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Caring for your water kefir culture

by Amber Fairweather |

FAQ: General information on how to care for your grains (water kefir culture specific information below)

Whether you’re making milk kefir, water kefir or ginger beer, the grains or rather organisms/cultures used in the fermentation process need special care to unfold their maximum potential and provide you with the healthy beneficial bacteria that they are known for. Here are some general tips and guidelines on how to care for your cultures and ensure that your fermentation process is successful.


Is it true that I shouldn’t use metal spoons for stirring?

Yes, that is right. Metal tends to react with most cultured foods and cultures should therefore not come into contact with cultures for a prolonged time. For making kefir, stainless steel is acceptable, though you should avoid any prolonged contact with any of your culture to avoid damaging them. Plastic is more suitable, but of course is not ideal for our environment and at Symbiota we aim to get a balance between looking after our earth and our cultures. We therefore advise to only expose your grains to stainless steel for a very short time, such as when straining them after the fermentation process is finished. Avoid all other metals.


Do I need to rinse grains/ cultures between making batches?

No, there is no need to rinse your cultures unless your cultures have been left to stand for longer than their suggested times and they have started to smell “off”. To try save them, you can rinse them with filtered water and try rebrewing them several times to see if they regain life. 


Do I need to rinse my fermentation jar between making batches?

There is no right or wrong answer. Some people prefer to use a clean jar for each batch, but this is not necessary. Some people simply rinse their jars between batches while others leave their jars until there is a build up and their jars start looking scummy. Jars that have a build up will contribute to faster fermentation times, while clean jars will result in a slightly slower fermentation time. What is important, is that when jars are cleaned, they are fully rinsed with clean water so that there is no soap residue. Soap residue will affect the bacteria.


Can I use plastic containers and bottles to make or store kefir and ginger beer?

We don’t recommend using plastic for various reasons. Not only does it have a negative impact on our environment but plastic can also leach undesirable chemicals into your fermentations. Therefore, glass is the best option for fermenting any kind of food or drink. However, if you have a plastic bottle lying around that can be tightly sealed, these do work very well for second stage ferments. They limit explosions and support a great carbonated finish to your second ferment.


Water kefir grains

Water kefir grains or culture are a symbiosis of bacteria and yeast. They are referred to as “grains” however to not have any wheat, rye etc in the. Water kefir grains are full of probiotics and can be used to make a variety of healthy, delicious drinks, have a look at this blog for flavouring ideas.


What liquids can I use to make water kefir?

Water kefir likes to ferment in sugar water per instructions. Normally pure white sugar and filtered water is enough for great batches of water kefir. However, if your water lacks minerals and you notice your water kefir is sluggish, you can add a tablespoon of raisins and a pinch of Himalayan salt to your 1L sugar solution.


What types of sugars are suitable to make water kefir?

We recommend using organic white sugar which has shown the best results. Do not use honey, molasses or any sugar substitutes such as stevia or agave. These substances can damage your grains and usually can’t supply them with enough nourishment to survive and work properly. It is possible to over-mineralise your grains with sugars such as rapadura, however if your water kefir culture is struggling this might be a well receive nutritional boost for your culture. If your grains begin to get mushy looking, then you know they have been over-mineralised and best to return to using white sugar. 


Can I reuse water kefir grains / how long does my culture last?

Yes, you can. If looked after, you water kefir culture will last forever. Once you have finished making a batch of water kefir, simply remove the grains by straining the kefir and start a new fermentation process.


I have more grains than I started with. What do I do with the excess grains?


My water kefir seems to be fermenting too quick?

The ideal amount of grains to sugar solution is about 2-6 tablespoons of culture to 1 litre of sugar solution. When your culture exceed this ratio / amount it is best to split them to make additional batches of water kefir or you can eat them, add them to smoothies or simply discard them. When your ratios are out of balance your water kefir will ferment too quickly and risk being starved from having metabolized all the sugar in the solution. 


Can I store my water kefir grains for later use?

Yes, you can. To do so, simply put your grains in a clean jar, add distilled (or boiled and cooled down) water, with white sugar (1 tablespoon per 250mls water) close the lid / place your cotton top on and put them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them again. This method can be used for up to six months. Ideally changing the sugar water once a month for best results of long-term storage. When taking cultures out of hibernation, expect them to take 2 - 4 'recovery brews' to get up and running again to full potential. A recovery brew is simply a ferment (as per usual instructions) whereby your culture might not perform as expected, however after changing the sugar solution every 48 hours for 2 -4 brews, they will 'wake up' and regain their activity.


How long to water kefir grains last?

If cared for appropriately, water kefir grains have an unlimited life span and can be used indefinitely for making water kefir. Most cultures prefer being kept active however they are tolerant of being hibernated every now and then in the fridge. 


If you have any unanswered questions please ask us at info@symbiota.co.nz and we will continue to add more information

Want to learn about how to flavour your water kefir? Check our water kefir recipes blog.