Friday, March 22, 2013

| my 13 month old says "water kefir" |

Y'all this may be one of the most exciting food developments I've had in my life in years. I recently discovered the joys of water kefering (yes, I just used it as a verb. I have no idea if that's possible.).

I have long had a nasty Diet Coke soda. Just ask anyone I went to graduate school with. McDonalds Diet Coke is the best Diet Coke in the world, btw. But I am really trying to kick the aspartame habit, so I've been in search of a somewhat healthy, fizzy alternative. I've been drinking plain sparkling water for a while, but it is so, well, PLAIN. Finally, though, I've found it. Water kefir is a healthy, home-brewed, fruity, slightly sweet, fizzy probiotic drink. Imagine a really really weak beer with fruit in it. Or a very weak wine cooler. There, that's water kefir. This stuff is blowing my mind. Sometimes during the day I find myself craving a Diet Coke and then I think, "No, no. I'm going to have water kefir tonight. It's all good."

Water kefir is different than dairy kefir (which if you've actually happened to have heard of kefir, is probably what you are familiar with). Dairy kefir is sour and tastes like yogurt or buttermilk. Water kefir is not at all sour. Although water kefir and dairy kefir are made with different starters, the concept is the same and both result in a healthy beverage filled with probiotics.

How does one make water kefir? Well, first you have to procure some water kefir grains. These little globulues of translucent white goodness are not actually grains at all, so no worries if you're gluten-free. They are called grains but they are actually just bundles of good bacteria. Before you get all grossed out by that, just think about yeast. They are like yeast.

So what you do is you get some water kefir grains from a friend or by purchasing them online. These little ladies live off of sugar water. You need about 1/4 cup of water kefir grains to make a quart of water kefir. I'm not going to go into tons of details about how exactly to make your kefir because there are about a million other blogs that already do that. Use the google.

I have been kefiring for a couple of weeks and have a good system down. I put my grains in a quart mason jar with 1/4 cup sugar and boiled tap water (that has been cooled). I add a few raisins for the mineral content (bonus: you can tell the kefir is almost done when the raisins all float to the top). I slap a coffee filter on there so dust doesn't fall in. I leave it there around 24-36 hours, and taste it to see when it's done. I like mine to be much less sweet than sugar water, but still a little sweet. (Side note: although you are putting a ton of sugar into this to start, apparently as it ferments the grains eat up the sugar and turn it into a simpler form of sugar that is easier to digest and has fewer calories).

After that, the first fermentation is done and things get really fun. I pour mine into two pint jars, straining out the kefir grains and raisins. The raisins go in the trash (I haven't been brave enough to compost them....I'm just not sure if that's okay). The grains go right back into a fresh batch of sugar water. They can be used again and again. You can also put them on hiatus if you need a break. Over time they are also known to multiply, giving you grains to share with your friends (or to start making two quarts at a time - holla!).

With my two pint jars of plain kefir, I add flavors for the second fermentation. Here is what I've done so far:
Blueberry, Strawberry (alone or together. I've noticed frozen fruit works great)
Dried cherries
Raisins (and then add vanilla right before drinking)
Apple cores

Just Okay
Just vanilla (added right before drinking)
Fresh blackberries

Not Tasty
Frozen cherries
Fresh raspberries
Dried apricots
Anything with lemon or lime. I thought this would be awesome, but it was way too strong. I need to try again.

So after another 24-48 hours, you are finally done. I burp my jars every day. If you want them to get very carbonated, put on a tight lid. If you're not into carbonation, use a coffee filter again. When it tastes yummy, strain out the fruit, put them in the fridge and enjoy. I like mine really cold, so I try to be patient. Again, it's good to burp every day or so.

This stuff is amazing. I can't get enough of it. It's easy, cheap, fun, and tastes seriously good. My kids like it, too. Plus, I don't have to remember to take a daily probiotic (which, let's be honest, I never remembered to do). Oh, one last tip, I did read somewhere online to ease into it if your tummy isn't used to probiotics (from a pill, dairy kefir, or quality yogurt). I started by drinking a cup a day and had no problems, but my tummy is also pretty used to probiotics.