Reader Questions: Homemade Cider, Water Kefir Grains

In a new segment I thought I’d answer some reader questions.   Indeed, if there’s enough interest, I’ll answer reader questions every Wednesday.   If you have a question about food, recipes, traditional foods and nutrition or frugal cooking feel free to contact me.

Really, Really Traditional Cider Press

Really, Really Traditional Cider Press

Can homemade cider make people sick?

Anything food can harbor potential pathogens.   Yet, properly and cleanly prepared foods pose less of a risk in harboring those pathogens than foods that are improperly prepared.   Additionally, the better equipped your immune system is, the easier it will be to fight off potential pathogens that you come across. Keep in mind, of course, that beneficial bacteria including those found in fermented foods can help your immune system develop its full potential – particularly in the digestive tract.

Traditional methods of food preservation including fermentation provided a safe way to store foods for our ancestors and has been used for at least 12,000 years.   In many ways, we evolved on fermented foods.   It wasn’t until the latter decades of the nineteenth century that pasteurization as a way to kill potential pathogens began to be used for beverages like wine, milk and, of course, cider.   The result of pasteurization was dead food – that is, food that is nutritionally inferior due to its lack of vitamins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria.

Wild apple cider, like the kind I make, is teeming with bacteria, and, yes, that’s a good thing.   A very good thing.   When cider is freshly pressed, its enzymes are intact and those vitamins that are unstable when subjected to heat also remain intact.     This creates an environment that is favorable to lactic-acid producing bacteria.   These bacteria eat away at the natural sugars present in food: lactose in milk-based foods and fructose in fruits like apples.   As they metabolize the sugars present in the apple juice, the juice turns acidic and then it will turn alcoholic depending on how long you allow the juice to ferment.   An acidic environment keeps pathogens at bay while allowing the beneficial bacteria to proliferate which, in turn, minimizes risk of illness while actually allowing your body to benefit the way it should from fermented foods.

Of course, as with anything, use caution and wisdom in your preparation of cider just as you would in your preparation of any food.   Wash your hands well – especially after using the bathroom.   Use clean utensils to minimize transfer of bacteria from food to food.   And, when your cider is done fermenting, examine it.   If it doesn’t look right, doesn’t smell right or doesn’t taste right, don’t drink it.   It’s as simple as that.

Incidentally, you can become ill from drinking commercially produced, pasteurized cider too as foods can easily become contaminated with pathogens after the pasteurization process and, at that point, there’s no acid environment or beneficial bacteria to keep the pathogens at bay.

Water Kefir Brewing

Water Kefir Brewing

How do I convert milk kefir grains to water kefir grains?

I should preface my answer with the following: I have not converted milk kefir grains to water kefir grains so I cannot write from direct experience; however, I’ve researched the process and can answer your question through information only.

Milk kefir grains and water kefir grains are, fundamentally, comprised of different organisms; however, milk kefir grains can be converted to make water kefir but do not usually fair well in the process and will eventually die off.   Water kefir grains, by contrast, cannot be converted to ferment milk at all.

While milk kefir grains tend to be a bit slimy and chewy and are opaque, water kefir grains are translucent and crystalline.   As I mentioned before, they also are comprised of different cultures of bacteria.

Additionally, converting milk kefir grains to water kefir is a lengthy process.   It often takes ten to fourteen days of vigilant and regular re-culturing to effect the conversion.   Initially, you’ll take three tablespoons of milk kefir grains and place them in a sugar water solution comprised of 1 cup filtered water and 3 tablespoons sugar.   Change this solution every two days for ten to fourteen days and, eventually, you’ll be able to have a colony of bacteria successful enough to culture a liter of water kefir.   It is likely that you’ll need to throw away your first few liters of water kefir until the beverage is cultured to your liking.   I’ve read that some people also add a squirt of lemon juice to the sugar-water mixture during the conversion process.

In my opinion, it’s wisest to use your milk kefir grains for milk kefir and procure another source for water kefir grains.   I know they’re traded on MDC’s traditional foods board, sold on ebay and even sold on etsy.    You can learn more about brewing water kefir here.

Again, if you have any questions that you feel are suited to the Nourished Kitchen, please feel free to contact me.

Before you comment on this post seeking or offering water kefir grains, please checkout the Cultures & Starters Exchange.

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What people are saying

  1. vitalzymx - jesse says

    Is the method common way to convert milk kefir grains to water kefir grains? Is there any other way to do it?

    If it’s added with a squirt of lemon juice to the sugar-water mixture during the conversion process, what would be the taste like? Have you ever try it?

  2. Jenny says

    Jesse – this is the most common method of converting grains that I am aware of. As I mentioned, I haven’t done it since I use traditional water kefir grains. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend drinking the kefir from the interim stage as it’s likely just to taste like sugar water with lemon.

  3. Mike says

    I cannot speak generally but only from my own experience – I recently transferred some of my milk kefir grains into a mixture that was made by boiling ginger, adding honey and lemon juice and allowing to cool. I did not experience any interim stage – the grains happily fermented away and the resulting beverage was delicious. This was only recently so of course anything is still possible – they could die on me, or simply cease to grow, but they show no signs of being anything but happy in the new environment at this time (knock on wood!). Nevertheless I can state that in my case the process was not in any way lengthy, nor was there any need to throw anything away (until I tried putting some of them back in milk, that seems like it would take some adjustment time).
    For what it’s worth they also created enough yeasts in the drink that after two batches I am now repeating the process without the kefir grains and only starter from the previous batch, and it appears to be working fine.
    I should add that I have nothing but respect for my kefir grains and would never do anything to knowingly hurt them!

  4. Angie says

    I transferred my milk kefir grains to a sugar/water mixture via instructions from the Dom’s website. I added sugar, water, a splash of lemon, a bit of baking soda, a bit of molasses, and a few pieces of dried fruit (I used dates). I closed the lid tight and left it in a warm place to do its thing. I then strained off the fruit and kefir grains and placed the beverage in the frig. I drank some the next day…Pleasantly fizzy with a bit of a yeasty flavor. Way too sweet, though. (I used a 1/10 sugar/water ratio.)

    My question: Do milk kefir grains absorb the sugar like water kefir grains do? I don’t want to drink this stuff if the final beverage contains all the sugar I added in the beginning.

    • Jenny says

      Hi Angie – to my knowledge, the milk kefir grains should eat up the sugar just the way the water kefir grains do. Of course, the proof is in the pudding so to speak – if you’re beverage tastes sweet then the grains aren’t doing their job.

  5. Anita says

    I have genuine Water Kefir Grains (Tibicos), if you want some. Contact me gamgo(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au

  6. Carien says

    Are there anyone in South Africa than can supply water kefir grains. I can supply milk kefir grains.

    Carien du Preez
    Strand – Western Cape

  7. Karrel says

    Jenny (author),
    Have you ever had water kefir get a real cheesy smell? It has a bit of the taste also. It doesn’t bother me but no one else in my family will drink it now. I received the grains from a friend and made several batches no problem. I have not changed anything that I have been doing, other then one time I left it fermenting a little long maybe 5-6 days. Could this have caused it or did I do or not do something right?
    Thank you for your help.

  8. Jenny says

    Karrel –

    I’ve never had a batch of water kefir turn cheesy smelling – though sometimes if I over-ferment the water kefir, it will smell alcoholic.  Try running a few short ferments on your grains, but if the smell persists they may have become contaminated and I would toss them.

    Good Luck!

    – Jenny

    • Louise Smith says

      Zelda, hi!
      I am responding to an OLD post – October 2011. Did you manage to get water kefir grains at all? And if you found some – could I buy or scrounge some from you please? Please advise cost etc.

  9. Lizzi Tarr says

    Please can someone urgently supply me with Kefir milk granules? They are to be used for the natural calmative and digestive benefits. I need them sent to me by post to Port St Johns in Eastern Cape..I have no other way of getting them, will gladly send a cheque or pay COD. Thank you, VERY much! Liz Tarr email supplied

    • Jenny says

      No. You can temporarily use water kefir to brew milk kefir, but the cultures are different and will weaken with time. You need to purchase milk kefir grains to culture milk kefir.

  10. Kristin says

    Is there anyone who has water kefir grains in China? I moved here recently and am not sure how I can get some.

  11. says

    I took your water kefir class at the Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival (and used your coupon). I bought grains there too, and starting culturing ASAP. It worked; we love it. It’s not even been a week and the grains have multiplied. I second fermented some with elderberry juice, and some with cherry juice too. I liked it better without the whole lemon, although I love lemon. Tomorrow I’m going to reload with ginger and lemon juice with the sugar and raisins. I appreciate you sharing your expertise. You’re a great speaker and teacher Jenny, thank you!

  12. Martina finnegan says

    Hi I am martina from Co. Louth Ireland. I have successfully made kefir milk from kefir grains for some months now. I now have a surplus of kefir grains if anyone from Ireland North or South would like some I could supply them with full instructions for use . I enjoy visiting this site and find it very informative. Well done.

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