What Is Water Kefir?
Water kefir is a fermented carbonated drink that is composed of water and water kefir grains. The magic comes from the grains, which are not really grains but a symbiosis of yeast and good bacteria that resemble crystalline granules. The symbiosis ferments and carbonates the water almost instantly as they meet each other. Water kefir bubbles and fizzles, making it a healthy organic version of soda pop. Some even go so far as to say it is healthy beer.
Depending on where you are in the world, water kefir grains are known by different names, so you shouldn’t be confused. They are known as sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals, California bees, balm of Gilead, beer seeds, Tibetan mushrooms or tibicos.
The yellowish crystalline variety of kefir grains feed on sugar water. These grains are used to ferment sugar water or any liquids with sugar contents such as fruit juices and fruit ciders.
On its own, water kefir tastes like vinegary apple cider without the apple. To many first-time users, the taste is more tolerable and easier to consume compared to milk kefir. Long-time drinkers typically spice things up a bit by adding different kinds of flavor such as pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, ginger or grapes. The result is a tangy, exotic iced-tea-like carbonated drink. You can practically make it taste any way you want it to taste.
Adding brown sugar is a must because the bacteria and enzymes feed on the sugar. The water kefir probiotics feed off the sugar to produce alcohol, lactic acid and carbon dioxide gas. This is great for diabetics because what they get is a sweet but healthy version of a popular soda drink. Generally, water kefir has a better reaction with people’s bodies than milk kefir, but always experiment because you’ll never know until you try both kinds.
The grains are teeming with probiotics that cleanse your digestive tract and repopulate to make sure you digest foods properly. They also help flush out bad bacteria. A clean and healthy digestive system results to a healthy body and wellbeing.
If you have decided to go vegetarian or vegan but would like to keep downing this healthy beverage, simply switch from milk kefir to water kefir. There is practically very little to no difference when it comes to their nutritional and curative values.
I gave some of my kefir grains to my friends who are vegetarians or strict vegans. They were hesitant to use them at first because they weren’t sure how vegetarian friendly they are, but I think with all the ways you can make and use kefir, there will surely be one process that will be vegetarian and vegan approved.
I have friends who are vegans all the way. They refuse to eat, wear and use anything that had something to do with animals. And that is exactly why I decided to introduce water kefir and its many possible varieties to them. It is a good source of protein and other important nutrients for vegans.
Water kefir doesn’t need lactose at all; it makes use of sweetened water as its liquid base. In other words, my friends were delighted to know that water kefir is a non-dairy beverage, but more nutrient-rich than milk or yogurt and packed with all the nutrition and probiotic contents found in milk kefir.
How To Grow Your Kefir Grains In Water
Below are a few tips on how to make water kefir at home.
Get 1 tablespoon of water kefir grains, about a quart of filtered, spring or mineral water, and 4-5 tablespoons of sugar. Unrefined sugar is best. Try brown sugar, Sucanat (whole cane sugar), Rapadura (sugarcane juice), or maple syrup. Don’t use honey as it has antibacterial properties that could damage your grains.
Dissolve your sugar first before putting in the grains. Put your sugar water inside a jar and place the grains. Cover and allow to stand for at least 24 hours to 48 hours or more. If you want it less sweet, allow to ferment for a few more hours until you achieve your desire taste. After that time, you should have your first dairy-free kefir drink.
But this is just the start. There are many ways to spice up a water kefir drink. It is more versatile than dairy kefir since it only needs sugar to thrive. You can try replacing your sugar water with coconut water and any kind of fruit juice.
For your second batch of fermentation, try adding any fruit flavor or juice as you ferment at room temperature for about 12 hours. Put in your fridge after that time to cool.
What fruit works best with water kefir? It’s really up to you, although people have been saying that the grains are very compatible with banana. Try peach, mango, apple, pomegranate, cranberry, grapes, raspberry, basically anything and everything you have in your kitchen.
Fermenting with ginger juice is also a popular variety. Water kefir is acidic, fizzy and slightly alcoholic, and that means you can make your very own ginger ale kefir. Whatever you do, make sure not to let your grains get in contact with metal or chlorinated water.
My vegan friends are now kefir users. They also love the idea that they can actually eat the extra grains for an additional dose of probiotics. I don’t know if they actually did eat them but that certainly is not a bad idea. Some used the extra grains to garnish a vegetable dish. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you will quickly discover that water kefir is perfect for you and your way of life.
Coconut water is rich in sugar, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, electrolytes, enzymes, amino acids, potassium, sodium, phyto-hormones, and cytokine, which is known to have anti-aging, anti-carcinogenic and anti-thrombotic properties. Coconut water is also packed with Vitamin C and a number of B-complex vitamins, which include riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, foliate, and pyridoxine. Also present are bioactive enzymes (acid phosphatase, catalase, diastase, dehydrogenase, peroxidase, and RNA polymerases) that improve your metabolism and help you digest food.
All of these ingredients are helpful for you, but what kefir really loves is the sugar content. Kefir cultures have a sweet tooth, I suppose, because they also love the lactose (milk sugar) that they eat in milk.
Here’s how you can make your own coconut water kefir. Pour coconut water from 3-4 pieces of coconut. Use a clean glass and then add your kefir grains. Cover your jar to keep it sanitary but make sure to allow air to keep flowing. Place in room temperature and let it ferment for 3 to 4 days. After 4 days, you should have a sour, white, frothy coconut water kefir. Strain to “rescue” the grains for future use, and then place the vinegar-tasting drink inside your fridge for one more day, if you want it chill it before drinking. Finally, mix with soda pop, ginger ale, orange juice, apple cider, vanilla cream, fruit juice or any other flavors that will make your taste buds celebrate. Enjoy your first non-dairy-based kefir!
(But the closest you can get to making kefir beer is water kefir with ginger juice.)
If you are not a fan of apple, you could try fermenting orange, grape or cranberry juice as your non-fairy medium. Kefir will ferment the sugar contents, yes, but you should also be mindful of the health and growth of your kefir grains. When trying a new medium, experiment on just half of your kefir grains so when something goes wrong, you still have half of your okay grains left. Treat your grains as living organisms (because they are). Some growers even talk to their grains. It’s good to experiment but don’t put to waste your precious real kefir grains.
If you want to get really crazy with kefir, you can cook them, too. I have not heard of anyone frying or barbecuing the grains, but the most common practice is the use of kefir whey when making soups, salad dressing and sourdough. If you love to cook, simply get a hold of as many milk or yogurt recipes and substitute them with milk kefir or kefir whey.
Imagine this; enjoy a healthy, power-packed meal consisting of a vegetable salad tossed with kefir-based dressing, sourdough kefir, pasta that was boiled in kefir whey, and a tasty kefir drink.
Finally, kefir amazes me in so many ways and some of them are its resilience, flexibility and applicability. If I feel I’ve had enough of the usual milk kefir, then I can just use other liquid mediums as long as I keep grain cultures thriving in milk stored in my fridge. I can also blend some fruits and create kefir smoothie.
The health benefits remain the same no matter what medium you use. Kefir can calm your nerves, strengthen your immune system, stimulate your brain, boost your energy, slow down the aging process, help you watch your weight, and treat a number of illnesses such as skin rashes, kidney problems, heart troubles, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Kefir is more nutritious than yogurt and definitely so much better for you than artificial beverages, soda pop or beer. Kefir drink is perfect for everyone including children, the elderly and pregnant women.