Close this search box.

Cultures for GI Health

The History of
Water Kefir

Water kefir, a delicious water-based probiotic beverage, has many coveted health benefits. It origins are unknown but it has global appeal.

Water kefir grains also known as Tibicos, are found on the pads of the Opuntia (prickly pear) cactus in Mexico. In sugared water, these grains propagate and make a flavorful beverage.

The origins of water kefir grains has been hotly debated with speculation that the grains were discovered in China, Russian and  Mexico. 

Tibicos grains are also known as sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals, tibi, vinegar bees, ginger bees, beer seeds, beer plant, ale nut, eternity grains, balm of Gilead, California bees, African bees, Australian bees, and Japanese beer seeds.

What is Water Kefir?

Water kefir, also known as Tibicos, is a fermented water based beverage that requires a culture similar to a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) known as grains. When raw sugar is dissolved in the filtered water the microorganisms feed on the sugars creating beneficial by-products including, probiotics and some vitamins and minerals. It is a great alternative to kombucha, milk kefir and particularly commercial sodas.

A symbiotic matrix of

Bacteria and Yeast

Kefir grains are a cohesive polysaccharide (multiple sugars) matrix of bacteria and yeast that work together to devour the natural sugars and other nutrients in the sugar-water and dried fruits. The yeast and bacteria are symbiotic and complimentary, each helps the others thrive. Bacteria break down carbohydrates and sucrose into simpler sugars (glucose and fructose) and lactic acid. Yeasts transform the simple sugars into acetic acid and ethanol.

Unique Characteristics

The culturing time is much shorter than kombucha (1-2 instead of 3-5 days), so it is not generally found in the store. With these clear crystal-like grains, it is an easy culture to use at home.

Water Kefir Health Benefits

Beneficial Microorganisms

Most water kefir grains contain a blend of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc genus bacteria. They also have a significant amount of Saccharomyces, Candida, and Kloeckera yeasts. 

L. brevis bacteria has been positively identified as the species that causes the cultures to form as grains.

A study in Frontiers in Microbiology suggests that kefir water is one of the best dietary sources of probiotics available and may contain close to 60 different strains of yeast and bacteria.

water kefir cinnamon

Known Cultures
in Water Kefir

Water Kefir Health Benefits

Which Microbes Are in Tibicos?

As living cultures, water kefir grains differ somewhat in composition by origin, location, temperature and other variables. The kefir water even varies each time it is made with the same mother culture.

Tibicos contains several of the most beneficial probiotic and yeast strains. As one of the best dietary sources of probiotics, water kefir can contribute to overall health by maintaining a healthy and varied intestinal flora.

This list includes some of the highest concentration species. It is by no means comprehensive. For a more detailed list of microbes please visit Yemoos.

Water Kefir
Health Benefits


Dairy Free

Milk kefir is known as a much better source of beneficial bacteria than yogurt. However, many people are sensitive to dairy products. Culturing may help to reduce the allergens, but may not be enough to make milk kefir digestible. Those of us who are milk intolerant like having an option similar to milk kefir in benefits. Although the variety of cultures in water kefir is not as varied, it is a very good substitute. For those on vegetarian or vegan diets, water kefir is animal friendly.

Caffeine Free

Unlike kombucha, water kefir is caffeine free. For those who need to monitor their caffeine intake, it is the perfect substitute. The flavor profile of water kefir is much milder as the tannins in teas create a sharper bite with a kombucha culture.


Vitamins & Minerals

Water kefir has a number of unique health benefits. There is a concentration of b vitamins in the beverage, including the important concentrated with b12, b9, b6, and b1. It also has magnesium, vitamin k, electrolytes, and enzymes.

Other Possible Water kefir
Health benefits

May Help Fight Cancer Cells

Research indicates that probiotics may play a protective role in the prevention of cancers. In addition, the gut balancing effects of water kefir may help to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and postoperative inflammation. 

May Boost Immunity & Reduce Inflammation

Probiotics are known to have an important role in system wide immune function. Water kefir with its multiple strains of microorganisms, has the capacity to contain bad bacteria. When the microbiome has a wider variety of species there is less probability of an undesirable overgrowth. 

May Support Weight Loss

As a low sugar, low calorie beverage, water kefir can be considered in a weight loss plan. There are studies that show that rebalancing the intestinal flora can have a significant positive impact on losing and maintaining weight, although the exact mechanism need more research before conclusive treatments can be stated.


When to Skip the Water Kefir

Compromised immunity

Any condition that affects the immune system, is a reason to consider talking to your physician before trying water kefir or any other fermented foods. While generally there is little risk of any major concerns, there have been some individual reports of a higher risk of infection in those with compromised immune function.

Avoiding Alcohol

Ethanol is a by product of any fermentation process and water kefir is no exception. However, the alcoholic level is barely perceptible. However, in order to completely avoid alcohol, you will want to pass on the tibicos.

Digestive Discomfort

As with all fermented products, there can be a little digestive discomfort when first adding these foods. If you have bowel changes, gas, abdominal pain or cramps, stop or cut back the amount until you feel better. In moderation, water kefir should cause no major digestive problems.

How to Make Water Kefir

In order to make water kefir you have to have the tibicos.  There are 2 options, the living cultures or the dried. If you cannot start your water kefir immediately upon receipt of the grains buy the dried. I chose the living grains. You can purchase quality living grains here. The dried grains need a few days to be reactivated before using. A dried grains starter kit is here.

Surprisingly, these grains can grow with a variety of sugars (see the picture). The drink will look and taste different based on what you choose. The unprocessed sugars have more vitamins and minerals to feed the cultures.

If you use basic sugar you will need to add additional ingredients with minerals. Unsulphured dried fruit, or mineral drops can be added to supplement the sugar, we recommend these drops.

It is important to not use ingredients that will interfere with the fermentation process, such as chlorinated water or the sulfites in some dried fruit.

Also it is important with all fermented foods and drinks to limit exposure to metal as the acidic nature can cause metals to leach, and damage the cultures. Glass is preferred, although plastic or non reactive ceramics will also work.

What Kind of Sugar
Should I Use?

Recipe Template

Our recipe templates are designed to be flexible and easy to follow.

Water Kefir

The water kefir is tasty after the initial fermentation, however, the 2nd fermentation adds flavor and fizz that is worth the effort. Add fruit, juice, botanicals, herbs, anything you like, to a flip top bottle (see our recommended bottles). Give it another 24 hours and your tasty soda-like beverage will be ready. Water kefir is a guilt free way to get the health benefits of probiotics with maximum flavor.

  • Prep Time10 min
  • Yield1 Quart
  • Suitable for Diet
    • Organic


  • 3-1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • 1/4 sugar
  • 1/4 c kefir grains
  • 1 tbsp sea salt or a few drops of minerals


  • 1 piece of unsulphured dried fruit and/or
  • 2 slices of citrus

Initial Fermentation


Combine ½ cup of hot water with ¼ c of sugar in a jar, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved.


Add 3-½ cups of room temperature water to the jar and let it cool to 85 or below.


Add a ¼ c kefir grains and then cover the jar with a coffee filter or cheesecloth.


Place the jar in a warm area and allow it to ferment for 24–48 hours.


Strain the kefir grains and reuse them to make a new batch of water kefir.

2nd Fermentation


Add fruit, fruit or sweet vegetable juice, botanicals, herbs, anything you like, to a flip top bottle


Pour the water kefir to fill the bottle leaving an inch at the top.


Burp the bottle in 12 hours to release some pressure and in 24 hours it will be ready to drink.

Other Uses for Water Kefir

Fermenting Grains and Beans

A tablespoon or two of water kefir added to soaking water will ferment whole grains and beans in 12-24 hours.

Water Kefir as Sourdough Starter

Using water kefir in the place of water in a bread recipe creates a delicious and easy sourdough. If you are using a yeasted recipe, the rising time will be much longer than the original. Like any sourdough, it is a living culture and it takes patience and monitoring to get the right rise.

Make Coconut Water Kefir

Coconut water kefir is another go to recipe. The potassium, magnesium and manganese found in coconut water provide additional food for the grains. Use part of your grains for coconut water or add water kefir to the coconut water.

Make Coconut Milk Kefir

Water kefir is commonly used to ferment coconut milk to make coconut milk kefir. By adding ¼ cup of water kefir to two cups of coconut milk you can culture non-dairy milk in 18 hours to create dairy-free milky kefir!

Tepache de Piña

The very popular drink tepache is made with water kefir. Tepache de piña uses leftover pineapple peel and core with cinnamon and star anise.


Water kefir can be used to fertilize house plants, flowers, your lawn, or your garden. Kefir can also be used in your hair as a clarifying conditioner and ph stabilizer (similar to apple cider vinegar). It can also be used in place of vinegar in many recipes and can be used in place of some of the salt in making lacto-fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.

FAQs Water Kefir Health Benefits

This is a selection of the most frequently asked questions about the health benefits of water kefir.

Water kefir grains need to be fed at least every 48 hours (every other day). It is best to strain the grains every 24-48 hours and put in a fresh mix of water and sugar. If you need to take a break, stick them in the fridge, refresh them weekly with fresh water and sugar. Or simply put them in their finished kefir for up to a week or two, after which they must be brought back to room temperature.

The lemon and dried fruit have traditionally been used in the water kefir recipes. Lemon acidulates the water preventing contamination from bacteria and mold before the grains can get to work. Lemon and the dried fruit also provide some of the much needed minerals for the cultures to thrive (calcium, potassium and magnesium).

Most unsulphured dried fruit work well. Dates, raisins, figs, apples, apricots and coconut to name a few. These additions are not necessary, some cultures do just fine with sugar and water only.

Fresh kefir grains are a living culture and are ready to produce water kefir immediately upon receipt. If you are ready to get started yesterday and will be at home when your grains arrive this is a great choice.

However, if there is any chance you won’t be able to get to the grains for a bit, you should purchase the dried version to prevent losing the cultures. It will take a while for the grains to reactivate (follow the directions provided).

Fruit juices, sugary vegetable juices (like beet, carrot or ginger) coconut water can be fermented with water kefir grains. Sometimes, even milk or milk alternatives like soy, almond or rice can be fermented as well. If you decide to try other liquids, make sure you are using extra grains not your primary culture. Water kefir grains are sensitive to change and may not survive your experiments. Often the cultures only work a few times, cutting short the life of the culture. You will not want to add those grains back to the original culture just in case.
Yes, but it is barely perceptible. A number of studies suggest that the alcohol level is less than 2% as opposed to beer and wine which have between 4-14% ethanol. Because kefir contains bacteria (and not just yeast like beer or wine) the amount of alcohol kefir can produce is limited by the acetic acid the bacteria produce.

Anna Gulitza , Jasmin Stadiea , Mareike Wenningb , Matthias A. Ehrmanna , Rudi F. Vogela

The microbial diversity of water kefir

27 Apr 2011

Fiorda, FA, de Melo Pereira, GV, Thomaz-Soccol .V, Rakshit, SK, Pagnoncelli, MGB, Vandenberghe, LPS, and Soccol, CR.

Microbiological, biochemical, and functional aspects of sugary kefir fermentation – A review.

Apr 7 2017

Laureys, D, De Vuyst, L.

Microbial species diversity, community dynamics, and metabolite kinetics of water kefir fermentation.

14 Feb 2014

Marsh, AJ, O’Sullivan, O, Hill, C, Ross, RP, Cotter, PD

Sequence-based analysis of the microbial composition of water kefir from multiple sources.

19 Sept 2013

Benjamin C. T. Bourrie, Benjamin P. Willing, and Paul D. Cotter.

The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir

4 May 2016

David Laureys, Margo Cnockaert, Luc De Vuyst, Peter Vandamme

Bifidobacterium aquikefiri sp. nov., isolated from water kefir

1 Mar 2016

David Laureys and Luc De Vuyst Microbial Species Diversity, Community Dynamics, and Metabolite Kinetics of Water Kefir Fermentation Apr 2014


The information on this website is NOT medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before making any changes please seek advice from a medical professional.

Join The Conversation

Subscribe today for weekly healthy tips and motivation, FREE!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons

join the conversation

Subscribe to our mailing list