Water Kefir is one of many names used to describe a versatile culture that can be described to ferment any carbohydrate-rich liquid. I usually use it to ferment organic cane sugar water with some fruit in it to flavour, but I have also used it to ferment honey, fruit juices, coconut water, nut milks. The culture – also known as tibias or tibis, sugary water grains, Tibetan crystals, Japanese water crystals, and bees wine – is in essence a SCOBY (a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast) which appear as small whitish translucent granules and grow quickly when fed regularly. Water kefir is not directly related to milk kefir, the ancient culture from the Caucasus Mountains used to ferment milk. It would seem that because they are similar in form, people perceived them as related, even though they are distinctly different. A study of microbial flora of sugary kefir grains found that they consisted chiefly of lactic acid bacteria and a small proportion of yeasts. One particular bacterium, Lactobacillus hilgardii, was found to produce the polysaccharide gel that forms the home of the fermenting community. Water Kefir has a similar taste and natural sweetener feeding to Komboochah, however they ferment rather differently.
Fermenting with Water Kefir is extremely simple. Mix water with organic cane sugar, to taste, in a wide-mouth glass jar. Try 1 cup of organic cane sugar per 2 liters of Spring Water as a starting point, but you can ferment a sweeter solution. To that, add the water kefir grains, about 1 tablespoon per litre of water, and usually a small amount of fresh or dried fruit. Then, allow your concoction to ferment usually for two or three days. You can either place the fruit straight into the first fermentation, or ferment simple Spring Water and natural sweetener solution, and then place the fruit into the fermented water a for a second fermentation. Find your groove and rhythm that works best for you. The vessel can either be sealed, or loosely covered with muslin cloth and elastic during first fermentation. Water Kefir does no need oxygen, but its not inhibited by it. After about two days, I remove the fruit typically floating at the top, strain the fermenting liquid through muslin cloth to remove the Water Kefir grains, and transfer the fermented solution into sealable bottles. Prepare a new sugar solution for the grains and seal the bottles of fermented Water Kefir, leaving the sealed bottles to carbonate as they continue to ferment at ambient temperatures for another day or two, monitoring the pressure and moving pressurised bottles to the refrigerator to prevent over carbonation. Water Kefir colour will change with different sweeteners and added ingredients, as will growth rates and grain sizes. Like any SCOBY, Water Kefir requires regular attention, feeding and care. Typically it should be fed natural sugar every two days – in cooler spaces or months, every three days. Left too long unfed in acidic solution, the organisms that compose the grains will die, and the grains themselves will literally pickle. Water Kefir works best if you can get into a regular routine. If you go away, leave the Water Kefir grains in a fresh sugar-water solution in the refrigerator. You may also dry Water Kefir grains for long-term storage, sun-dried or dehydrated. Store dried grains in refrigerator for longest survival. Freezing rinsed and pat-dried water kefir grains in sealed bag will also last for months.
Water Kefir will ferment any type of sugar, or other sweeteners, such as raw honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, rice syrup, and molasses. Stevia and other non-carbohydrate sweeteners will not ferment. Coconut water, coconut milk, nut milks, grain milks can also be fermented in this way. Herbal infusions and decoctions can be sweetened and fermented with Water Kefir. Natural fruit juices can also be fermented by Water Kefir, without adding extra sugar as the juice has natural carbohydrates. Be aware that it is very difficult to separate Water Kefir grains from teas and small bits of plant material, and that some herbs with antimicrobial compounds may inhibit the Kefir grains. Various factors can influence the growth rate of the Water Kefir SCOBY. Adding ginger; using less refined sugar; using Spring Water; using molasses; adding eggshells or ocean coral – all help. Regular use of these grains results in rapid proliferation; share them freely with your friends and family.