Which sugar is best for making water kefir?
Water kefir is a probiotic beverage made with water kefir grains containing bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship.
Water kefir is made by combining sugar water with water kefir grains. To learn more about water kefir benefits see blog post.
Here I will go into more detail about which sugars to choose when making water kefir. It is important to observe both the water kefir grains and the water kefir itself because they will show if the ingredients you are using suit them. For example, if you notice sliminess in the water kefir and around the grains, there is a possibility that the water you are using is not suitable for water kefir. Also, if you notice that the grains are not active (they are not growing, multiplying or you are not seeing bubbles) it is likely that the grains need the addition of minerals or another type of sugar.
When choosing a sugar or sweetener to make your water kefir, always read the label. Sometimes sugars may contain anti-caking additives or other ingredients that could harm the water kefir grains. Also, watch out for traces of gluten especially if you have celiac disease. What? In sugar? Right? Totally crazy!! But, unfortunately, sugar can be contaminated with gluten.
Different types of sugars and sweeteners and their effect on water kefir grains
Each type of sugar is different in its structure and mineral content and has a unique effect on the kefir grains leading to diverse tasting water kefir:
Refined white sugar - pure white, no minerals - makes a sweet water kefir. Organic cane sugar or crystals - less refined than white sugar with a very low mineral content - makes a sweet water kefir.
Turbinado or raw sugar - sugar that has been spun to have most of the molasses removed; slightly less refined than cane sugar with a medium mineral content - makes a water kefir that is less sweet than that of white sugar or cane sugar.
Rapadura or sucanat - sugar cane juice that has been pressed and dried; high mineral content - makes a stronger-flavored water kefir. Brown sugar - white sugar with molasses added back with high mineral content - makes a stronger-flavored water kefir.
Coconut palm sugar - sugar extracted and dried from coconut palm trees with a very high mineral content – usually too rich for water kefir and can damage water kefir grains. Only use in small amounts in combination with cane sugar.
Maple sugar or syrup - made from the sap of the sugar maple tree - too rich for water kefir and can damage water kefir grains. Only use in small amounts in combination with cane sugar.
Molasses - very high mineral content - using molasses on its own can be damaging to water kefir grains. Use ½ teaspoon as a mineral supplementation per batch, as needed.
Fruit juice - some people use straight organic juice because it has natural sugars. Although it may have different fermentation times based on the sweetness of the fruit, it works just fine.
Dried fruit - gives further mineral and nutrient support and great flavor. Dried fruit is especially helpful if you’re only using white sugar. Dried unsulfured fruit is best. Avoid using sulfured fruit (a preservative added to many dried fruits that can suppress or even harm the grains).
Honey - natural sugar from bees with high mineral content - raw honey has its own bacteria that can compete with water kefir grains; some honey may be contaminated with high fructose corn syrup. Not recommended for using to make water kefir.
Agave, stevia, monk fruit, Splenda (sugar substitutes) - as these sweeteners do not provide the food necessary for water kefir grains, it is not recommended using these for making water kefir.
My sweeteners of choice
I use organic beet sugar and unrefined cane sugar to make my water kefir. Also, I occasionally add dried fruit (figs and dates) when using organic beet sugar. The beauty and excitement of fermented water kefir is that its taste changes depending on your sweetener of choice, the fermenting period, and the temperature at which you ferment the water kefir.
My recommendation would be - Experiment and enjoy!