Water Kefir vs. Kombucha: What’s the Difference?

Fermented beverages are thousands of years old. Humans of know the benefits of drinking fermented beverages for quite some time, even if they didn’t know the science behind these benefits.

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Today, you can get water kefir and kombucha at many organic or international grocery stores. Or you can make homemade versions of both beverages without too much difficulty! However, lots of people don’t know what water kefir is, let alone kombucha.

Let’s break down water kefir vs. kombucha in detail so you know what to expect from both drinks in terms of flavor, preparation time, and probiotic boosts.

What is Water Kefir?

Water kefir is made from so-called “kefir grains”. While these look like vaguely like grains or crystals, these are actually bacteria and yeast colonies. The bacteria look relatively small and translucent, which has helped add to the confusion over time.

Note that kefir grains don’t have any actual grains like rye, wheat, and so on. Water kefir is a variety of regular kefir, which is itself a type of fermented beverage. It’s arguably the least expensive and simplest cultured fermented beverage to make in the entire world.

Water kefir likely originated in the New World, probably in Central America or Mexico. To make water kefir, you add the water kefir grains to sugar water, coconut water, or fruit juice depending on the flavors you want to cultivate. The beverage only has to brew for 24 to 48 hours before it’s ready.

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a type of fermented sweet tea. It’s also made using a starter culture of symbiotic bacteria and yeast; the individual organisms are held together with polysaccharides. Normally, kombucha starter colonies look somewhat similar to mushroom caps. A complete culture of kombucha is collectively referred to as a mushroom. But remember that kombucha is not actually a fungus!

To make kombucha, drinkers must simply add a kombucha symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast with sweet tea, or just tea and sugar. Depending on the flavor or strength of the beverage you want, the brew is fermented aerobically using a cloth cover for between one and two weeks or even longer.

As you can see, both kombucha and water kefir are fermented beverages that have more similarities than differences. That said, let’s break down how these beverages do differ so you can determine which one you want to make or try first!

Flavor Differences

Naturally, both of these fermented beverages can differ significantly in terms of their taste. For example, kombucha offers a slightly sweet and tangy flavor – it can even sometimes taste effervescent depending on the types of bacterial colonies used.

Indeed, kombucha’s flavor can vary dramatically based on the tea used in the resulting beverage and how long the kombucha is cultured. The longer you brew kombucha and allow its culture to develop, the stronger, more vinegar-like taste it will develop.

In contrast, water kefir is usually mostly sweet. It all depends on the type of sugar used for the culturing process. The taste of plain water kefir is not especially noticeable or appealing, but many people mix water kefir with fruit juice or other flavored beverages to benefit from the probiotics within the kefir bacteria colonies.

Bottom line: if you like sweeter drinks, water kefir is more up your alley. If you like a more complex flavor profile, kombucha could be a better fermented beverage for you.

Preparation Differences

Both types of beverages are also prepared slightly differently.

As mentioned, kombucha is prepared by adding a kombucha culture and a starter tea together, then adding a sweet tea later down the process. Kombucha mixtures can ferment for up to 30 days in total, although most brews only ferment for between one and two weeks.

However, some people add juice or fruit for extra flavors and to make the complex flavor profile even more notable or unique. Kombucha can last for a long time if needed, as well.

Water kefir is made just by mixing water kefir grains with sugar water or some other medium. The brew only has to culture for between 24 and 48 hours. The flavor of water kefir can differ depending on the medium you use; for example, coconut water kefir tastes significantly differently from fruit juice kefir.

Is One Healthier than the Other?

That’s a tricky question to answer. Kombucha, of course, is well known for its digestive benefits. It is packed with beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which assist with the development of your gut microbiome and prevent harmful bacteria from taking up space in your gut.

Furthermore, kombucha contains enzymes and acids that can help your digestive system break down particularly hard food. Some types of kombucha may also contain caffeine depending on the tea used in the overall mixture.

Water kefir is a broader probiotic beverage that also contains enzymes and acids. However, there’s some evidence to suggest that kombucha’s probiotic effects are stronger than those in water kefir. That said, water kefir does have a higher variety of bacteria strains compared to kombucha.

Because of these benefits, doctors may prescribe either type of beverage as a means to rebuild your gut microbiome and ensure your intestines have enough helpful bacteria to digest food properly.

Which is Better: Water Kefir or Kombucha?

That depends on your preferences, especially when it comes to taste! As you can see, both water kefir and kombucha are probiotic, fermented beverages that can provide numerous advantages to your digestive system.

Therefore, you should think about how long you want to ferment your beverage and what flavor you want to target. Water kefir is better if you like sweeter beverages, while kombucha is better if you like slightly more vinegary drinks or if you want to add tea to your brew.

Either fermented beverage can be delicious and helpful for your gut. For more information about novel drinks or to check out homemade recipes you can try at home, visit our guides on Cook Gem today!

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