Most people have heard of kefir (kuh-FEER), the fermented milk drink available in health food stores, the very same fermented milk drink that would curl your toenails. I have never once really considered attempting to ferment kefir at home until I heard of water kefir. A new friend that lives in Tennessee offered to mail me some kefir grains. I envisioned wheat berries that had been soaked in probiotic milk. I was not even close. My kefir grains arrived in two zip bags the color of honey looking like applesauce. Interesting.
Making Water Kefir
- Glass container
- kefir grains
- 1 quart warm water
- 1/4 cup succanat, organic cane sugar, or other sweetener of your choice
- organic molasses
- organic raisins
- slice of lemon (optional depending on your water)
Following my friend’s instructions I added succanat to a quart of warm water, poured the tiniest bit of molasses and one raisin. Finally, after allowing the water to cool to room temperature, I measured two tablespoons of grains and poured them into the water solution.
Because I had heard on one of my Facebook groups that water kefir thrives in a closed Fido jar I thought I would do a little experiment.
Some people claimed that their water kefir loved to be closed up in a Fido jar. Most ferments need oxygen, but water kefir doesn’t seem to have that need. So 2 tablespoons of grains went into each jar. Twenty-four hours later I tasted each batch and decided they both needed a little more time so I left them until noon.
When I strained out the water kefir grains I was pleased to find that they had doubled in both batches. What was really interesting was that the closed Fido batch’s grains were a lot bigger and the brew had a richer flavor.
Water kefir is typically a 24-hour ferment. I like to leave mine at least 36 hours and in the winter it takes much longer with the lower temperatures in the house. It does like a warm, cozy place to do its thing: on top of the refrigerator, in the bathroom or laundry room, even. I keep mine on a counter between the refrigerator and the stove along with my second ferments (from kombucha, jun, ginger beer and water kefir).
Alternative: Use organic sugar and no molasses for a clear, lighter water kefir. After a few brew cycles, use these grains in the original recipe with molasses to ensure that they remain healthy. Keep extra grains in glass jars in the fridge in case your grains fall apart or die (it happens).
Love my Grolsch (beer brand — buy beer, drink beer, save bottles) and Fido (Italian brand of jars and bottles) swing-top bottles for second ferments. They close tightly keeping the co2 within, building pressure for that soda effect. Using a funnel, I fill each bottle to the bottom of the neck and add either fruit juice (2-3 Tbsp is quite enough) and/or herbs, freshly grated or sliced ginger, fresh, crushed fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, even apples). Then fill to within 1 inch of top, wipe opening and close. Label your jars with what is in them such as:
- WK – Fall (apples and cinnamon stick)
- WK – Gin (grated or sliced fresh organic ginger)
- WK – Pom (organic pomegranate juice)
You get the picture. I write directly on the jars with a permanent marker now. Add the date. Quick burp each day: up with wire and immediately close again. When you get a decent pop and bubbles coming up inside upon opening you are ready to refrigerate or drink immediately over ice. Refrigerating calms the water kefir down if it is highly carbonated. Pouring the cold water kefir will result in less loss of those precious bubbles.
The second ferment period can take from 1 to 4 or more days depending on the temperature in your kitchen. You can taste your second ferments to see how much sugar is remaining. I don’t like sweet water kefir but you might.
If your water kefir is a little too sour you can always add a teensy bit of organic sugar, honey or agave OR a tablespoon or two of organic fruit juice before drinking. My kids do this a lot.
My first attempt at flavoring water kefir wasn’t well received by the boys. They didn’t like the vanilla or ginger water kefir I attempted. I love the ginger water kefir; it tastes like ginger beer to me.
What I like about water kefir is that it is dairy free and has no caffeine. Kombucha has a much richer flavor, lots more fizz but it does have caffeine. I drink a cup of Kombucha or Jun in the morning and evening then drink Water Kefir in between along with plenty of fresh water.
January 2013 Update: My 12 year old has discovered my water kefir again and likes it with a little splash of organic black cherry juice. I love to drink water kefir plain myself, room temperature or with ice, and rarely bother to even second ferment it. But, if you do take the time to bottle it with a little fruit juice or fresh fruit you will get that fizz you desire so your water kefir can be a soda substitute. I can’t even stomach drinking commercial soda unless it is one of the two local brands we have that use cane sugar and real fruit. Between my water kefir, jun, kombucha and ginger beer we don’t need to buy soda anymore.