(Fermentation Seminar 3 of 4 in the Sister Love Series)
If you are new to fermentation, you may be wishing to give me the raised eyebrow and skeptically inquire, what the heck is water kefir?!?! If you were here I would smile and wink knowing that just a few years ago, this was similar to my reaction as well.
Kefir (the grains also known as tibicos) is one of those weird things I discovered a few years back when trying to kick my body into some serious health and jumpstart my gut as well. I successfully convinced my middle sister E. to give this the college try and have converted my friend R. to their wonderous ways. I hope after this introduction you and my little ‘sis will consider giving them a go as well.
So what is water kefir?
Well, these little gems are clusters of bacteria, in a similar vein as the bacteria of yogurt, but much more powerful. Water kefir are a symbiotic cluster of lactic and acetic acid bacteria and beneficial yeasts with an incredible biodiversity. Up to 453 strains of bacteria were found in water kefir grains in a recent study which make for a powerhouse of good flora.
The roots of water kefir are hazy with theories ranging from the leaves of the Mexican cactus Optunia to being a relative of the gingerbeer plant brought over by the English soldiers after the Crimean War.
What does water kefir do? The short of it is, these kefir grains eat up sugar which creates lactic acid, alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gives water kefir its bubbles and in that way is similar to soda pop laced with beneficial bacteria. Most of the sugar gets eaten up by the kefir grains and leaves a miniscule amount of alcohol in the process but not a quantity that makes this a cocktail….sorry.
What do I need to get going?
Fruity Water Kefir
- Kefir Grains. I have successfully used grains from here most recently but have purchased them through the larger companies as well.
- A vessel. I recommend these mason jars if you are making kefir for two or more people. Go big or go home!
- A strainer. I have used this one for years with great success. However, most people recommend a plastic strainer as metal can interact with the kefir grains if in contact too long. I have never had an issue with my grains.
- A wooden spoon to stir.
- A cloth and hair tie.
- Sugar. Use organic already!
- Filtered water. At the minimum, use tap water that has been sitting out for 24 hours so that the chlorine has evaporated. Chlorine=bad for grains.
- Egg shells, unsulphered raisins, dates, fresh ginger, turkish figs etc. all add minerals to the grains and help them grow up big and strong. Pick one or two. Make sure your dried fruit is not sulphered. This may kill or halt the grains from propogating.
- Lemon slice or pinch of baking soda keeps the ph balanced
- Syrups or fruit to flavor your kefir after it is done.
- A fermentation lid like the one above. It makes life easier not having to worry about sneaky contaminates.
Want to flavor your kefir?
- Cream soda: Add a few tsp of vanilla extract in second fermentation per quart.
- Ginger beer: Add a few strips of peeled ginger in second fermentation or some ginger syrup to final product.
- Lemonade: Add 1/4 cup or more of lemon juice to final product.
- Add kefir grains straight to juice! This will make a slightly more alcoholic version if left too long due to the higher sugar concentrate. Be sure to leave them in no longer than 48 hours.
1. Add sugar and filtered water to jar. Start w/ 2 Tbsp per quart jar. Stir until dissolved.
2. Add 2 Tbsp grains and additions. I almost always use half an egg shell, a slice of lemon and either a Tbsp of unsulphered raisins or ginger. Sugar/grain ratio may change based on a variety of environmental factors but an equal ratio is a good start.
3. Cover jar with cloth and hair tie or fermentation lid.
4. Allow the fermentation to brew for 48-72 hours. It may take less time in the summer and more time in the winter. It is very temperature dependent.
5. Strain grains out of liquid. Place liquid in another jar or a swing top bottle. Add in any additional flavoring such as a small handful or fruit or sliced ginger. Let ferment an additional 24-48 hours or until fizzy. Make sure to “burp” jar so it doesn’t explode!
6. Begin new batch with your grains.
1. Lutz, M.L., 1899. Recherches biologiques sur la constitution du Tibi. Bulletin de la Societe
Mycologique de France 15, 68–72.
2. Ward, H.M., 1892. The ginger-beer plant and the organisms composing it; a contribution to the study of fermentation- yeasts and bacteria. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 183, 125–197.
Additional sites I have found helpful are this FAQ at Yeemos and the free ebooks over at Cultures for Health.