Water Kefir is a fermented beverage shrouded in mystery and ancient folklore. Some think Kefir may have been the legendary Manna from ancient times. According to legend, it was a gift from the Gods that fell from the skies to feed the Israelites on their 40 day journey through the desert. Kefir has a refreshing effervescent flavour and is packed full of beneficial bacteria for gut health.
Water kefir grains are called many different names. The most common is Tibicos. They’re also known as Japanese water crystals, California bees, Australian Bees, African Bees, Ginger Bees, Ginger Beer Plant, Sea Rice or Aqua Gems, to name a few. In Germany they are called Piltz; in Italy; Kefir di Frutta; and in France, Graines Vivantes. It is hard to tell where the Water Kefir grains actually originated. One clue lies in Mexico where the Tibicos culture forms on the pads of the Opuntia cactus as hard granules that can be reconstituted in a sugar-water solution as propagating tibicos. There is documentation from the late 1800s of water kefir grains being used in fermented drink made from the sweetened juice of the prickly pear cactus in Mexico. Their use has also been recorded in Tibet, the Caucasus Mountains, and the southern peninsula of theUkraine. While the origins remain a mystery it’s safe to say that they have been in use for many centuries.
Making Kefir is much the same as making Kombucha. Kefir Grains form the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of beneficial bacteria and yeasts). These grains are small crystallised granules of bacteria and yeast living in a symbiotic relationship and held together by a polysaccharide (dextran) produced by Lactobacillus brevis. The grains are cultured in sugar water where the bacteria and yeast in the Kefir grains metabolise the sugars.This produces an array of beneficial acids, microorganisms, B vitamins and enzymes. The process of fermentation does reduce the sugar content and because it is a fermented drink, lactic acid, carbon dioxide and a small amount of ethanol is produced. Alcohol levels are typically around 0.5%-0.75%There are two types of Kefir (and they are two different compositions of bacteria) i.e. Milk Kefir and Water Kefir. Milk Kefir grains require milk for the bacteria to reproduce. You can occasionally use non-dairy liquids (like coconut milk, sugar water, sweetened infusions,etc.) with milk kefir grains, but you should return them to milk within a few days to ensure they remain healthy. Water kefir grains, similarly, should be kept only for culturing water kefir.
To brew Water Kefir, you’ll need a large glass jar that can be covered by cheesecloth. When it comes time for bottling, the secondary fermentation creates the fizz so the safest option is to use plastic Mineral Water bottles just in case you get too much fizz.