Water kefir is a culture of bacteria and yeasts which are held in a polysaccharide biofilm matrix which the bacteria themselves create. It is used to culture a probiotic, slightly fizzy drink which can be made either plain or flavored, as a slightly healthier alternative to soft drinks or soda pop.
Water kefir has been around for a long time, with journal articles published on it as far back as 1899. It goes by many names including tibicos, sugar kefir, Japanese water crystals, California bees, African bees, balm of Gilead, ginger beer plant and vinegar bees.
The culture feeds on sugar, producing lactic acid, alcohol (or vinegar if left too long) and carbon dioxide gas, which in a sealed container, will carbonate the resulting beverage.
The bacteria and yeasts which occur in water kefir grains will vary depending upon the climate, hygiene conditions and other factors, but typically include Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida and Kloeckera being most common. Lactobacillus brevis has been identified as the species responsible for the production of the polysaccharide (dextran) that holds the grains in shape.
For the following recipes, use around 1/3 cup of wet water kefir grains. Remove some as necessary when they grow, maintaining between 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup of grains per litre of sugar water.
If desired, you may double the recipes as your kefir grains grow. Of course, you will also need to use a larger glass jar.
Allowing the grains to come into contact with water that is 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius may kill or harm your grains. The kefir culture can survive cool or even cold temperatures, but it has very little tolerance to heat. The ideal brewing temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius.
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Basic water kefir recipe:
- 1 litre or 1 quart of filtered water, a quarter of which has been boiled
- 1/3 cup sugar (raw, white, brown, dark brown, rapidura, muscovado)
- 1/3 cup wet (hydrated) water kefir grains
It is important to either filter the water or leave it to stand for 24 hours to remove the chlorine as otherwise the chlorine will inhibit the growth of the grains.
Place the sugar in the bottom of a glass jar which is 50% bigger than the amount of kefir you are brewing, i.e. 1.5 litres/quarts for the above quantities. Pour the recently boiled water onto the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the remaining cold water, stir, then add the water kefir grains and cover with plastic wrap or place the lid on loosely so that air can escape as it builds up during the fermentation.
Flavoring options which can be added during the fermentation process include:
- banana (good source of potassium)
Allow the brew to sit in a cupboard for 1-3 days depending upon the temperature and how sweet you like it, then decant the liquid into bottles with a half teaspoon of extra sugar per single serve bottle (around 300ml) if you wish the end product to be carbonated, which will require an additional day or two’s fermentation with the lid tightly sealed, otherwise decant and refrigerate or enjoy over ice straight away.
Flavouring options which are best added after the grains have been removed include:
- lemon juice (about 1/4 cup per quart/litre)
- lime juice
- raspberry, blueberry or pomegranate juice (1/2 cup per litre/quart)
- vanilla essence (2-3 tsp per litre/quart makes a cream soda type of beverage)
- sulphite free dried fruit (figs (provides nitrogen to help the grains grow), sultanas, apricots)
- bottled or frozen fruit juice or juice concentrates (add one part juice to four parts water kefir when bottling. Do not add any other sugar at this stage, there is enough sugar in the fruit to create a carbonated beverage).
- pureed fresh fruit (for example peaches, lychees and pears)
- herbal infusion (mix one part strong brewed cold herbal tea with one part water kefir)
Alternatively you can use a juice or coconut water as a culture base instead of sugar water. Clear grape, apple and berry juices are good options.
Remove the kefir grains by straining the liquid through a fine mesh (nylon is good), then add the flavouring to the strained liquid and allow it to ferment at room temperature for a further day before bottling or refrigerating.
Water kefir is a good probiotic alternative for people who don't want to drink dairy-based kefir or tea-based kombucha.
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You can also find more information on kefir and kombucha at Kefir & Kombucha.
This article was originally published at Kefir & Kombucha. Further references and links to the studies mentioned can be found there.
(C) Copyright 2012 Anne Seccombe. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without the express permission of the author. All rights reserved.
Moinas, M.; Bauer, H.; Bauer, Heinz (December 1980). "The structural organization of the Tibi grain as revealed by light, scanning and transmission microscopy". Archives of Microbiology 128 (2): 157–161. doi:10.1007/BF00406153.
Pidoux, M. (June 1989). "The microbial flora of sugary kefir grain (the gingerbeer plant): biosynthesis of the grain fromLactobacillus hilgardii producing a polysaccharide gel". World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 5 (2): 223–38.doi:10.1007/BF01741847.
Lutz, L. (1899). "Recherches biologiques sur la constitution du Tibi". Bull. Soc. Mycol. France 15: 68–72.
Stacey, M.; Stacey, M (November 1938). "A note on the dextran produced from sucrose by Betacoccus arabinosaceous haemolyticus". Biochem J. 32 (11): 68–72. PMC 1264278. PMID 16746831.