I watched a programme on superfoods recently. It was an interesting reminder of some of the health benefits you can get in simple everyday foods. Of particular interest was the section on fermented foods. Traditionally fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha are teaming with beneficial bacteria. If you regularly include fermented foods in your diet you are constantly nourishing your gut with a wide range of naturally occurring beneficial probiotic bacteria.
One kind of fermented food that I have experimented with recently is kefir. I personally like water kefir rather than the dairy based alternatives. I am not an expert but here are some notes from my own experience and some helpful sources that I used.
You will need a bit of equipment:
- a large glass jar (at least 1 litre in volume ideally larger) – I bought fermentation jars like these. However, any large glass jar will do.
- a few flip top bottles – like these. Mine were old olive oil bottles.
- a wooden spoon
- a non – metal strainer (apparently best not to use metal containers or utensils)
Step One – source your grains.
First you need to source some water kefir grains. Note you must use water kefir grains not milk kefir grains – they are a different animal (so to speak). If you know anyone who is already making it you will probably find that they will be happy to pass some on to you (as they replicate rapidly).
If not the best option is to go online. I found mine on Amazon from Living Probiotics (but there are many companies) – Happy Kombucha is another and The Kefir Shop is a third. You can often find ‘white’ and ‘brown’ versions. As far as I am concerned it doesn’t really matter, I think that it is just down to the colour of sugar used to grown them. The grains that I used where ‘live’ rather than dehydrated – they look like little white plastic pebbles.
Step Two – grow your grains
To get started you need ¼ cup of grains. When mine came there was only around a small spoon. So I needed to spend a few days growing more – if you buy a large enough quantity you might not need to do this step.
To grow the grains into a larger volume I put 2 tablespoons sugar (I used molasses sugar) into 1 cup of boiling water, then added another cup of cold water. Ensuring that the water is lukewarm not hot, I added the grains and left them for 3-4 days in a jar with a cloth cover (or fermentation jar). They multiplied in volume.
Step Three – first fermentation
- ¼ cup water kefir grains
- ¼ cup sugar (any type: white, molasses, jaggary, etc). I found molasses and jaggery particularly good as they are mineral rich which helps feed the bacteria.
- Place 6 cups boiling water into the large glass jar and add the sugar. Mix until completely dissolved
- Allow to cool to room temperature (important – if too hot you will kill the grains)
- Place the grains into the jar
- At this point you can add extra flavour like a lemon cut into two and a few raisins. Or a few dried apricots. However often I just left it without.
- Cover the jar with either a cloth held in place with an elastic band / string or use a fermentation jar with a release valve.
- Leave to sit at room temperature for 3 days
- At this point strain the liquid into a jug. Discard the fruit if you have used it and set the grains aside (they will have multiplied)
You can drink at this point – but it is typically more fizzy after a second fermentation.
Step Four – second fermentation
- Take the jug of liquid and add ¼ cup of fruit juice (I tried cherry and pomegranate mainly but anything will do). Pour the water kefir into a flip top bottle (don’t fill all the way to the top as the fizz produced can build up pressure causing explosions).
- Close the bottle and leave at room temperature for another 24 hours.
- Then place in the fridge and enjoy!
- Note: the pressure can build up in the bottles even in the fridge so I kept popping them open each day to ensure no explosions.
- The end product should be lovely and fizzy – more sharp than sweet.
Step five – repeat!
- Using your grains from the first fermentation you can simply start another batch (back to step 3). I ended up with jars everywhere – on the counter / in the fridge.
- Water kefir grains are a bit like keeping fish – you need to change the water and feed them regularly.
- If you want a break from fermentation or are going on holiday you can store the grains in a jar of sugar water in the fridge. When you get back drain them and start again back at step 3.
My advice is to start with just a small glass (or even ½ a glass) a day. I would not go crazy and drink pints each day, just aim for a small glass to top up your beneficial bacteria on a regular basis.
If things go wrong then I found this a helpful guide
Sugar: I have lots of questions about the sugar content of water kefir. The grains feed off the sugar and metabolise it. The end result is that the final liquid is actually not very sugary at all. I guess the longer you ferment it the more the sugar will be used up by the grains. I have found that there is a considerable difference between the sugariness of the liquid you put the grains into and the end product – no comparison.
Coconut water kefir: You can also make kefir using coconut water. This ends up with a slightly sour taste (which I loved) but some of my testers did not. This is a good guide if you want to give it a go: . This does not require any added sugar. However, you will need to refresh the grains every now and then in some sugared water for them to survive.