Growing your own water kefir grains is not difficult, if you are careful, and you tend them properly you can make huge quantities of tibicos, the water kefir grains. You need a few tibicos as a starter, quality water, sugar, and some various fruits. To improve the process, you may also add minerals to your water.
Tibicos, or water kefir grains, the more popular name, are microorganisms colonies encapsulated in a polyssacharide shell, with a white translucid aspect. The colonies are formed from various bacteria and yeasts, and they live in a symbiotic relationship, helping each-other thrive. You cannot make the tibicos from scratch, you need at least one viable grain of the proper microbial combination as a starter. If you are a microbiologist, and have a lot of time in your hands, you could probably do it, but it's way more effective to get a starter from someone.
The main food of the sugar kefir grains, (yet another name), is, you guessed it, sugar. They eat sugar in any form, but the cheapest sugar to use is regular refined sugar. However, they will consume any type of sugar, from stevia, (0 calories and safe for diabetics' consumption), to fructose, and sugar-alcohols like xylithol. Some sugars like xylithol will have an impact on the colony's balance and composition, due to the fact that xylithol is a bactericide. But fruit juices, stevia, refined and unrefined sugar, agave nectar, and anything else should be good as a food.
Where To Get Water Kefir
You can get water kefir from a friend, if theirs multiplied properly, or you can buy it from reputable seller. Taking it from a friend is the easiest and cheapest solution, however, this might not always be the best solution. Tibicos are relatively stable and they will kill any bacteria or yeast intruder, that is not in the original culture. However, sometimes opportunistic bacteria can infiltrate in the micro-environment and change the perfect probiotic balance. The soda made with these tibicos will still work as a probiotic, but it won't be as effective as the original one, or it will cause side effects.
The best way is to use kefir grains from a reputable seller, that tends their cultures properly and don't allow them to get contaminated by opportunistic yeast and bacteria. When you buy them, you usually buy them dried, and then you rehidrate them. Due to this process it might take up to four weeks until your grains will start to grow. Have patience, it is the best way to do it.
What To Feed Water Kefir Grains
As I shown earlier on this page water kefir grains can be fed almost anything that contains sugar. However, not all sugars will make them grow and multiply properly. In order to make the grains grow, you need to feed them properly at the first fermentation. I found that if you regularly feed them refined sugar, they will still grow, but it won't be as fast as they can grow. So the key is to give them some unrefined sugar such as Sucanat, or Rapadura, or Panela. The unrefined sugar contains many minerals, which are normally stripped down from the refined white sugar.
Another trick is to give your little guys some trace minerals at the fermentation time, regardless of the sugar used. A great source is ConcenTrace, just add a dash to your gallon of soda. Some of the minerals will be used by the cultures, and some will remain in your soda, and you will drink it. Some people put a half of eggshell in the fermentation jar, and this will give your tibicos enough minerals. Other mineral sources can be: dash of unrefined sea salt or baking soda. Do not put too much eggshell in the jar, I found out that it slows down the fermentation. Although I didn't try it, I assume that any mineral source will slow down the fermentation in large quantities.
Besides the sugar, your cultures need some fruits. Add two or three slices of lemon every time you make a new batch, and add some dried unsulphured fruits such as dried figs, cranberries, raisins, etc... The trick is to rotate the fruits, give them a dried fruit for a week, then give them something else. My cultures love figgs, cranberies and raisins.
Insted of the concentrace, you can add a little blackstrap molasses to your culture, it als helps tibicos grow faster.
Tips and Tricks for Growing More Tibicos
- If your primary purpose is to grow the water kefir grains, and not to make soda, you can add slightly more sugar to the water, add 20% more sugar.
- Use a very fine sieve, so the "baby grains" don't get through the holes. The small grains are new symbiotic formations, and they are constantly growing. You need to keep as much as possible of the babies.
- Do not wash your grains, they don't need washing anyway, and when you wash hem you wash away the babies. Always leave some of the soda from the previous fermentation, this helps to retain as many as possible little grains.
- If you want the grains to grow, use only high calorie sugars, and do not use sugar alcohols, or stevia.
- Do not use honey with your grains. Honey has antimicrobial properties and might slow down the growth of the tibicos, and even modify the bacterial composition. You can use it on the second fermentation, however, be aware that it might change the bacterial/yeast balance.
- Do not use any other fruits with prebiotic properties, or antibacterial. Some of these are coconut, prebiotic fibers, kiwi fruit.
- Always use dechlorinated water. Water kefir grains do not like chlorine, and it will slow their growth considerably, if you give them chlorinated water. Check this article on how to dechlorinate water.