You’ve Never Heard of Water Kefir?
December 14, 2010 5 Comments
Neither had I, until recently. I’ve seen milk kefir at Trader Joe’s and wondered what it is. But water kefir isn’t quite the same thing. Kefir is a probiotic – a combination of good bacteria and yeast that helps protect the body by keeping harmful bacteria at bay while encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Yogurt, raw milk and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut also contain probiotics. Water kefir is a probiotic beverage.
While I was picking up milk and eggs a couple of weeks ago, the egg lady was giving away (sharing) kefir water. Someone had given them to her and she was now passing her surplus along. After speaking to her, and a nice lady behind me in line, I decided to give it a try. You can’t buy kefir water or grains in stores by the way. You have to know people. Just kidding… sort of. If you don’t happen to know anyone that would share, you might be able to find someone selling or giving them away on the internet. Mine haven’t really started multiplying yet. (Gizmo just came to mind. Don’t ever let him get wet or he’ll multiply.) If I don’t kill them and they do proliferate, I’ll share.
Like with Mogwais, there are rules when dealing with kefir. No metal. They like to rest in a warm, dark place. No extreme temperatures. No chlorine. It’s best to use spring water or quality filtered water. Feed them sugar. It took a good bit of reading and a couple tries to get it figured out. I thought I almost killed it while I was researching. I had come home and put in the fridge for safe keeping. I left it there for over a week, in the cold, without food. Luckily it’s still alive, and I’ve learned that it was the best way to store it when you can’t take care of it for a period of time. (I love when food and biology meet in the kitchen.)
So you start with these kefir grains which are these whitish jello-y things (technical terms). The look and texture resembles water crystals. They kind of look like crushed ice here.
You feed it sugar water and dried fruit to make it grow. Kefir grains like mild temperatures in the 70′s, so the cold weather we’ve been having is less than ideal. Normally you might just leave it covered with a towel on the counter or in a dark cabinet, but it’s not even 70 degrees downstairs, so I’ve been wrapping it in a towel and keeping it in the oven with the light on for warmth. Since I’d left mine in the fridge for so long, they were pretty dormant to start with, which is typical. The first batch took about 2 days to ferment, but after that it only took about 1 day to get it the way I like it. You could leave it for another 24 to 48, depending on your taste. Then you strain it (no metal), compost the fruit and rinse the kefir grains (no chlorine). You can drink it as is, or if you want more flavor and fizz, you can do a secondary fermentation (keep reading).
As I mentioned, the kefir eats sugar. You start with sugar water but after a day it’s about half as sweet and if you let it sit longer, you won’t be able to taste it at all. My original kefir water tasted like pure yeast. Gross, I know. But I’d let it sit too long without feeding it. Needless to say, I threw it out (the water, not the grains). The latest batch is made with sugar, apple juice, a piece of banana and some ginger slices. Incidentally, ginger is really good for you. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is a natural pain killer that has been used to treat nausea, heartburn, migraines and cold and flu symptoms. Studies have found that it can kill or slow the growth of some cancers.
You can flavor it naturally with dried fruit, banana, apple juice or anything you want really. Or you can do whats called secondary fermentation and add something to the strained water kefir like grape juice or green tea and let it sit in the dark for about 12 more hours. Then you put it in the refrigerator, or else it may begin to taste like wine (maybe not a bad thing) or vinegar. Water kefir does contain some alcohol, but typically less than 1%. To put this in perspective, NyQuil contains about 10% and a shot of vodka contains about 40%. It’s a little fizzy, but not like soda. It’s effervescent, like a seltzer. The girls like the “grape soda” version. Brian, who is admittedly not initially adventurous when it comes to food, isn’t sure about it yet. He needs a chance to warm up to the idea, and I need to find a recipe that suits him. My green tea, ginger and cinnamon kefir is fermenting in the oven. I can’t wait to try it and experiment with other flavors. The possibilities are endless.
Here are a couple of links and resources if you’re looking for instructions or more information: