Photo by Adobe Stock/ joanna wnuk
Water kefir is a quick ferment, needing only a day or two and involving both bacteria and yeast. It’s dairy-free, caffeine-free, and a great alternative to sodas. It’s fizzier than kombucha, easier and quicker to make, and less challenging flavor-wise. For these reasons, it can be a great first fermented drink to make, even for skeptics.
Water kefir grains are a SCOBY that digests sugar and creates acids. They don’t require tea as do kombucha and Jun, only sugar. But to keep your kefir grains happy and growing, use darker sugar rather than plain white sugar. Piloncillo (also known as panela or rapadura) is a great option because it has a higher mineral content, which helps the grains reproduce. Some other good options include raw sugar, brown sugar, and aguamiel de maguey. Other ways to provide the necessary minerals include adding raisins or other dried fruit, or boiled and crushed eggshells.
The grains risk starvation if left for more than a few days with no sugar, so make new batches on a regular schedule. Fortunately, after you taste your water kefir, you’ll want to make it all the time!
- 1/4 cup sugar, such as piloncillo, cane sugar, or turbinado
- 1 quart filtered water
- 2 tablespoons hydrated water kefir grains
- Rinsed and boiled shell of 1 egg, 4 raisins, or 1 tablespoon aguamiel de maguey (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped fruit or frozen berries for secondary fermentation (optional)
- Dissolve the sugar and water in a 1⁄2-gallon Mason jar. Or, to speed up the process, dissolve the sugar in the jar with 1 cup of hot water, and then add 3 cups of cold water to get to a total of 1 quart. Make sure the resulting sugar-water mixture is body temperature (98 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower.
- Add the kefir grains and the eggshell, raisins, or aguamiel de maguey (if using), and then cover with a lid. Write the brewing date on a piece of masking tape on the outside of the jar. Let it sit at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours, or until you see bubbling activity. As with milk kefir, strain the kefir grains with a plastic or nylon strainer and start a new batch immediately, if possible.
- Refrigerate the fermented water kefir liquid in a covered jar until ready to serve. For a different flavor, perform a second fermentation: In a 1⁄2-gallon Mason jar, add some chopped fruit to the brewed water kefir. Close the lid. Write the brewing date on a piece of masking tape on the outside of the jar. Let it sit at room temperature for another 24 to 48 hours, at which time it’ll be ready to drink or to refrigerate.
- Be careful when opening the kefir; it has more fizz than kombucha and can explode. It’s a good idea to refrigerate the bottle for 1 to 2 hours before opening it. This will lessen the explosion potential. Once opened, strain the fruit, if desired, and serve.
Learn more about kefir here.
Alex Lewin and Raquel Guajardo teamed up to share their fermenting knowledge through the written word. This is excerpted from their book Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond (Fair Winds Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group).