I researched a gazillion methods for brewing water kefir, and then I cobbled them all together on my frist batch to make one bad-tasting beverage. I let it ferment for way too long, put way too many different fruits in it and basically ended up with a vinegary, raisin-y flat drink. I poured it down the drain and started anew, this time making simplicity the theme.
In a quart-sized mason jar, I added 1/4 cup organic white sugar and filled the jar up almost to the top with cool, filtered water. Every water kefir recipe is different-- some swear that you absolutely should not use chlorinated tap water, some argue that using carbon-filtered water (like from a Brita) depletes the minerals and renders the water less-than-satisfactory. Maybe just leave a bowl of tap water out for a bit to aerate out the chlorine. I don't know. I used filtered water from our new Bobble jug. With the lid on, I shook the jar around until the sugar was dissolved. Then I plopped in my water kefir grains, secured a coffee filter on the top with a rubber band and tucked it away in a semi-dark spot on a shelf.
Two days later, I had a finished batch of plain water kefir. Technically, it was ready to drink but I don't care much for the plain water kefir. I strained out the kefir grains with a fine mesh strainer and put them in the fridge in a sugar water solution to keep them alive. I could have just immediately started a new batch, but I was skeptical about how this one would turn out so I put the whole process on hold. In the future, I'll be taking the grains out of the finished batch and immediately starting a new batch, so that I'll have a continuous supply. Over time, the grains will multiply so you can give some to a friend or bring them to a swap!
For extra flavor and bubbles, I poured the kefir into a glass bottle with an airtight lid (same as what I store my kombucha in; see top photo) and added about a cup of organic cranberry-blueberry juice to it. I let it sit on the counter another day for its second fermentation. Even without the grains, there are a bunch of probiotics and weird things that will continue to ferment and feed off the sugars in the fruit juice, producing a really nice amount of carbonation. At this point you could also add dried or fresh fruit to it instead of fruit juice. Et voila! Cranberry-blueberry water kefir. Fizzy, sweet & a bit less weird-tasting than kombucha. Move it to the fridge, where it will continue to carbonate in its airtight bottle.
Don't think that I've given up the kombucha though! There's a gallon-sized jar sitting on the floor right next to our stereo speakers, days away from finishing its first fermentation. In fact, there are jars and bottles of things tucked away throughout the apartment filled with fermenting, preserved, aging or otherwise strange contents. It reminds me of visiting my friend Vanessa and finding a sprouted avocado seed in her pantry or a cabinet full of ripening cherry tomatoes. Or of the stashes of homemade extract and pickled things and dehydrated citrus in Christina's cute townhome. I love it. Although, in cases such as these, the importance of labeling and dating cannot be overstated. How many times have I stared at an unmarked jar and, having considered it for hours or even days, admitted that I had no idea what it contained or when it got there? Many times, friends, many times.
This is probably an oversimplified version of the water kefir process, but so many other good folks have written extensively about it so I'll let them do most of the talking. The main points you should know:
- Water kefir is a dairy-free, lacto-fermented beverage filled with lots of probiotics and healthy yeast & bacteria.
- It tastes good. I promise! Especially after a second fermentation, water kefir is a slightly sweet, bubbly little drink. Think of it as a probiotic-filled natural soda.
- You will need to get your hands on some water kefir grains. You can buy them online (at places like Cultures for Health), find them at a local food swap or ask your kefir-making friends for their extras. If you're local and can wait a little while, I will eventually have extras laying around if I keep brewing away.
- You can start a continuous cycle of kefir-making so that there is always a bottle about to be ready. When you need a break, just suspend your grains in a sugar water solution and store in the fridge. It should be safe in there for at least a few months. Finished water kefir will keep for, maybe a few weeks in the fridge? The longer fermented beverages sit, the less sweet they become so keep that in mind.
Water Kefir Reources
- A super-helpful video tutorial and water kefir info, plus a killer FAQ (via Cultures for Health)
- A Quick Tutorial (via Nourished Kitchen)
- Water Kefir- The Yeasty Bacterial Elixir of Life (via Crunchy Betty)
- Water kefir as a soda substitute ! (via Nourishing Days)
- A water kefir recipe that uses citrus & dried fruit on the 1st fermentation (via Homesprout)
- Directions for ginger-flavored water kefir (via Towards Sustainability)
Have I convinced any of you to get into the home lacto-fermentation brewing scene yet? I had a few emails for more instructions about the kombucha, and if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. There are a ton of resources out there are water kefir, so get out there and experiment.