What Are Water Kefir Grains?

What Are Water Kefir Grains

Water kefir is a popular drink these days and it’s starting to gain more popularity by each passing month. It is a delicious mildly fermented sugar and water drink. Water kefir is a natural, light and refreshing traditional drink that is ideal as a healthy beverage alternative.  This drink is free of caffeine and it has a low glycemic content.

But, how to make water kefir? Well, the answer is water kefir grains. Water kefir is prepared by fermenting the water kefir grains at room temperature in a sugary solution. Water kefir grains are white, and they allow the light to pass through them which means they are translucent. They come in pieces of irregular shape and size. You would marvel at a crystal shape appearance if you would ever put one of these water kefir grains under a microscope.

In the following sections, we are going to cover in detail everything related to water kefir grains.


Structure of Water Kefir Grains

Water kefir grains are not really grains but rather a group of yeast and bacteria bonded by a polysaccharide known as dextran.  This cluster resembles crystals. By using sugar, the yeast and bacteria in the grain, form clusters and produce carbon dioxide, small amounts of ethanol as well as lactic acid.

Water kefir grains are a symbiotic culture of lactic acid bacteria and yeast (Saccharomyces and Candida). Around the world, water kefir grains come in different configurations. The ones I named here are one of the standard water kefir grains configurations of bacteria and yeast. They can also contain different bacteria like Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc. Even different kind of yeast like Kloeckera and possibly many others. Bacteria responsible for that crystal looking grain shape is Lactobacillus brevis.

What are water kefir grains?

Water kefir grains are grown in regular tap water and sugar. You can use a jar to create this mixture, Additionally, you can add figs and small amounts of raisins. While in this mixture, the crystals will multiply and increase in numbers. The sugar is converted into different products that later on create the water kefir. The yeast and bacteria in the crystals are causing the breakdown of sugar into lactic acids and carbon dioxide.

To maintain the crystals, the culture fluid is changed on a daily basis or at regular intervals. The solution is passed through a plastic sieve and the crystals are returned to the fermentation vessel which is then refilled with a water-sugar solution. The sugar solution is changed every 24 hours or 48 hours. During the second fermentation, you can add different types of fruits. These fruits can provide the crystals with nitrogen that they require for their metabolic process. If you want to read more about how to make this healthy drink, we made a detailed step by step guide on how to make water kefir at home.


 The Origin Story of Water Kefir Grains

You probably heard of milk kefir before water kefir, this is because water kefir is still really unknown to many people. The same goes for its origin. It is still not determined where it came from. Using the current information, you can pinpoint its origin on a few countries. These countries are Mexico, China, and Ukraine.

The most opinionated point of origin is Mexico. This is because water kefir grains were first mentioned in the year 1899, on Mexican soil. These crystals were found on cactus pads. Evidently, they were feeding on sugar extractions of a cactus. In Mexico, these grains are used to make Tepache, which is a sour drink made from brown sugar, pineapple, and cinnamon. A story about water kefir grains is different from milk kefir grains.


Metabolic Process of Water Kefir Grains

As mentioned, kefir grains are a symbiotic medium of yeast and bacteria that work alongside each other to feed off the natural sugar in the dried fruits and sugar-water culture. These microorganisms collaborate during this process. Yeast is responsible for breaking down simple sugars such as fructose and glucose and converting them into acetic acid and ethanol.

The Acid and lactic-producing bacteria will convert sugar and compound carbohydrates into lactic acid and simpler sugar forms. The acetic and lactic acids are natural preservatives and will destroy harmful bacteria and prevent them from entering the solution.  This results in a beverage containing simpler sugars, acetic and lactic sugars, ethanol and carbon dioxide.  This drink also contains numerous probiotics and has high nutrition content.


Different Names for Water Kefir Grains

Kefir is a Turkish word that means “well being”. This word in itself is describing healthy benefits that you can obtain just by drinking water kefir. But this name is not present and used everywhere around the globe. Because the origin is not determined, the name itself is different for every continent. These grains are also referred to as Japanese water crystals, tibicos, ginger beer plant, and others.


Is There a Difference Between Fresh Water Kefir and Dried Water Kefir Grains?

The fresh water kefir grains can produce ready to drink water kefir in a short time frame. This is the best choice of water kefir grains for those who want to use them immediately after delivery or purchase. Water kefir grains can live for many years when stored with good care.  They are living organisms that feed on the sugar and dried fruits while constantly reproducing, thus they can even outlive their owner. While some may get weaker over time for different reasons, they are still capable of living long while being able to produce a healthy water kefir drink.

Dried water kefir crystals, on the other hand, take longer to activate. This activation can last more than a week in some cases before they can become active. Dried water kefir grains are an ideal alternative if they are going to be shipped internationally because they will mostly be inert. While in this state, it becomes hard for them to degrade or get destroyed like with the fresh water kefir grains. It is also a good option if you won’t be using the water kefir grains immediately because you can store them in your refrigerator for later use.

Related: How To Store Water Kefir Grains?


The Difference Between Homemade Water Kefir and Bought Water Kefir

The processed kefir is a replicated drink that mimics the taste of the original kefir.  The store-bought kefir is not processed traditionally but rather by combining different types of yeast and bacteria that have been brought up differently. This is different from the conventional Kefir grains that consist of a symbiotic matrix of living yeast and bacteria that flourish and develop in the sugary solution.

All kefir grains have a similar appearance but different properties. Kefir differs from one type to another. There are some grains that ferment at a faster rate than others, some are sweet, and others are pungent while others are fizzy.  Kefir grains continually change their states from one season to another. You should not expect the kefir grains to remain the same as they will be constantly growing and changing. On the contrary, you should expect its continuous changes.


Other Uses for Water Kefir Grains

Water kefir and its grains have many uses apart from making the water kefir drink. Water kefir grains are used as a fertilizer for houseplants, lawn, flowers and the garden.  The bacterial and acidic content of water kefir grains can be quite useful to plants.

People use it as a bread or pizza starter. It can be used as a replacement for sourdough starter. Also, it can be used instead of vinegar to soak grains, addition to soups, softening the rice dishes, or as a replacement for salt for making fermented vegetables.