I had never heard of water kefir until Christmas of 2012. My sister-in-law introduced me to it, and it has become a much-loved staple in our house.
Water kefir is a probiotic drink. Basically, fermented sugar water. What’s so great about probiotics? According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, “clinical studies have established that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women. …Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.”
Water kefir is a tasty way to add probiotics to your diet. And it’s even cheap to make. Way less expensive than yogurt or wine and with only a tiny fraction of alcohol (usually significantly less than 1% – source). It’s also dairy-free, so it’s great for those who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to milk.
During the 48-hour fermentation process, about 80% of the sugar gets consumed by the kefir “grains” (a mix of bacteria and yeasts), leaving only about 20% of the sugar in the final product in the form of straight fructose. (Source)
So how do you make water kefir? You just need water kefir grains, water, a brewing vessel (i.e. glass jar), a container or individual bottles for your finished product, and sugar. For detailed instructions, click here. Basically, though, you put sugar water and your kefir grains in a jar and let it sit on your counter for 48 hours. Then you strain off the water into another container or individual drinking bottles and let it sit for another 24 hours to build up natural carbonation. You can add flavorings either at the beginning or for the second 24-hour process, depending on the flavoring. (You don’t want to damage your kefir grains.) My husband and I love adding lime juice for the second 24-hour process. Tastes like a sparkling limeade.
I got my water kefir grains from my sister-in-law. If you’re in Nashville and would like some grains, just let me know and I can hook you up. (They multiply, so you’ll have extras to give away.) Otherwise, you can purchase them online from stores like Amazon or specialty sites. I bought my 2-liter brewing vessel and some 17-ounce drinking bottles at The Container Store. I use grolsch/wire-top/hermetic/EZ-cap bottles (they go by many names) to maintain the natural carbonation.
There are tons of different flavoring options, but I haven’t tried too many of them. I tried adding vanilla extract to attempt a cream soda version, but I couldn’t get the vanilla amount to be strong enough to really taste like cream soda without making it too alcohol-flavored. After all, vanilla extract is vanilla bean in alcohol (plus sugar). Lemon/ginger/raisin is good, and so is molasses. We just keep going back to lemon or lime, though, because we like them so much. Especially lime.
Update January 2014: We’ve tried a lot more flavor options, so I wanted to add those to this post. I pulled out my juicer and juiced a bunch of different fruits to try as flavors for the kefir. I froze the juice in ice cube trays, then put the cubes in bags in the freezer and defrost a few at a time for the kefir. Watermelon came out great, and let me tell you….one watermelon creates a ton of juice! Orange and strawberry are fantastic. Cantaloupe and honeydew are so-so. Another great one is ginger, which creates a ginger ale type of flavor. Peel and chop/grate a few inches of fresh ginger root and steep it in boiling water. Use some of the ginger water to flavor the kefir.
Have you tried water kefir? Got a favorite flavoring?