Thursday, May 9, 2013

What is Water Kefir?

For video and recipes - CLICK HERE.

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my new friend Tibicos, AKA Tibi, Sugar Kefir, Water Kefir, Japanese Water Chrystals, California Bees, Beer Seeds, and more. In past posts I've written about kefir, usually a yogurt-like drink made from milk, and kombucha, a fermented tea drink. Water kefir uses a similar process to make a unique fermented beverage full of probiotic goodness. Dispite the name, water kefir is a different organism from dairy kefir. 

What is Water Kefir Soda?
When sugar water is cultured with the water kefir SCOBY, the resulting liquid can be bottled with other flavors to become a slightly fizzy natural soda. It has tiny gentle bubbles like natural champagne  as opposed to the big bubbles that are artificially pumped into commercial soda pop.

How does it taste and smell?
I mix mine with juice, tea, ginger, vanilla sugar, or whatever else I want it to taste like. I would describe the taste as slightly sweet, earthy, and yeasty. The longer is ferments, the less sweet and more yeasty or sour it might taste. Eventually it will taste a little alcoholic or vinegary (though I've never had any that long.) Kelly compares it to a mild wine cooler.

Truth told, the smell can be a little off putting. I'm not sure if mine is getting better/healthier, or if I'm just getting used to it. I brought a sample to someone yesterday who told me if I want to sell the stuff (see here for sales info) then I have to do something about the smell.
I drink it all day long straight for a little snack/dessert, or mixed with water.

What IS the water kefir SCOBY?
my tibicos grains

Despite the name, there is no grain in "water kefir grains." SCOBY is an acronym for a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast. Each Tibicos SCOBY has a unique complex community of over 40 beneficial bacteria and yeasts, including L. acidophilus and the other 1-10 strains found in store bought probiotic supplements. It looks like gel crystals that sit in the bottom of the jar or pitcher with the sugar water solution, and bubble throughout the day. When I first re-hydrated them I thought they smelled mildly like breast-fed baby poo. Maybe they are healthier now, but it doesn't bother me.

Where do I get kefir grains?
I ordered dehydrated kefir grains from Keysands, based in Minnesota. They were inexpensive, shipped quickly, work well, and the small company offers excellent, friendly customer support. (All shipping, domestic and International, is only $3.99!) If you live in the US and are ready to start making water kefir right away, buy the live grains. Cultures for Health is also a good source of kefir grains and their blog is an excellent resource for articles and recipes.

How do I get Kosher Kefir Grains?
Grains in solution with sugar, black-strap molasses,
and calcium carbonate to promote growth.
From the research I did, most rabbis say that you can buy water kefir grains without kosher supervision and throw away the first batch of kefir. It's sort of like you are rinsing or purging them of anything that could be unkosher. They are a living organism that lives on kosher ingredients that, according to many authorities, don't need a heksher, so the kashrut concerns are minor. Dairy Kefir may be more of an issue, which is one reason I don't have any. If you keep Chalav Yosrael you need to wait for your grains to multiply several times, discarding previous generations.

Why do I like water kefir better than kombucha or the more common dairy kefir?

  • It is non-dairy, which is good for people with dairy sensitivities, and makes it more versatile in a kosher kitchen.
  • It is caffeine free, making it a better choice for the whole family, or an after dinner beverage.
  • It is much faster than making kombucha, uses less ingredients, and takes less space.
  • It's an easy intro to fermented foods, because it may seem more 'normal' to people who are used to drinking soda or beer. I've had very positive reactions from most guests I've serve it to, and my kids love it.
Is it alcoholic?
Like all fermented food and drink, water kefir contains some alcohol. A normal 2-step fermentation leads to about 0.64% alcohol by volume according to Kelly's experiment. This makes is about the same as "dealcoholised beer" but not enough alcohol to be labeled "low-alcohol." I haven't asked any Mormons or Muslims, but all the "natural parenting" people I've communicated with have no problem giving their kids lots of kefir. I put my water kefir in the fridge on it's second or third day. This slows the fermentation, but doesn't stop it completely. After another day in the fridge I usually just keep it as an evening drink for myself. I'm a real light weight :-)

How do I make it?
Click here to see the video of my "kefir cycle" making yesterday's liquid into pomegranate-ginger soda, and starting a new batch. If you buy dehydrated grains you will also receive re-hydrating instructions.

What else would you like to know? If you were thinking about buying some bottled tibicos soda, what would you want to know?


  1. Do you want dairy kefir? I've had the grains for about 2 years now, and I got then from someone else in Israel, who also got them from someone in Israel ...

    1. Thanks for the offer, Liz! Right now I don't have space for anything else, but I will keep that in mind.

    2. I have been searching for kosher kefir grain for yogurt and i have no luck. The ones you have is kosher?

    3. Yosefa if you have kosher kefir grains can you please contact me at 9173550268 or email me at I would greatly appreciate it.

  2. Thank you for the knowledgeable response about kosher kefir. I'll show your post to my local O rabbi when I'm ready to give them a try.

  3. Which orthodox organizations said kefir grains do not need a hechsher? When I asked the OU they told me they do need a hechsher :(

    1. I sort of heard it through the grape vine. The trick is to find a rabbi who has a good understanding of what WATER kefir grains are and how the kefir is made. It's not that it doesn't need a hechsher, but there is a process to have kosher grains from an unsupervised batch.

    2. Do you know what the process is or an American Rabbi well- versed in such things.

    3. Do you know what the process is or an American Rabbi well- versed in such things.

    4. I have information from a well respected posek regarding the kosher status of milk kefir grains. I was not given express permission to post his psak publicly, but if you contact me at I will gladly share what I was told.

  4. Hi have been searching for a Rabbi in my community who knows about kefir grains however they have no idea how it works would you be kind enough to direct me to a orthodox Rabbi who knows more and can guide me?

    1. Yes. I have helpful information.
      Please contact me at

  5. I haven’t found an orthodox rabbi that agrees with the “wash and the become kosher” idea. I’ll keep looking.



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