A long time ago, I used to drink Diet Fresca. Today, water kefir is my obsession.
Water kefir is a delicious, zero waste drink
If you enjoy drinking any sort of probiotic drink, you might try making it yourself, since $5 a serve is not affordable, no it’s not. If you are also someone watching their household waste you will almost certainly brew at home. It’s a great way to reduce packaging and the load on recycling systems. Whether glass or plastic, the more we reduce, the better.
I started with kombucha, the gateway ferment. Ubiquitous, and in theory, easy. In reality, I made some good batches, but mostly a lot of vinegar (useful, but not the point). So when my kombucha SCOBY faded out last year, I quit the ‘booch and went with water kefir instead.
Compared to kombucha, I find the taste of water kefir to be more crisp, less vinegary, and importantly, fizzier. It’s also more abundant, since I can make a new batch every one to two days rather than the 7 – 14 day brew time for kombucha.
I drink it chilled, add it to bircher for soaking (including the spent fruit pieces), or as a mixer for spirits. If you’re champagned out during or after the Aussie silly season, it’s a refreshing alternative to champagne all by itself.
Water kefir is easy, fast and fizzy
After being inspired and convinced of a certain ease by this article, I acquired some grains at a food shop in Bronte and got started. Water kefir, also known as tibicos, has nothing to do with milk kefir except that the SCOBY is also grain shaped.
I had immediate and sustained success. My water kefir is reliably fizzy, low sugar (confirmed by a diabetic friend, who now also makes her own), and takes flavouring better than kombucha ever did for me.
My favourite water kefir flavour combos:
- Mulberry or plum + cardamom + vanilla (tastes like cream soda!)
- Raspberry + rose water
- Lemon myrtle + raspberry
- Cardamom + anything!
I won’t rewrite the method here, as it’s well explained in this Milkwood recipe (though I still use sugar, not honey). It’s a bit like a sourdough, and uses a simple backslop method where you pour off the majority of the the mother to make each flavoured batch, but retain and keep feeding that small amount. The word backslop sounds pretty gross, but it’s all very tidy and less visually disturbing than a kombucha SCOBY. It’s easy enough that I can eyeball the volumes and process a new batch in about five minutes.
Helpful tips for making water kefir
- Don’t fret if all you have are metal utensils. Some people say this weakens the culture, but I use a metal strainer and utensils with no trouble.
- My grains do best when I feed with a slice of fresh fruit, a piece of dried fruit and some sliced fresh ginger along with their sugar water.
- A nice bit of fizz means it’s all alive and well.
- Expect more fizz and faster brewing in the summer, less in the winter.
- If I don’t get around to making a batch after a few days, I will pop in another slice of fruit. It just seems to work to keep things balanced with the yeasts.
- If I’m away for more than a few days I feed, then refrigerate.
- I use water that’s been filtered with a binchotan stick. I don’t notice a difference in the taste of the water I drink, but it made a dramatic difference to my ferments when I ticked over from non-filtered.
- You can speed up the process by dissolving the sugar into a small amount of boiled water, then adding the hot water to room temp filtered water, rather than boiling the entire amount of water to dissolve the sugar and waiting for the whole volume to cool.
- I cover the jars, but not super tightly, and I make sure to release built up gases if I see lots of fizz in warmer weather.
- I like keeping the starter/mother in a wide mouth mason jar – It’s easy to get fruit in and out and measure the liquid.
- If you prefer flip top bottles for the second ferment, they are cheap and plentiful at the op shops.
- A bottle tastes best within about a week in the fridge, but we would rarely ever have it around that long.
Need to find a SCOBY? Try here if you’re in Sydney, the Crop Swap Facebook group is a good resource. This Pinkfarm online community lists those who are willing to swap cultures. I found water kefir to be more elusive, and actually bought my grains from Star Anise Wholefoods.
If you brew water kefir, what’s your favourite flavour combo?