For years I’ve led you to believe that I travel alone.
That I’m this intrepid female traveler who straps on her backpack and sets off into the unknown. Well, today I’m ready to come clean. I’m ready to admit that I actually have a co-dependant relationship with another traveler who never leaves my side. At times he has been the only thing that keeps me going.
He was with me in Vietnam. In Thailand. In Cambodia. In Laos. Somehow I lost him in Indonesia but he’s been with me again in Costa Rica for these past five months. I often wonder if I could ever live without him.
No, he’s not my boyfriend. He’s not my beautiful lover. He’s not even my best friend… not exactly anyway.
He’s my bacteria. My water kefir. And he lives in a glass jar.
We actually have a pretty incredible love story. This is how it goes.
Once upon a time I had food poisoning with disturbing frequency. This is undoubtedly the least sexy way you could ever start a love story, but it’s the truth. I struggled with Montezuma’s Revenge, Bali Belly, Traveler’s Diarrhea, whatever you’d like to call it, incessantly.
You can imagine the plight of having to use the toilet every ten minutes in a dormitory in Colombia. Or having fever chills in a wooden hut on a Caribbean island with no cars in Nicaragua. How about holding everything in on a long bus ride through the Atlas Mountains or on a boat journey through the San Blas Islands.
I was sick. A lot. And it was awful.
As much as I loved to travel, I often considered if I needed to give it up and change my lifestyle. Eating street food, taking long bus rides, and constantly challenging my immune system had taken a toll on my body.
About a year and a half ago I decided to take a break from traveling and go back to live in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica for a few months to get healthy. I changed my diet, I cleansed, I fasted, but I wondered if I’d ever be able to maintain this health on the road.
I knew that to keep going I needed a rock solid immune system. The problem was that since I was a kid I was always prone to illness and the many rounds of antibiotics I took in my life made matters much worse.
Then I met Graciela. She joined the Reiki course I took at Om Yoga and within a day of knowing her my struggles with immune health came out. A former medical doctor in San Jose, Graciela had turned to alternative medicine and strongly believed in the power of fermented foods in healing most physical and emotional ailments.
“Ya, I know I need to eat more yogurt,” I said.
She proceeded to lecture me for the next hour on why I needed not just yogurt, but kefir in my life. According to Graciela the difference between a strong immune system and a weak immune system came down to one thing, gut flora, and kefir was the best way to get a healthier gut.
Harmful bacteria exist everywhere. In food, in water, in nature, in homes, everywhere. Our culture reminds us of this often in fear-based commercials for paper towels, disinfectants, bleach, all of those products meant to completely destroy bacteria. However our bodies are naturally equipped to handle harmful bacteria with our own army of healthy bacteria. The problem is that so many of us have killed that healthy bacteria in our bodies.
Like yogurt, kefir is made through a fermentation process where healthy bacteria converts sugar into probiotics. Consequently kefir contains thousands of strains of probiotics that fill the entire gut with healthy flora. In addition to protecting you from harmful bacteria, these probiotics improve your digestion and ability to absorb nutrients. Kefir is antibiotic and antifungal and has been used to treat allergies, cancer, candida, osteoporosis, HIV, and heart disease. It’s also full of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
After speaking with Graciela I knew that kefir would be the way to transform my immune health.
So I started making milk kefir every single day. I put it in smoothies with pure cacao and banana. I strained it and turned it into cream cheese with honey, strawberries, and almonds. I whisked it with lime juice and chipotle and drizzled it on my salads. I ate a lot of kefir.
I experimented with other fermented foods as well. I made sauerkraut, kombucha, and ginger beer. Making these foods was fun, they tasted delicious, and I had never felt so healthy and strong in my life.
Then the time came for me to travel again. I knew I would need kefir while eating street phad thai in Thailand and sleeping on undeveloped islands in Cambodia. I also knew that there was no way I’d have access to a kitchen or organic raw milk to make my kefir.
I found the perfect solution.
Water kefir. Unlike the milk kefir I had been using, water kefir grains require only sugar and water to create a probiotic beverage. I knew I could find these anywhere. So I took my glass mason jar, filled it with water kefir crystals, a few tablespoons of sugar, and I flew to Vietnam.
I ate my way through that country with not a single problem. I was the only backpacker in Cambodia without tummy troubles. I lasted through three countries and more than two months without even one cramp.
Besides my kefir jar was a great icebreaker. The moment I set my stuff down in my dorm room people would ask immediately, “Um… what is that?” At breakfast locals would stare in amazement when I explained why I drank it. I happily shared kefir grains with other travelers and locals, teaching them how to feed it and let it grow, so that they could one day share the grains with others.
I thought my days of food poisoning were long behind me. Then Bali happened.
When I arrived in Bali’s airport after making the last minute decision to fly from Cambodia for a guy, my true travel partner was crushed. Literally. The glass jar had shattered in transport. Shards of glass filled the compartment of my suitcase, the smell was wretched, and I had to throw the jar away.
The weird kebab I ate in Kuala Lumpur on my layover hit me. I planned on a romantic reunion in a couple of days but my tummy made other arrangements. Fortunately after flushing my system, fasting for a day, and eating lots of bananas I felt ok by the time my crush arrived.
But just like in my life before kefir I found myself horribly ill every couple of weeks. With a fever in Ubud on Christmas. Blacking out from expelling so much in Gili Air after the New Year. Always experiencing at least a slight discomfort in my stomach.
Things went from bad to worse when I went to Koh Phangan. Most backpackers go to a full moon party. I went to the toilet. For more than ten days. Finally when I felt like I could actually get out of bed, I went to a health café to search for some natural remedies.
By some miracle the Italian couple who owned the place had a jar of water kefir crystals that another traveler had shared with them six months prior. They split the batch and gave me half.
That was nine months ago. My water kefir has been with me through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Costa Rica, and Panama in that time and I haven’t had a bout of food poisoning since. Through this experience I felt more certain than ever that water kefir was the key to staying healthy on the road.
While traveling alongside a stinky jar of bacteria may not be the glamorous life some may want to live, I’m so grateful to have found this travel companion who undoubtedly has changed my life. One day I hope to acquire enough healthy gut flora to not need to rely on my dear kefir so much. For now, I’ll keep him close.
How to Make Water Kefir
One of the best things about water kefir is that it’s so simple to make. All that it requires is a glass jar (no plastic, the fermentation breaks it down), the water kefir starter crystals, sugar, and water. I’ve made mine with all kinds of sweet water including the water that comes from a fresh young coconut (great when you’re traveling in the tropics), plain white sugar, and all natural cane sugar. Most people advise against using honey as it is antibiotic and can kill the kefir grains.
To get started, put the kefir grains into the bottom of your glass jar, pour a couple of tablespoons of sugar depending on how many grains you have and how much water you’re using, screw on the lid, and give it a shake. Let the jar sit and ferment for 24 hours. In the morning if bubbles have formed and the water smells sour it’s ready to drink. Just pour out the liquid, leave the grains in the bottom of the jar, and feed the grains with sugar water again. You can do this daily.
If you don’t want to make water kefir every day, just feed it more sugar so that it takes longer to ferment, or keep it in the refrigerator to let it hibernate until you’re ready to make kefir again.
I love to pour the water kefir into smoothies as my liquid or just drink it plain. If you want more flavor and even more probiotics, you can make fermented sodas from water kefir. Here are some yummy recipes:
Check out this awesome guide, from another pro-biotic passionate world traveler The Ultimate Guide on How to Make Water Kefir.
Where to Find Water Kefir Crystals
The best way to find water kefir is just by asking around your community if there are people who have some to share. Kefir grains multiply, making it easy to spread health and wellness.
You can also find dehydrated water kefir crystals in the refrigerated sections of some health food stores. Cultures for Health and Amazon sell dehydrated water kefir crystals online. When you use dehydrated water kefir crystals you will need to make a few batches of water kefir first to activate them. The package should have full instructions.
How to Travel with Water Kefir
Honestly, traveling with water kefir can be a pain. It can leak, be messy, and be smelly. To me, it’s worth it. To minimize the change of any spilling I pack a large jar and a tiny jar for transport. On travel days I remove nearly all of the liquid, give the grains some sugar to keep them alive, and put them in a very small glass jar. When I arrive at my destination I put them back into the bigger jar with more sugar and water. The fermentation can cause swelling on the lid, so I replace the lid every month or so to keep a tight seal at the top.
Other Probiotic Foods
If you’re interested in experimenting with other types of probiotic foods, which you totally should, here are some great resources:
For more of what keeps me healthy on the road, check out my Travel Wellness Kit.
Your thoughts on Acidophilus? That’s what your Grandma Rose took frequently.
I have not found probiotic pills to be effective, even the super expensive ones, and they need to be refrigerated. Sometimes I stay places where I don’t have a refrigerator.
Thank you so much!!! You and you’re blog has been such as inspiration to me
Aw thanks Ashlee! 🙂
Aaahhh I’m so excited to read this! So my friend actually just got some kefir grains a few weeks ago and gave me some and we’ve been experimenting with making it. I have a lot of stomach problems too and was also worried about what it would be like next year when I go on my RTW trip. I never thought of actually bringing the kefir! I’m totally going to try to do that! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂
Awesome! So happy to help 🙂 let me know what you discover with your experiments!!
This is great! I’m going to try it. I’m worried about taking glass in my carry on. Do they allow it? Are you traveling with carry on only? I’m going to do an ATW trip next year and really want to try this, but I will only have my backpack and camera bag. I’m wondering if I will be able to transport it.
Hi Sheri 🙂 I don’t take a carry on because I usually travel with a lot of liquids. However, you could always pack the dehydrated kefir grains in their package, and then buy a glass mason jar in your destination and start brewing once you’re abroad. On subsequent flights you could put the grains in a little ziploc bag with sugar.
A year later and here I am in Cambodia, 10 days of a stomach bug and getting worried. 🙁 I just discovered I somehow misplaced my water kefir grains over these 6 months of travel and no longer have them in my bag. Do you know of anything else that could help? I’m traveling to Luang Prabang tomorrow and know that health care isn’t the greatest in Laos. I’m not even sure there’s health store or a good doctor. Any advice would be helpful. How did you get over your 10+ days of a bug? Thanks!
Eek ya with the kefir you need to drink it every single day for it to really be effective. It’s more preventative than it is a cure. For a cure I recommend using activated charcoal. You can also fast for a day and have ginger lemon tea and coconut water. You’ll flush a lot but it might get the bacteria out. If you’re in one spot for more than a few days, you can make sauerkraut with just some salt, a jar, and vegetables. I don’t know of any health food stores in Laos 🙁 Good luck sweetie!! xoxo
Eureka! I found my grains! I thought all hope was lost. Now I just have to go on the quest for a glass jar in Laos. I was wondering about a comment you made here. You mentioned I could maybe put them in a plastic bag with sugar on the plane later in my travels. Is that ok? I do have a tiny glass jar with me but don’t want the lid to pop off. Anyways, your blog is my favorite and I appreciate all your health tips an beautiful photography. 🙂
Thank you sweetie! That’s great to hear! Yes you can put it in the plastic bag, I just wouldn’t personally drink the water that’s in there with it because it might leach chemicals from the plastic. But for a day of travel, just add a bunch of sugar and no water xoxo
Wish I knew this before! I’ve never had food poisoning before, but India got me! Lol Iwas eating all my way around but with locals, until I felt more relax and I tried myself a mango smoothie…and that was it. I was sick for a month! So this could be a great tip to take on the road!
Eek ya I’ve heard India can be very rough when it comes to food poisoning. I will just have to put my water kefir to the test and make my way there soon! 🙂
I have seen a shop in Ninh Binh (Vietnam) which specializes in selling milk products, although it might have been only yogourt. Unfortunately I didn’t go in, as I don’t eat yogourt very often and haven’t packed my refrigerator ;-). But have you found or looked for any kefir crystals in SE Asia? I have been on the road in India and Vietnam for 6 months now, and I am grateful I haven’t been sick that way (got a cold though). I’m not sure where I am taking my healthy bacterias from.
My “;-)” (wink) got replaced by this picture of a flower, somehow.. Ha ha ha!
Hm I think maybe you could get them in Saigon? Vietnam is tough, Thailand definitely you just need to find the right community. I doubt you could find them in the store… Sounds like you’ve got a solid immune system already though 🙂 Another thing you can do is make your own sauerkraut. You’ll need a kitchen but you don’t need any grains to make it, just cabbage salt and water.
OK! Thanks Camille!
I will stay on the lookout for it, as I would like to try it. I did a 21-day cure on water alone, plus 7-day prep eat less and less) and 21-day rehab eat more and more with poper food combinations – see Sheldon’s books) a few years ago. And that cleaned up my system pretty good and have been quite well since then. But other options are always welcomed. I have been using grapefruit extract in my non-bottled water to drink or wash foods or teeth in Nepal without problem for 5 weeks, 14 years ago. Anyway, thanks for the wonderful health info.
Awesome!! Yes I’ve also used grapefruit seed extract. I now drink a glass of water with lemon first thing in the morning. I know that Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is great but hard to source in non-Western countries. Thanks for your cleansing advice, I’m planning to do a cleanse when I get back to the states.
This is a really interesting post! I used to drink Kombucha when we lived in Canada, and we’ve moved to Chiang Mai now, and I haven’t been having any. I’ll need to ask around, has to be somewhere, just nowhere I’ve been yet!
I’m curious, do you have any issues with taking the kefir grains through customs?
Nice! Please see the comment below with my instructions for finding kefir grains in Chiang Mai. There are lots of people who are into this weird health stuff there 😉 Somehow I’ve managed through customs with the grains eek, they probably have no idea what it is, but I’ve never been questioned. I put it in my checked luggage.
Look what I have found?
Right in Chiang Mai,
From a fellow Canadian!
Nice! Actually, if you go to Namo yoga in Chiang Mai on Moon Muang, I think there is a community bulletin board with people offering kefir grains. There is a guy who makes tempeh and sells it at the cafe downstairs and I know for a fact that he has all kinds of probiotic bacterias. Good luck!
I’m currently in Central America, and my stomach sure as hell hasn’t been cooperating. For a good week I could hardly bare the thought of leaving my hostel either. I ate tons of white crackers and bananas, but now that my stomach is better I’ve got the complete opposite problem, which to be honest isn’t any better.
It’s also worth noting that I’m allergic to raw fruits and vegetables so I get very little fiber in my diet. Do you think kefir might help me out for both types of stomach problems?
I’m sorry to hear that, I completely understand how you feel. Water kefir will most definitely help both of those issues. With the stomach bugs, it gives you the healthy bacteria to fight it off so you won’t get sick. With being backed up, it improves your digestion which will help you pass food more easily and quickly. It has even been known to cure allergies, so it could improve your intolerance to raw fruit and veg. Regarding the fiber issue you may consider picking up some chia seeds and throwing them into your water. Also, cacao ALWAYS helps me that. It has lots of magnesium which is a natural laxative.
AMAZING. I used to make milk kefir last winter, and have just been funding an expensive store bought kombucha addiction this winter to keep my immune system in check. I’m going to Vietnam in a couple months and definitely getting some water kefir babies.
Awesome 🙂 Let me know how it goes!!
This is EXACTLY what I was looking for…traveling to Germany from Indonesia soon and want to buy more grains in Deutschland, but wasn’t sure how to get them back to Indo (haven’t found them here yet, but the ones I currently have are keeping our family with 4 little ones healthy as horses while everyone else around is suffering lots…we’re giving it away as it multiplies and educating others along the way! But I need MORE grains as SO MANY people need it here!) Anyway, hope your advice will work! Blessings!
Awesome!! I also highly recommend teaching people to make sauerkraut. It’s even more effective than water kefir (in my opinion) and so easy and cheap. Though, not convenient at all for travelers, but definitely for locals!!
I am definitely going to try this out! I’ve been hanging out in Puerto Viejo for a couple of days and it feels like a good place to recharge, and hopefully find some kefir grains. I certainly don’t have an iron stomach and sometimes this keeps me from fully experiencing all the great places I visit. Thanks for this advice!
Sure thing! Stop by Om Yoga or One Love Massage, tell them I sent you, and perhaps they have some grains they can share.
Do you know where you can get this in Ecuador?
Hi Chrissy, no idea as I’ve never been to Ecuador, sorry! Though look around for some health stores and ask, you never know! If you can have amazon.com ship to you in Ecuador, they have them for sale too.
bought some “inner eco” coconut/kefir starter in a bottle – 30 days worth – while I wait for my water kefir grains to arrive. Available online, but apparently not in stores here in Boulder. I *think* I’ve got a good & healthy immune system. But who can’t do with more bacteria in their life? 🙂
Awesome! Keep us up to date on your experience 🙂
I went to the Puerto Viejo area earlier this year and the breakfast provided every day at our lodge included kefir. I don’t love the stuff, so for the first few days I ate little of it. But after having minor gastro intestinal distress for those same few days, my boyfriend encouraged me to eat it all and I was fine after that!
Wow amazing! Where did you guys stay?? I’ve never heard of somewhere in PV serving kefir.
Is kefir good to try although you would have a yeast in your body?
Hi Essi, are you referring to candida? I’m not exactly sure if kefir is ok with candida, but I believe so because the sugars have (hopefully) all been converted into probiotics through the fermentation process. If I were you I would do some more research. Good luck! 🙂
I could hug you! Seriously!!! If you were here, I would probably jump up and down and hug you like an excited child you just promised to take to Disney World. I was in Ecuador and Galapagos late last year. I think the culprit was a small salad washed in the local water. I took every med I could get my hands on and made it through, but it could have been a much more pleasant experience. Plus, I LOVE STREET FOOD!!! It’s always the most amazing culturally and taste-wise (and wallet-wise!). I was TERRIFIED of street food after this experience! I wouldn’t even walk close to it, as if the bacteria would somehow jump into my gut if I got too close. I was worried that my travel dreams were over because of my weak gut. I am certainly going to try this!!! Thanks so very, very, very much for posting!!!
Awesome!! It truly is a game changer and the key is that you make it yourself!! I’ve done plenty of yogurt and kombucha store bought and for me it doesn’t come close to the effectiveness when you’re brewing it on your own. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
I certainly will! I wish I could try it immediately; however, the street food in NYC is pretty safe, so…. I’ll have to pick up some soon though just to try it out.
You still try it, it does wonders for digestion, allergies, and your immune system in general 🙂
Good point! I’ll look into it. I’m sure I can find it here. If not, I’ll grab it online like you mentioned. Thanks again!
Thank for writing one of the most useful travel posts. So true! You don’t need Immodium, you just need to “fix” and take care of the bacteria that evolved to live with us probably long before we evolved into Homo sapiens. So many of us suffer from stomach problems even when not traveling because of exposure to too many direct and indirect antibiotics. Every home should have some kefir.
Really great article Camille – thanks for sharing!! I’ve used yogurt kefir for years, but never heard of water kefir before. I’ll have to find some and try it. Fortunately so far, I’ve never had food poisoning anywhere in the world except here Stateside a couple of times. I did spend 10 days in a Thai hospital, but that wasn’t food or stomach related. Rob – I don’t know if they have it or not, but Rebecca’s Apothecary in Boulder is a wonderful store and resource you might try.
Thanks Dale! I find that making it yourself is the key to have be the most effective for you. It’s also great for allergies, overall immune health, and digestion, not just preventing food poisoning.
Can you drink water kefir daily? Have you ever heard of anyone having adverse effects from drinking it daily? And how much should you drink at a time? Thank you.
Hi Cristina, you can absolutely drink it daily! I recommend it. I’ve not heard anyone having adverse effects, but spend some time on google and you’ll find people who have adverse effects to everything 😉 I suggest trying it for yourself and seeing how it makes you feel. I typically drink a big glass in the morning or throw it in my smoothie. I usually drink about 3 cups in a day while I’m traveling in tropical places.
I am going to rehydrate my new keifer crystals today. got them from Cultures for Health. I’m really looking forward to trying them cuz i have some gi issues. Anyway, I am wondering, if you drink a glass a day and say 3 glasses a day as you mentioned in tropical locales, how on earth do you keep up with that much production! The package i got makes about a quart when all is said and done. It is hard for me to imagine getting more going so quickly. thanks so much. Hope you are feeling better now (re recent bout i saw in email)
A quart is plenty, and the crystals grow quite quickly so you can share them with other people 🙂 Excited for you to get started!
Hi Camille…Pura Vida! I love your blog. Graciela is actually my sister-in-law (Marc is my brother) and I have also benefited from their knowledge of probiotics. I’m going to Puerto Viejo on June 21st for 2 weeks. Very excited! Just wanted to say hello and introduce myself. Thanks,
Hi Rachael, that’s awesome!! I love Mark and Graciela, please tell them that I’m STILL making probiotics and that they changed my life. I’m in the states now but will be back in PV this Fall. Have a great trip! 🙂
You just made me order Kefir. I have a pretty week stomach and hope that water kefir will give my gut flora some assistance.
Awesome!! It totally will!!! Soon I’ll post all of my probiotic recipes. Right now I’ve got sauerkraut fermenting, water kefir brewing, and coconut milk kefir thickening. And I know drink kombucha instead of alcohol. Please let me know about your experience! I highly recommend sauerkraut which requires no starter, just cabbage, salt, and a glass jar.
Luv it. Amazing tips in here on this lovely blog of urs 🙂
Thank you so much! 🙂
This is brilliant! I’ll probably try it, I hope it helps smooth with stomach disorders.
It helps allllll kinds of stomach problems!!
I love this post and will definitely be trying this on my upcoming travels! I have a few questions as I am new to brewing my own- do you dissolve the sugar into the water first? And do you use cold, tap water, or bottled? Is it necessary to boil first with the sugar? I’ve read on some other sites to make sugar water first but I thought this might make it a bit more difficult while traveling.
Thanks for sharing 🙂
Awesome I’m so happy to hear it!! I do not dissolve the sugar into the water, and I always use purified water. When traveling I usually take bottled water (either cold or room temp doesn’t really matter) and add it in with the sugar. I’ll be posting all of my probiotic food and drink recipes soon so stay tuned!! xx
I cant stop reading your blog. I can visit Costa Rica, Cambodia, Indonesia any many other places from the comfort of my chair by just reading your postings.
But im done with just sitting. You hv inspired me to fly…..i will fly.
Thank you and I’m so excited to hear that!! Let me know what other info you need to help you take off xx
I got my water kefit crystals, rehydrated them, and am making my first batch! The directions say to make a first batch of 3-4 cups of water after the first rehydration. How much do you drink every day? And you only ferment for 24 hours? I’m trying to work out the logistics of traveling between two households (with fridges but long car trips in between) and start taking this every day. And do you have to boil the water first? I want more details on prep and usage! 🙂
Awesome!! Personally, I don’t really measure much. I just get a jar, use all of the crystals, and drink all of the water in the morning. I don’t boil the water and dissolve the sugar first, I just throw the sugar in, give it a shake, and drink it 24 hours later. Not sure if that’s “technically” right, but I find it still works great 🙂
Ah! You responded! How exciting! I’m glad to hear that you’re more relaxed about this stuff. I’ll continue brewing batch #1 per instructions and then go wild afterwards. I’ve purchased coconut water kefir before where they recommend only drinking a few tablespoons at a time as you acclimate to the probiotics, so it’s hard to know if you can overdo it or something. Also…it’s hard to tell if it gets too cultured or bad to drink! I’m afraid of that bottle in my fridge at this point. Better to make fresh and drink daily from now on, I suppose! And you don’t need to refigerate the granules between batches, just add a bit of sugar and a bit of water and it will stay good while traveling…I love it! Thank you again.
Hey! I was wondering if you have any practices like this to avoid parasites?
Papaya seeds, coconut water, and coconut oil are all anti-parasitic. I’m also planning to do a parasite cleanse soon (with ParaGone) and will let you know how it goes!
thanks camille <3
In September I’m leaving for my big adventure as well 🙂 Selling all my stuff and GO!
This post seems very interesting and I would like to use it myself.. BUT I’m vegan, so milk is not welcome in my body.. Do you have any other alternative worth the try maybe?
Also, did you get vaccinated by any chance? I don’t want to get them, but everyone around is scaring me I should… Even though I don’t believe in them. What do you think?
Hey Marie, awesome! So, good news, the kefir I use is WATER kefir, so it has no milk whatsoever and is completely vegan. Yay! As far as vaccines, it depends, where are you going?
I’m doing it! I’m making my water kefir every 24-48 hours with lukewarm water and some regular white sugar. Is it supposed to taste sweet? I feel like I’m just drinking sugar water and it can’t possibly be cultured. It doesn’t taste our or cultured or tangy at all. Am I just drinking sugar water? Or am I being too suspicious and it’s just fine after all…help!
Hey love, no it should not taste sweet. Maybe take down the amount of sugar that you’re putting in? It can take a bit of time for the crystals to become activated if they were freeze dried. It should be bubbly and taste sour. Let me know if you need more help 🙂
Well I am sure glad I double checked! It’s been at least a week of attempting my kefir with 3 sugar water switches. I’ll add less sugar and maybe wait a bit longer until it actually gets bubbly. I’m using a small glass mason jar with metal screw lid.The crystals were freeze dried but I rehydrated them for 5 days and they got clearish and soft looking. I really want this to work. I’m wondering if I somehow got a bunk batch. I’m in california, so it’s 65-90 degrees F here all the time- at night it might drop to 62 degrees or so. Could that be my problem? Not warm enough all the time?
Hey Lily, that climate shouldn’t be a problem. Keep with it, use about half as much sugar and see what happens. There should be lots of bubbles 🙂
Ok, I’ll keep trying! I will wait for the bubbles!!
I just wanted to let you know that the water kefir FINALLY WORKED for me! It took nearly 3 weeks of regular “failed” batches before I finally switched to white sugar plus a tsp of molasses, and on the second attempt at molasses it worked. I was about to give up and throw the whole thing away because my boyfriend finally complained about my “scary looking jar,” but I opened it last night and it bubbled and smelled tart like kombucha, so i know that it worked! Hooray! I was about to throw it away and was so frustrated!
We had JUST gotten back from the store where I had caved in and bought $12 of premade kombucha as well as a coconut kefir liquid supplement for another $16…I had given up when it had finally activated!! In addition to the molasses advice, I’ll also try a batch with less processed sugar and see how that takes. I guess regular white sugar is just too dead to do anything…
Anyway, I was jumping for joy last night. Woo!!
As requested, here is the link for the flip top bottle to keep it bubbly and “happenin'” in there. This is what I purchase my local kombucha in – it stays super activated and the air is sealed in.
Thank you Lily I am so happy to hear that!!
I scrolled through comments to see if anyone else asked this but I didn’t see it. Are you using a plastic screw on lid for the jar or canning lids? I’m curious because I want to try but I notice you said plastic gets degraded by the fermentation process so I’m not sure what type of lid you’re using.
I have used both. With the plastic, I mostly meant that you don’t want a plastic jar. Both plastic and metal lids have issues. The plastic can break down and the metal can rust and expand. I haven’t yet found a perfect solution. One day I’d like to work with a product designer to create a very useful travel water kefir jar. Meanwhile, experiment and see what works best for you.
This is awesome! Ever since I started traveling 5 year ago I’ve had so many stomach problems ( even at home now). I’m lactose intolerant, so yogurt is a problem, but I will try out the water kefir. It would be amazing to have a solution to my stomach problems, as they caused me to stop traveling for a while! How often do you have to change out the water kefir crystals? Do you just drink it once in the morning?
Veronica, it might change your life. I know just how you feel, and I never travel without them! I don’t swap them out, they will grow so you may need to give them away to others (but when traveling I’ve NEVER had a problem with this, people always want them.) You can drink it once in the morning or throughout the day. I like to do it on an empty stomach so I can absorb as much as possible.
Hi there 🙂
I have recently been introduced to your website and loving it!! I have latched onto your water kefir idea as I am travellig thailand at the moment. I had it ordered and delivered to a friend in Phuket before I arrived. It was with him a few days before I got there and was left in package unopened and in a hot room.
When I opened it the crystals were in a plastic container and looked wet and mushy not like dry crystals. I bought a glass jar and followed your instructions and left it 48 hours for the first batch. There were a few bubbles and not sour – the sediment at the bottom is now very much just a heavier sediment and not crystals – is this correct or do I need to order fresh crystals?
Your advice will be much appreciated
I am having the same issue – not sour, barely any bubbles. I emailed the company I bought them from and this was their tutorial – sorry it’s kind of long. I was toying around with reducing sugar, etc…this is what I got in response:
“Since sugar is food for your grains, you should not reduce the amount of sugar you are using. Without the food they require, your grains cannot perform their function converting the sugar from sucrose to fructose.
The taste of finished water kefir varies greatly, depending on the sugar used and the culturing time. Water kefir can be fairly sweet and may have a flat taste unless bottled. Most people prefer to add flavoring to water kefir before consuming. We always recommend that you refrain from consuming anything that looks, smells, or tastes unpleasant.
To determine whether the grains are working, simply taste the liquid before and after the fermentation process.The finished water kefir will still not be quite as sweet as the original sugar water. Also, the color of the liquid will change over the 48-hour fermentation period (generally becoming lighter in color). It can take a few batches before your kefir grains fully culture the sugar water. This is a normal part of the process.
Although water kefir is characteristically bubbly, it can take a number of batches before bubbles are clearly visible. At this initial stage, any bubbles are likely to be too tiny and too infrequent to be noticed.
There are several ways to increase the amount of carbonation/fizz/bubbles in water kefir:
When working with grains that were previously dehydrated for shipment, it can take a few batches for the finished kefir to be bubbly. This is normal.
Whole sugars (sugars containing molasses) will normally produce a more bubbly kefir than water kefir made with white sugar. (Adding 1 teaspoon molasses to white sugar has a similar effect.)
Once the culturing process is complete and the grains have been removed, you can bottle up the finished water kefir with or without juice (15% to 20% juice is a good ratio) for 1-3 days to allow carbonation to build. Water kefir bottled with juice will generally be more carbonated than water kefir bottled without juice due to the higher sugar content. Click here to view our Grolsch-style (flip top) bottle which is perfect for bottling your water kefir. Click here for more information on bottling your water kefir.
In rare circumstances, a bottle might explode, although lids do occasionally fly off, particularly when being opened. We recommend keeping your whole hand over the lid of the container as you open it to prevent being hit with a flying lid. We also recommend opening the container over a sink in case the carbonation causes the water kefir to bubble over. To reduce the amount of carbonation that can build up, either use less juice in the second ferment, or “burp” the bottles daily to let some gases escape.”
I’ve now done 2 batches with a little molasses and white sugar and it doesn’t smell yummy or look good at all – i mean, it’s brown from the molasses. I really just want to buy some legit activated crystals from someone who has success already. I feel like I’m trying to reinvent the wheel at this point! Ah!
Maybe this tutorial helps you – it’s good information, I just have no idea if mine is working or not, and I really want to drink this stuff instead of buy a $20-$30 bottle of probiotics that lasts one month…
Thanks for sharing this and sorry you’re having trouble!! Honestly, when I’ve tried following directions, it doesn’t work out so well, but when I just do it intuitively, works like a charm! I say have some patience, give it the amount of sugar that intuitively seems right, and when it’s sour and has bubbles, drink it. Oh, and btw, can you give us the link for the special bottle they recommended? I’ve been able to make it in all kinds of containers, but for ease of travel, I’m looking into new bottles 🙂
Hey Taryn, if there are bubbles I think it’s working! Keep making the batches at least daily (you may need to adjust depending on temperature). I always throw the first few batches of water out with new crystals before drinking.
Sawatdee Krab, Camille!
What a great blog! You are so selfless. I live in Chiang Mai (15 years in Thailand), and don’t meet many travelers like you. I commend you on going for the gusto in life and sharing it with others. Even though I’m immune to most of the bacteria here by now, there’s always something new coming along. I hadn’t heard of water kefir before, but will definitely look for it and begin a routine. Sauerkraut is easy to make here, as every place that serves any kind of food uses cabbage, a Thai staple.
Here’s a suggestion for traveling with water kefir… use a thermos. It’s glass on the inside and metal or plastic on the outside. It will keep hot or cold. Even if it does break, the glass will be contained.
If you make it back to Chiang Mai, Phat Thai is on me. 🙂
Thanks Stuart! I know for certain you can get the kefir crystals in Chiang Mai 🙂 I met someone who makes water kefir at the little cafe next to a yoga studio on Moon Muang a couple of years ago.
A friend of mine in St John, Virgin Islands (Thais) shared one of your posts one day, and I fell in love with it and started following you and your story. It, and you are extremely inspiring. I love to travel more than anything (it’s an obsession, really) and love to write…am trying to get up the motivation to start writing about it! Anyway, I was wondering, what is the easiest way I can go back and read all of your posts, starting at the beginning of your blog? I searched it, but couldn’t seem a way to find them all in one place.
Thank you! Keep up your inspiring work, and following your heart. You are part of the small percentage that understands what “happy” really means.
Awww I LOVE Thais! We did our YTT together 🙂 I’m honored that you want to read my posts from the beginning!! You can look through my archives, listed out month by month in my footer under “Archives” with a drop down menu. OR you can look back from the beginning of different categories, and go to the “last” page. Here’s all of my Life Inspiration posts from the beginning: https://www.thisamericangirl.com/category/life-inspiration/page/6/
awesome, thank you!!!
Hey there! Alexis here – the Bacteria Barista -Just wanted to say thanks for linking Edible Alchemy on your blog – which is LOVELY by the way and happy to see other awesome women traveling the world and sharing their love of life! I too have traveled and brought different bacterias with me, and even collected different ones on the way. 33 countries in the bag as of now, and hoping to keep my country count above my age – so its a lifestyle we are living here ;).
Keep exploring and let me know if you come to Berlin! Im sure we would have lots to share- maybe you would even find another bacteria that you would like to bring around from http://ediblealchemy.co/
Sure thing!! I was in Berlin this past winter SUCH a cool city. Any tips on ferments that work well while backpacking? I usually recommend kraut to expats who don’t have access to grains, but it doesn’t work well when you’re moving locations every few days.
I have recently begun drinking lemon water in the morning. then investigated kombucha. Now i have water kefir grains sitting in fridge thanks to yu 😀 But now my concern is teeth. I am reading that lemon water ea morning, especially warm, will cause enamel erosion. Ditto with kombucha and kefir! So i am worrying about my teeth. any thoughts?
Awesome!! I just make sure to brush my teeth really well after drinking the lemon water 🙂
One more question please. How much do you drink every day?
I drink a big glass of the water kefir every day 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing!:) I have a few (ok, maybe more than a few) questions – apologies ahead of time for being the mega question girl! 😛 I just I want to understand how to do this right and be able to make bubbly fizzy kefir like the Kevita drinks I love so much 🙂 I tried many years ago to make my own water kefir and I just couldn’t get it to culture right and gave up. Though this time I am determined to get it and need a ‘quick’ learning curve bc I want to get it all down right before my next adventure 😉
I just got my new water kefir grains (live and not dehydrated) in the mail. They were tied in a balloon (which I thought was weird… and a little concerned what funky chemicals that could possibly leach into the grains). I followed the directions they came with to add a 1/4 cup (seemed like a lot) of brown sugar and 1 T molasses. I read it can take several 48 hour fermentations to before it starts to work. Directions say to never touch metal and that it will damage the grains. I have tons of ball mason jars but only metal screw on lids (no plastic ones).
You mentioned you shake the jar…
is that against a metal lid? is that okay to use?
For now, the directions I followed said to cap loosely so I just laid a rubber made lid top over it… though I am not sure how practical that would be when traveling in places with lots of ants and things like that….
What do I do with the grains when the kefir is done before drinking and/or starting the next batch? strain them? how? Am I ever suppose to rinse them?
If so, I am not sure how I would go about this either – especially since directions say to not use tap water or expose to metal. I did not rinse the ones I received in the mail when I added them to the sugar water.
I fully intend on taking these with me on globe trotting journeys (right now I am home, but will be off again soon). Do you keep the small jar with you on carry on? Is it ok to go through security? Do you cover the grains strictly with sugar during flights or a little water as well. (sometimes I am in transit about 30 hours or so on the big flights with lay overs)
Whew! ok, I know it is a lot… sorry about the mini novel of concerns and questions! 😛
Any advice is so incredibly appreciated 😀
Thank you so much!:)
PS ~ If you are not already acquainted with GSE as an essential travel companion – it also works excellent for food poisoning. Missionaries in Africa have been using it for years to cure people of Malaria! Peops use it for staph and even MRSA… You can even wash produce with it, use it as deodorant… on and on… so so so many uses for this amazing little substance. I have healed many a fellow travelers adding drops of GSE in their water;) It works bc of it’s antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties… though does not contribute to gut flora nor works as a probiotic.
PPS ~ (aaahhh I apologized for the length but keep writing 😛 ) … one more helpful thing… I scanned through all the previous Q’s as best I could to find the answers I was looking for. Saw the post about concern for teeth with lemon water, kefir, kombucha, ACV, etc… never ever brush teeth within 30 minutes of consuming acidic products. This is not good for the enamel. Also, one of the best and simplest things to do is put a little baking soda in water and swoosh in mouth to rebalance the PH of mouth. Swooshing with the baking soda water is something you can do immediate;)
Last year I thought that the thing I hate most when I travel is packing…it was not. I hate food poisoning! Thank you for sharing such an useful information. My stomach needs this desperately. Thank you for sharing it! Greetings!
You are so welcome! I hope it brings you relief!!
I have been making my own kombachu since May. I have always had high blood pressure which my doctors usually attributed to me being nervous about the doctors office. I went last week and my blood pressure I completely normal! Thank u probiotics!!!!
That is so awesome!! Congrats!! Keep spreading the probiotic word 🙂
Very interesting post;), I didn’t know that there is a water kefir and here you gave a ready recipe for it. I will ask in my neighborhood for a starter ;).
Yes! it’s amazing 🙂
I stumble on your blog yesterday and I can’t stop reading… lol I am currently in Costa Rica (Jaco) with my husband for 3 months, as we became “digital Nomads” last December 🙂 and I just Finnish my pill probiotic and was looking for another solution that does not involve refrigeration. Do you know of any place in Jaco, or around where I can find Water Kefir grains?
Thank you, you are such a good inspiration <3
Thank you angel!! Hm ok so I don’t know where you can get grains, but my recommendation would be to pose the question in any expat facebook groups that exist for Jaco. Also, if you will be there for at least a few more days, you can also make your own homemade sauerkraut which doesn’t require grains and has tons of probiotics!
Love reading your website and information on traveling. I read the article on Kefir how to travel with. In order to make Kefir it need water, how do you overcome getting water on other part of the countries when water is not safe to drink.
Would love to know how you overcome water on other countries for safe drinking in making Kefir.
Thanks Steve. I use bottled or purified drinking water.
Thank you for sharing this again! I read this post last year and by taking your advice I have dramatically improved my health. Let me preface by saying that I have Crohn’s Disease, and I have always struggled with GI issues. Whether traveling and eating exotic foods or on a very restricted diet, I’ve always had stomach problems. I started drinking water kefir about 5 months ago and it has completely changed my digestive system for the better. It took awhile for my stomach to acclimate to it (the first few weeks were rough, I’m not going to lie). I read that there might be some initial discomfort and I decided to stick it out; I’m so glad I did. Now, my stomach is the strongest it’s ever been and I have significantly less discomfort/problems/GI issues etc. My body used to be in a constant state of inflammation and now that’s gone. Whether or not this is related to the kefir, I’m not sure, but my acne prone skin has even cleared up! I cannot praise water kefir enough (I’ve started sharing my extra crystals with friends) and I cannot thank you enough for providing this information on your blog!
Wow that is amazing!! I’m so happy to hear it!! Keep spreading the word about Kefir and let us know how your journey goes <3
Read your article before visiting home (the Philippines) for 3 weeks, and I honestly wish I had bought the kefir before leaving :'( I had tummy issues twice while I was there, so I didn’t get to enjoy as much food as I wanted! Just started my first batch and super excited to see how this improves my stomach issues! Thanks for the knowledge and inspiration! I love your articles 🙂
Oh I hope it helps you!! Let us know how it goes xoxo
Hi! Doesn’t a jar for of probiotic/natural stuff get you in trouble at customs when entering a country overseas that wants to protect their own flora and fauna?
I’ve never had an issue. I don’t think they know what it is. In my opinion it’s not an ethical issue either because it adjusts to the local environment very quickly and can only survive off of local bacteria.
Hi! I have severe stomach problems since adolescence years and I know I’m very prone to have difficulties with sugar and it usually follows by candida in my whole body. Have you had any problems with this or does the kefir and sugar “even each other out”? Sorry, I would ask a doctor but as you have so much experience with the fermented drink I thought I would go and just ask you. Also, you’re an amazing writer. Don’t ever stop.
Aw thank you so much!! So, from my understanding kefir is actually good for candida and it doesn’t contain sugar because the bacteria eats them and converts them into probiotics. However I def recommend doing more research since I know how serious candida can be. If you have stomach problems though, kefir may solve them, I hope so! Wishing you wellness. xx
Just bought some kefir crystals online.
I tried brewing 2 16 oz batches. I used coconut water for one and sugar water for the other.
How do you strain the crystals from the water when you’re ready to drink it?
Have you heard anything about using maple syrup instead of sugar?
I am a avid backpacker and seldom stop for more than one day at any location. I was wondering if I can carry a glass jar in my backpack while the kefir is fermenting. Does the constant motion of the backpack cause the jar to explode? Thanks.
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Can you carry keffir in your backpack in spite of the constant motion?
Keffir was originally known to tribesmen in Russia, and the Russians shot people trying to smuggle out the keffir grains.
Keffir was the answer for nomads long before fridges were invented. You put your fresh yak milk into yak skins with keffir grains, and slung them across the back of your yak to start your day’s journey. The constant motion kept the keffir well mixed, and the body heat of the yak kept everything at a good temperature.
So, go for it with your backpack.
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