A new kind of ferment: Water Kefir

Introducing the Xavier middle schoolers to fermentation reinvigorated my own interest in it. I got a great book from the library: Home Fermentation by Katherine Green. I’ve been trying all kinds of new things from this including fermented chia seed jam, sprouting seeds and water kefir.

I wanted to share this last one with you. You may have heard of milk kefir, which produces a yogurt like drink. Water kefir is a similar process but you feed the culture sugar water instead of lactose (milk sugars). It produces an all natural soda with tons of health benefits from fermentation.

You need a starter culture to get your kefir going. I purchased a pack of dehydrated grains from Jungle Jim’s here in Eastgate. If you’re going there, look in the refrigerated part of the natural foods section.

It takes a couple days to rehydrate the grains but it’s a simple process of feeding the grains sugar water.

Once they are ready to go, you strain out the grains with a small fine mesh strainer. Make a bigger batch of sugar water (about 1/2 cup sugar to 8 cups water) and add the grains. I put mine in a half gallon mason jar. Cover and let it ferment for about two days.

A note on sugars – initially I used white sugar but then I read that the grains thrive on darker, more natural sugars or with the addition of grapes for natural sugar. The batch in this photo is made with brown sugar.

You can see the grains on the bottom.

After the two days is up, strain out your grains, saving your water kefir to bottle, and prepare a new batch of sugar water for them. Immediately add the grains to the new sugar water. Remember your culture is alive and needs to be fed!

This is the fun part: flavoring.

You can divide your prepared kefir into a couple smaller mason jars and add different things for flavoring. My first batch I split into two quart jars. To one I added about 2″ fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, and a drizzle of honey. To the other, I added a couple sprigs of thyme, half a lemon sliced and a drizzle of honey. Cap the jars and let them sit another day or two.

When ready, strain out the solids and bottle your flavored kefir in brewers bottles. Let them sit at room temp another day or two. This final step builds up the carbonation.

I made the mistake of opening up one of my bottles in the car, not realizing just how fizzy it would get. It was like shaking a bottle of pop then opening it – foam and sticky liquid everywhere!

With my next bottle, I stuck it in the fridge for a few hours to slow the fermentation. Then when I popped the lid, I opened it slowly, over the sink, letting out some of the carbon dioxide before opening it all the way – much better!

I enjoyed this ginger soda with my lunch – satisfyingly sweet and bubbly but also full of good gut bacteria and probiotics from the fermentation process.

What are your favorite flavor combinations? I’ll have to keep up with making this stuff every few days to ensure my grains stay healthy and happy so I appreciate your suggestions on flavorings to try!

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