by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Fermentation is making a big comeback. Artisan bread makers are developing their own strains of yeast, kombucha makers are popping bottles of fizzy drinks at farmers’ markets. Brown glass bottles line cold drink shelves and have their own growler stations, online gurus are creating websites dedicated to specialty fermenting jars and gadgets.
Through the encouragement of a colleague and a diminishing bank account from buying kombucha, my husband, headed to amazon.com to buy kefir grains, and launched into home fermenting. Kefir water was an easy place for us to start, and we had an abundance of fresh, frozen and canned fruits on hand to flavor the second ferment with. We found our locally sourced organic blueberries were a favorite food for the kefir probiotics to feed on. By mid-summer we had half gallon jars of kefir water on the kitchen counter, in the RV shower and in the home refrigerator in various stages of fermentation. Everywhere we went a jar of probiotic brew went with us.
What is water kefir water?
Water kefir, like kombucha, is first cultured by introducing a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) into sugar water. The beneficial bacteria and yeasts present in the water kefir grains metabolize the sugar, turning it into an array of beneficial acids and infusing it with beneficial microorganisms, additional B vitamins as well as food enzymes.
Water kefir grains are small, translucent, gelatinous structures and are comprised of assorted bacteria including lactobacillus hilgardii which gives them their characteristic crystal-like appearance. When properly cared for and regularly cultured, they produce an excellent probiotic-rich beverage and will continue to grow and reproduce indefinitely.
We learned to use a jelly bag to place fruit in for the second fermentation, this made a clear pulp-free beverage over a juicy fruit drink. My colleague, Sarica Cernohous, DACM, L.Ac.; emphasized the need to use organic unrefined sugar, over honey, coconut or other low glycemic sweeteners. Sarica reminded me the probiotics needed the sucrose for food and the purpose of fermenting was to break down sugars, leaving a low glycemic almost sugar free beverage.
By the spring of 2018, we were confident enough to tackle Kombucha. For some reason this looked like the more difficult of the two fermented beverages, in fact it turned out to be far less temperamental then Kefir water. Kefir water is picky about metal, so all our containers, utensils and strainers have to be glass, wood, nylon or cloth.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha has a history dating back 2,000 years and originated in China where it was prized for its energizing qualities. The fermented drink found its way into Russia, then Germany and in the 1960’s, Swiss researchers reported that drinking kombucha was just as beneficial as eating yogurt. From there, kombucha boomed into a popular health drink.
The basic ingredients include water, black or green tea leaves, sugar and the probiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
During fermentation, glycolysis (the chemical breakdown of glucose and lactic acid) produces ethanol. The bacteria in the SCOBY use the ethanol to produce vinegar. And that’s why you get that initial citrusy sour smell and taste. Fermentation is literally the breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms. Kombucha is brewed (or fermented) over the course of 10-14 days.
Here are a couple tools that got us started with Kefir water and Kombucha.
We purchased a Kombucha Shop kit from Amazon, it included jar, muslin topper cloth, pH papers, SCOBY, organic black tea, cloth tea bag, organic sugar and stick on thermometer. A fermentation guide and a step by step laminated guide with very clear instructions!
Next we read the Funky Kitchen by Sarica Cernohous, DACM, L.Ac. and, Delicious Probiotic Drinks: 75 Recipes for Kombucha, Kefir, Ginger Beer, and Other Naturally Fermented Drinks by Julia Mueller; which filled in the gaps and provided a selection of flavoring ideas and tips.
It took about 4 months and we had two SCOBY in the gallon jar. Today we have spread our SCOBYs out into two, 1-gallon jars and invested in two Propagate Pro 10” round fermentation heating pads. This allowed us to move the brew jars out of the kitchen to our open pantry, and keep the Kombucha brew stations warm during cool to colder weather.
Kefir water makes a terrific electrolyte drink for the hot summer days as well as a way to keep your gut healthy. We are using the same Kefir grains we first purchased in the summer of 2016.
Lemon Ginger Kefir Water
3 1/2 cups water kefir
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Ginger root, 1-inch piece peeled and sliced into sticks
Pour the water kefir into airtight bottle (we use brown glass ½ gallon growlers).
Add lemon juice and ginger root.
Cap the bottle and ferment 1-3 days, depending on the desired level of carbonation.
Place the bottles of flavored water kefir in the refrigerator and serve chilled.
To naturally fermented drinks that build the microbiome in your gut for health.
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