Water kefir, also known as Japanese water crystals, sugar kefir grains or tibicos, is a probiotic rich, carbonated beverage believed to have originated in Mexico.
It is made by adding water kefir grains to a sugar solution, fruit juice or coconut water. The term “grains” refers to their appearance and are not actually grains but rather a matrix of friendly bacteria and beneficial yeasts that work symbiotically to consume the sugars in the liquid. The grains transform the sugary water into a nutritious beverage rich in lactic acid bacteria, B vitamins, lactic acid, enzymes, minerals with a very low amount of ethanol alcohol. A properly fermented beverage should have only 0.5% alcohol with less than 20% of the original sugar amount remaining most of which is fructose. Fermentation can take between 1-4 days depending on the temperature. The longer the grains are allowed to ferment, the less sugar content in the end product.
For vegans or many who are unable to tolerate dairy, water kefir is a way to consume a probiotic rich food without having to eat cultured milk products like yogurt or milk kefir. Water kefir is more diverse than yogurt but less concentrated. Where most commercially made yogurt only contains 1-2 strains of lactic acid bacteria, water kefir can contain up to 32 different strains of bacteria and 12 strains of beneficial yeasts. The number and type of bacteria and yeast can vary between kefir grains.
Some of the benefits of consuming water kefir can include the following:
Kefir grains are reusable and can last many years. The grains are simply strained out of the liquid and placed in a fresh batch of sugar solution. In the right conditions, the grains will proliferate, sometimes doubling during one fermentation period. An overabundance of grains can be eaten themselves, blended into smoothies or even fed to animals.
(makes 2 quarts)
Boil 1 cup of water and mix in sugar to dissolve. Add remaining cold water. Water should be close to room temperature. If not, wait until it is cooler.
Add minerals, ginger and water kefir grains to the cooled down sugar solution.
Water kefir is best made with an airlock system but a tightly capped jar burped daily will work.
Let set at room temp, ideally between 68-72F, 20-22C, for 24-48 hours.
Strain kefir grains and ginger. Discard ginger. Use grains to begin a new batch.
Water kefir is ready to drink as is or can be flavored with fruit, fruit juice and herbs. For an example in flavoring, try this Watermelon Mint Water Kefir:
Once the initial fermentation of water kefir is complete, adding fruits and herbs for a second ferment can improve the flavor, add more nutrients to the beverage and increase the carbonation.
In an airtight vessel like a swing top bottle or wire bail jar, combine all ingredients.
Cover tightly and set in a warm place for 12-24 hours.
Water kefir can be quite active when fruit is added to it so to avoid an explosion, check frequently.
Place in the refrigerator to chill before serving.