kefir: healthy homemade soda pop

kefir compositeThis is a family favourite. It tastes like ginger ale but has all the health benefits of a good probiotic like yogurt or sauerkraut.

Water kefir makes a fizzy drink if you seal it tight during the second phase of fermentation. Adding ginger, lemon, and dried figs has proved to be the best flavour combination at our house, probably because it tastes like ginger ale.

The figs provide the nutrition, sugar, and colouring, while the lemon makes it more acidic (better for fermentation) and the ginger is irreplaceable for authentic flavour.

In this post I’ll share how I make my water kefir. I’ve done some experimenting along the way and discovered what works best for the kefir grains that I have. Some people will do things differently, and that’s ok. According to some of the reading I’ve done, kefir strains can vary slightly and respond a bit differently to different types of sugar and nutrition depending on the composition of the grains. That is, in what ratios the various bacteria and yeast strains occur in the particular grains that different people may have.

No matter the finer details of your water kefir, though, there are some basic rules that apply to all.

How to Make a Great Water Kefir: 3 Basic Rules

1. Use natural spring water. Not tap water, because the chemicals will kill your kefir grains. Not distilled water, because this will also kill the grains; they’ll just die a slower death due to lack of nutrition. There are also natural mineral drops you can buy (ask at a health food store) if you have reverse osmosis or filtered water. I use spring water, but I also add these drops because I want to be sure my grains are getting all the nutrition they can handle. It’s working, because I have way more than I need and I’ve already given a few batches away. They grow if you feed them well!

2. Use white sugar. This was a hard sell for me, because I don’t like having white sugar in the house. I’ve tried brown sugar, I’ve tried using molasses with the white sugar for more nutrition, but this always ends up giving the kefir a bad flavour. So I use white sugar for the initial fermentation. And if you’re wondering about using honey, I would recommend against it due to the natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that honey has. You’ll kill your grains with kindness.

3. Use organic flavourings. During the second phase, when you’re creating your homemade soda pop, you’ll want to be sure that the dried fruit is not treated with oil or sulphates, because that will affect the outcome of your kefir. As well, using organic lemons means you can use them with peels on, which provides a more well-rounded nutrition profile for your grains. If you’re going to all this trouble to make a healthy, tasty drink, you might as well keep it pure.

Recipe for ‘Ginger Ale’ Water Kefir

As I mentioned, our family likes the ginger ale flavour the best, so the instructions here are for this basic recipe. I’ll also include some variations you might like to try.

Ingredients and Materials, Phase 1

1 L mason jar

baby facecloth or cheesecloth to cover opening of the jar

elastic to hold it on

3-4 heaping tablespoons water kefir grains

1/4 cup leftover kefir liquid from previous batch

1/4 cup white sugar

natural spring water, enough to fill jar to 2 inches below the top

mineral drops (optional, but recommended)

Instructions, Phase 1

It’s important that everything you’re using is clean, but there’s no need to sterilize your equipment. Put all the ingredients in the mason jar, stir, cover with the cloth and let it sit on the counter for 2-3 days. You will see bubbles – this is good! Sometimes the grains will get carried to the surface by the bubbles, then fall again when the bubbles pop at the surface. Fun to watch if you’ve got a million other things you could be doing.

Ingredients and Materials, Phase 2

strainer

container to strain the liquid into; I use a glass 4-cup measure with handle and pouring spout

jars that seal; I use the bottles from IKEA that have the rubber seal flip lids (here’s a pic)

1 slice of organic lemon, cut into small pieces (so they fit in the bottle)

1″ square piece of ginger, peeled and diced

1 dried fig, diced

Instructions, Phase 2

Strain the kefir grains out of the liquid. You can then put the grains back in the jar with 1/4 c of the liquid and follow instructions above for starting all over again with Phase 1. If your grains have doubled in volume, you can even start 2 batches!

Pour the strained liquid into the bottle, then add the flavourings above. Seal and place on the counter for 2 days or so.

**Important**

Be sure to ‘burp’ the bottles at least twice a day. If you don’t let out the buildup of gas, there’s a chance that the fermentation could cause the bottle to break. Just flip them open in the morning and evening and close them back up again. I sometimes will do this 3x a day because I really don’t want to deal with exploding glass bottles.

And that’s pretty much it! Have fun, try different flavours, try it plain (yuck), try eating the grains (tasteless but fun and squishy – probiotic gummy bears!!), share it with friends.

Oh ya – alternative flavours…

Our family also enjoys cranberry/lemon/dried apricot. We tried using limes, but found it turned bitter. Maybe if they were peeled they would add a better flavour. If you try it let me know! Prunes are also good for flavour.

We tried adding lemons, apricots, prunes, and molasses (not all at once) to the first phase of fermentation, and basically found that it doesn’t really help. If anything, it makes the flavour worse. Especially the molasses. Blech. However, it is good for feeding the grains because of the nutrients in these foods. So it’s a good idea to do that every once in awhile. I have a few batches going, so I add a dried apricot to one of them and a dried prune to the other. When I strain the grains, I will then mix them up so the more well-fed grains are mixed with the ‘plain’ grains that I didn’t feed. I’m hoping that in this way they will get all the nutrition they need without compromising flavour.

***Edit***

ALSO: Rachael added that kefir doesn’t do well if it’s exposed to metal (unless it’s stainless steel), so a plastic strainer would probably be better than an old rusty metal one. Thanks Rachael for reading this over and checking it for me!

~Sarah

Credits

Thanks to Rachael Ward, of Bailey’s Local Foods, for sharing her water kefir grains with me! It’s been a fantastic (and yummy) learning experience for me and my family.

I started my journey by reading the Yemoos Nourishing Cultures website – the FAQ is very detailed and will likely cover any questions that you still have after reading this post. You’re welcome to ask me questions, but you can also head over to their website to see what they have to say.