We’re loving learning the techniques of getting living foods into our diet, and one of the easiest to master is the fast-turnaround ferment of water kefir (also known as tibicos).
This yummo probiotic soda requires very little effort, minimal waiting time, and is just asking for some experimentation with the huge range of flavors you can work into it.
And of course, it is packed with so much good bacterial and probiotic action – good for your gut and immune system.
To make water kefir you’ll need to get your hands on some water kefir grains (not to be confused with milk kefir grains which make kefir from, you guessed it, milk).
Kefir grains have a tendency to multiply with each batch, so if you have a friend that has some they’re using, ask if they will happily share their excess with you. Or see the links at the bottom for some alternate leads.
Once you’ve got the grains – which are actually not a type of ‘grain’ at all but a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) – in your hot little hands you’re ready to get going.
Besides the basic sugar and water needed, adding in an extra ingredient like a few dried apricots of figs will aid the fermentation as the kefir grains are happy to have a bit of diversity beside the pure sugar to feed on.
What you’ll need:
- Water kefir grains, at least a few tablespoonsful
- 1 litre of unchlorinated water
- White or raw sugar, to taste
- Dried apricots or figs
- Small amount of mature water kefir from a previous batch
How to make the kefir:
- Dissolve the sugar in the water. If needed mix the sugar with a bit of hot water first to dissolve then mix in the rest as cold water. The sugar water should be cool for when the grains are added to keep them healthy.
- Add your dried fruit then, add your kefir grains and mature solution.
- Leave uncapped but covered with a cloth and rubber band for one to two days – sip it as you go to get a feel for what 1 day as opposed to 2 day water kefir tastes like. You can also make your water kefir in a closed jar however this will increase the alcohol content (ever so slightly).
- After this time pour 4/5 of the fermented kefir into a new jar or bottle while removing the kefir grains with a strainer. Keep these aside and start another batch with the 1/5 of liquid that you didn’t decant.
- At this stage, it’s second ferment flavouring time! Take the decanted kefir and add another spoonful of sugar (to taste) plus/or the flavours you want – juice, slices of fruit, berries, herbs, ginger, whatever.
Cap the bottle and leave on the bench another 12 – 24 hours till it’s as fizzy and flavoured as you like it. Then drink, or refrigerate to slow ferment.
Milkwood’s fave family friendly 2nd ferment flavours:
(based on 750 ml jars)
- A good splash of apple juice, half an apple cut into slices, a good pinch of grated ginger + 2 teaspoons of sugar
- A whole lemon cut into bits + 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Half an orange cut into bits (no sugar)
- Half an orange cut into bits and a small handful of blueberries + 1 teaspoon of sugar
- One plum cut into bits and the contents of a passionfruit
The flavour possibilities on this second ferment stage are endless.
Might I recommend starting your family off with a simple lemon and sugar combo if you’re wanting a smooth and happy uptake of water kefir. It’s prettymuch like home-made lemonade once you get it right.
From there, reduce sugar gradually and get funky with your flavours.
A note about that sugar:
Until I got it, I was a bit suspicious of water kefir, because that seemed like an awful lot of sugar to be scooping into our daily diets. But the sugar that you put in is the food for the kefir scoby – it literally eats it, converting the sugar to the tangy ferment that is water kefir.
So at the end of it all, you end up with very little actual sugar in the final product. Of course, if you like it sweeter, you can add extra. It’s up to you.
Can I use other sweeteners?
Well, in theory, yes you can. But might we recommend that you incorporate these into the second ferment stage, so that those alternate sweeteners don’t come into direct contact with the water kefir grains.
This is because the water kefir scoby has evolved on cane sugar and water, meaning that in this selective environment (water and cane sugar) this scoby can be relied apon to do its thing, out-competing all other yeasts and bacterias in the mix and creating a safe and awesome brew.
If you vary the ingredients of that selective environment, say with coconut water or agave syrup, you will necessarily alter and evolve the scoby.
Which might not be a bad thing, it’s just that it won’t be the same one that has proved dependable and safe for many generations of drinkers.
If you add alternate sweeteners to the second ferment, however, you’re fine on this front, as the resultant brew will be entirely consumed, and not re-entering the fermentation cycle.
Water kefir is one of the many living food techniques covered in our new Fermentation Workshops – a one day hands-on affair with lots of take-home cultures to get you started.
Generally excellent fermentation links:
- Sandor Katz’s fermenting forum
- Fermented Fruits and Vegetables – a global perspective: Mr. Mike Battcock and Dr. Sue Azam-Ali – great document put out by the FAO
- Article on Sudan’s Fermented Food Heritage by Hamid A. Dirar
- Dom’s kefir in-sights – a stellar stash of Kefir info
- The Art of Fermentation – Sandor Katz
- Wild Fermentation – Sandor Katz
- Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods – Keith Steinkraus
- The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition – Bill Mollison
Accessing water kefir grains in Australia:
Try your local permaculture networks, sites like Gumtree or eBay, the Rejoice in Life site where people share their excess, or purchase some from sites like The Natural Therapy Shop. If you’re on facebook, see pinkfarm’s cultured community list of ferment swappers too.
If you have any more ferment-swap leads, comment below and we’ll add them here!
We’d also love to hear what your favourite flavor combo is, if you’ve already got a batch of water kefir going on your bench?