Lively Pets in our Kitchen

A few months ago, I wrote about the sad demise of our water kefir. Now, after a good deal of chasing around, I’m happy to say that we have a healthy colony of water kefir once again.

Several of Rebecca’s pets

I went on a wild-goose-chase trying to find some water kefir grains from sources in New Zealand. It seemed that everyone was having the same problems: the grains had become sluggish and were failing to reproduce. Finally, I gave up and imported some water kefir from Australia. This was expensive and took a very long time! When the dried grains arrived (back in early August), I had to reconstitute them and tend them carefully for several weeks before they were up and running properly. I’m happy to say that all the effort and expense has paid off. We’re enjoying delicious water kefir drinks and I’ve already shared spare grains with a number of people. They are reproducing like crazy! Our old grains were certainly never this lively! I feel confident that the water kefir will remain healthy this time, as I think I’ve got a much better idea of how best to tend the culture. I’m having fun experimenting with our spare grains, making different flavoured water kefir sodas using honey and different kinds of herbs.

It’s very satisfying to look up at all the live ferments brewing, fizzing, and multiplying on the kitchen shelf. We like to call them our pets! We now have milk kefir, Caspian Sea yoghurt, kombucha, water kefir, traditional ginger beer plant (this is similar to water kefir grains), a 2 year old wild sourdough starter, and a ginger beer bug. What a lineup!

If anyone would like to share any of these “pets,” please contact me via email. If you live locally, you could get them off me when we are in Kaitaia. If you live in another part of New Zealand, I could send them to you overnight via Courier Post, though I do charge extra for shipping.

Coming soon: More details on how to keep a healthy water kefir colony.

21 Responses to “Lively Pets in our Kitchen”

  1. Robbyn says:

    Your site is the first place I heard of the Caspian Sea Yogurt, and we ordered some here stateside…wow, was it a hit. but I allowed it to overferment and killed it off in my learning curve…it would only then separate into curds and sour yogurt with no in-between stage, no more sweet mild yogurt. When we ordered a second batch to restart things, it, too just went immediately from milk to half whey half sour yogurt. Do you have any insight into this…how long do you let your CSY go before using? I expected some whey, but when it separated in that second batch and the overfermented batch, the CSY was grainy, sour, and the whey was nearly half the jar…

    Thanks for any tips you can give from your own experience 🙂

    Robbyn in Florida

  2. Rebecca says:

    Hi Robbyn,
    Is the person from whom you bought your CSY culture having the same problem? Maybe the culture was already corrupted when you received it. You could maybe try a different source for your next lot.
    On one occasion, I had trouble when I sent someone some CSY on the overnight courier. It must have overheated in transit, and did not perform well in its new habitat. I then sent them another one which worked fine. This kind of thing is more likely to be a problem during warmer weather or with longer shipping time. I don’t know if these factors apply in your case.
    Another possibility: Some strains of lactic bacteria can be very persistent in the atmosphere and in your kitchen. (I find that my yoghurt cultures seem somehow to end up in any milk that I leave uncovered on the bench!) If your milk and yoghurt cultures keep being affected in the same way, it might be that the offending bacteria have taken up residence in your kitchen. If this is the case, I can only suggest being extra careful with sterilising all the equipment you use, and maybe taking a break before attempting to keep CSY again.
    Wishing you the best of luck!

  3. Ian says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    What’s the difference between the ginger beer bug and ginger beer plant?

  4. Rebecca says:

    Hi Ian,

    The ginger beer bug is a homemade starter generated by feeding a mixture of ginger, sugar, and water until it becomes a bubbling, yeasty beasty. Some people start it by adding a bit of baker’s yeast to the initial mix, while others rely on wild yeasts. Like a sourdough bread starter, you can either make your own, or get one from someone who already has one on the go.

    The ginger beer plant is a symbiotic colony of yeasts and bacteria that forms into opaque crystals — very like kefir grains. Given the right conditions, these grains will reproduce themselves and create a tart, fizzy, gingery drink. You can’t make the grains yourself, but have to get a starter from someone who already has a colony. I suspect that the plant might include a broader spectrum of probiotic life than the home made ginger beer bug, but I don’t know this for sure. I’ve only just started keeping this culture, so have a lot to learn.


  5. Ian says:

    Hmm, I’ve been given the wrong info, then!

    Last week I acquired what I was told was a ginger beer plant, but it fits the bug description – mine definitely aren’t crystals of any kind, just a dark slime!

    Thanks for the info!

  6. Rebecca says:

    Hi Ian,
    This distinction is new to me, as well. I didn’t even know about the crystal-like “plant” until someone offered to give me some recently.
    Good luck with your bug. I hope you’ll end up with lots of delicious ginger beer.

  7. Johanna Knox says:

    Re the Capsian sea yoghurt problems.

    I had a problem with mine curdling recently too.

    It’s happened to me twice actually, and both times were when I neglected to clean out the jar before fermenting a new batch in it. I suspect that yes, there are other microbes floating round in the kitchen that get a foothold in the culture and curdle it.

    I think keeping everything sterile as you say Rebecca is probably the way to go. It just allows the CSY to stay dominant.

    The first time mine curdled, I managed to get it back to how it was before after a couple of new batches.

    However, the second time round, it wasn’t so easy. I was seeing a bit of improvement with each new batch – but I was getting impatient. Luckily Deb gave me a new starter yesterday, so I’ve chucked the old lot out and am starting afresh!

    I might be wrong, but I’m suspecting that one thing that may help with getting a curdled batch back on track is to drain the whey and just use the curds to restart it. (And then keep doing new batches every day or two till it starts to smooth out and have fewer and fewer curds in it.

    That was starting to work, but I was to impatient to keep it up!

  8. Rebecca says:

    Hi Johanna,
    Interesting to hear about your experience with the CSY, and encouraging that you managed to get it back to normal again in the first instance. Of course, I hope not to have any problems with my CSY culture curdling, but I’ll be keeping this information in my bag of tricks just in case! Raw milk CSY is Owen’s favourite food other than breast milk, so I’m very invested in keeping the culture healthy right now.
    All the best,

  9. Johanna Knox says:

    Hi Rebecca – if you do have any probs with curdling I’d be really interested to know what you do and how it goes.

    I did wonder if sometimes it’s the milk as well. If it has been sitting round for a few days and started to sour a bit. I might have been a bit careless with the milk I used as well. (I’m afraid I’m just a bit gung ho with my ferments sometimes …)

  10. Shanon says:

    Hi there! I noticed that you mentioned having a tradition ginger beer plant. I have been searching like crazy to finding a way of making a plant of my own, but no luck. I did find a website that suggested a way of starting your own, but I am well aware that most “REAL” ginger beer plants have to be acquired from someone who already has one. I know of two websites where you can purchase a plant, but I really wanted to start one of my own if at all possible. Do you have any suggestions or advice? Is it even possible to grow a ginger beer plant from scratch? Thanks a bunch for any help you can provide!

  11. Raewyn says:

    Hi. Just wondering if you still have any of these grains for sale and if so how much. I live about 50 mins from Kaitaia. I . have read with interest the different ways you can use these grains. With a carbonated drink addicted partner – thought this might be a healthy alternative. Have you used goats milk to do the yoghurt? I am cuurently trying a ginger beer bug – bottles my first batch yesterday – so am waiting to see how it turns out. Was searching on the net about ginger beer bugs and water kefir sites popped up. A happy circumstance I am hoping :).

  12. Christian says:

    Just wondering if you have any of the ginger beer plant available still, or do you know where I could get some. I am in Auckland.

    Thanks heaps

  13. Lou says:

    Hi. Do you have any of the ginger beer plant left? I would love to try making some with my daughter. We live not far from Christchurch – if you don’t have any left do you know of any sources close to ChCh? Thanks for your help!

  14. anita davis says:

    Hi, I would dearly love to have some of your ginger beer plant, my mum used to make ginger beer with it in SA when I was a small girl- good times and good memories! Please let me know how to buy some from you, I live in on the North Shore in Auckland

  15. anita davis says:

    Hi Rebecca, again! I have gone back to your site and reread it. Is it possible to make gingerbeer with water kefir grains? This looks like what my mum used to make gingerbeer, unless the gingerbeer plant looks similar!

  16. skin says:

    Im after a thriving ginger beer bug please I live in Taupo can anyone help.

  17. Sarah says:

    Hi, another late entry, I’m looking for a bug too if anyone has one to share. I live in Wellington. Thanks!

  18. Kevin says:


    If you can’t find a free one locally, Becky sells them:

  19. Hi, I am a NZer living in The Midwest Of The United States and no-one has even heard of ginger beer here let alone a BUG. So I am going to try and make one from scratch, like I make everything out here on my own little farmlet, scandalising the neighbours. It seems you know what you are doing. If you have any helpful hints I would love to hear them… Hopefully yours c.

  20. Charles says:

    Hi Rebecca

    What are the chances of you still having a ginger beer plant , or where would I obtain one, I live in Auckland – I have fond memories of my late mom once having one and just loved the ginger beer as a child – this was many years ago as I’m now in my fifties


  21. Kevin says:


    All of the cultures, including ginger beer, are available here: