Fermented foods and beverages are experiencing a resurgence right now. The Paleo and Weston A Price Foundation traditional foods movements seem to have re popularised them and made them more mainstream, all due to the benefits of fermentation on the health of your gut. Cultures have been traditionally fermenting foods for taste, preservation and health for years.
Fermentation happens when carbohydrates convert to alcohols, carbon dioxide and natural acids due to the presence of some form of bacteria or yeast, a process known as lacto-fermentation. When done in a certain way with beneficial bacteria, these foods and drinks can have a number of benefits such as boosting the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which in turn can support effective digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food you eat. Traditionally fermented foods also have good levels of food enzymes and B-vitamins, great for supporting the bodies energy levels and dealing with stress. Plus they taste great! If you are a bit hooked on fizzy drinks, water kefir could be a fantastic health promoting alternative!
Good examples of fermented foods include beer, wine, yoghurt and breads, although not all of these are very health promoting! Other less well know foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, both fermented vegetables, and beverages like kombucha, diary kefir and water kefir are more healthy and are slowly starting to become more mainstream. I know that in the States kombucha is fairly easy to get hold of and I’ve even started to see it pop up in some health food shops here.
I’ve experimented with making sauerkraut in the past but had some mixed results so I thought I’d turn to the liquid side of things. I thought about trying kombucha, but those big scooby mushrooms looked like they might take a bit more care and management that I can give at the moment, so I decided to give kefir a try!
Water kefir grains can easily be purchased online. I bought mine for just £3 on eBay here. I looked for some simple how to guides on how to make it, but to be honest I didn’t find any of them that straight forward or using UK measurements (although I’ve just found this great guide on Crunchy Betty) so I thought I’d share my own very simple process. This will make just under 1 litre of water kefir which is vegan, paleo and gluten free.
- 2 big glass jars – I used a 1 litre Kilner jar and then a couple of old glass food jars
- A plastic strainer or colander
- A plastic jug
- Plastic measuring spoons
- A piece of muslin or a sheet of kitchen roll (I used the kitchen roll)
- An elastic band or hair tie (I just used one of my plastic hair ties)
- 3-4 tbsp of water kefir grains
- 1 litre of boiled and cooled or mineral water
- 3 tbsp of natural unrefined organic sugar
- Optional – 1 tbsp of coconut sugar, gives it that golden colour, or an extra tbsp of sugar
- Additional flavourings – more on that in a moment
Step 1- First fermentation
Place the water kefir grains in your big jar. Add the water and sugar and give it a stir with a plastic spoon. Place a sheet of kitchen roll or muslin over the mouth of the jar and secure with an elastic band. Leave in a warm spot in your kitchen for up to 48 hours. For your first batch, I would leave for that long, then subsequent batches, you probably won’t need as long. If you have a smell of the top of the jar, it should smell a little vinegary.
After the first fermentation time, get your plastic jug out and place the colander on top. Strain the kefir grains, give them a rinse, and set aside to start again at Step 1. Pour the strained water kefir into a jar that has a lid and move on to the second fermentation.
Step 3 – Second fermentation
This is where you can add some flavour! Add the flavouring options you wish from below, add to the jar ensuring there is a small gap at the top and tightly fit the lid. Pop it back into it’s warm place to ferment for 24 – 36 hours. This is where it get’s it’s fizz!
Place the jar of flavoured water kefir into the fridge to chill and then enjoy!
- It might sound like a lot of sugar, but remember that most of it is metabolised by the grains to grown and produce the good bacteria
- I actually used water from the tap for my first batch and they survived, but boiled and cooled water is better!
- Don’t use metal utensils as the water kefir grains don’t seem to like it.
- You can literally just keep on making water kefir over and over using those grains. I have found that mine have multiplied so I might have to give some away!
- As with all new potent foods, I wouldn’t start by drinking a tonne of this stuff. I started with about 1 cup / 250 mls and then slowly increased.
- There is a small amount of alcohol in water kefir, but brewed this way it is less than 1%
- This article has a fantastic water kefir FAQ if you have any further questions, including how to store the grains when you don’t want to be brewing them.
At step 3 you can add flavour to your water kefir. There’s loads of options, but here are some of the ones I’ve tried:
- Strawberry – add 1/4 cup of pureed strawberries
- Ginger beer – add some minced fresh ginger, I used about a thumb sized piece
- Blueberry – add a few fresh or frozen blueberries
- Check out that post on Crunchy Betty for more flavour ideas, I love the idea of the one with apple pieces!
Keeping it super simple
If you want a mega simple option, use coconut water. You use this from the start and you don’t need any sugar. Just let the coconut water come to room temperature, add your water kefir grains and follow the rest of the steps. You don’t need to add the sugar as the water kefir grains will use the natural sugars present in the coconut water. You don’t have to add flavour at step 3, although it will probably taste better if you do.
So there you have it, very cheap and straight forward to make water kefir!
Have you tried any fermented beverages before? Would you give water kefir a try?