The ultimate brewing and fermentation guide
maple syrup in vats - a viable option for fermenting water kefir

When fermenting water kefir, different types and sources of sugar can be used, and they can indeed have varying consequences. Here are some common types of sugars used in water kefir fermentation and their effects:

White Sugar (Sucrose)

White sugar is the most commonly used sugar in water kefir fermentation. It provides a straightforward source of glucose and fructose for the kefir grains to feed on during fermentation.

White sugar tends to ferment relatively quickly and consistently, resulting in a mild and balanced flavor profile.

Cane Sugar

Cane sugar, derived from sugar cane, is similar to white sugar in terms of composition and fermentation properties. It can be used as a substitute for white sugar in water kefir fermentation, offering a similar fermentation rate and flavor profile.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar retains some molasses from the refining process, giving it a slightly different flavor profile compared to white sugar or cane sugar.

Due to the presence of molasses, brown sugar may lead to a richer and more complex flavor in the fermented water kefir.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of coconut palm flowers and is considered a more natural alternative to refined sugars.

It contains some trace minerals and has a lower glycemic index compared to white sugar.

Coconut sugar can be used for water kefir fermentation, but it may yield a slightly different flavor profile with hints of coconut.

Alternative sugar sources

Once you have had some success brewing water kefir with a reliable and consistent sugar source, you may want to consider adding subtleties to the flavour of your kefir by experimenting with alternative sugar sources.

Cane Juice

Cane juice is the extracted juice from sugar cane, often available as a whole-food sweetener. It contains a mix of glucose and fructose, similar to white sugar and cane sugar. Cane juice can be used as a sugar source for water kefir, resulting in a fermentation process and flavor profile similar to white sugar or cane sugar.


Honey is a natural sweetener produced by bees from floral nectar. Honey contains various sugars, enzymes, and antimicrobial compounds that may affect the fermentation process. It can be used as a sugar source for water kefir, but it’s important to note that honey has antimicrobial properties that may interfere with the growth of kefir grains. It’s advisable to use honey in combination with other sugar sources or as a secondary fermentation ingredient to avoid hindering fermentation.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener derived from the sap of maple trees. It contains sucrose, glucose, and fructose, which can be used by kefir grains for fermentation. Maple syrup can be used as a sugar source for water kefir, adding a distinct maple flavor to the final product.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juices, such as apple, grape, or orange juice, can be used as a sugar source for water kefir fermentation. Fruit juices contain natural sugars, vitamins, and minerals that can provide additional flavor and nutrients to the fermentation process. When using fruit juice, it’s essential to dilute it with water to achieve an appropriate sugar concentration for fermentation. Pure fruit juice may be too concentrated and can lead to imbalanced fermentation.

It’s important to consider that alternative sugar sources can introduce different flavors and potential variations in fermentation results. The microbial composition and activity during fermentation may be influenced by the unique components present in these alternative sugar sources. It’s recommended to experiment and adjust the ratios and combinations of alternative sugars to achieve the desired flavor and fermentation results.

When using alternative sugar sources, it’s also crucial to monitor the fermentation process closely. The presence of antimicrobial compounds in some sugar sources, like honey, may require additional care to ensure the health and vitality of the kefir grains throughout fermentation.

Sugar? I thought water kefir was a healthy alternative to pop!

It’s worth noting that the kefir grains primarily consume the sugar for fermentation, and little to no sugar remains in the final product when fermentation is complete. Therefore, the differences in sugar sources mainly affect the fermentation process and the resulting flavor of the fermented water kefir.

If you want to know the sugar content of your ferment beyond your own personal taste judgement, you might want to invest in a refractometer, a handheld optical device used to measure the concentration of dissolved substances, including sugar in liquids. A refractometer is used in industries like food and beverage production, brewing, and winemaking to ensure desired sugar levels in products.

In terms of the science of fermentation, different sugars can have varying fermentation rates and may impact the growth and activity of the kefir grains. The specific combination of sugars, minerals, and other components in different sugar sources can influence the microbial activity and metabolic pathways during fermentation, ultimately affecting the flavor and aroma of the final product.

As a general guideline, it’s recommended to use a type of sugar that is easily fermentable, such as white sugar or cane sugar, for consistent and reliable fermentation results. However, experimenting with different sugars can be an interesting way to explore and develop unique flavor profiles in your water kefir. It’s always a good idea to observe and taste your fermentations to find the balance and flavors that suit your preferences.

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