Every day I happily drink a cup of strawberry water kefir, feeling it replenishing my body with probiotic goodness and happy little enzymes. Unlike soda with it’s syrupy-sweet empty calories and artificial carbonation, water kefir isn’t an indulgence. Water kefir is a probiotic drink that supports the balance of bacteria, or flora, in your digestive tract. In fact, I think the reason we crave lemonade or soda or sweet drinks is because we evolved to have naturally-fermented beverages that benefit our health. And water kefir is just that: a traditional, lacto-fermented drink that is tried and true.
I always have a batch of water kefir fermenting on the counter, just like the photo above. I love strawberries, and since I live near California strawberry country I tend to have strawberry water kefir around most often. But use any fruit you like personally. I have tried many combinations depending on the fruit in season: lemon-mint, raspberry, mixed berry, plum, orange, and pomegranate.
I have even made root beer water kefir! I used a blend of spices to resemble my childhood memory of drinking creamy root beer out of chilled aluminum cans after my softball games. You can find my root beer recipe in my cocktail book. But let’s not get distracted: choosing flavors is for later. First, we must learn about what water kefir is, why we care to make it, and how to brew it at home.
What is water kefir? Water kefir is a lacto-fermented drink made by placing water kefir “grains” into sugar-water and allowing them to eat the sugar as they produce probiotics. Then the water kefir grains are removed and the remaining probiotic drink is flavored with either diced fruit, juice, or coconut water. The bacteria continues to eat the sugars in the fruit, juice or coconut water, and is ready for consumption (after being strained, in the case of diced fruit). The water kefir grains are not really grains, but are simply the size and shape of a grain. What they really are is a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria, grown from organic sugar. They are alive.
Lacto-fermentation itself is the process of sugars being converted into cellular energy and lactic acid. This fermentation process creates probiotics, and a natural fizziness. You can lacto-ferment almost anything. Similar lacto-fermentation processes produce kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and pickles. So think of water kefir in the same way: alive and good for you!
Why should you make water kefir? Well, let’s start with another question: why do we eat yogurt? The answer is probably something like “it has good bacteria in it” or “it’s good for digestion”. Well, the good bacteria in yogurt is similar to the good bacteria, or probiotics, in homemade water kefir. You should make water kefir because you will feel better.
You can also make water kefir as a replacement for soda. If you are a soda-drinker, this can be your ticket to kicking the habit. Soda is bad all around. If you drink diet sodas, the chemical sweeteners are probably altering your brain chemistry. If you drink regular sodas, then you have to deal with the evils of high-fructose corn syrup, and plain sugar. Not to mention the artificial carbonation and how difficult that is on your digestive system. Making water kefir at home can be your proactive way to break away from your addiction.
Making water kefir at home can be a lot of fun, too. It can be wonderful to connect back to the Earth and where you came from by making your food yourself. Every time you drink your water kefir, it is the fruits of your labor. Every time you rotate the fermenting jars, you are tending to your body and the bodies in your family. You are being a healer.
Water kefir grains are also economical: they never need replenishing if you take care of them properly. I have had my water kefir grains for about one and a half years, with no signs of slowing down. I like that my water kefir grains and I have been together for a while, living life side by side, and then symbiotically. It’s a lovely reminder of the circle of life.
If you have children, making water kefir can be an opportunity not just to do something together, but also to learn about how bodies work. My sons love to help put the strawberries in the jar, and then to watch me pour the finished water kefir through the seive to cap it and let the fizziness build. And they know why we drink it: it keeps us healthy!
How do I brew water kefir at home? First you need water kefir grains, which you can order here and hydrate when they arrive. They will come with instructions, so don’t worry! Then make sure you have your basic equipment:
- a big glass jar
- a storage cap
- a cloth to cover the jar
- a strainer
- plain organic sugar (evaporated cane juice crystals, NOT whole cane sugar like this)
- something to flavor with: fruit, juice, or coconut water
- pastured eggshell, rinsed (optional)
- molasses (optional)
- mineral drops (optional)
You can usually find glass canning jars at local stores, although they usually only carry jars as large as quarts. I like to use half gallon mason jars, which you can buy here. The other items are hopefully the kind that you have on hand. I buy plain organic sugar, like this brand, to make water kefir. Yes, regular sugar! And this is the only reason I buy it: because it gets chomped up by kefir grains!
Depending on your water, you may need mineral drops or a pastured eggshell. For example, do not use regular tap water or basic filtered water. The flouride and other toxins can kill your kefir grains. At this point most people are either left with the option of getting reverse osmosis (RO) water from a water supply store, unless they get a home filter. I don’t have a home filter, so I get my water from a place down the street from where I live. They happen to have RO water and something called MPP water. MPP water still has minerals in it, unlike RO water. If you have RO water, that’s fine. Just make sure you add mineral drops or a pastured eggshell to your water kefir batches. The minerals are great for your kefir grains!
For me, it’s worth going out of my way to get water that won’t kill my kefir grains. After all, kefir grains are live bacteria, like the kind in my gut. I don’t want to be drinking the same water that kills kefir grains, because I know that that water is killing the good flora in my gut lining as well. I want to drink the water that keeps kefir grains alive and well. Like they say about drinking water: get a filter or be a filter!
1/2 cup organic sugar (buy organic sugar here)
1-2 tablespoons molasses, optional (buy molasses here)
1 pastured egg shell, rinsed clean, optional
1 cup fruit, diced (large) OR fruit juice OR coconut water
- Day One: Fill a half gallon glass jar with filtered water, leaving a couple of inches. Now pour a little of the water into a saucepan and bring to a boil while you measure out the sugar and add it to the saucepan as well.
- Turn off heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Then pour sugar-water back into the jar to fill it up again.
- Add molasses (if using) to the jar of water and stir with a wooden spoon to mix in. Gently add water kefir grains and eggshell (if using).
- Cover with a dish towel or cheesecloth to keep dust and bugs out, but still allow the kefir to breathe. Let sit on the counter for 1-2 days (one day for warmer days, two days for colder days). Taste it to see if it’s too sweet, or just right. When you are ready, move to the next stage.
- Day Two-Three: Then, pour contents through a strainer into a clean jar (my kefir grains are in a muslin bag, so I don’t need a strainer for this part). Discard eggshell. Save strained kefir grains for your next batch (i.e. put them in another new jar with sugar water).
- With the strained kefir in the new jar, you can now choose a fruit or juice or coconut water to flavor the kefir. I like using strawberries. Add diced fruit or juice or coconut water to kefir jar, cover again, and let sit at room temperature for 1 more day. You can also put the fruit in a new jar and pour the strained water kefir from the first ferment over the fruit.
- Last Day: Remove cloth cover and replace with a screw top lid, or transfer to Grolsch-style bottles with flip-top lids made for brewing. Leave at room temperature for a couple of hours to build up fizziness. Place in refrigerator to stop the fermentation process, and drink nice and cold with a straw and a slice of lemon.