That changed recently when I found my poor neglected grains at the back of the fridge and decided to see if I could resurrect them. After about a week and three or four sugar water changes, they looked pretty good again and I've been 'playing' around with them since.
The water kefir grains look a bit like sugar crystals. Mine are
stained brown from the rapadura sugar I use, and they are
usually larger in size but I have not been cultivating mine for very long.
Like dairy kefir grains, water kefir grains - also known as Tibicos - are a symbiotic mixture of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and when placed in a mineral-rich sugary liquid, they convert the sugars to lactic acid, ethanol (i.e. alcohol, at less than 1% of the final beverage) and carbon dioxide. The production of the carbon dioxide is what gives it it's nice fizzy quality, similar to commercial carbonated drinks (sodas). The grains also leave behind a nice mixture of probiotic bacteria which, like dairy kefir, is very beneficial for our gut. I've read that it is similar to Kombucha tea, but I've not yet tried Kombucha myself.
Also like dairy kefir grains, water kefir grains must be obtained from another batch of kefir. I don't know anyone with water kefir grains so I ended up ordering mine online, as dehydrated crystals.
I've not had much of a chance to experiment with flavouring yet, I've been concentrating my efforts on replicating my home made ginger beer, and I have to say that I have now ditched my ginger beer plant and am sticking to ginger-flavoured kefir!
Fermenting water kefir with slices of fresh ginger.
Kefir grains like lots of minerals apparently, so I am using the least refined sugar I have in my pantry which is organic Rapadura sugar (evaporated sugar cane juice). As Rapadura has a distinctive taste which many people don't like, adding the shell of an organic egg to the fermentation can help add beneficial minerals when using more processed sugars. The grains do not like chlorinated water, but using filtered water does not contain enough minerals either, so you could use either boiled and cooled tap water or filtered water with the eggshells added. I don't much like the taste of our tap water so I tend to use filtered water + eggshells from our hens.
My technique so far has been to dissolve ¼ cup Rapadura in 1 litre of water, and then add the water kefir grains in a reusable, open-weave muslin bag (I made my own but I have seen similar bags sold as bouquet garni bags in health food shops) and about a 1" piece of fresh ginger, sliced into slivers. When I have lemons, I will add some lemon peel too. I was covering the jar with muslin but found that bugs were still getting in, so I just put the lid on loosely now (I am using an old Moccona coffee jar).
First fermentation on the right and second fermentation
on the left - notice the difference in colour due to the conversion of the sugars.
After a 36-48 hour fermentation, I remove the grains and the ginger. It depends how hot the temperature is as to how fast the fermentation takes place - you'll want to stop fermentation when the sweetness of the final beverage is to your taste; a shorter fermentation for a sweeter drink and a longer for a less sweet one. I then add about ¼ cup of lemon juice, pour the mix into a flip-top, Grolsch-style bottle, seal and allow it to ferment for a further 12 hours or so, until it's a little fizzy.
W.o.w. It's really delicious! One of my girls loves it and although the other two are indifferent, I think it's more because they aren't huge ginger fans. It's so much easier and quicker to make than my traditional ginger beer, PLUS it contains probiotics!
Do any of you lovely readers use water kefir? What are your favourite flavourings? Do tell! I gather that grape juice is very popular in the US but grape juice/ grape soda must be an American thing as I've not seen fresh grape juice for sale anywhere over here.
For more information on water kefir, check out:
Nourished Kitchen and
Dom's Kefir In-Site.
Kefir grains can be ordered via Dom in Australia, or I've heard good things about Cultures for Health in the US.