About 3 years ago, my friend yoyo stopped into the coffee shop and gave me a jar of water kefir grains and a little 3 x5 card scribble with 3 lines of instructions. i was so excited! dylan and i had bought some grains a year earlier at the fermentation festival in occidental, our batch was a failure, then we were unable to find any info on the subject and eventually the grains “died.”
Fast forward to now: a google search lands you all sorts of info, companies like cultures for health actually sell the water kefir grains and we are in the long time habit of making a gallon every other day.
What is water kefir? for starters, water kefir is a dairy free, gluten free, pro biotic beverage filled with enzymes, lactic acid, minerals and macro-nutrients. water kefir "grains" feed off of the carbohydrates in sugar (converting glucose to fructose), releasing carbon dioxide (this creates the carbonation) and creating a barely sweet, fizzy beverage -hello delicious nutritious soda pop! kefir grains are of two varieties, the milk and the water. its worth noting that milk kefir grains feed off the proteins in milk creating a fizzy, tangy, fermented beverage.
When making your own kefir, there are infinite possibilities! i’ve run the gamut of experimenting with sugars, teas, juices, roots, leaves, medicinals and dried and fresh fruit. below i give my recipe for what i have found to be the easiest to make and maintain on a regular basis. get the grains from a friend or order a starter online. if you order grains online, i would follow the included instructions until you have them re-hydrated and growing. we get our 1/2 gallon mason jars from our local hardware store, i’ve seen them elsewhere, but you might have to ask for a special order. the last three things to remember: 1. honey has its own bacteria which inhibit the kefir grains, not a good choice. 2. chlorine in your water will kill the kefir bacteria, if your tap water is chlorinated, get filtered water. 3. you don't want your grains or cultured water to come into contact with reactive metal, like aluminum. stainless steel, glass and ceramic are great.
water kefir - tibicos - cultured water
3 Tbl - 1/2 C kefir grains
1/3 cup evaporate cane sugar, rapadura or sucanat
2 - 1/2 gallon mason jars
1/2 gallon good water, filtered, non-chlorinated or 1/2 gallon cool tea*
Add your kefir grains to a half gallon clean mason jar, fill the jar 2/3 full with your good water and set aside. meanwhile, heat 1 cup of water on the stove, it doesn’t need to boil, just get it hot.
Add the hot water and the sugar to a heat proof glass and stir to dissolve the sugar. now pour the sugar water into the kefir jar and fill the rest of the way with water, leaving 1” of head space at the top of the jar.
Cap tightly and set out on your counter, out of the sun, for 24 - 48 hours. i use a the plastic caps w/ a regular cap tucked inside. this creates a nice seal and eliminates rust on the lip of the jar caused by using the canning bands. ideal temperature here is between 60 and 75 degrees. capping tightly will build up pressure, which is the idea to the carbonation but, be mindful. i will occasionally loosen the cap slowly and watch for bubbles. if many come rushing up in the jar, quickly tighten back down, then repeat a few minutes later. it is possible to build up too much pressure and cause a mess while removing the lid (imagine fizzy kefir bubbling out all over the counter! some folks just cover their kefir jars with cheese cloth, making them less fizzy in the long run but requiring less attention as well. its an option, not my my style.
After your grains have cultured the water between 24-48 hours, you'll want to strain out the water into a fresh clean jar. this takes some practice as you'll not want to lose any of the precious grains. once strained, you'll start from the top with your jar that now has just the grains in it.
With the jar that has your kefir water you can add herbs, tea bags, slices of fresh fruit or dried fruit to flavor it. you can either add directly to the jar or into a muslin tea bag. i like to add 1 Tbl hibiscus petals, 1 Tbl red rooibos, and 3-5 sprigs of fresh mint. cap and let it steep for 1-12 hours before straining off. place the finished kefir in the fridge. enjoy cold! stay tuned for more of our favorite flavor recipes!
*if you wish, brew a strong quart of your favorite tea, add the 1/3 cup of sugar to the tea after you have steeped it, while it is still hot. once your sweetened tea has cooled to room temperature add it to the jar with the kefir grains and top with water, following the rest of the instructions.
Finally, if you need to go away for a week or take a break from your kefir you’ll need to put the grains on stand by, slow the fermentation way down. here’s how: strain all the liquid off. transfer all your grains to a quart mason jar, add 1/2 cup sugar, cover with water to 1 inch from the top, shake well to dissolve the sugar, cap and refrigerate. i’ve had grains last as long as 2 months this way (not entirely recommended). once you are ready to get back to kefir-ing, follow the recipe above. after 12 - 24 hours, strain off the liquid and make a new batch, continue until your grains are active again, which can be between 1 and 3 batches. the idea here is to feed the grains more than normal to jump start the production. i don’t drink the first few batches of the water kefir, waiting until i know the grains are back to work.