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? Maybe you need to take a break from brewing and hibernate your grains for a bit. Learn how to have the healthiest water kefir grains ever with this comprehensive guide to water kefir grains.

Water Kefir Grains

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

Grains for Kefir

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

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”.

How to Store Kefir Grains

Normally 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 maple syrup or molasses. This provides nutrients and conditions to select for more beneficial bacteria to thrive within the water kefir grain communities. This also provides essential nutrients to encourage the microbes to multiply and build the kefir grains. This method encourages A LOT of growth and multiplication. If you want to share grains with friends, I highly suggest using our feeding instructions.

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 because the long primary fermentation allows more microaerophilic and anaerobic bacteria to thrive in the grain communities.

The awesome 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.

My Grain 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 of 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.

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 you will need to put them in a fresh batch of sugar water every two to three weeks.

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 Kefir Grains

Here are my favorite places to buy kefir grains:

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36 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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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!

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Kaitlynn Fenley April 30, 2021 - 8:07 am

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

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Cheryl Ann July 9, 2021 - 9:45 am

Where can I get quality water kefir grains?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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