I was introduced to kefir (dairy) while visiting a friend in America last year. She talked a lot about the health benefits of fermented milk products, so I came home ready to learn more about it. I knew about probiotics and was already taking a probiotic supplement, but didn’t know much about natural probiotics that occur in fermented foods. (Probiotics are for good gut/digestive health.) That led to a search for kefir grains and subsequently making our own milk kefir.
However a few months ago I decided that I wanted to cut my dairy intake to a minimum. I specifically wanted to cut out milk and yogurt, but still have some cheese occasionally. But what about those probiotics I was getting from the kefir?
I had heard of water kefir and had been told it was fiddly to make and hard to get right, but as I really wanted the probiotics I decided to give it a go. So I have been making water kefir for about eight weeks now. There were some initial glitches in the system, but with some experimenting and adjustments to the recipe, we now have a `brew’ we really like. And it is soooo easy.
What is water kefir?
The simplest was to describe it is, fermented sugar water. It is made from kefir grains, also known as sugar grains, tibicos, tibi, or Japanese water crystals. The grains make up a cultures of various strains of healthy bacteria and yeast, held together in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. The symbiotic relationship of the microbes produces a stable growing culture. The microbes feed on sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide, yielding a fermented carbonated beverage. Don’t worry, the alcohol content is usually very minimal, less than 1 %.
What are the health benefits of water kefir?
Fran at highonhealth.org says, `We all know that yogurt is really good for the health of our guts right? Well kefir is way better.
Kefir has an incredible amount of beneficial probiotics. It knocks the socks right off yogurt, and even those little inner health plus tablets you get from the health store.
Here is a list of super interesting reasons why it’s so good to add kefir into your diet-
- Contributes to a healthy immune system
- Promotes a relaxing effect on the nervous system
- Helps relieve insomnia
- Helps support your normal intestinal tract function, promote bowel movements and a healthy digestive system
- Restores balance to the digestive tract, so VERY useful during and after a course of antibiotics and after food poisoning
- Has been used to treat metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, allergic disease, tuberculosis, cancer and other gastrointestinal disorders
- Rich in vitamin B-12, vitamin K and biotin’
How to make water kefir
This really is quite simple, but it is important to have the right equipment to make it easier. The most important thing is to never use metal utensils to handle your kefir grains as they really don’t like metal. So get yourself the following:
- Plastic strainer – I like a largish one
- Plastic measuring spoons
- Plastic spoon for stirring
- A large glass jar for `brewing’. I got a huge 4 litre glass jar at `Dollar King’.
- Large jugs or bottles for storing the water kefir once it’s brewed. I prefer glass.
Filtered or spring water or rain water
Water kefir grains
Organic raw cane sugar
Rapadura, Sucanat, or coconut palm sugar
Unsweetened, unsulfured dried fruit (apricots, figs or raisins)
Organic lemon (optional)
Molasses – organic, with no added sulphurs
Celtic sea salt – a greyish, damp feeling salt that is packed with minerals
- Water – most tap water contains chlorine and fluoride, both of which may kill the grains. I use a water filter which removes the chlorine, but I’m not sure about the fluoride. (That said, I do have a friend who uses plain tap water and has not problems.)
- Sugars – you can use all raw sugar if you like. It is good to add some of the darker sugars such as rapadura or coconut sugar as these are rich in minerals. Don’t, however, switch to all rapadura or coconut sugar as the grains don’t do well with that.
- Fruit – you can use most types of dried fruit. I have found that most recipes have fig as the first preference because of their high mineral content. I suggest going with fig for a while before you start experimenting. I had to hunt around for a while before I found dried fig without sulphurs.
- Lemon – obviously an organic lemon is going to be the best. But sometimes you have to go with what you can get. I initially used lemons from the supermarket – far from organic and definitely with wax on the skin. They worked! But I’m now getting organic lemons from the Farmer’s Market.
- Molasses – I found that most of the molasses on supermarket shelves contains sulphur. which is a natural anti-biotic, so not good for our bacteria containing grains. A little bit of hunting and I found an organic molasses at a local health food store. (No more expensive than the supermarket brand.)
- Celtic sea salt – this is for the minerals it contains. DO NOT use regular table salt as it doesn’t contain any minerals. If you don’t have this one, just leave out the salt.
As I said earlier I have done quite a bit of experimenting to get this right – for our climate! I had some problems with the original recipe I was given and found that the grains were developing a slimey feeling and the kefir was tasting `not quite right’. They were over-crowded and so not getting enough nourishment to be producing the ferment. I’ve been using the ratios here (below) for some time now and it is working really well.
2 Tablespoons water kefir grains (That’s 20ml, Aussie tablespoons! Not the spoon you eat your soup or deserts with.)
8 cups water (I use filtered water)
4 Tablespoons raw sugar
1 Tablespoon rapadura
Pinch of bi-carb soda
1/4 teaspoon molasses
1 dried fig
Pinch of celtic sea salt
1/2 lemon (do not squeeze juice out – just leave it in a chunk)
- Add water to a large glass jar. (Do not fill the jar more than 3/4 full to leave room for fermentation.)
- Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup of hot water and then add the rest of the cold water and other ingredients. It’s important to make sure that the mixture is not warm before adding the kefir grains.
- Gently add kefir grains.
- Cover top with a piece of firmly woven cloth and elastic band. Cover jar with a cloth to keep semi dark. I just throw a tea-towel over it. You could also put it in a cupboard.
- Set aside to ferment at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours.
- Strain the water kefir off and store in the fridge. It will be a little paler than the original sugar water mix.
- Wash and dry the jar and start all over again.
- Your grains will have multiplied. You can simply make a bigger batch or give some away to friends. Very soon you will have a lot more than you can handle and, like me, will be looking for ways to use them.
The strained kefir is ready to serve, but it is more nicer if left in the fridge to mature for a day or so. It does develop a bit more fizz over that time. This is also the stage where you can experiment with flavours.
As you begin your adventure with water kefir you will no doubt have lots of questions and you will find a HUGE amount of information on the internet. This is probably the best site I have found with info on water kefir. They keep it simple and have some fantastic videos demonstrating the how to’s of making fermented products. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq
Where can I get some water kefir grains?
Do you know friends who have water kefir? They would certainly have grains to spare.
Otherwise you can usually get it through eBay quite easily. I paid $8.50 for my initial 2 Tablespoons of grains. (Even though the recipe didn’t work very well it gave me the basics and I was able to experiment.)
Do we sell them? Well, we don’t have a shop happening as yet. Though if you’re in Australia and contact us we may be able to get some to you.
We love water kefir and it is currently our beverage of choice. Ours tastes almost like a very mild ginger beer or ginger ale. We love ginger so will be trying that as an added flavour very soon. Certainly with summer coming on I’m sure we will be drinking water kefir more and more. Making it has become part of the routine and what took ages at the beginning is now quick and easy. I just spoke with my eldest grand-daughter (9) and she said they all liked it. She said `It tastes a bit like lemonade.’
Sharon: I made my first batch of water kefir over the past few days. I followed Mum’s recipe and it was successful from the start. The girls loved it, and want more.
Now that you have the basics of making your own water kefir, you can have a ready supply of natural probiotics to help keep your digestive system healthy.
We’d love to hear about your adventures with making it. Share your comments (or questions) so that we can all benefit form one another’s experience.