Healthy Alternative To Soda: How To Make Water Kefir

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We all know soda isn't healthy, but giving it up is not always easy.

Are there any healthy alternatives to soda? You betcha! Water kefir, my favorite beverage, reminds me of cream soda with a slight tang. Personally, I prefer water kefir over kombucha. Both of these beverages are so enjoyable I have continued to brew them while living in our RV, where space is tight and everything we brought had to be "worth it." Water kefir and kombucha made the cut.

What is water kefir?

Water kefir is fermented sugar water. Translucent and crystal-like in appearance, water kefir grains, or tibicos, are a symbiotic collection of bacteria and yeast that eat the sugar in water, creating a fermented beverage laden with healthy bacteria, better known as probiotics.

Is water kefir healthy?

There are numerous health claims attributed to water kefir—everything from clearer skin to fighting cancer—but very little research has been done to support those claims. The biggest benefit I see is it gives your gut a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and, like I said, it's a tasty alternative to soda. Once I started drinking kombucha and water kefir, my soda cravings virtually disappeared.

How do I make water kefir?

A friend taught me how to make water kefir a few years ago. Her directions gave me great results and I have stuck with them since.

Water Kefir
Filtered or Spring Water *
1/4 Cup of Turbinado Sugar
1/4 Cup of Kefir Grains
1/4 Tsp Organic Unsulphured Molasses (not necessary but the minerals help keep the grains "healthy")
*Do not use reverse osmosis or distilled water. The water should contain some natural minerals.

First, dissolve the sugar and molasses in the water in a glass container. (Nowadays, I rarely wait for the sugar to completely dissolve and it turns out fine.)

Next, add the grains. Cover your grains with a cloth secured by a rubberband or a loose plastic lid. If you have a metal lid (like I do), cover it with a napkin, and LOOSELY close the lid. Let it sit 24-48 hours at room temperature before repeating the process.

I store my water kefir in the refrigerator in an "old fashioned" bear bottle. Often I will leave it out on the counter overnight to build up carbonation before putting it in the refrigerator. (Once I fermented it in the closed beer bottle. Bad idea. When we opened it it sprayed out so hard that it hit the ceiling. I was lucky the bottle was strong or it might have exploded in my hands. Make sure the kefir can "breathe.")


(photo by Janetha)

If I'm brewing more than one mason jar at a time I use large bottles with pressure wire lids. I have no idea what you actually call these sort bottles but you can buy them from Ikea. Simple dimple. However if you Google around, you may end up with a few questions.

Do I need to use a plastic strainer?

Most will say you do. I didn't have a plastic strainer, and since I'm into minimalism, I didn't want to go out and buy something else, so I used a fine metal strainer I already owned. I should say I don't let my grains sit in the metal strainer (but I doubt they would be hurt if I did). I simply strain the water kefir into a container and dump the grains into a bowl while I'm dissolving my sugar. I've been doing this for almost two years now, and have never had a problem.

How long do water grains last?

My understanding is that if taken care of they will last indefinitely as they multiply.

How do you "take care" of water kefir grains?

I try to make sure I change the water (start a new batch) every 48 hours. However, sometimes I forget and they ferment too long and run out of food. This can damage the grains. At one point, I noticed my grains weren't multiplying, so I strained them and washed them by stirring them (rather vigorously) around in filtered water. Then I put them a quart-sized mason jar full of filtered water with 1/4 cup of turbinado sugar and 1/4 tsp of molasses. I let the kefir grains "rest" in the refrigerator for about a week before I rinsed them and started a new batch. Immediately, the grains started multiplying again and making delicious kefir.

What do you do with extra grains?

Since healthy water kefir grains multiply, you will be left with extra grains. I use those grains in smoothies, give them away, and sometimes eat a spoonful plain. I know...the thought of it kinda grosses me out too, but they don't really have any taste.

How do I know if my water kefir grains are "working"?

You will see bubbles rising up from the grains and the kefir will have a slightly fermented taste. Try the sugar water mixture before adding the grains by pouring a little into a separate cup (you don't want any contamination) and then try it again after 24-48 hours, and you should taste the difference. It also changes color.

Do you rinse your grains each time?

No, I'm lazy so I rinse them about every other batch.

Can you flavor water kefir?

Yes. After the initial fermentation, I sometimes remove the grains and add dried fruit. I'll let it sit on the counter for an extra night or two. I've also heard you can use vanilla extract or lemon but I haven't tried it.

Where do I buy water kefir grains?

Personally, I have never bought water kefir grains. I got mine from a friend. My suggestion would be to start on Facebook and ask if any of your friends make water kefir. You never know what your friends might have brewing behind closed doors. I got my first kombucha scoby from someone on Facebook—I had no idea they were into health. If that doesn't work, you could always look on Craigslist. Lastly, I've seen them for sale on the internet but since I have never bought them onlin,e I can't vouch for any of the website. If anyone has purchased them online feel free to share your source.

Hugs and High Fives,
Jenn

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