Adventures in water kefir!

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Milk kefir I’ve tried a few times, and enjoyed it but would grow tired of it quickly when I’m the only one consuming it, plus it’s a lot of milk to go through on a daily basis!

Then I heard of water kefir. There are actually separate water kefir grains, but you can also convert milk kefir grains to use in water. So I tried it!

What is kefir? It’s a fermented drink (either milk or water with sugar/fruit juice) made with kefir ‘grains’, which are symbiotic cultures of yeast and bacteria. Milk kefir tastes a lot like yogurt. Though kefir is much higher in calcium, b vitamins, protein, and probiotics. Water kefir is made with sugar water and either fruit juice or dried fruit. And it’s usually carbonated from the fruit sugars, like soda. Water kefir is fun because there are endless flavor possibilities, and using different fruits adds a variety of other health benefits as well.

Kefir is a ‘live’ food, with living organisms (probiotics) that are extremely beneficial to your gut and therefore your digestive and immune systems. So it’s good for indigestion, it’s immune boosting, and just good for you in general. I’m leaning more and more about how good raw and fermented foods are and how important it is to build up your gut flora and microbiome with good bacteria. But that’s a whole other post!

Converting milk kefir grains to water
Here’s the method I followed, loosely based off of several different sets of instructions I found doing a google search.

  • rinse milk out of kefir grains
  • dissolve 1/4 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar) in 1 quart of water. I heated 1/2 cup to help dissolve the sugar, then let cool to room temperature
  • add kefir grains, cover jar with cheese cloth or coffee filter and let sit at room temperature for two days
  • drain and discard sugar water, then repeat with a new batch of sugar water 3x
  • the fourth batch is ready for the ‘second ferment’ with fruit and to be consumed

Pretty simple! Takes about a week, but pretty minimal work involved. The first batch of water kefir I made after converting them tasted a lot like yogurt, especially since I just flavored it with vanilla extract. But each batch since has lost more of the yogurt flavor, so I think it’s probably just leftover from the milk.

Making water kefir
With my converted grains, I’ve been following this regimen, again a collaboration of a few different sets of instructions I found. And my grains seem to be very happy!

  • dissolve 1/4 cup of sugar in 1 quart of water. Again, I’m using coconut sugar, and I also started out just making half a quart at a time, cause my grains were smaller.
  • First ferment: add kefir grains, let sit at room temperature covered with a cheese cloth or coffee filter for 24-48 hours. The longer you let it sit, the more sugar will get eaten by the bacteria, therefore will taste less sweet and more tart/fermented.
  • Second ferment: remove kefir grains, and add fruit juice or dried fruit of your choice. (This is actually optional, you can do the second ferment without fruit then add flavoring after, though without the fruit you lose the carbonation.) Seal the jar, then let sit at room tempurature for another 24-48 hours.
  • refrigerate before drinking, and if it’s carbonated be sure not to open until your ready to drink it, otherwise it’ll go flat.

I’ve had fun experimenting with different fermenting times, different fruits and juices and with different amounts of them. So far my favorite has been with dried apples! And I just made a very yummy batch with blueberry pomegranate juice. Apparently using raisins will make it taste like Dr Pepper, but when I tried I suppose I didn’t use enough raisins cause it didn’t taste like much. I had also let that batch ferment longer so it wasn’t and sweet and almost a little tart. Like I said, I’m experimenting!

Here’s a list of what I’ve tried so far and what I want to try next:

  • Vanilla: after first ferment don’t add fruit, refrigerate without a second ferment, and add vanilla just before drinking. Tasted like cream soda!
  • Lemon: after first ferment don’t add fruit, I let it ferment a second time, then refrigerated and added lemon juice before drinking. Tasted like a tart lemonade! *An important note about citrus juices, only add just before drinking, don’t use for fermenting! Apparently citrus does too good a job at fermenting and will develop non-tasty yeasty bits in the drink and it can get a slimy consistency.
  • Fig: my first try with fruit I added two dried figs to half a quart of kefir for the second ferment, and I wasn’t impressed. Probably could have used just one fig, or shorter ferment periods.
  • Apple: YUM. This is the first flavor I’ve done twice! Add 6-8 dried apple slices per quart for second ferment. What amazed me is the flavor was almost like carmel apple!
  • Blueberry Pomegranate: this was the first batch I tried with juice and it turned out great. Add 8oz or 1/2cup of juice per quart of kefir for second ferment. I only drank half then left the rest in the fridge another night and it got less sweet and more tart, so I just added another half cup of juice to the leftover glass and that tasted great too.
  • Raisin: apparently this tastes like Dr. Pepper, but I’ll let you know when my second batch is done. First time I tried it I only used about 1/4 cup of raisins per quart, and it didn’t taste like much at all. I’ll probably try doubling it next time!
  • Ginger: haven’t tried it yet, but supposedly makes a good ginger beer! You can use dried or crystallized ginger for the second ferment.
  • Cranberry: for cranberry soda, try adding dried cranberries for the second ferment!

The possibilities are endless. Think about fruit combinations like ginger pear, or cherries and raisins for a cherry Dr. Pepper!

I think my preferred fermentation time is to let the first ferment sit for 24 hours, then let the second fermentation sit for 48 hours. From what I can tell it maximises the sweetness, flavor, and carbonation.

A finished batch will also last several days in the fridge, though it will slowly keep fermenting. One thing to be careful of is letting a sealed jar build up too much carbonation so that it explodes! Shouldn’t happen unless you leave it sitting out way too long though.

A trick when it tastes more tart than you’d like, is like I discovered with the blueberry pomegranate juice, if you add a bit of fruit juice to the finished batch it sweetens it right up. It thins out the carbonation, but is a great fix if it fermented too long for your taste.

Just do a google search for ‘water kefir flavors’ and you’ll come up with quite a few nice lists of ideas! Cultures for Health has a lot of helpful info. I’ll probably write again when I get some actual water kefir grains to try, but for now I’m pretty impressed with my converted milk kefir grains!

Update:
The raisin kefir sure enough tastes oddly like Dr. Pepper! Still tastes like raisins, but also quite like Dr. Pepper.
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