Probiotic is a term that has gotten a lot of press lately, because there have been a lot of studies showing how much they help to maintain a healthy weight, how they keep our brain functioning optimally, and how our digestion vastly improves with the addition of probiotics into our diet. You can get probiotics from things like yogurt, sauerkraut, aged cheeses and the subject of today's post: water kefir.
Water kefir is a probiotic beverage that is made by SCOBYs (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) that look like little grains fermenting a sugar-water-fruit liquid which results in a slightly carbonated, refreshing drink. It's basically like a probiotic soda! Most people have heard of kombucha, and while water kefir is similar, they do have their differences:
Kombucha is made with a scoby (often called the "mother") that looks like a mushroom which lives off tea and sugar. It "eats" the caffeine and sugar which then produces the probiotic strains during the fermentation process. For me, the taste of kombucha can vary wildly from really good to tasting basically like vinegar. Nutritionally, kombucha is used more as a detoxifying tonic than a general tool for health.
Water kefir (also called Tibicos) is made with a bunch of tiny scobys (often called "grains") that live at the bottom of the fermentation vessel and eat only sugar to produce the probiotic strains. Before a second fermentation, the result of the fermentation tastes a bit bland, but with a second fermentation the taste becomes slightly sweet and tangy, especially depending on what kind of juice you use. Nutritionally, water kefir is used more as a general health tool: it boosts the immune system, colonizes the digestive tract with probiotics, and does not contain caffeine. It is said that 1 tablespoon of water kefir equals an entire bottle of probiotics.
SCOBYs (aka grains) doing their thing
I first found out about water kefir when a friend offered to share some of her grains with me (you can also buy the grains here if you don't know anyone that has some to share). At the time I was in school plus working and it was hard for me to find the time to keep up with the cycle of making kombucha, so I was excited when she told me how little effort it takes to make water kefir. Once I started making it for myself, I was hooked! It is so easy and takes only about 5-10 minutes each time you start a new batch and all you need is sugar, water and juice.
Another thing I love about making water kefir is that they are super resilient. You can go on vacation without having to find a babysitter for them (when I was away for 3 weeks recently, I just put my jars in the refrigerator and they were absolutely fine when I got home). Water kefir is also open to experimentation when doing the fermentation: Wellness Mama has some fun variations for second fermentation (including ones that end up tasting like cream soda or Dr. Pepper!), and you can switch the base of just water for other things like coconut water. I have so much fun experimenting with different flavors and variations, without having to put too much effort into it, and without worrying that I am killing the probiotics or hurting the little SCOBYs.
I tried my hand (with the help of Mr. Domestique) at a little video to show you how easy it is to make water kefir. Be kind, it is our first attempt! I realized afterwards that I didn't give too many specifics about the process in the video (like how much sugar to use, etc), so you can refer to the recipe below for all those details.
***Update: You can also hear me talk about making water kefir on the Paris Paysanne Podcast!
Basic Water Kefir
What you will need:
Water kefir grains (which you can get from a friend or buy them here)
Sugar (a good rule of thumb is to use about ¼ cup sugar per quart of water)
A clean jar for the first fermentation
A clean bottle or jar that completely seals, like a grolsch bottle
Juice of your choice
Dissolve the sugar in the clean jar with a bit of hot water. Once dissolved, fill the rest of the jar with filtered room-temperature water
Add the water kefir grains (make sure they are already hydrated if you have purchased dehydrated ones)
Cover with a towel and rubber band to keep anything from dropping into the sugar water
Leave on the counter for at least 24-48 hours, and longer if you want a stronger tasting end result. I have left mine in this stage for a couple of weeks and it tasted fine, so don't stress too much about your timing. However, if you are wanting your grains to multiply quickly, stick to a 2-3 day fermentation as this will encourage them to reproduce
Once the fermentation is complete, strain the liquid into your sealable bottle using a non-reactive mesh strainer making sure to leave some room at the top of the bottle. Set the grains in the strainer aside
Top off the sealable bottles with the juice you have chosen and make sure you seal the bottles tightly. Leave the bottles on the counter until you see bubbles starting to rise from the bottom of the bottle, usually about 3-4 days at least. Once you start seeing bubbles, you can start drinking the kefir! Keep the bottles in the refrigerator and the kefir will keep for up to a month
To start the process again, dissolve sugar in another clean jar with some hot water and follow the directions above again
Let me know if you decide to try to make your own water kefir!