Ok, what exactly is water kefir? It is a cultured, probiotic beverage resulting from water kefir “grains” mixed with sugar water. “Cultured” simply means that the drink is a byproduct of a particular combination of beneficial bacteria and yeast. This is what makes it a probiotic product, just like yogurt, full of all the wonderfully healthy bacteria your gut needs.
The grains can look different depending on what they have cultured in, but they often are yellow/brown to clear in color and look like little globs, for lack of a better word! They are hardy, but they need food! Their food is sugar, plain and simple. They can culture in fruit juice, but after a while it takes a toll on them because of the acidity. They really prefer sugar water. Now there’s a topic …
Not all sugar is created equal. White sugar produces a very mild tasting water kefir, and it’s wonderful, especially with a little lemon juice added to the final product. BUT, white sugar is very refined and lacks all the nutrients and minerals that raw sugar possesses. Those minerals are actually quite important for the grains, so an unrefined sugar such as Rapadura or Succanat is ideal (both are brands of dehydrated cane juice – not evaporated cane juice). Coconut palm sugar is another good option. These raw forms of sugar are brown in color, so your water kefir will be brown in color, too. It will have a stronger flavor, too, but it tastes wonderful!! Don’t use honey, though! Honey is naturally antibacterial and will damage your kefir grains over time!
Now, not all water is created equal, either. As I said, the grains need minerals, so ultra-purified water from reverse osmosis or tap filters will eventually compromise your grains, and they certainly won’t multiply for you. Chlorinated and fluoridated tap water is also detrimental to them. The best option is well water or natural spring water. If you have to use filtered water, try these suggestions for adding some mineral content:
· A very small pinch of high quality salt (e.g. Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt, etc.)
· A few drops of Concentrace (a liquid mineral supplement available at many health food stores)
· A small piece of egg shell, generally about 1/4 shell per quart. Keep in mind that if egg shell is added, it is important to ensure that you do not share your kefir or kefir grains with anyone with an egg allergy.
· Every few batches, add one teaspoon of molasses for each quarter cup of white sugar used.
You can often find someone who has too many grains from their own culturing, but be careful! If the water kefir or the grains smell or taste like yeast, the healthy balance between the bacteria and yeast is compromised. Believe me, it’s NOT yummy. If you don’t know anyone who can pass some healthy grains on, you can find dehydrated grains for sale online. You have to take a few steps to rehydrate them upon arrival, but they should come with instructions. I order all of my cultures from www.culturesforhealth.com.Assuming you have some grains in front of you, let’s get started. There are appropriate proportions for sugar, water, and grains for the best results. For a quart of water, you need ¼ cup sugar and about 3 tablespoons to ½ cup of grains. For a half gallon of water, just double the amounts to ½ cup sugar and between 6 tbsp and 1 cup of kefir grains.
Heat up water on the stove top and dissolve the sugar in it. Allow it to cool to room temperature, add it to your grains, and fill your container the remainder of the way with tepid water. And like everything else, not all containers are created equal. J Tired of hearing that yet? Avoid plastic. Glass bottles or mason jars are ideal. Also, avoid using metal utensils with your grains. If you don’t have plastic or wooden utensils, you can use stainless steel, but try to keep contact with the grains to a minimum. Once you have your jar filled with your grains and sugar water, cover with a paper towel, kitchen towel, or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band or mason jar band.
|On the far left is the sugar water. The two half gallon mason jars in the middle have the kefir grains on the bottom and are ready to be filled with sugar water. The jar on the far right is the strained water kefir ready to drink.|
Temperature will largely determine how quickly the grains consume the sugar. The warmer the temperature, the faster they eat! To keep them healthy, you need to change the sugar water every 24-48 hours. The ideal temperature is between 68-78 degrees. During the winter, we let ours culture (tucked away in a nook away from drafts) for 48 hours, certainly no longer than 72 hours. The longer is cultures, too, the more “vinegary” it will taste. Then I strain them using a small fine-mesh strainer into another mason jar. The entire process just begins again with a fresh batch of sugar water.
|Two freshly prepared half gallon mason jars with fresh sugar water and kefir grains at the bottom. I have them covered with coffee filters.|
The strained water kefir is then sealed in the new jar and placed in the refrigerator, if it’s not consumed immediately at the dinner table! Sometimes it has a slightly effervescent or carbonated touch, which makes it taste even better. Don’t worry, though, if it’s not. You can also add dried or fresh fruit to your water kefir for flavoring, but be sure to change out your fruit daily. This is a little advanced, so you might try flavoring your water kefir after you have strained it to protect your grains during your experimentation!
It’s important to keep the sugar water fresh so the delicate balance of bacteria and yeast isn’t compromised. By taking good care of your grains, you can enjoy batch after batch of delicious and healthy water kefir indefinitely!
Until next time,