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What Is Water Kefir? Benefits, Uses and Recipe

Health + Wellness
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By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Water kefir is a beverage favored for both its fizzy flavor and impressive health benefits.


Besides packing a powerful punch of probiotics, this tasty drink has also been shown to amp up immunity, slow cancer cell growth and improve overall health.

Best of all, it can be made at home using just a few simple ingredients.

This article reviews the benefits and uses of water kefir and how to make your own.

What Is Water Kefir?

Water kefir is a fermented, carbonated beverage that is produced using water kefir grains.

Also known as tibicos, California bees, Japanese water crystals and other names, water kefir is thought to have originated in the late 1800s.

Unlike regular kefir, which is made from cow, sheep or goat milk, water kefir is made by combining sugar water with water kefir grains — a type of grain-like culture of bacteria and yeast.

The mixture is then typically fermented for 24–48 hours, producing a probiotic beverage rich in beneficial bacteria.

Water kefir is not only delicious and easy to enjoy but also packed with health benefits and can be an excellent addition to a well-rounded, nutritious diet.

It's simple to prepare and easily tailored to your taste buds.

Summary

Water kefir is a beverage produced by combining sugar water with water kefir grains and allowing it to ferment for 24–48 hours.

Rich in Beneficial Bacteria

One of the most significant benefits of water kefir is its probiotic content.

Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in your gut that play an integral role in almost every aspect of health, from cancer prevention to immune function and beyond (1).

While yogurt may be the most well-known source of probiotics in the modern diet, kefir is actually considered a better source, as it provides a diverse range of bacteria and yeast (2).

In fact, some research shows that kefir grains may contain up to 56 different bacterial and yeast strains (3).

Some of the most common families of beneficial bacteria found in kefir include Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Streptococcus and Leuconostoc (2).

Summary

Water kefir is rich in probiotics and contains a good mix of beneficial bacteria and yeast.

May Help Fight Cancer Cells

While current research is limited to test-tube studies, some research suggests that water kefir could help decrease the growth of certain types of cancer.

One study found that kefir extract was effective at blocking the growth of breast cancer cells (4).

Meanwhile, other studies show that kefir could be beneficial against colon and blood cancer as well (5, 6).

Because it's rich in probiotics, it could also help boost immune function to potentially aid cancer prevention (7).

However, more research is needed to evaluate how water kefir may impact the growth and development of cancer cells in humans.

Summary

Test-tube studies show that kefir extract may help decrease the growth of certain types of cancer. Its probiotic content may also enhance immune function to potentially aid cancer prevention.

Could Boost Immune Function

Thanks to its high concentration of beneficial bacteria, adding water kefir to your daily diet could give your immune system a hearty boost.

Studies show that certain strains of probiotics could help reduce your risk of intestinal infections, prevent the recurrence of urinary tract infections in women and even keep respiratory infections at bay (8, 9, 10).

In animal studies, kefir has also been shown to help suppress inflammatory responses triggered by issues like asthma (11).

Plus, one small six-week study in 18 people found that consuming kefir daily was able to control inflammation and optimize levels of immune cells in the body (12).

Summary

Water kefir may help reduce inflammation and alter levels of immune cells to enhance immune function. Due to its probiotic content, it may aid in reducing your risk of certain infections as well.

Dairy-Free and Vegan

Traditionally, kefir is made using cow's or goat's milk combined with kefir grains to produce a thick, probiotic-rich beverage.

However, since water kefir is made using sugar water, it's a good option for those who choose to avoid dairy, either due to health concerns, dietary restrictions or personal reasons.

Particularly for those following a dairy-free or vegan diet, it's perfect for bumping up probiotic consumption and boosting gut health while minimizing consumption of animal products.

Summary

Unlike traditional kefir, water kefir is made using sugar water, making it dairy-free and vegan-friendly.

May Cause Side Effects in Some People

For most people, water kefir can safely be enjoyed with minimal risk of adverse symptoms.

Like other probiotic-rich foods, the most common side effects include digestive issues like bloating, nausea, constipation and cramps (13).

These side effects tend to decrease with continued consumption.

You may want to check with your doctor before drinking water kefir if you have any condition that weakens your immune system, such as AIDS.

Though studies generally show that probiotics are safe for these individuals, some case reports suggest that probiotics may be associated with a higher risk of infection (14).

Summary

Water kefir may cause digestive issues in some people. Concerns have also been raised about probiotic use in people with weakened immune function, though evidence is mixed.

Easy to Enjoy and Make at Home

Water kefir is incredibly flavorful, making it easy to take advantage of the multitude of health benefits this beverage provides.

The taste can vary based on many factors but is often described as slightly sweet with a bit of a flat aftertaste.

To make it yourself, combine 1/2 cup (118 ml) of hot water with 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar in a jar and swirl the mixture together to dissolve.

Next, add about 3 cups (710 ml) of room-temperature water to the jar, along with your water kefir grains.

Cover and place the jar in a warm area with a temperature around 68–85°F (20–30°C) and let it ferment for 24–48 hours.

The water kefir grains can then be separated from the mixture and added to a new batch of sugar water, while the completed product is ready for you to enjoy.

You can drink water kefir as is or experiment with different flavorings like vanilla extract, fruit juice, frozen fruit or mint leaves for a refreshing and tasty treat.

Summary

Water kefir is easy to make at home and can be flavored with a variety of ingredients.

The Bottom Line

Water kefir is a probiotic beverage linked to various health benefits, including improved immunity and even protection against certain types of cancer.

Dairy-free and vegan-friendly, this tasty beverage offers beneficial bacteria and yeast and can easily be made at home from sugar water and water kefir grains.

If you want to add more probiotics to your diet and improve your overall health, consider giving water kefir a try.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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