Seasonal water kefir

To keep my gut nourished with good bacteria, I try to consume something fermented each day. Usually I tend towards sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles, all of which I make at home. I’m still working on a coconut yoghurt that’s better than, or at least as good as, the stuff I can get from my local organic shop, but the same place also sells a de-li-ci-ous water kefir, which is basically like a probiotic soda. My boyfriend and I call it ‘the most refreshing drink in the world’. Lemon and fig flavour, it’s sour, fizzy and oh-so thirst-quenching.

I figured I’d give homemade water kefir a go for a few reasons: I can define the flavour by what fruit’s in season, it’s cheaper than buying the store-bought stuff, and it saves on packaging.

The process involves a two-part fermentation and an extra day at the end to make it fizzy, but technically you can drink the kefir after the first or second stage if you like. The second fermentation is where things get tasty, as you add in seasonal fruits for flavour. The image shows a mixture of strawberries and red currants*, but I’ve tried everything from apples and pears to mangoes and oranges. Ginger is a great addition too, and apparently kefir loves it.

Before you worry about the sugar involved in this recipe, there are only residual amounts of the sweet stuff left in the resulting drink as most of it is gobbled up in the fermentation process.

When cared for properly, the grains can be used indefinitely and will multiply. Mine breed like crazy and I’ve already given batches to a few friends along the way. I also keep a jar of extras in the fridge, which I add into smoothies (around a tablespoon per smoothie).

I’ve included two recipes below: one simple, one a bit more involved. Both work, but after much reading and many research batches, I’ve learned that apparently the grains benefit from a few extra minerals, hence the additional ingredients.

*Full disclosure: the strawberry-and-red currant combo makes for a pretty picture but wasn’t my favourite. Too much sweetness from the strawberries, not enough sourness from the currants. My instinct tells me if you’re using thick-skinned fruits, mash or muddle them a little instead of adding them whole. I’ll give it a try sometime to find out.

Seasonal water kefir

Equipment needed
  • 1 x large air-tight mason jar (I use one that's around 2.5 litres)
  • A plastic sieve (or do what I do and line a metal sieve with cheesecloth when straining the grains, which don't deal well with metal)
  • An air-tight swing-top bottle
Ingredients for initial fermentation (the basic version)
  • 1/2 cup x water kefir grains
  • 1/2 cup x organic cane sugar
  • 2 x organic, sulphite-free dried figs, torn in half
  • 1 x lemon quarter
OR Ingredients for initial fermentation (the more nutrient-rich version)
  • 1/2 cup x water kefir grains
  • 1/2 cup x organic cane sugar
  • 1 tsp x organic molasses
  • 1 x organic, sulphite-free dried fig, torn in half
  • 1 x organic, sulphite-free dried date, torn in half
  • A few slices of fresh ginger
  • 1 x lemon quarter
  • Plus, every so often, add a piece of boiled eggshell to the brew
Ingredients for second fermentation 
  • 1 1/2 cups x chopped fresh seasonal fruit
  • Optional extras: fresh ginger, whole spices like cardamom or clove, fresh herbs

Instructions

Fill the mason jar up with 2 litres of water and leave, unsealed, overnight. This helps chlorine from tap water to evaporate. If your tap water is chlorine free, you can skip this step. You can also use natural spring water instead to start making the kefir immediately.

The next day, add 1/2 cup cane sugar to the jar (as well as the molasses, if following the more involved fermentation option) and stir with a wooden spoon (remember: kefir grains don't like metal) until dissolved.

Add 1/2 cup kefir grains, the dried fruit and the lemon to the jar, as well as the ginger and egg shell if using. Seal the jar, then leave on the kitchen counter away from direct sunlight for 2-3 days, the former for warmer months and the latter during winter. One recipe I read suggests giving it some sunlight on the last day, which I do from time to time.

I've read that kefir grains like an anaerobic environment (they don't need oxygen to survive), hence the air-tight container. If you want to reduce the (already small) amount of alcohol present in finished water kefir, however, you can use cheesecloth over the lid instead.

After the fermentation time, use your plastic sieve or a metal one lined with cheesecloth to strain the mixture from the jar into a bowl.

Pick out and discard the lemon slices, dried fruit etc. You can either use the grains to start a fresh batch immediately, or you can store them in a jar in the fridge with a mixture of water and sugar. I use around one tablespoon of organic cane sugar per time and cover with water. If you had mixture leftover from the first fermentation feel free to add that in. The grains are happiest when making water kefir though, so as soon as I'm running low on one batch I get a new one rolling.

Now back to the second fermentation of your current batch. Give your mason jar a rinse, then pour the strained liquid back in.

Add the fruit and any additional extras, then seal. Keep on the kitchen bench for another 24 hours. After that time, the fruit should have risen to the surface and the liquid should have a light fizz.

Re-strain to remove the fruit. You can drink the flavoured kefir as is, or pour it into a swing-top bottle and leave at room temperature for an additional 24 hours or longer to make it fizzy. Just make sure you 'burp' the bottle once or twice a day, as bottles like this have been known to explode.

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