Beginners Fermentation: Water Kefir

Along with sauerkraut and it’s variations, water kefir is my favorite fermented food (well, actually a drink). It’s really simple, super versatile, and tastes so good it’ll even convert non-fermentation fanatics!

Essentially, water kefir is simply fermented sugar water. You add a starter (kefir ‘grains’ – a colony of yeast and bacteria) to something sweet and the kefir grains ‘eat’ the sugar, producing lots of beneficial benefits in the process. Like all live ferments, the resulting drink is full of good bacteria, and highly nutritious.

The reason I love water kefir is that you can use it to ferment anything that has naturally occurring sugars, or which you add sugar to. The easiest version is just sugar or honey dissolved in water. Add a bit of lemon for flavour, if you like. Or you can make any kind of herbal tea, add sugar, and ferment that. Fruit juice and coconut water also work well. The flavour variations are limitless.

PROS

  • Quick turnaround time – Your water kefir is ready to drink in just a few days
  • Versatile, with many flavour options
  • Tasty, even for those who don’t like the flavour of strongly fermented foods and drinks

CONS

  • Quick turnaround time – Which means you need to attend to your ferment at least once per week
  • You’ll need to get hold of some water kefir grains to get started (see below for links)

What No Milk?

If you’ve heard of kefir before, at this point you might be wondering where the milk is. The answer is – there isn’t any, this is something different. Kefir is fermented milk, but this is water kefir, which is not the same thing. The starters are different for each, so if you have normal (milk) kefir grains you must only use them in milk, and if you have water kefir grains, you must NOT use them in milk.

Water Kefir’s Health Benefits

Like all ferments, water kefir is a natural probiotic, containing healthful ‘friendly bacteria’, which are essential for immunity, digestion, and nutrient absorption. In Chinese Medicine terms it can be said to strengthen the center (Spleen and Stomach) and clear Dampness and Phlegm.

Note that the water kefir ‘grains’ are not really grains at all, they just look a little bit grain shaped. There is no grain involved, and water kefir is 100% wheat and gluten free.

Brewing Water Kefir

Simplicity itself.

If you’re adding the sugar yourself:

Add 1-3 tbsp sugar to 1 ltr of boiled water, and stir to dissolve. Add any flavourings you want at this time – see below for some of my favourites. If using herbal teabags, add 2-3. Allow to cool to body/room temperature. Remove teabags, if using.

Add your water kefir grains.

Cover loosely (Do not seal closed – fermentation produces pressure!) Leave at room temperature for 2-4 days, or up to a week at most.

Strain off the liquid, bottle, and refrigerate.

Make up a new batch of sugar water, and get it going straight away. The kefir grains can be reused indefinitely.

If you’re using fruit juice:

Even easier! Just add your kefir grains to your fruit juice. The only difference is that you should keep the juice in the fridge while fermenting or it’s liable to go off. This will also slow fermentation down. Wait 4-7 days, strain, and enjoy. Rinse the kefir grains thoroughly before reusing.

Final Thoughts

When you get started, it can be hard to know if anything is happening to your sugar water! Here are some signs that fermentation is occurring:

  • Bubbles rising in the liquid
  • Lemon or other fruit pieces floating (when they sink, it’s a warning that fermentation is finishing)
  • Taste: Gradually becoming less sweet as the sugar is used up

And how do you know when it’s ready? Well, whenever you like the flavour. Really, any time from 24 hours after you start. Just don’t leave it too long. Once all the sugar is used up the water kefir grains will have no food source left, and will die. A week is the maximum I’d recommend, less if it’s very warm or if you’re only adding small amounts of sugar to your sugar water mix.

As with most ferments that use a scoby (which is technically what the water kefir grains are), they will gradually reproduce. You’ll get more and more grains as you go along. This will allow you to periodically split your grain store in 2 and either keep 2 lots going at once, or give some away.

Some Flavours To Get Started

  • Lemon: Just add half a lemon to sugar water, and leave it in while it brews.
  • Lemon barley: Take a handful of barley (or the Chinese herb Yi Yi Ren) and boil in water for 15-20mins. Strain off liquid, add sugar and lemon. The barley adds a lovely smoothness. This makes a great cooling drink in the summer.
  • Black Grape Juice: Sort of wine-like, but more refreshing.
  • Gynostemma: One of the adaptogen ‘super herbs’, highly recommended by herbalist Ron Teeguarden. Has a lovely melon-like flavour.
  • Nettle: WAY better than it sounds. Use 2-3 nettle tea bags with your sugar water. Trust me, it’s lovely.

You can get water kefir grains at Amazon, here:

US: http://amzn.to/2oNpDGA
UK: http://amzn.to/2FU0mmA

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