Wednesday food post- experimenting with water kefir!

You know how I’m all about those probiotic fermented things? Well, a while back I ordered kefir grains for milk. You may have seen this stuff at the store- it’s like a more liquid yogurt that’s even more nutritious and probiotic. It’s also really good for people with lactose-intolerance because it eats up most of the lactose while it ferments. Anyway, the stuff at the store is sweetened and comes in a variety of flavors, and it’s pretty tasty, although expensive. So I got my own grains (the yeast and bacteria that culture the milk). I have to be honest, it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m sure if I stuck with it I’d have gained some kind of an appreciation for it, but I found that it was far too sour for my taste. It was just so… fermented milk. I did like it in smoothies, but that was after adding a bunch of honey or maple syrup and fruit. I just decided to stick with yogurt- I like that plain. Then I learned about water kefir. It’s the same kind of concept (just like kombucha, which I totally love), but it feeds on sugar water to produce a probiotic slightly carbonated drink- similar to a soda after fruit/juice has been added. It’s really good for you, and I was really excited to try it. Imagine… an actually healthy alternative to soda!

I ordered some water kefir grains along with my sourdough starter and sprouting kit at Cultures for Health. They came and they sat in my cupboard for a few months… then recently I decided to give it a shot.

These were the dried grains before rehydrating.

Now, this is where I really should have looked at the directions (which I lost…), because I just stuck them in some plain water to rehydrate. I guess you’re supposed to rehydrate them in sugar water for like 3-5 days. Also, the water shouldn’t just come from your tap- the chlorine can kill the culture. But I guess a Brita filter or something like that is no good either. So, from now on I’ll be boiling the water and dissolving the sugar in it and then letting it cool before adding the culture. Anyway, I just had to cross my fingers and hope that I hadn’t killed the culture! This is what they looked like after rehydrating:

I got my supplies together. I have these two great cotton muslin bags that I can use to make the process that much easier- no straining! Plus, metal is said to be bad for the culture, and I only have metal strainers that are fine enough to work for this. So, the bags are best for me, although I’m sure I could have lined my strainer with cloth, too.

Here’s the basic recipe:

For the first fermentation-

-1/4 cup of sugar per quart (the less refined the better- the culture thrives on the minerals)
-quart jar(s)
-Piece of an eggshell, washed and with membrane removed (this is also for the health of the culture, although I read you can add just a drop of blackstrap molasses, too, to add some nutrients to the water)

Bring water to a boil, stir in sugar and dissolve. Let cool, and add sugar water to jar with eggshell piece and 1-2 tablespoons of kefir grains. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature for 2-5 days (it sort of depends on the temperature in your kitchen- the warmer it is, the less time it will take), or until you can see some bubbles and it tastes only slightly sweet.

My water kefir looks kind of caramel colored because of the raw sugar that I used.

It was fun to experiment. I wasn’t sure it worked at first, because it only tasted less sweet really, with just a hint of fermented flavor… not bad at all, just not a huge transformation. You can drink it just like this, but it’s not super exciting or very carbonated at this point. So I went for the second fermentation.

Second Ferment:

Take out your eggshell and kefir grains. To this you can add any number of fruity things! A little fruit juice, a few pieces of dried/frozen/fresh fruit, a teaspoon of vanilla (cream soda!), lemon juice, etc. Experiment! This time you set the kefir and whatever you added on the counter for another 1-3 days, but this time you want to seal the jar so that no air gets in. This will help build the carbonation. Then strain and transfer to the fridge! 

So far I’ve done two batches, both delicious. The first one I made two quarts- one was flavored with a couple of pieces of frozen rhubarb and the other with some frozen raspberries. So yummy! This batch was less carbonated than my second. I think it’ll take a few cycles to get the culture fully going. Anyway, the second batch I added a bit of organic frozen juice concentrate we had stashed in the freezer for forever. This batch was really yummy and pretty bubbly! Totally satisfying on these warm summer days. 

I think next I’ll try a lemonade one and a cream soda… mmm. 

I love that these traditional, healthful recipes are making a comeback. I’m really happy to be able to offer my kiddos something that I can feel good about that is a totally delicious alternative to some of the crap out there. This is a big deal to me, not only because I want my family to be healthy, but because I really don’t want to deprive them of any joys out there, fizzy drinks included. 🙂

*Keep in mind that this beverage is like kombucha in that it does produce a small amount of alcohol in the fermentation process- but it’s generally less than 1%.

Oh, and in other food news, we had a really cool thing happen recently. We’ve got this great local tortilla factory that makes corn tortillas and chips. The chips are delicious, but they are fried entirely in soy oil. Soy is a controversial subject for some people- I’m pretty convinced that it’s not good for us in unfermented forms and is causing a lot of damage to people. Here’s some info about the dangers of soy. Anyway, Jeff called them and talked to a rep about the soy oil issue. They seemed genuinely interested in what he said, and I was just proud of him for making the effort. Then this morning he got a call saying that they just received a shipment of sunflower oil that they are going to test with their chips. They said if all goes well they’ll be offering an alternative product! How cool is that? 


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Comments (21)

  1. yayhappens

    I haven’t posted my latest pic yet, but it is of the label on a Kombucha bottle. It is cute. I’ll try and get it up later today.

    Your water kefir looks really good. I love the color! It looks refreshing.

    I’m having a bit of a time trying to comprehend the flavor of what you are making. We use Kefir here in our smoothies and it is very yogurt-like, and the kombucha is very sour wine-flavored.

    Maybe it’s throwing me off because yours is water based and what I’m used to is dairy-like.

    Is the taste of your recipes like one of those carbonated flavored waters?

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Have you ever brewed your own kombucha? It’s way way cheaper and super easy!

      Anyway, so far the water kefir has tasted kind of like a fruity kombucha, but milder sort of… It’s good! I’ll probably post again about it when I get a rhythm going and find out my favorite flavors. 🙂

      1. yayhappens

        I haven’t gone DIY with it would be nice to do. The bottled Kombucha like I posted about was about $4.40 at the health food market and that is really steep!

        I look forward to reading more about the water kefir, especially if the flavor is more mild. Purely out of curiosity are you able to see the bacterial strands in it like with tea and is the liquid actually cloudy like natural apple juice or is it pretty clear like tea? Thanks in advance.

        1. Gracie (Post author)

          Youch! I’m guessing that the 3 quarts of kombucha that I make at a time cost me about… I don’t know, less than a dollar or two for the whole three quarts? I’m going to figure it out.

          Nope, no strands that I’ve seen. Because the culture isn’t like the pancake mass-like SCOBY, like the kombucha, I doubt I’ll see much of the culture in the finished product after it’s been strained. There will just be more “grains” as the culture proliferates.

          It’s been more like apple juice, although I’ve seen pictures of the finished kefir (without juice) being kind of white looking- and I’m assuming they’ve used a white sugar that didn’t color the water so much. I guess it’s not particularly cloudy, but not totally clear either. Anyway, the one that I put raspberries in turned a bright pink/red!

  2. ladyfaith3

    Your posts are so interesting! I wouldn’t know any of this fermenting stuff if you hadn’t posted about it. COOL!!

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’m so glad you like them! I’m glad you guys get to be my testers- you are so sweet even though you get to watch me experiment and mess up all over the place!

  3. cknk

    I’m delighted to see that the webpage you linked to has shipping to Canada. I used to make more yogurts and water kefir but my cultures have been dead for ages now and the place I used to order new ones for has closed.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’m so glad! Do you think you’ll order something soon? I mean, assuming that you’re feeling better?

      1. cknk

        I’m probably going to order some tonight or tomorrow. I’ve done water kefir before, and I remember my kids and husband liked it. I would drink really small diluted amounts but even fermented I have to be careful of sugar contents. Anyway, with summer here and needing to keep my kids hydrated, it might be a good idea for me to get back into it, and our old cultures are long since dead.

        I see the website also offers the Kombuchi, which I’ve also thought about doing, but then I’ve heard that a person shouldn’t start doing that one while pregnant. Plus, I don’t want to overwhelm myself… so I’m not sure I’ll do that.

        I do want to start doing sourdough and yogurt again too. Merritt has started refusing to drink milk anymore because he doesn’t like the fat clumps in the nonhomogenized milk and we can only get fresh milk once every two weeks. But he loves yogurt… which I haven’t been pushing since the good stuff is so expensive but if I could do my own yogurt again, that would probably work.

        I stare at the list though and think…ooh, I’d like to get a couple of different types of yogurt, but I’m not sure how many I can stand to keep alive. I might try getting the Bulgarian, since it is supposed to be closed to store bought and… I’m not sure about whether I should go for filmjolk or matsoni. We have at times used either and I can’t remember which one I liked more, although I know I had a preference.

        I don’t know if I’m actually feeling good enough to do any of this or not. I want to be. But then I keep pushing myself and feeling horribly sick the rest of the day. Like this morning I did too much cleaning and just wiped myself out by two o’clock. Still, I want to be doing things. I need to start dehydrating rhubarb soon.

        1. Gracie (Post author)

          All this stuff comes dried, so I’m sure you could take it on slowly- that’s what I’ve done. As far as kombucha, I guess you would still have to be careful of the sugar, but I absolutely LOVE the stuff. It’s really grown on me over the past couple of years. I don’t know about specifically not starting it while pregnant, but I have read about starting slowly as it tends to facilitate a detox that can be uncomfortable for some people. I’ve never had a bad reaction, and I’ve been drinking it this whole pregnancy (and last one too!). It also might be worth ordering just because it lasts so well in the fridge. Just a thought. 🙂

          Have you tried the crock pot yogurt? So easy! I’m also easily bogged down by this stuff if I’m not at my best- like today. I’ve got some kind of a bug and it’s 85 degrees here and muggy. And Vera seems to love whining today… I haven’t gotten much done at all. I’m thinking though that it might help me if I do some food prep first thing in the morning- especially in the hotter months. I’m still working on developing a method for pulling some of this stuff off regularly. Anyway, I hope you get some of your energy back really soon. 🙂

          1. cknk

            I have a yogurt maker James gave me a couple of years ago, so I haven’t tried the crock pot yogurt. For a while though I loved the ones where you just throw the milk in and keep it at room temperature – except room temperature varies so much here. During the winter we let this place get down to 16 celcius in here, and now it is 29. So I remember one winter where I would take my jars of milk into the bedroom at night, since that was the only room we kept heated. I think if I do it now I’ll have to do it at day, not night, so I can watch the temperature.

            Anyway – I placed an order. Sourdough starter, kombucha, water kefir, and two yogurts. 🙂 I’ll start them one at a time though and try not to get bogged down in it.

  4. david_anderson

    I’ve been planning to look more into fermented foods for years, but “lack of time because of school” has been my lame excuse. Well, that excuse will be turned on it’s head this coming year, as I’m taking Food, Health and Sustainability and the description for spring is “Spring quarter focuses on the biochemistry of fermentation, and the production microbiology and chemistry of fermented foods. Specific topics include yeast varieties (e.g., “killer yeast”); bacterial, yeast, and mixed fermentations (e.g., malolactic fermentation, lambic fermentation); and aging and extraction methods.”

    I share your concerns about soy, but I consider the oil the least troublesome as far as the hormonal effects. My biggest complaint about using soy oil is that it supports the GMO soy industry, and it’s also a solvent extracted oil, yech! Still comes out the same though, good for Jeff for speaking up, and good for them for listening and trying to do something about it.

    I assume you know the trick about buying white corn based non-organic products? So far there are no large scale GMO based white corn. So if they offer a choice between white and yellow corn chips and tortillas, go with white. Of course, if they have blue or red …. 🙂

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      That sounds like a great class! I hope you write about your experiences with it.

      Yeah, we were concerned about all the health stuff mostly- if there were a non-soy option then we’d likely take it. However, Jeff’s sister just found out that she’s been allergic to soy, and I’m sure there are many others. It’d be nice if they had an option too, especially because this is a cool company.

      I didn’t know that trick! Thank you! I know this tortilla place specifically used non-GMO stuff, but I’m totally going to remember that if I ever find myself tempted by something at a Mexican grocery or somewhere. 🙂

      1. david_anderson

        You should definitely keep the phytoestrogens in mind, and it’s a good enough reason to choose non-soy, even when it is oil. I just don’t worry about it as much, because phytoestrogens are much more similar in structure to carbohydrates than oils, so I just assume that not many of them end up in the processed oil. But I’m not basing that on any actual knowledge of any tests.

        I’m glad I mentioned the white corn trick then. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it’s a good one to know for now.

        1. Gracie (Post author)

          Haha, isn’t that sad that we both eagerly referred to the ability to find some relatively untampered food a “trick”? So sad…

          1. david_anderson

            yup, sad 🙁

  5. unicorntapestry

    You and Jeff win at awesome. It’s so cool that the tortilla place actually listened to him! How often does that happen?

    Visiting: totally planning on it…just not sure when.

  6. stupidfool

    wow, that is some really cool stuff! i don’t like fizzy beverages–the bubbles actually freak me out a little bit–but i still think it’s great that you can make it on your own! i learn so much from your journal… it’s awesome!

  7. purerandomness

    This might be long (sorry!)

    Just to post a disclaimer, I didn’t read through the whole soy link you posted.
    I attended a lecture last year about the effects of soy proteins and phytoestrogens on the ability to induce cancer in lab animals. This lab was funded based on the premise that phytoestrogens and other compounds found in soy can increase the risk of certain cancers and have linked their hypothesis to warning people about eating too much soy, soy milk, soy formula, etc.
    What she shared though, was that the only way they could see these effects was at doses of soy compounds astronomically greater than anything an average human would be exposed to. She equated it to drinking a gallon of soy milk per day, eating lots of edamame and tofu… just basically eating nothing but soy products and in larger quantities than most people would eat.
    She also pointed out that in cultures where soy was a traditional food (asia, etc) they actually have LESS risk of the cancers that soy exposure was supposed to develop.
    It’s the same thing with other chemicals gaining a lot of coverage in the media. Sure, if you give a million units to a lab rat, it will probably die or develop some crazy cancer. But a normal, average western person is probably going to be exposed to 20 units or something much less. So there’s PROBABLY no real risk.
    Still, humans and lab rats are not the same and who knows how these chemicals affect our integral metabolism…. blah blah blah.
    I’m glad that you were able to get the company to offer an alternative to soybean oil anyway; it never hurts to ask and if you feel strongly about something it’s always nice to have companies willing to help you out!

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Re: This might be long (sorry!)

      That’s cool that you went to a lecture about it! I’m definitely not well versed enough to know the real truth of the matter, but I definitely have witnessed loads of allergies that present like digestive problems- and I think a lot of it comes down to the improper processing of grains, nuts, beans, etc. Regardless of the truth about the phytoestrogens, there’s definitely something to the phytic acid causing nutrient deficiencies and digestive problems.
      What I’ve heard about it being a traditional food is that it was never eaten like it is today- put in practically every food. They actually ate it mostly in fermented forms (miso, tempeh, tamari), and had tofu and unfermented soy more like a garnish. We have to remember that the traditional preparation of these things was what helped to neutralize a lot of the harmful components in these foods. I have no doubt that by not soaking/fermenting a lot of these foods (and I guess in the case of soy, it does more damage) we’re doing a lot of harm to people.
      Anyway, here’s a link to their summary of the dangers. I’d be interested in your thoughts:
      Also, and this is purely speculation, but in terms of my own observation of this issue, I’ve seen a really high occurrence of PCOS and other fertility/menstrual issues in vegetarian/vegan women (or women who were for a long time). I don’t know if that has anything to do with soy consumption, but it makes me wonder.

  8. haurelia

    Yahoo for water kefir! I’m glad it worked out. Only 2-ish more weeks until we’re in our house and resuming the “fermentation kitchen,” thank goodness.

    And yahoo for the tortilla factory…how refreshing that a business would take a customer’s concerns seriously.


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