Water kefir is my first official fermentation project, a little homemaking fun that has been in the works for awhile now. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about experimenting with the fermentation thing- mostly because it’s always so warm here and so many critters thrive in our sub-tropical climate. But I am calling the water kefir a *BIG* success seeing as I’m not dead yet! Even better, these water kefir experiments have become a delicious, healthful part of my day. Subtly sweet-tart and moderately bubbly, kefir is a great treat after a warm yoga class or a long walk. And sometimes you get a little buzz too! Many thanks to Swell Vegan, who posted about orange-coconut kefir and kicked my butt into kitchen culture action!
But what is Kefir, and why might one want to drink it? A kefir primer: there are two different types, dairy-based and water-based, and both use liquid and a culture (referred to as grains) to create a fizzy probiotic beverage. Kefir grains are not actual cereal grains; they look more like tapioca pearls or overcooked rice and consist of healthy combinations of bacteria and yeast.
Water kefir grains, also known as tibicos, contain a mixture of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria with yeasts like Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera and possibly others (source); similar bacterias and yeasts are found in dairy kefir. This symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts is sometimes referred to as a SCOBY, but interestingly enough, this term relates only to kombucha, kefir’s caffeinated cousin (source). The cultures ferment the liquid of choice, meaning that the bacteria and yeasts will digest the sugar, creating lactic acid, ethanol, and carbon dioxide in the process (source). After just two days of room-temperature culturing, water kefir is born, resulting in a lightly fizzed, very slightly alcoholic, sweet-tart water beverage; milk changes into a fizzy, sour, drinkable yogurt. Though they are both fermented in similar ways, the ‘grains’ used for fermentation differ slightly and cannot be used interchangeably. I purchased my first grains a month ago from Erin at Water Kefir Grains, and just as she promotes on her site, my grains have been growing about 25% at each fermentation. I started with about 1/4 cup grains, and I have over two cups of grains now. I’ve split them into two separate bottles, so now I am able to make two quarts every few days!
As for why someone might drink kefir? Because it’s super delicious! There are endless flavor combinations possible, and I have had lots of fun trying new flavors and combinations. Additionally, kefir offers a healthy dose of probiotics, the good little bugs in our intestines that play a significant role in keeping us healthy. Adding probiotics into your diet can help balance the flora in your gut and aid many digestive issues. But they also play a role in our overall health, including keeping our skin clear, helping us digest our food properly and absorb nutrients, and keeping our immune systems in great shape.
Kombucha, which many of you are likely familar with, differs from water kefir because kombucha is specifically cultured in a tea and sugar medium, and water kefir can be cultured using just water and sugar. Kevita is a beverage on the market which seems to be the closest thing to water kefir. Their website claims their beverage is higher quality than homemade kefir because of added botanicals, extracts, and additional cultures. It’s also about four dollars a bottle! Homemade water kefir costs only pennies for a whole quart. And your grains will continue to grow with each culturing, so you can continually increase your production- or find friends interested and share the grains. Water kefir is great as a stand-alone drink, but might be especially helpful if you have a soda habit to kick, or if you need something sweet after your workday or workout. I find that when I drink it on an empty stomach I get warm and fuzzy (sometimes a teeny bit buzzed too!) and then feel quite a bit hungrier- and I think this is a good thing. It feels like is simultaneously settles my digestion and gets things moving in the right direction.
So how do you make it?
Kefir is terribly easy to make. But first, you must find some cultures online or locally. Check out Erin’s site, or craigslist some local sources. To begin, rinse the cultures in tap water, then add to a quart glass bottle (I used old juice jars; you could also use quart-sized ball jars). Mix in some finely ground sugar (I’ve been using only about 3 tbsp turbinado sugar), mix in filtered water, swirl until sugar is dissolved, then cap. Let ferment for two days at room temperature- longer if your ambient temperature is quite cool; this is the primary fermentation. There should be visible bubbles when you shake the jar gently.
You can drink this kefir as is, or you can do a secondary fermentation with additional fruits and flavors. This adds a bit of flavor but also adds more tang and fizz, as more of the sugar is digested. You can add fresh or dried fruits or juice; I’ve tried apples, orange peel, passion fruit, starfruit, raisins, lemon, and orange juice. The vanilla was Erin’s idea, and it’s my favorite way to make kefir… and I just happen to have a serious supply of vanilla beans! My favorite flavor combinations from the past month include vanilla apple (partial vanilla bean + handful of fuji apple chunks), vanilla starfruit (partial vanilla bean + half a starfruit), and orange peel (a few inches of orange skin).
So, are you ready to get cultured? Are you already enjoying the cultures in the kitchen? What flavor combinations have you been trying? Any questions about this great little drink?
Here are some other great sources of Kefir information:
and Wikipedia came in handy for this post too:
Important Media Network!