Our Family got bigger. Unfortunate for the grandparents and the girls it is not another baby – only water kefir. It lives happily together with all the other jars and containers that are bubbling and fermenting whatever is inside and produces continuously yummy, healthy lemonade.
Water kefir is kind of like the German ‘Hermann cake’ or the Amish Friendship Bread, that was popular when I was a kid. Except of my husband I don’t know any kid of the 70’s and 80’s that has not brought one home from school.
What is water kefir?
Also named Japanese water crystal, water kefir is a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria – similar to kombucha, that will culture sugar water in a couple of hours to make a naturally fermented homemade soda that is rich in probiotics, B vitamins and food enzymes. In its basic form the taste reminds me of bitter lemon or ‘Fedeweißer’, the partially fermented young wine that comes to the market in Europe in late September/early October.
To my knowledge water kefir is not produced commercially, but it is easy to get the grains online, although I found a huge difference in price. Some individual vendors hand off their grains for free if you pay postage and some commercial companies sell the same amount – 30g (enough for one liter) – for as much as 18,90€.
In the beginning you don’t need more than those 30g, because in a favorable environment (relatively hard water and enough food (sugar, nitrogen) for the yeast & bacteria) water kefir grows fast. An increase of 25% is almost happening and I have seen it doubling often as well. All you need is relatively hard water, sugar and some dried fruits.
Recipe for one liter water kefir
- 1 liter water (25% warm water, 75% cold water)
- 75g Sugar
- 2 round slices of an organically grown lemon (if you don’t like a slightly bitter taste remove the peel)
- 3 dried figs
- 30g water kefir grains
- glass jar that holds 1,5l (without lid)
- clean cotton cloth
- rubber band or string
Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and mix it with the cold water to get one liter sweet water at room temperature. Put the rest of the ingredients into a clean glass jar and fill it up with the sweet water. Put a clean cotton cloth on top and secure it with a rubber band or a string, so that the developing carbon dioxide can escape Now leave it to ferment for about 48 hours at room temperature. Unlike kombucha it doesn’t need to be dark, but avoid direct sunlight.
When its done, take out the dried fruit and the slices of lemon and strain the lemonade through a plastic strainer, catching the water kefir grains. Rinse the grains and wash the jar before starting your next batch.
You can drink your lemonade right away or fill it in glass bottles and put it into the fridge for a second fermentation. The remaining micro-organism will ferment the slower than the water kefir grains, so it is safe to put a lid on the bottle. Trapping the carbon dioxide during the second fermentation results in a refreshing, nicely prickly lemonade!
Changing the taste of your lemonade
Water kefir offers a gazillion ways to change the taste, inviting you to experiment with whatever you can think of. Play with the ingredients and/or with the time and temperature of fermentation until you have found your favorite style. E.g. if you prefer it not so sweet, extend the fermentation time, so more of the sugar is being consumed by the yeast. When playing with the recipe, make sure that you always have…
- Some form of liquid (water or tea)
- Some sort of sugar (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup etc.)
- Some sort of dried, non-sulfurized fruits
- Some sort of natural acid (lemon, grapefruit, lime …)
- Optional: edible flowers, herbs, fruits, aromates (e.g. ginger, cinnamon, vanilla pod…)
Some combinations that I have tried or that I have on my list to try when the season has arrived are
- Ginger, lemon and thyme
- Fruit tea and plums
- Green tea, kaki and lemon
- Black tea, Lemon, vanilla pod and cinnamon
- Green tea and yuzu
- Water, elderflower and lemon
- Green tea, rhubarb and lemon
- Water, strawberries, lemon and mint
- … you see the list is endless
Things worth knowing about water kefir
- Water kefir doesn’t like metal, so use glass and plastic utensils when dealing with the grains (strainer, funnel, jars etc.).
- The importance of hygiene in the kitchen, especially when dealing with fermentation shouldn’t be new, but the be safe I mention it again
- Pausing to make water kefir. If you want to stop making lemonade for a couple of days or are going on vacation, put your water kefir grains and 10% sugar water (100g sugar for 1l water) in an non-lidded glass jar in the fridge. When you want to restart simply rinse the grains and use them according to the basic recipe.