Traditionally, kefir originated as a probiotic-rich milk drink in the Caucasus Mountains. It’s been around since the 1800s and was made by mixing cow, goat, or sheep milk with a probiotic culture. It has a taste and texture similar to thin yogurt (or a “milk soda” as some describe it), and many add milk kefir to sourdough bread, as a substitute for buttermilk in baking, and in soups. While milk kefir is still common today, especially in parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, here in the West we’ve become a fan of a dairy-free variety: water kefir.
What is water kefir?
Water kefir is a naturally fizzy fermented beverage, similar to kombucha. It’s rich in probiotics and colonizes our gut with beneficial bacteria. In order to make kefir, add a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) into sugar water and fruit. Unlike kombucha, the SCOBY does not resemble a legless jellyfish and instead resembles cauliflower (see photos below). These are known as “kefir grains”, which are clusters of yeast and good bacteria. These kefir grains – which are not actually grains! – metabolize the sugar into good bacteria. Even though the grains are “fed” with sugar, the grains “eat” it up, so an insignificant amount ends up in the final product!
Water kefir grains – find them at your local health food store.
Kombucha tea fermentation. Note the jellyfish-type blob.
Why should I consume it?
Water kefir is great for a number of reasons, but its health benefits and yummy taste are the main ones.
- Since it’s rich in probiotics, kefir boosts our immune systems. It contains plenty of vitamins, including vitamin A, B2, B12, D, and K. This supports proper digestion and warns off harmful bacteria and viruses.
- Many studies also link kefir to cancer prevention. A 2017 study found that kefir can actually prevent tumour formation.
- Since water kefir is caffeine-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and low in sugar, almost anyone can drink it – kids too!
- When it comes to taste, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s light and more palatable than kombucha, so it’s like a bubbly soda that’s actually good for you. If you’re making it at home, try adding different fruits! Get creative with flavours like blueberry lemonade, strawberry peach lemonade, or pomegranate cranberry.
Water kefir during processing.
Try making it at home!
Homemade Water Kefir Recipe
- Hydrated Water Kefir Grains
- 1/4 cup sugar (Do not use honey! It won’t work. Stick with brown or cane sugar.)
- 4 cups water (non-chlorinated)
1) Dissolve sugar in small amount of hot water.
2) Once sugar is dissolved, fill the rest of the jar with cool filtered water. Make sure the water is NOT warm and is at room temperature!
3) Add water kefir grains and gently stir.
4) Add a quarter slice of lemon and one prune.
5) Cover with a towel, cheesecloth, or coffee filter and rubber band to keep out insects/rodents/small children (same thing).
6) Leave on the counter for 2-3 days (preferably at 20-25 degrees). In the summer, stick with 2. In the winter, up to 3. It’s fall right now, so 2 1/2 works well.
7) After 2-3 days, place 1/2 to 1 cup of fruit in a new mason jar. Fresh berries, peaches, grapes, apples, or pears are all great! Strain out the water kefir grains through a bamboo or mesh strainer (don’t use metal if you can help it) and pour the liquid into the fruit-filled jar. Cover it tightly with a lid and let it sit for 24 hours. Ideally, use a plastic lid. If you use metal, the liquid will start bubbling and form a gas, so you might need to “release” the gas every 6 hours to avoid the lid popping open.
8) After 24 hours, the fruit will rise to the surface, and the liquid can now be refrigerated.
9) Keep your water kefir grains and repeat the process!