Sunday, June 12, 2011

Water Kefir - Natural Soda

Can I tell you how excited I am about this? A few weeks ago I had never even heard of Water Kefir and now it is one of my favorite things to serve my family! In our quest to return to food the way God intended it, one of the things that had to go in our house (although I still allow the kids to order it when we are out) is soda. That’s a difficult change-over when it has been given regularly as a treat. When I began to learn about Water Kefir, I was hesitantly optimistic to use it as a soda replacement. It seemed like a lot of work to do just for that though. The more I learned about it, though, I realized that it was not just a soda replacement, it had all sorts of merits by itself. Try this on for size from Yemoos

Why is kefir good for your health?
It is loaded with valuable enzymes, easily digestible sugars, beneficial acids, vitamins and minerals. Water kefir is also generally suitable for some diabetics (though personal discretion is advised). It also is a nice option if you are trying to avoid the caffeine present in kombucha, but still seeking a probiotic drink. Water kefir supplies your body with billions of healthy bacteria and yeast strains. Some store-bought probiotic foods or supplements can help, but they are not as potent, and do not contain the beneficial yeasts usually (just bacteria). Within your body there are already billions of bacteria and yeast. Your internal microflora support proper digestion, synthesis of vitamins and minerals, and your immune system by warding off foreign and harmful bacteria, yeast and viruses. It has thus long been known to promote and aid in digestion and overall health. Some studies show it may be anti-mutagenic and help manage free radicals in the body. Folic acid (and B vitamins) increases as the length of the ferment increases. Some people let the strained kefir sit on the counter or the fridge another day to increase the folic acid and B vitamin content before drinking (this will increase the acidity too). Kefir may also help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. As with most things we've personally found, food and health is too difficult to reduce to facts and statistics. While kefir is not a magic bullet for health (what is) we believe kefir has a myriad of possible health benefits, and those will be individual for everyone. Some feel it helps them digest better, others get colds and viruses less often, some get more energy, and some people feel nothing much in particular, but enjoy the taste and value of it over store-bought yogurt, kombucha or kefir.

Not only is kefir better for you than soda, it is also better than fruit juice. I struggled with whether or not to eliminate fruit juice because in all honesty I hate serving water with every meal. We do milk once per day, but more than that and I’d go broke on milk! When we started trying the water kefir with fruit juice added in small quantities, we had found a winner! The kids love the fizz, mom loves the probiotics and vitamins – not to mention the significantly reduced sugar – what’s not to love?


So, just how much work is involved in making water kefir? Just a few minutes a day. I started by ordering my water kefir grains from Cultures for Health. They came in a dehydrated state to maintain their viability in the mail. The first step was to reactivate the grains. You do this in basically the same way you will culture them once they are going – by stirring them into sugar water. Suggestion, do this at a convenient time of day because you will need to be doing it every day after you start. The grains will need to sit in a warm spot away from other cultures (like sourdough or kombucha) for 3-4 days. Once the grains are plump, you can start fermenting regular batches of water kefir.

So, each day after the grains are plump, you prepare the bottles that the kefir will be poured into and a fresh batch of sugar water to put the grains in…

Kefir ( 8 )

I use two 16 oz. glass bottles with grolsch- style tops for each batch. I add 1/4 cup of organic 100% juice to each bottle.

Kefir ( 11 )

Then I split the kefir between the two bottles, straining out the grains as I go.

Kefir ( 12 )

These bottles need to sit out on the counter up to 24 hours. Gas will build up inside, so be careful! Always leave plenty of head room.

Kefir ( 20 )

You’ll need to have another jar with 1/4 cup of sugar and 4 cups of dechlorinated water ready to plop the grains into.

Kefir ( 22 )

Tuck it away into a warm spot and start over again tomorrow!
How do you know when your kefir is done? The two most common ways to tell is the taste test and the color test. With the taste test, you sip the sugar water at the beginning and then again the next day. If the water is less sweet, then you’re getting there. They say that 80% of the sugar has been consumed by the kefir grains leaving a more vinegar flavor. So, the sweeter you want it, the less time you should let it ferment – making sure it sits for at least 24 hours.
The color test only works with darker sugar. I started out using organic evaporated cane juice, but the grains had a difficult time balancing resulting in the “off” smell I mentioned in an earlier post. I added a 1/2 teaspoon of molasses to each batch and that helped, but later switched to Rapadura or Sucanat – organic unrefined sugar. The grains are so much happier now! So, this is where the color test comes in. When you mix up the sugar and the water, it is a very dark brown. After the kefir grains have eaten some of the sugar, the color changes to a lighter brown. When placed side by side, you can tell that the kefir is finished!

So, how does it taste you might ask? We’ve been using a lot of grape juice for flavoring, so ours tastes a lot like grape soda right now. The sucanat gives it a richness that you don’t find in soda and paired with the flavor from fermenting make take a little getting used to – but it’s SO worth it!

Come over some time, and I’ll let you try it for yourself.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Falling off the wagon

WARNING - This is a Really long post because I'm covering all I did for the last week!

So I did really well for almost three weeks.  Then I just got excited :).  Last week I ended up doing both of the soaked grain baked goods lessons (making pancakes, tortillas, pasta, biscuits and muffins).  I started my water kefir, my bulgarian yogurt (using Kitchen Stewardship's method), cooked a whole chicken and made stock and got rid of my microwave and coffee pot.  So much for baby steps :).  I'm doing better this week - which allows for me to write about last week's insanity.

Every time I try to do too many things, it increases my stress and things don't general turn out the way I hope they will.  I stressed over my yogurt like crazy - but it turned out to be the best yogurt I've ever made.  I was worried that I had completely destroyed my water kefir grains - but they are coming around this week.  Will I ever learn to slow down?  Probably not :).

Soaked Grain Baked Goods:
I entered this arena with much trepidation.  I read through Nourishing Tradition's take on grains, and I was a little overwhelmed.  After reading Katie at Kitchen Stewardship's great grain debates I felt even more confused about what was best.  I almost gave up on the whole deal, but stepped back and tried to look at it realisitically.
I know that whole grains are better for us than refined ones.  After learning about phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors (see Katie's material for an excellent explanation of the subject) I understand the need to work towards minimizing their effect on our grains.  It seems the jury is still out on the "best" way of doing this, so I have to find the way that balances  effectiveness and practicallity.  I'm not to the point yet where I want to sprout my grain, then dehydrate it, then grind it, then bake with it.  That just seems like too many steps for too little benefit. 
Soaking grains in an acidic medium (Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, Kombucha, Whey, Lemon Juice, etc.) before using seemed doable, so I'm starting there.  Seems like Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS thought the same thing since she made soaking lessons 2-4 and baking with sprouted flour lesson 13.  Last week I went through both of her soaked baked goods lessons (3 & 4) and found that it was even easier than I expected.  After reading the forum on her lesson, I was a little worried about having a fermented or vinegar flavor to my baked goods, but surprisingly they came out wonderfully!  My youngest was the only one that turned up his nose a little at the pancakes, but he was fine once he covered them in his usual butter and syrup. 
I soaked the flour for the tortillas and muffins Sunday night, and then fixed them on my usual Monday baking morning.  Then I soaked the flour for the pancakes Monday night and fixed them Tuesday morning.  Wednesday morning, I started the flour soaking for the biscuits that I fixed to go with chili that evening.  Friday evening I started the flour soaking for the pasta, which I fixed on Saturday to go with the chicken.  So see, it's not as nuts as it sounds at first - right?  Okay, I know I'm just fooling myself.

Water Kefir:
I was so excited to try out water kefir that when my Cultures for Health order came on Monday I could hardly contain myself.  I only managed to hold off for about 24 hours!  So, I read through the water kefir lesson at GNOWFGLINS as well as the extensive forum discussion, read the instructions that came with it and watched the videos at Cultures for Health, and then headed over to Dom's Water Kefir page to round things out.  I decided to go with 1/4 cup of evaporated cane juice and 1/16th tsp of baking soda as my starting recipe with 1 quart of dechlorinated water.  After three days, I started seeing little bubbles and the grains looked nice and plump so I dumped out the starting mix and began my first firment of the water kefir.
Imagine my dismay when I pulled out the jar at the end of it's first firment and it smelled strongly of cheese!  "This can't be right," I thought.  With some trepidation, I added in my grape juice and left it out on the counter for the second ferment and put the grains into a new batch of sugar-water.  I sent out a couple of "help" notes, but being Memorial Day, I didn't receive any replies.  I went ahead and served it at dinner, and although my husband and I barely got it down with the smell, the kids' training held up and no one complained :).  In retrospect, I should never have served it - but I didn't know what kefir was supposed to smell like!  And here we are, healthy and whole so I can write about it with a smile. 
I did some research on the Cultures for Health website and found that the baking soda can cause the grains to become slimy if too much is used.  Now, I do not have a 1/16th tsp measuring spoon and I was just eyeballing it, so that could have been the issue.  The other possible issue is that as the kefir grains rehydrate, they can go through a process of needing to rebalance the yeast/bacteria.  This can also cause an "off" odor.  The troubleshooting guide suggested a mixture of evaporated cane juice and 1/2 tsp molasses to help the grains balance, so I began trying that.  I also started letting my water dechlorinate overnight on the counter instead of boiling it.
Three batches later, my grains smell MUCH better and I'm doing a second fermentation again.  I tossed out the other three batches just in case ;).  If it all comes out good, I'll do a post later about the actual process.
So, I stressed terribly the whole time my yogurt was incubating, and all for nothing!  It came out the creamiest and thickest of any yogurt I've ever made.  I made a mother culture from the Bulgarian starter I received from Cultures for Health on following their directions.  Then I made my first full batch of raw milk yogurt as well as a fresh mother culture using Katie from Kitchen Stewardship's amazingly easy yogurt method.  I had little hope for my raw yogurt coming out well, because both Katie and Wardeh from GNOWFGLINS did not have good experiences, but it was PERFECT.  Thick, creamy, everything a person could want in yogurt!  I got a bunch of good pictures from the process and I'll post about it later this week :).

So, the absolute cheapest way to buy organic chicken is whole, but that's a little outside of my comfort zone with cooking.  I've only cooked a whole chicken a few times in my life, and never with excellent results.  I'm happy to report that it was incredibly easy both to cook the chicken and make the broth.  I have one more chicken in my freezer, so I'll take pictures and blog about it when I make that one.

Well, if you've made it this far, I'm impressed!  Thanks for sticking with me, and stay tuned for my yogurt and kefir posts - hopefully this weekend.

In Him,