“I’ve brought you something,” said my friend Charlotte in an ominous tone, producing something blurry in a tiny Tupperware box from her bag. We were in a cafe near Waterloo and my kids were running rings around the table.
She handed over something that, when I opened the lid, looked like frogspawn without the tiny black dots. It emanated a vinegary aroma.
“Water kefir grains – they’ll change your life! Great for your gut health!”
I looked non-plussed.
“All you have to do is feed them and keep them alive. The grains are like a Tamagotchi.” By now, she was grinning in an evangelical manner. This was surely some kind of cult?
Just on a practical level, I had no idea how I would keep anything alive in addition to my two kids, who are as much as I can handle on any given day. The idea of having a sort-of-pet, something extra to feed and keep watered, didn’t especially appeal. What a hassle! However, Charlotte is a chef and knows her onions. If she says something is worth doing, it usually is. (Apart from her consideration that mackerel, sardines and cauliflower are acceptable lunch items to eat on a packed train, but anyway).
A couple of days later I finally got around to getting the mysterious grains out of the fridge and peering at them. I got my friend Rachel’s Tonics & Teas book off the shelf, and looked at her easy water kefir method to make a nice, fruity drink. A couple of tablespoons of the chunks of cloudy ‘jelly’ grains, boiled sugar water, dried fruit and a slice or two of citrus was all that was needed to make things happen. Forty eight hours of fermentation later, the mixture bubbling quietly in a jar, the resulting drink was so pleasing. It tasted AMAZING! I found myself making another batch immediately, and again and again. I’m now on something like my 15th bottle of water kefir, and the flavours keep changing. I’ve made flavours such as:
– Sour cherry and lemon
– Fig and orange
– Fresh ginger and lime
– Mango and lemon
I’m like a woman on a mission. I’ve already passed on some grains to a friend and am gonna keep going! Allez allez!
So why should any of us drink water kefir? For one, it tastes really good – if, like me, you don’t like over-sweet drinks but enjoy something tangy and tart, it’s delicious. Water kefir has a tangy, cream soda finish to it, is mildly fizzy and could act as a decent mixer to a vodka or gin. It has a little sugar in it and is full of healthy probiotic bacteria – will do wonders for gut health, I’m told. It’s quite a relaxing hobby to get into and I find it quite calming after a hectic day. You can save money on buying pointless sodas and over-sweet drinks that taste crappy, smug in the knowledge that you’re improving your gut microbiome (or whatever). There are so many online resources and people making kefir all over the world. You could also get into making dairy kefir…but I can’t really face curdling milk in my house and keeping an eye on that. At least if water kefir goes unattended, it just goes a bit alcoholic. Hurrah for that!
So how to get started? You can buy water kefir grains online, but there are sometimes kefir enthusiasts out there who have spare grains to share, as the the grains multiply slowly in the jar you keep them in. You’ll have to keep giving them away – use a food sharing app like OLIO to donate them or track some down in your neighbourhood. You’ll also need some basic equipment: a plastic sieve (kefir grains don’t like to come into contact with metal), a plastic funnel, a 1000ml bottle with a clip top, a muslin cloth and a glass jar that can hold 1000ml.
When you’re not using your kefir grains, keep them in a glass jar in the fridge topped up with cooled boiled water and a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Make sure you top this up with extra sugar and water every 2 weeks, to keep the critters alive.
Recipe – adapted from Rachel de Thample’s one in Teas & Tonics
You will need:
2 tbsps water kefir grains
3 tbsps unrefined cane sugar
1000ml boiled water (or mineral water)
2 tbsps dried fruit (eg fig, raisins, dried mango, cherries, dates etc)
1-2 slices lemon/lime/orange (optional)
1 pinch bicarbonate of soda (optional)
To start, sterilise the jar you want to ferment your kefir drink in. I usually wash my jar and put it in the oven at 120C for 13 – 15 minutes. Boil 1000 ml of water. (Boiling kills the chlorine in tap water, which would harm the kefir grains. Or you could use bottled mineral water.) Pour 1000ml of water into your sterilised jar and mix in 3 tablespoons of unrefined cane sugar until dissolved. Let it all cool down. Then add your kefir grains and 2 tablespoons of dried fruit and a slice or two of lemon/lime/orange. The citrus is optional. If you like a smoothness to your sodas, add a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. Then loosely cover with a muslin cloth, secure with a rubber band and place in a dark cupboard for 48 hours. That’s it!
Before bottling, sterilise your bottle in the oven and let it cool right down before you pour any water kefir into it. Strain the mixture through a plastic sieve to remove all fruit and grains, then it’s ready to bottle – you might want to strain it again through muslin through the funnel into the bottle, but I never bother. (It’s normal for some sediment to fall to the bottom of the kefir in the bottle, and I suppose the muslin would get rid of this.) Pop your kefir grains back into their jar using a wooden or plastic spoon (avoid metal) and keep them in the fridge in sugar water. Your kefir drink will keep for about 3 weeks in the fridge, but it’ll be long gone before then…
Variations: Charlotte adds a couple of inches of fruit juice to her finished kefir. She sometimes uses coconut water instead of plain water. Others add fresh fruit to the brewed kefir after 48 hours, and you then ferment it for another 24 hours. I hear pineapple is a good one to try. So many different methods. This site has a great FAQ section which takes kefir-making to dizzying nerdy heights.
I’m off to go and check on my grain people in a jar. Nothing creepy about that…