I was a little nervous to jump into fermented foods. I didn’t have any objection to the idea of consuming fermented foods, but making them was just something I had not ever done before. The idea of delving in just intimidated me. I know, I know, such blasphemy coming from someone who calls herself Ukrainian, the people who practically invented sauerkraut! Don’t worry, my dear mother is ready and waiting to mentor me on the finer points of making good sauerkraut when I’m ready.
I finally reasoned with myself that I had done such a good job of cutting potential problem foods out of my diet, I needed to do as good of a job adding healing foods into my diet. This is a great synopsis by Jaimie @ Gutsy By Nature on the benefits of fermented foods for gut health. I think if I can start to make it part of my routine, it will be easier to make sure those healing foods get consumed.
After some research, I decided that water kefir was probably the easiest and most straight-forward of the fermented foods with which to experiment, plus I knew Scott would love to have “pop” back in his diet. I was able to track down some happy, healthy grains from a neighbour who had immigrated from Greece and I was ready to go! If you’ve never heard of water kefir before, it is a fermented beverage teaming with beneficial bacteria and yeasts created using SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) “grains” (also called tibicos) that metabolize the sugar found in water and juice to make a powerful probiotic rich in B vitamins and enzymes.
After receiving my grains, I scoured the interweb looking for a comprehensive source on how to go about making water kefir. There are some great resources out there, but I found I had to draw from several different sources to get all the information I needed, so in this post, I have attempted to compile it all in one place in hopes that it will make your journey into kefir making a little bit easier!
Before we begin, some notes on water kefir:
- I always use distilled water for my kefir. Then I don’t have to worry about various chemicals/substances in the water. Filtered, reverse osmosis, or spring water is ok, too, just make sure there isn’t any chlorine or fluoride in the water. If you are using chlorinated water, boil the water and then let it sit out overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate.
- I always use organic ingredients. That way I don’t need to worry about chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides affecting the kefir.
- You must use non-reactive (glass, plastic) containers and utensils. I prefer to use glass containers so I don’t have to worry about any potential chemicals leeching into the kefir from the plastic. Some sources say to avoid using metal equipment of any kind, while other sources say that stainless steel is safe and non-reactive. I try to limit my grains’ contact with metal, but if I must use a metal utensil, I make sure it is stainless steel and haven’t had any issues.
- Ensure that your grains are not exposed to an environment above 85F, as this can cook and kill the grains.
- You must use a caloric sweetener, like raw, organic turbinado or sucanat sugar. Stevia and the like will not feed the grains and they will die. Do not use honey due to its antimicrobial properties that may weaken or kill the grains. You may use fruit juices or coconut water, in which case you will just use straight juice with no sugar and no water.
- Kefir grains love minerals and need a mineral source to thrive. I use organic unsulfured blackstrap molasses as my mineral source, but you can also use organic unsulfured dried fruit, a washed egg shell (you may want to avoid this option if you are sensitive to eggs or following the AIP), or liquid mineral drops.
- Once the kefir is ready for consumption, it will keep at room temperature for a few days or for 2-4 weeks if refrigerated. We prefer ours cold, so it always goes straight into the fridge.
- If you are doing a second fermentation, I would suggest using plastic water bottles the first time. You will know when they’re done when the plastic bottle is hard to the touch. By doing it this way, you will get a feel for how long it takes your second fermentation to finish without risking an explosion of a glass jar/bottle. If/when using glass for the second fermentation, some people prefer to store their jars inside of a cardboard box just in case one blows.
- one mixing bowl (material doesn’t matter as the kefir grains will not be touching this bowl)
- one 1/2 cup measuring cup
- 2L (8 cup) glass jar
- candy thermometer
- cheese cloth
- rubber band
- wooden spoon
- a warm (68F – 85F), dark place
- smaller jars with lids that seal, or a second larger jar with a lid that seals
- 1/2 cup organic turbinado sugar
- 1 cup boiling distilled water
- 1 teaspoon organic unsulfured blackstrap molasses
- 7 cups room temperature distilled water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Bring a cup of distilled water to a boil. Combine with 1/2 cup sugar in a mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Stir in 1 teaspoon of organic unsulfured blackstrap molasses.
- Add 7 cups of room temperature distilled water to a 2L glass jar. If you only have smaller jars, just adjust the amounts accordingly. Add hot sugar water to the jar and stir to combine. Check the temperature of the thermometer. If the water is warmer than 85F, wait until it has cooled below this temperature. You can place the jar in the fridge to speed the cooling process (just don’t let it get too cold – below 68F).
- Once the sugar water is at an appropriate temperature, add 1/2 cup of water kefir grains. Cover the mouth of the jar with a piece of cheese cloth or a coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. This will keep any dust/debris/pet hairs/children from making their way in. Place the jar in a warm, dark place. I keep mine in the cupboard beside my fridge. It is dark (most of the time) and the fridge gives off some extra warmth since our house tends to be on the cooler side, especially during winter.
- Now comes the hard part! Leave the jar alone for 24-72 hours. Each kitchen environment and batch of kefir grains is different. Start taste testing the kefir after 24 hours. It should taste pleasant with a tart edge to it, not sugary and not like vinegar. If it’s still too sweet after 24 hours, leave it another 12-24 hours and check it again. Repeat as necessary until kefir reaches desired amount of fermentation. If you leave it longer than 72 hours, you may start to starve the grains.
- Once the kefir has reached the desired fermentation point, you can mix up another batch of sugar water and transfer the grains from your current batch into the new batch to start fermenting your next batch of kefir. I usually line my stainless steel colander with cheese cloth or a paper towel and strain the kefir through it into a new jar.
- The kefir is ready for consumption at this point, or you may wish to do a second fermentation to flavour and/or to give it a bit of fizz.
- Once you have strained your kefir into a new jar to remove the kefir grains, you may add some pieces of fruit or fruit juices to flavour your kefir. You may also use flavour extracts or fresh herbs. We enjoy vanilla (tastes like cream soda) and blueberry orange (one quartered orange and 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries, thawed, per 1 liter/4 cups of kefir). If you are using fruit juices, add about 1/2 cup of juice per 4 cups of kefir. Come summer, I really want to try strawberry basil. I know it sounds weird, but I think it could be good!
- After flavouring, if desired, seal kefir in the new jar(s) and return to the warm, dark location for 1-2 days.
- Once the kefir has reached desired fizziness, it is ready for consumption.
- People with a histamine sensitivity may not respond well to kefir, or other fermented foods. For those with a histamine resistance who wish to experiment with fermented foods, it is recommended that you start with kombucha, as it seems to be better tolerated.
- If you are highly sensitive to mold or yeast, use caution when starting with kefir. The kefir contains many beneficial bacteria and yeasts, but some people that are highly sensitive to mold/yeasts may not do well with kefir.
- Start slow when you first begin drinking kefir. Kefir is a broad spectrum probiotic and can cause significant die off of “bad” bacteria and yeasts in your system if consumed in large quantities right away. This can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including digestive upset and flu-like symptoms. Start with one tablespoon per day and work up from there gradually. If you begin to experience symptoms, cut back to the last amount you were comfortable with and just stay there for a few days before trying to increase consumption again.
- Like other fermented beverages, water kefir contains a very small amount of alcohol (less than 1%), so if you are sensitive to alcohol or pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing, you may want to use caution when deciding if you want to try water kefir.
- If you are following the AIP, it recommended that you eliminate fermented foods for at least three weeks.
When I received my grains, we were a little strapped for time, so I actually learned how to store the kefir grains before I learned how to make kefir. I will be covering safe, longer-term storage methods for water kefir grains in Part II this Friday.
Did I miss something? Suggestions for making amazing water kefir? Questions about making your own water kefir? I’d love to hear from you!