December 16, 2011

Brewing Water Kefir, part 2

If you aren’t familiar with the basic process of making water kefir I strongly recommend reading part 1 of this recipe—or basic recipes on other sites—before reading this article.

Sometime in the past day or two you started a new batch of water kefir and now we’re going to discuss ways of flavoring it and/or creating home-made sodas.

First, though, let’s review the overall daily routine: you need to feed your kefir grains by starting a new batch and you need to do something with the water kefir that is now fully brewed.

Feeding the Kefir Grains. This involves preparing a new sugar water solution in one of your glass mixing bowls (steps 1-5 in part 1 of this recipe), straining the finished water kefir into the other mixing bowl and rinsing your pitcher. Then rinse the kefir grains by running clear un-chlorinated water through the strainer. If they have multiplied, just put the amount of grains you need—usually a cup or so—back into the pitcher. 

Fermented Fruit--Sweet not Sour!
If the fruit in the cheesecloth was new yesterday, you can just rinse it and put it back in the pitcher. I always take out the now plump-and-juicy fig because I eat it on my yogurt, so I have to put in a new one. If the fruit has been used more than twice you should eat or discard it and rinse the cheesecloth, then make up another set of fruit (step 8 in part 1) and put the sack into the pitcher with the kefir grains.
Finally, pour the new sugar solution into the pitcher and stir so the grains get a nice flow of liquid. The actual amount of new sugar solution should be based on the number of people for whom you’re making it.  Also, if you mix fruit juice with your water kefir for a second fermentation, you’ll need less basic water kefir per day; if you don’t, you’ll need more. Just remember, it’s 1 tbsp of sugar for each cup of water. Cover the pitcher again and place it into a shady corner or cupboard.

Too many water kefir grains?  If your water kefir grains are healthy and happy, they are likely to multiply—mine frequently double in volume in a day of brewing. If you don’t have anyone who wants some and you don’t need them all, just measure a nice amount of rinsed grains into your pitcher for the next batch and throw the rest away. You can also eat them, they taste very sweet and nice and have a tapioca-like texture, or give them away or put some around your plants.

Too much water kefir? Since you need to keep enough microbes—I’d say at least a cup—to ensure a healthy community of them, and you need to feed them every day with new sugar water, the truth is you  may wind up with more water kefir than you wish to drink. At the end of the recipe I’ll mention resting the grains, but that’s a vacation or emergency thing rather than a casual practice so you need to give yourself permission to give away excess water kefir, feed it to your plants occasionally, or (gasp!) throw some away.

Using  the water kefir as is.  You don’t HAVE to flavor or bottle your basic water kefir. You can just put it into a regular pitcher/container and refrigerate it—I also like a room-temperature cup of the fresh kefir I just took out of the pitcher. The kefir is teeming with those probiotic microbes that are so good for you so unflavored, the water kefir will continue to get more and more sour and at some point you’ll probably find it undrinkable although it might make a fun substitute for vinegar.

If you seal it in an airtight bottle (I use the old-fashioned kind with long necks and rubber stoppers on wire brackets) it will still get more and more sour but it will also get fizzy. For good carbonation, leave it at room temperature for another day and “burp” the bottle to ease pressure before you chill it.

Pineapple Water Kefir
Flavoring the water kefir. If you browse the internet you’ll find many recipes for flavoring your water kefir. Two simple ones are adding vanilla extract or some grated fresh ginger (or ginger extract.) There are also extracts for other flavors such as root beer. If you don’t want to add other flavors but you need it to be sweeter you can just add your favorite sweetener but in that case I’d do it as you serve it rather than before chilling.

My preferred method for flavoring my water kefir is to add fruit or fruit juice. If you use fresh fruit, you’ll want to mash or puree it so the  microbes have lots of surface area to work on, and you’ll want to strain out the juice with cheesecloth or a fine strainer. So ready-made juice is more convenient.

Organic Grape Kefir
You’ll need to experiment to find the mixtures and flavors you like best. I normally mix 50% juice and 50% water kefir. It’s going to ferment again, remember, so the microbes will eat most of this sugar too. I’ve tried many flavors and my current favorite is blueberry. WARNING: I bought organic cranberry juice but it killed the probiotic bugs and didn't carbonate. I don't know if it's a lack of sugar or too much acid but I don't use cranberry juice anymore. I've had great results with pomegranate juice but I usually mix it with another juice so the total mix is only 20-25% pomegranate.

Now, when you buy 100% juice blueberry (and don’t buy juice with additives—just mixtures of juice) there will be other juices shown such as apple and that’s fine. When you first mix it, you may not taste much blueberry but after the second fermentation and chilling the blueberry flavor really pops out and, with the carbonation, it’s delightful. To make the pineapple water kefir pictured above, I pureed a fresh pineapple and strained the juice through cheesecloth. It turned out excellent, like fresh pineapple juice with a zing and fizzy bubbles.

Start with your favorite juices and see which ones are the best match for the kefir.

The second fermentation. All this means is that you  give your liquid more time at room temperature for the microbes in the water kefir to eat the sugar out of the fruit juice; if you don’t want carbonation just put it in a pitcher or container with a loose lid.

If you do want bubbles, use your funnel and pour the juice/kefir mix into bottles and leave a lot of space at the top. 

Ready for another day on the counter!
For instance, I use the long-necked bottles and I fill only to the top of the wide body of the bottle. If you fill the bottle too full and make it airtight there’s a risk the pressure of carbonation could blow the top right off the bottle. Leave the bottles at room temperature for 12-24 hours. The actual time will depend on how sweet your like your home-made sodas. Since the fermentation will continue for a while after the bottles go into the fridge, I put  my bottles into the fridge when the soda is still lightly sweet. “Burp” the bottles by carefully opening the tops and re-sealing them, and place them in the fridge.

And that’s it, except every day you get to drink either fresh or carbonated water kefir or both! With different flavors, it should never get boring. To get the maximum benefit from the probiotic microbes in your water kefir, drink it between meals so your stomach is empty and the probiotic bacteria can sail right through your (hostile) stomach and into your (friendly) gut.

Resting your water kefir grains. It’s risky to stop the daily routine as the grains may deteriorate or die. If you’ve given grains to friends and family, you have a back-up and you can just toss them if you wish. Otherwise, the easiest way to stop your daily routine for a vacation or other situation is to put some grains in a 2-cup jar, pour in new sugar water solution and cover the jar with a coffee filter. Put the jar in the fridge and the microbes will slow way down and not starve in a reasonable time of a week or two.

When you want to use them again, expect them to take a few days to get back into full action but make sure you give them new sugar solution every day.

I’ve also read that you can freeze them but I haven’t tried that. And, of course, you can buy a new starter set of grains.

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