I went to a local fermentation meetup group about a year ago, eager to learn more about how to make kombucha tea at home, and in the process I stumbled across a "new" (at least to me) type of fermented drink called water kefir. Water kefir has actually been around for thousands of years and goes by many different names including Japanese water crystals. The girl who had brewed this tasty lightly carbonated concoction had flavored it with fresh blueberries after it had been fermented. I was immediately impressed by the versatility of this probiotic wonder drink-which is purported to contain trillions of naturally healthy bacteria to aid digestion and the immune system.
Unlike milk kefir, water kefir is perfect for those who are lactose intolerant, while often times milk kefir is more easily digestible there is still some chance of a reaction. This summer I decided to try brewing my own water kefir and found that it’s actually quite easy to prepare-and easier and more fool-proof than kombucha.
Here is a basic water kefir recipe that helped me get started:
1) Fill a quart sized jar with room temperature mineral water* leaving about 2 inches of space at the top *(or spring or tap water with most of the chlorine filtered out. Reverse osmosis water isn’t recommended, although I have tried it without ill effect. The main thing to remember is that minerals are beneficial to the functioning of water kefir grains, so if they’re not getting minerals from the water, some mineral rich fruit should be added)
2) Add approximately 1/4 cup sugar and stir
3) Add 1/4 cup Water Kefir Grains - | Our Recommended Starters
4) If available add 1/4 cup starter water kefir, otherwise you can add a couple lemon slices to the brew.
5) Then wrap a small handful of dried un-sulfured fruit into an unbleached coffee filter or a reusable fabric pouch (So far I have tried: dates, dried mango slices, raisins, cranberries, dried apple, figs, and apricots or a combination thereof) - don't be afraid to experiment with your water kefir recipe.
I’ve also tried dried candied ginger in my primary ferment. Maybe it was just me, but that batch seemed a little flat. I've had great success with adding fresh ginger to the primary ferment as well as to the secondary ferment though.
Water Kefir Recipe Fermentation Stages and Tips:
I then cover the jar with a coffee filter or other breathable material, secured with a rubber band (if you are using metal try to make sure the rim is completely dry before securing so the metal won’t rub off and contaminate your grains). I leave the brew alone at room temperature for 2, sometimes 3 days. The longer it brews the stronger the flavor starts to get and the more carbonation it will acquire. If you like a sweeter more soda pop taste, one day might be sufficient. You can sample the brew or give it a stir now and then with a wooden spoon.
After the primary ferment, I’ll usually do a secondary ferment. This involves straining out the water kefir grains for the next batch, discarding the fruit, and then bottling the water kefir (minus 1/4th cup for your starter) in a sealed container and then letting it sit on the counter for 1-3 days to add even more carbonation. You should leave about an inch of head space and crack the lid open every few hours for just a quick burp to let some of the gases escape (this helps prevent the bottle from bursting). Recently we've been using a Grolsch type bottle (flip-top) for the second ferment. This has been giving us really great carbonation - it is like opening a bottle of bubbly!
Before putting the finished water kefir into the fridge I also like to tape on a label with all pertinent info that I’ll soon forget-like what ingredients I used, when the primary ferment began and ended, if and how long the secondary ferment lasted, and my impression-like “wow, super fizzy.” One word of caution, I’ve heard that the more carbonated it is, the higher the alcohol content. I believe the alcohol % in water kefir is a fairly trivial amount like less than 0.8% but it bears mentioning. Part of what sparked my renewed interest in water kefir is that the kombucha I usually buy at the store was recalled because they were having trouble keeping the alcohol content below 0.5% and it ran into regulatory issues.
I actually tried a water kefir recipe last week that reminded me of the Kombucha Botanica Elderflower I used to buy and love. I used one dried fig and some raisins in a full 3 day primary ferment. I noted that it was really potent-maybe too potent and decided to skip the secondary ferment and put it in the fridge for 5 days—and when I took a cautious sample, it was irresistibly delicious. I’m still new at this little hobby and am eager to learn more about fermented foods and water kefir health benefits. I’ve purchased a book that came highly recommended called Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods that has a bunch of water kefir recipes to try - I look forward to continuing this experiment!
If you have a favorite water kefir recipe please share in a comment below - I love trying new water kefir recipes and concoctions.
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