During the indulgence of the holidays, do yourself a favor and add a kefir water mocktail to the rotation of boozed up eggnog and spiked hot chocolate. Not only is this choice better for your liver, but it boosts your gut health (which is especially crucial when eating hard to process foods) and may even boost immune system and cancer cell response, and be anti-inflammatory.
What Is Water Kefir?
Sometimes called “tibicos,” water kefir is fermented sugar water. Even simpler to make than kombucha or jun, water kefir has all the benefits of naturally occurring yeasts and probiotics without the caffeine of kombucha or jun, and without the dairy of milk kefir or yogurt. Instead of a “mother” culture or scoby, however, water kefir is brewed using kefir grains, which contain the sugar-consuming bacteria necessary to cause fermentation to occur.
Why Choose Water Kefir Over Other Cultured Beverages?
If you are vegan or sensitive to dairy, water kefir is a great alternative to milk kefir or yogurt. As it is caffeine-free, it can be consumed any time of day or night, and is a great choice for those who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. It may even contain less sugar in an 8 ounce glass than the average kombucha or milk kefir. (In short, the longer you allow your water kefir to “culture,” the longer the bacteria has a chance to eat up the sugar in the sugar-water solution. This translates to less sugar in the final product.) Water kefir also takes less time to ferment than kombucha or jun, clocking in at 24-48 hours of fermentation time, as opposed to cultured tea’s fermentation period of 7-30 days.
Making Water Kefir At Home
Water kefir is simple to make and easy to maintain. To brew, all you need is:
- water free of chlorine; hard, highly mineralized water is good
- a 32 ounce mason jar
- a coffee filter
- a rubber band
- a wooden spoon
- a fine mesh strainer
- activated water kefir grains
- Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into your jar.
- Add 1/2 cup of hot water and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Add 3 cups of cool water to the jar and test to make sure it is between 65°F-86°F.
- Add activated water kefir grains. Cover the jar with a coffee filter secured by a rubber band and let culture 24-48 hours.
- To flavor the kefir, separate the grains from the liquid using a strainer and reserve the kefir. Add fresh fruit, ginger root, fruit juice, coconut water, etc to a clean jar, add kefir water, cover with a lid, and let sit at room temperature for several days. Relieve the pressure building in the lid every day by cracking the lid open, otherwise your jar could become dangerously pressurized! The kefir water is ready to refrigerate and drink when it is lightly carbonated.
- Repeat the above steps to continue making water kefir. If you would like to take a water kefir “break, repeat steps 1-3, add water kefir grains and cover the jar with a lid, then immediately refrigerate. Kefir can survive in the fridge up to 3 weeks before it must be fed again.
Sugars Compatible with Water Kefir Culture
- refined white sugar
- cane juice crystals
- turbinado, demerara, or raw sugar
- brown sugar
- rapadura or sucanat
It is important to check a source like this one from Cultures For Health to make sure your sweetener is aligned with the health of the water kefir’s culture. For example, agave and maple syrup are undigestible for water kefir. Ingredients like molasses and coconut sugar can be used in small doses, or combined with any of the sugars in the bullet list above. Honey has its own bacterial culture and is not recommended, as it may be very damaging to water kefir grains.
Stick to the list of approved sugars, however, and your culture should be very happy! The good news is, each sugar in the bullet list above has a unique flavor profile, which means water kefir can taste quite different depending on the sugar you choose to feed it.
Where Can I Buy Water Kefir?
Of course, you can find water kefir grains on Amazon or other third-party vending sites. Or, you can buy directly from companies like Cultures For Health and receive their water kefir starter kit. Happy Gut has kefir grains for sale and boasts a collection of flavor additives you can purchase at checkout. Alternatively, there may be someone near you who is cultivating water kefir. Kefir grains do multiply over time, and perhaps they would share a few with you.
Why Water Kefir Is A Mixologist’s Dream
Water kefir can be fed many kinds of sugar and therefore can take on different flavor characteristics. It can also be flavored after the ferment using fruit, chopped roots, herbs and aromatics, juices, coconut water, and more.
The Diageo Bar Academy has some thoughts on what makes a quality drink. They say:
A good cocktail has tension. Tension exists in the balance between the elements: alcoholic strength, sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, temperature and texture. Flavour alone is not enough to make a good drink great.
With that in mind, water kefir can be manipulated into many “textures” or levels of carbonation, many levels of sweetness, and even levels of sourness. As it is a fermented beverage, it adds a trace layer of alcohol to any mixed drink, though it alone would have to be consumed in massive quantities in order to feel the effects of alcohol. (Most folks recommend drinking 16 ounces of water kefir a day.)
Incorporating water kefir into a crafted drink (with or without alcohol) is a great way to add complexity and a touch of sweetness or sourness to your beverage. Simple or very lightly flavored water kefir also makes a great replacement for tonic or soda water in a mixed drink. In short, starting with a quantity of intentionally-brewed water kefir means most of the heavy lifting for creating a drink is done. Simply add fresh fruit juice, some herbs, and maybe some alcohol, and you have a refreshing (even healthful) drink on your hands!
Simple, Thai-Inspired Kefir Mocktail
With fresh, simple ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong.
With a simple kefir water flavored only with white sugar and coconut water, this drink was complex and delicious even before it was fully assembled!
Thai-Inspired Water Kefir (Tibicos) Mocktail
- 0.5 ounces fresh ginger root, peeled with the edge of a spoon
- 1/2 cup turbinado or raw sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 5 large basil leaves
- 8 ounces coconut kefir water
- 0.5 ounces fresh lime juice
- lime wedges, for garnish
- coarse mineral salt, for garnish
- Roughly chop peeled ginger and place in a small sauce pot along with raw sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from the heat and let mixture steep until it is cool to the touch, 20-30 minutes.
- Strain ginger and reserve the simple syrup.
- Cut a lime into wedges and rub the top of a large glass or jar with the cut lime. Turn the glass upside down on a plate with coarse mineral salt until the lip of the glass is heavily salted.
- Muddle 4 of the basil leaves in the large glass or jar along with lime juice. Fill the vessel with ice and stir until ice is coated.
- Remove bruised basil leaves from the jar and add kefir water, along with 0.5 ounces of the ginger simple syrup. Stir.
- Add remaining basil leaf and lime slices to the glass as a garnish. Serve immediately.