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.

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