If you’re a soda fan who’s striving to make healthier choices, a newly popular drink deserves a second look. Forget carbonated waters; water kefir is what’s attracting attention today. This lightly fizzy drink is filled with probiotics for better gut health, and it contains just enough sugar to taste sweet. Best of all, you can make water kefir at home for an almost unlimited supply of this natural drink.
Not sure how to get started? Let’s walk through the details below.
What is Water Kefir?
Water kefir is a fermented probiotic drink that’s brewed with kefir grains. Kefir grains (also known as ‘Japanese Water Crystals’ and ‘California Bees’) come from the prickly pear cactus and is used to brew a fermented, alcohol-free beverage. These ‘grains’ are composed of a symbiotic balance of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, and they can be used to culture juice, sugar water, and even coconut water.
This probiotic brewing process means that kefir contains more strains of beneficial bacteria than many other cultured products, including yogurt. The resulting drink is a light, refreshing soda that’s similar to kombucha. As the kefir grains metabolize almost all the sugar in the juice, they leave it with a slight tang rather than tasting sweet. Thanks to those hungry bacteria, kefir water has a low glycemic load and is caffeine-free.
Though the odds are good you’ve never heard of them, kefir grains have long been used in European and Central Asian folk medicine for their fresh taste and purported health benefits. By some accounts, it has as many as 40 strains of beneficial bacteria for boosting your system and fighting off carcinogens, tumors, and other health threats.
Water Kefir Vs. Milk Kefir: What’s the Difference?
Kefir grains are traditionally used to make two kinds of drinks: milk kefir and water kefir. Milk kefir tends to be most widely available, and you can usually find it in health food stores. Most kinds of milk will work, including goat, cow, or sheep. This dairy-based kefir tends to have a tart taste that is reminiscent of Greek yogurt, and the flavor profile gets stronger the longer the drink is fermented. While the beverage isn’t naturally sweet, many manufacturers incorporate vanilla or fruit to boost the flavors and make it more palatable
Water kefir, in contrast, is brewed without dairy products and instead relies on sugar and water to produce a fizzy beverage that’s reminiscent of soda. The finished drink contains fewer bacterial strains than milk kefir, but it includes significantly more than other cultured products like yogurt. These two kefir drinks have different properties and consequently should be used differently. While milk kefir works well in recipes that call for dairy, water kefir is less tart and creamy, so it’s better to drink plain instead.
8 Health Benefits of Water Kefir
Besides the low sugar content, is there any reason to start making and drinking homemade water kefir? These benefits might convince you so.
1. Easy to Make
If you want homemade water kefir, you can have it in just three days, and only five minutes of prep time before you wait. This makes water kefir one of the easiest probiotic drinks you can brew.
2. More Potent Probiotic than Yogurt
Those who want to boost their beneficial bacteria counts often turn to yogurt, but they should consider trying water kefir instead. Kefir grains contain about 40 strains of yeasts and bacteria, and these microorganisms can aid digestion and improve your weight management and mental health, as well as many other health conditions.
3. Boosts Immunity
If you’re looking to reinforce your immune system, water kefir might be the right option. The drink contains a myriad of nutrients like biotin and folate that rev up the immune system and protect your cells. Together with probiotics, these compounds inhibit the growth of predatory bacteria that lead to infections. In the same way, kefir has been found to contain an antimicrobial agent called kefiran that can prevent candida overgrowths.
4. Heals Skin
The digestive system is at the center of your immune system, so it’s not uncommon for seemingly unrelated health problems to be connected to your gut. This means that skin problems like acne and eczema are often linked to disruptions in the natural balance of your gut bacteria. Drinking kefir brings equilibrium back to your system, which can even out problems in your skin over time. There is also evidence that the compound kefiran can improve the skin’s ability to heal wounds and protect connective tissues.
5. Protective Against Cancer Growth
Cancer, one of the top causes of death worldwide, is caused by the unchecked growth of damaged cells in the body, as in the case of a tumor. The probiotics within fermented foods like water kefir are thought to prevent these cells from proliferating by stimulating the immune system to keep them in check. Initial studies are promising, especially for patients with breast cancer.
6. Potent Antibacterial Properties
Certain probiotics within water kefir have impressive antibacterial benefits, including lactobacillus kefiri, a compound only found in kefir. Studies reveal that keeping it in your system can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella.
7. Improves Allergy & Asthma Symptoms
For those with over-sensitive immune systems, harmless substances can trigger extreme inflammatory responses. Water kefir seems to calm down this reaction by suppressing these inflammatory responses in ways that reduce allergy symptoms (at least in animal testing). More research is needed to see whether these results stand up in human trials.
8. Helps with Digestive Problems
The probiotics in kefir bring balance to your digestive system, which is why they can be effective for eradicating intestinal problems like diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, and even ulcers. If your body regularly struggles after meals, a glass or two of water kefir might help you find relief.
How to Choose & Use Kefir
The benefits of water kefir are impressive, but how do you begin to make your own? The first step is choosing whether to use kefir grains or a powdered starter culture.
Kefir Grains or Powdered Kefir Starter Culture?
Almost all kefir made today comes from these two methods. However, true kefir can only come from kefir grains. Ranging in color from clear to dark brown depending on the beverage’s sugar content, these grains can be reused almost indefinitely to make fresh kefir, though they need to be consistently used to stay most effective. In fact, they tend to increase by roughly ten percent throughout the feeding process for each batch. Kefir grains are best for those who want to make back-to-back batches, as you’ll need to feed the grains regularly. For the kefir enthusiast, this method will save money quickly.
Powdered kefir starter culture, in contrast, can be dissolved into water for a quick-acting kefir. Though you’ll pay less for the starter mix, most can only be reused about five times for new batches before they lose their potency. Likewise, kefir grains typically provide a broader range of probiotics for the drink. Starter cultures are ideal for anyone starting out with water kefir who doesn’t want to commit to continually brewing new batches.
How to Make Kefir from a Powdered Starter Culture
For the first time water kefir brewer, it’s often best to begin with a powdered starter culture to see whether you like the taste and want to commit to the continuous brewing process.
To get started, you’ll need a large glass container, stainless steel stirring utensil, coffee filter, and a rubber band to secure the top. For the brewing process, you’ll need a packet of starter culture and a quart of a sweetened liquid of your choice.
To begin, heat your liquid to room temperature and pour it into the container. Add the starter culture, stirring gently until it’s dissolved. From there, cover the bottle with the coffee filter and let it sit out in a warm spot for about 16 hours. You can taste it during the process to see whether it’s done. Once you like the flavor, cover the container with a tight lid and keep it in the refrigerator and drink it within two weeks. If you want to make another batch, take a scoop of kefir from the completed batch and use it to inoculate the next one. This should work between two and seven times before it loses its potency.
How to Make Kefir with Kefir Grains
If you’re committed to kefir, brewing your own with water kefir grains couldn’t be easier. You’ll need half a cup of kefir grains, organic cane sugar, three half gallon glass jars, a strainer, coffee filters, a cup and a half of mixed fruit, one lemon, two prunes, and water (well water works best because of the high mineral content).
To begin, fill up two of the jars halfway with water. Dissolve ¼ cup of cane sugar in each container and add the water kefir grains to the top. For flavor, consider adding fruit, like a prune and slice of lemon. Cover the opening with a coffee filter, and let it sit out on the counter for 2-3 days. (Longer if it’s cold out, shorter if it’s warm). You’ll know the kefir is ready for the next stage when it tastes slightly fermented.
Note: The longer you let the kefir ferment, the lower the overall sugar content will be. Any longer than three days will start to starve the grains, which can ruin the drink’s taste.
From there, you can place 1 ½ cups of fresh fruit in the third mason jar (fresh herbs also work well). Pour the other two jars into this third one, straining out the kefir grains in the process and setting them aside. Fill the jar up to half an inch from the top, cover it with a tight-fitting lid, and let it sit out for 24 hours, or until it starts to bubble. If you use a metal lid, release it every six hours or so to “burp” out the pressure buildup. You can begin refrigerating and drinking your kefir once the fruit floats to the top, eating or straining out the fruit as desired.
Storing & Reusing Kefir Grains
You can save your used kefir grains in a smaller jar filled with sugar water or extra water kefir to keep them hydrated. Keep the grains alive by feeding them every few days by replacing their water. The best strategy for healthy kefir grains, of course, is to continue making kefir water.
If you need a temporary break from brewing kefir, you can store the grains in the fridge in sugar water for several weeks. Before using them again, you’ll need to re-awaken the bacteria for a few days first with regular sugar feedings.
Once you start making your own water kefir, you’ll find it difficult to stop. This subtly-sweet, probiotic-rich beverage is an excellent soda substitute, and it can be personalized in almost unlimited ways. So start experimenting! It’s never been easier to adopt healthy habits.