I’ve been doing some pretty interesting kitchen chemistry experiments as of late. Glass bottles full of mysterious liquids topped with paper towels and rubber bands populate my kitchen counter. Lucky house guests get to try my creations, and most seem to like them. It all began when I got water kefir grains from a friend. These fermented drinks are good for you, tasty and, can revolutionize your intestinal health!
So, what is this kefir, you might ask?
Kefir is a fermented probiotic beverage created by kefir grains feeding on a sugar source. Kefir grains are a bacterial yeast culture, similar to sourdough starter. Water kefir grains, which look like translucent crystals, feeds on the glucose in sugar or maple syrup.
Kefir is full of probiotics, B vitamins, and minerals. It is inexpensive, and easy to make, though kefir grains are a bit like house pets, as they require feeding every 24-48 hours.
The process for making water kefir is as follows:
- In a glass jar, combine a sugar water solution of one quart water to one quarter cup sugar (some substitutions can be made, such as maple syrup, brown sugar, or sucanat, but avoid honey, as its antibacterial properties could kill the grains) and mix well. I use filtered water, though the ideal water source has been debated, as tap water can provide minerals but chlorine can affect the grains.
- Add 2 tablespoons of kefir grains.
- Dried fruit (I like to use 2 prunes) and lemon juice can be included to add minerals to the kefir.
- Cover the jar with a paper towel and rubber band, and leave the grains at room temperature for roughly 24-48 hours (the optimal time will depend on your kitchen temperature and humidity, though the fermented kefir should taste less sweet than the sugar water solution you began with).
- After the first ferment is complete, strain the kefir using a plastic strainer, and place the fermented kefir into another glass bottle, tightening it with a lid, and storing it at room temperature. Thus begins the second ferment, which will allow the kefir to become naturally bubbly. Juice, fruit, or other flavorings or extracts can be added at this stage. However, I like to keep my kefir bottled plain and then add a splash of juice when I’m ready to drink it, as I find it becomes vinegary if left to ferment with the juice, as the cultures in the kefir continue to feed on the sugar in the juice. The finished kefir can also be refrigerated or bottled using Grolsch-style bottles.
- With the strained grains, begin a new batch of sugar water solution.
- The kefir will become more fermented and less sugary over time, so if you like a less sweet and more vinegary taste, you can let the second ferment last longer. Water kefir is generally less than 1% alcohol, but the longer it ferments, the more alcoholic it will become. In my house, we don’t let it sit longer than a few days.
When gifting/swapping grains:
Package 2 tablespoons of grains in sugar water in a small glass or plastic container with an airtight lid. Since the small amount of sugar won’t be enough to feed the grains for more than a day, recipients should either stick the container in the fridge until they’re ready to begin fermenting or to put the grains in fresh sugar water that day