Water Kefir – Your Dairy Free Probiotic Soda Pop

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Probiotics are the good bacteria, you know, the stuff that gets destroyed along with the “bad” bacteria when taking antibiotics. We need to replenish the good bacteria for optimal health.

There are different sources of dairy free probiotics, namely sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, ginger beer, and others, but today I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about water kefir. Water kefir is used by many as a healthy alternative to soda pop (because of the fizzzz) and a great source of daily dairy free probiotics.

Water kefir basics

In order to prepare water kefir, you pretty much just have to soak water kefir grains and healthy sugar in a glass jar in water (or juice or coconut water without sugar), lightly covered (to avoid possible, but unlikely, explosion as the carbon dioxide builds up), at room temperature and away from direct sunlight for 24-48 hours.

Then you can add some fruit to the mix to play with the flavors and create unique “soda pops”. You can do two soaks, the first with the sugar, the second with the fruit. It seems that most of the time people just put the fruit in the first soak to save time.

What are water kefir grains?

Water kefir grains (a.k.a. tibicos, tibi, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals, water kefir fungus and California Bees) are, as defined by Wikipedia: a culture of bacteria and yeast held in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. The microbes present act in symbiosis to maintain a stable culture. The grains feed off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide gas which carbonates the drink. They have a mix of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera and possibly others. Lactobacillus brevis has been identified as the species responsible for the production of the polysaccharide (dextran) that forms the grains.

Water kefir has alcohol?

Before we go any further I’d like to point out that the amount of alcohol present in water kefir varies, dependent on factors such as temperature, length of “soaking time”, and more. However, several sources around the web state that the alcohol present is between 1-3%. Also, an independent study was done in 2009, by a chemist, showing a result of just 0.64% by volume (0.50% by weight). With that information I feel that water kefir is safe for children, but obviously you should make that decision on your own.

Will any water suffice?

If you get your hands on spring water or raw water, use that. Some people use mineral water, while others will use boiled (then cooled) tap water. The reason for boiling the tap water is to remove the chlorine. Some sources state that mixing the water in the blender will aerate the water and get rid of the chlorine. It is advised to not use carbon filtered water (Brita) or distilled water.

What type of sugar can be used?

I have looked over many water kefir recipes and the types of sugars used vary greatly. Since the sugar is essentially “eaten” by the grains, some people say the type of sugar doesn’t matter much.

Some use 100% maple syrup, while others use powdered cane sugar, and yet others use regular table sugar. I personally do not use any sugar that I would not consume myself, because for one I don’t have any in the house and for two, a little is left in the final product.

Choose an organic natural sugar and I’m sure you will be fine. Some warn against honey because they say it will destroy the good bacteria (which isn’t good, we want to keep that!).

What supplies are needed to make water kefir?

At one time it has been said that water kefir grains were not available commercially… that you had to get them from someone willing to share them, however that is not the case anymore. Besides grains you will need a container for the brewing, glass jars like mason jars are recommended. There are warnings against allowing the grains to touch metal so be careful with using metal lids.

You’ll need containers to store the finished product. It can be stored in mason jars, but self bottling is a popular fun choice.

Keeping the grains separate from the fruit during brewing is important. Since you’ll be re-using the grains (they may last forever), keeping them in cotton drawstring muslin bags is smart.

How much of the grains should be used?

In general a 1:1:1/4 ratio of hydrated grains (tablespoons) to water (quarts or litres

It is important to use the proper amount of sugar. Essentially, the grains can starve and ultimately become weaker and eventually leave behind more sugar than normal when less sugar is used. Feed them properly and less sugar will be left behind, making a much healthier finished product. In general there should be no more than 1.4% sugar (converted to fructose) left behind in your water kefir.

When using juice (100% organic is best) rather than sugar water, it is recommended to use less juice than you would water (and of course leave the sugar out completely). It is also suggested to make a few batches using sugar water before starting to use juice, and not really going back to sugar water with the same grains (except for maybe every 3 or 4 batches to the give the grains a “rest”). Apparently the juice is hard on the grains and will shorten their life, also, creating a batch with sugar water after using juice can make the flavor unpleasant.

Also, establish your grains with sugar water by making a few batches before venturing into using coconut water.

What kinds of fruit can be added?

You can use essentially any fruit to flavor your water kefir. Be sure not to leave fresh fruit in much more than 24 hours… dried fruit (organic fruit that has been dehydrated) can be used over and over for up to a week. When using fruit during the brewing process be sure to keep the grains in a muslin bag to avoid having to clean them afterwards, because bits of fruit can get stuck on them which can encourage mold, etc.

How to store kefir grains when not in use?

You can keep the water kefir grains in a sugar-water (1/4 cup of sugar and 1 quart/litre water) solution in a container with a tight fitting lid in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. For longer storage just give them fresh sugar-water.

For even longer storage (for 5-6 months), dehydrate the grains by placing them on parchment paper (unbleached) for a week or more until they are completely dried. Store them in a mason jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool dry place.

To rehydrate your grains, put them in fresh sugar water (1/4 cup of sugar and 1 quart/litre water) for 3-4 days… replacing the sugar-water solution if necessary until ready to use. Keep them in a cool dry place for the rehydration procedure.

Using juice after brewing with the grains

A great method for flavoring your kefir water, aside from adding fruit is to add juice, but only after the grains have been removed. The procedure is simple… Soak the grains in sugar water for 48 hours, then remove the grains. Top up the jar (well, leave some room for carbon dioxide) with juice. The longer you wait before consuming after the juice has been added, the more “fizzyness” there will be.

It’s best to use organic juice that you made yourself with a electric or hand juicer.

Is it possible to make water kefir beer?

When leaving your brew longer than 48 hours it gives it more opportunity to produce the naturally occurring alcohol, giving you a kefir beer, which is essentially a gluten free vegan beer with beneficial bacteria. Just Google “how to make kefir beer” to find out the rest of the process.

Water kefir recipes

Here are a couple quick water kefir recipes to start you off…

Water kefir lemonade

  • 2 litres kefir water – prepared using the information above
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed organic lemon juice

Simply mix the kefir water and the juice together. Chill if desired. When bottling in glass with a tight fitting lid then you might want to place a warning label on the bottle: “CAUTION: Contents under pressure!” 🙂

Cream soda water kefir

  • 2 litres kefir water – prepared using the information above
  • 1-3 tablespoons of vanilla extract (the real stuff)

Simply mix the kefir water and the vanilla together. Chill if desired.

Enjoy your vegan probiotic beverage!

Image source: flic.kr

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