - 7:32 am

I just ordered my first keifer grains and made the first batch of keifer water. The first quart is fermenting for the second time with lemon and ginger. When I went to start the second batch I realized I had over a cup of grains so I doubled the batch and added all the grains 1 cup to 1/2 gallon of liquid. Is it ok to add extra grains or should I store them? They are big and plump. Thank you for your help.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 6, 2022 - 11:14 am

It’s fine to add extra grains, you just may notice that it ferments much faster and might be more acidic.

Reply
Kobi Eng July 13, 2022 - 1:55 am

Hi Kaitlynn,

How about milk kefir? Do you also add Salt to Milk Kefir Grains if you want them to multiple and be healthy?
Thanks!
Your post are one of the few that have credible scientific source behind fermentation!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 14, 2022 - 9:46 am

No, definitely not. Milk is a nutritious substance that provides milk kefir grains with all the minerals and carbohydrates necessary to thrive. Milk kefir grains only need milk.

Reply
Jeff Strehlow November 14, 2022 - 7:58 pm

Thanks Kaitlynn for this article and also your article on tempeh. They are both great. There is something that I question though. You said that when we feed the water kefir grains we should use a pinch of salt. In the list above it says to use 2 grams of sea salt. That didn’t sound right, so I did a calculation. Sea salt weighs about 5 grams/tsp depending on what type it is. A pinch is generally considered to be 1/16tsp. So 1 pinch of sea salt should weigh roughly 5 grams/16 or 0.3 grams.

So what should I use, 2 grams of sea salt which would be 0.4tsp, or 1 pinch (0.0625tsp)?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley November 15, 2022 - 7:28 am

a “pinch” is a colloquial term, meant only to mean “a small amount”. It’s not mathematically definable and is an arbitrary measurement dependent on the finger size of the person doing the pinching. Obviously, you would use the measurements listed under “recipe”, 2 grams.

Reply
Anne March 7, 2022 - 5:35 am

Hi Kaitlynn,
Thank you for your post. I ‘ve been searching for a trick to help my grains thrive and multiply. You said that every month you leave your grains in the primary fermentation: I’m guessing 4 TBS of grains to 4 TBS of sugar + salt for 1-2 weeks at room temperature. Wouldn’t the grains pickle in there. Doesn’t this starve them? So you just leave them although they must run out of sugar after a while and then you start over a fresh batch? I’ve notice when ordering grains that I get them after a week in the post (4 days) and they multiply well for about 10 days and then they stop and I’m not sure what I’m doing or whether the brewer is using a technique like yours to “starve the grains :” and then refeed. Also some people recommend putting lemon/lime in the first ferment which I’ve never done. Any thoughts on that. Thank you for any comments you have for me.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley March 7, 2022 - 10:51 am

No, it doesn’t “pickle” them or starve them. If that were the case, I obviously wouldn’t do it…
The occasional long primary fermentation allows more microaerophilic and anaerobic bacteria to thrive in the grain communities… these are the types of microbes that secrete the compounds that actually build the structure of the grains.

This technique does not starve the grains at all, it simply gives certain types of desirable microbes in the grain communities an advantage to grow.

Reply
Elaine March 24, 2022 - 4:34 pm

Hi I just made my third batch and the first two were great. I was wondering if I made a mistake I stared with 1/4 cup grains and the 2nd batch the grains had doubled and I made it with the 1/2 cup grains. The third time they were about 3/4 cup. I did not Measure them but this time the drink was sour and I got acid indigestion from drinking it. Am I adding to many grains. Thanks

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley March 28, 2022 - 9:17 am

Hi there!

Yes, it sounds like you are getting extra sour water kefir by using a higher ratio of grains. Grains multiply with each batch. To keep the flavor consistent just remove some and keep brewing the kefir with 1/4 cup of grains.

Reply
Jessica April 27, 2022 - 1:32 am

Hi there! I am super excited to make water kefir for the first time. I’ve read through and understand how to feed and care for the kefir grains, but how do I actually start? Is it something I buy like the live milk kefir grains? Thank you for your help!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley April 27, 2022 - 1:32 pm

Yes! you will need to buy live water kefir grains to get started. I suggest looking on Etsy for affordable live water kefir grains.

Reply
Elva May 5, 2022 - 10:20 pm

Hello, I made my first batch of water kefir but I left the grains in there too long, like for a week. Has the drink gone bad? Do I need to rinse the grains before starting another batch? Thank you.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley May 7, 2022 - 3:56 pm

Hi there! after a week of primary fermentation, it will be very sour and won’t carbonate well in secondary fermentation. Just discard the liquid and start a new batch, no need to rinse the grains.

Reply
Kass Boutiche July 26, 2022 - 6:54 am

Hi there and many thanks for your blog , just wondering do these grains need rest some times ? and do you mean by primary fermentation ?

many thanks

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 26, 2022 - 1:47 pm

There are two fermentation steps to make water kefir. The primary fermentation is the first fermentation, in which sugar water is cultured with kefir grains. The grains don’t necessarily need to “rest” but you can let them sit and not feed them sometimes to help them grow, like I explained in this post.

Reply
Barbara August 20, 2022 - 6:17 pm

When you make your ‘feeding mixture’ with salt and molasses I see it makes a quart of liquid. I presume you don’t use the whole quart at one time, so how long can I store this for?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley August 20, 2022 - 7:00 pm

I usually make a quart at a time. You can keep it in the fridge for a week.

Reply
Levi September 10, 2022 - 1:29 am

Hi Kaitlynn,
Occasionally I have forgotten about my grains for about 2 weeks at room temp will that have any negative impact on the grains? Or will they be able to handle that? I was also curious about the hybernating grains do you have to do anything to them before you can use them for a second ferment. My last question is can they stay hybernating indefinitely or do they need to be brought out of the fridge from time to time?

Thanks,
Levi

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley September 12, 2022 - 8:43 am

No, the grains should be fine. I’ve left mine at room temperature in the same liquid for over a month and they are fine. After hibernating in the fridge you just need to feed them a few times before you’re ready to use the liquid in secondary fermentation. It’s best to dehydrate them to store them indefinitely.

Reply
Alex December 1, 2022 - 7:36 pm

Hi Kaitlynn,

I followed your recipe (salt and maple syrup) and now my kefir has little back specks in it (and some stuck to the bottom of the jars). I can’t tell if it’s mold or some sort of sediment reaction. Have you seen this before? Thanks!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley December 2, 2022 - 12:03 pm

I’ve never seen that. Probably just sediment or pigments from the maple.

Reply
Alex December 2, 2022 - 4:01 pm

Thanks for your reply! I’ve scoured the internet and there’s nothing out there that mentions anything similar to my situation. I’ve come to the same conclusion as you, so thank you!

Reply
Janine Hoffart January 7, 2023 - 9:34 pm

I bought water kefir grains about 6 months ago and they have been in my fridge since. Can i save them at this point or are they garbage.
When you say you have to store them in a water/sugar solution, how do you make that solution. I am brand new at this so have no experience at all. Thank you in advance.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 8, 2023 - 6:38 am

They’re probably fine and can be revived. How to make the solution is outlined in this blog post, under the heading ” My Grain Feeding Recipe (1 Quart):”

Reply
Jenna Marsh March 4, 2023 - 1:00 pm

So grateful, thank you! Incredibly helpful, esp on the week long ferment for grain health.
Big thanks from me and my community, who are all benefiting from your sage advice and microbiotic expertise…






Reply
Mark Kidd March 17, 2023 - 5:57 pm

Hello

If I was to buy one of those cactus plants, is there anything I would need to do to the grains the produce to safely use them? I like their look.






Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley March 20, 2023 - 9:04 am

I’ve never done this, and I’m not sure how to. I think the grains naturally form in the juice and on the pads of the cacti when they are harvested and prepared for nopales.

Reply
Konstantin July 18, 2023 - 11:41 am

Good day! I trust you all are well! I have read your lovely articles about water kefir but I still feel somewhat lost. I bought dried water kefir grains and started to rehydrate them. I followed the instructions (more or less…) I used organic raw cane sugar and a slice of lemon (it wasn’t in the instructions). The grains were small and brownish. After a few cycles (about 4 to 5) they completely disintegrated like sand and the water stayed sweet.
I threw them away. I live in the UAE and the “room temperature” was over 30 degree centigrade, maybe 36 or so. (Outside temperature hits 48 occasionally and it might goes up to 55 some days in August…)
I started it again with new dehydrated grains. I keep the bottle in airconditioned room where the temperature is 28 degree Celsius maximum. After three cycles the grains are still brownish and small but not like sand (just a little bit…) I still feed them with organic raw cane sugar (as per the instructions) and with a slice of lemon. I poured out the first batch. The water after the second and third feeding and fermentation (2 days) was not sweet anymore. However the grains are still brownish and very small and on the bottom it looks like sand.
I don’t know if I am on the right way.
What is the maximum temperature I can keep the culture without any problem?
How long does it take for the culture to recover?
Is it suitable for consumption?
I don’t even know what it should taste like! (But I am desperate!)
Could you please help me? I would appreciate your advice!
Many thanks and regards

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 19, 2023 - 8:50 am

I can’t offer much advice if you don’t follow the directions I provide here. It sounds like you have not tried the suggestions in this blog post. I suggest following all the advice I’ve provided in this blog.

Reply
Konstantin July 19, 2023 - 2:12 pm

Thanks! I had been looking for help after having problems and found your site… I didn’t have time yet to try your instructions. But I will!

Reply
Konstantin July 22, 2023 - 12:03 pm

Hi Kaitlynn, I followed the instructions in the feeding recipe. I used organic maple syrup because it was available here. The taste after the first fermentation was very strange so I didn’t use it. The appearance of the grains didn’t change. (I would post the before-after pics if I could.) Should I repeat the protocol until the grains start growing and look better? How long might it take for the grains to recover?

Reply
Simonetta October 17, 2023 - 2:18 am

Hello Kaitlynn, hope you are well!

I’ve been following you for a while, and thanks to you I decided to try and add more fermented foods to my diet.

I bought a batch of water kefir grains and since they looked small and somewhat weak, I fed them using your recipe with salt and molasses to help them perk up, three consecutive times.

They’re slowly gaining more volume but to my very big surprise, there’s a scooby on top. The grains still look well, and the smell is not unpleasant or anything.

Did I do something wrong? Is it still okay to use them?

Many thanks

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley October 20, 2023 - 3:07 pm

that’s normal and can happen occasionally! Just scoop it off and continue.

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Lilja Björk December 16, 2023 - 4:30 am

Hi Kaitlynn and thank you for your awesome blog. I am now beginning my water kefir journey and there seems to be some mixed opinions on if you can use metal with your kefir grains, such as metal strain.
What are your thoughts on that?
Again thanks so much for all your recipes and info

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley December 16, 2023 - 7:21 am

It’s a myth. Mostly all utensils are made of non-reactive metal, so it doesn’t matter. I use a fine mesh strainer made of stainless steel and it works great.

Reply
Pete June 12, 2024 - 8:06 am

Hello! Your notes mention that we don’t have to feed like this every time, but if we do is that okay? Is there any risk of over mineralizing the grains?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley June 13, 2024 - 8:37 am

You can feed like this every time. Sometimes I switch to just sugar when brewing specific flavors of water kefir.

Reply