Easy Home Probiotic – Water Kefir

If you would have asked me 6 months ago what probiotics we take for intestinal health, I would have mentioned the bifidus yogurt I buy and the probiotic capsules I order for my husband.  Both supposedly with live culture, 5 billion in fact in the capsules – though I often wonder how can they be truly ‘alive’ processed and compressed as they are.

All that changed when I discovered in the back of my refrigerator a jar of water kefir (aka tibicos) ‘grains’ hibernating peacefully that a girl friend had given me ages ago.  By then I had read quite a lot about probiotics and natural fermented foods because of my husband’s ongoing battle with abdominal/intestinal pain.  Since a good year or longer.

Resorting to a specialist to get a diagnosis, he went through the usual medical exams and diagnostics.  Finding nothing, the doctors decided it must be a food allergy (and ignored the idea about a possible intestinal flora problem) and suggested allergy tests and an elimination diet.  My husband was not convinced.

We made a few attempts such as eliminating gluten (the buzz word culprit-of-all lately) and nothing really was convincing.  Emotional issues and stress play a great role in many intestinal problems and can trigger dormant issues such as IBS.  And this certainly played a role for him.

1. Simple Solutions

I am a great believer in trying the simple and uncomplicated first.  Too many people (and most doctors today) assume if it isn’t complicated it can’t be right.  How can something simple and easy be the solution to a years long problem?  But indeed, that is often the case.

Can you guess the outcome for my husband?  I’ll scroll forward for you…yes, the water kefir is definitely the solution for him.  The probiotic capsules did help some but the excruciating abdominal pain was still too frequent – though not daily as before.  Drinking the water kefir on an empty stomach a few times a day was a noticeable help within days.  But the real, secret ‘weapon’ was when I started making Ginger ‘Beer’ from the water kefir.  You can read about it here.  It’s good for both of us.

2. Simple to Make

From Wikipedia: Tibicos (water kefir) are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts held in a polysaccharide biofilm matrix created by the bacteria. As with kefir grains, the microbes present in tibicos act in symbiosis to maintain a stable culture. Tibicos can do this in many different sugary liquids, feeding off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide gas, which carbonates the drink.

Sugar of some kind is their food, but don’t worry about this being a sugary drink.  Once the little critters (as I fondly call them) have ‘consumed’ all the sugar converting it to fructose for their energy, there is nearly none left for you. Good news for those with metabolic syndrome or diabetes.

Oh, by the way referring to them as ‘grains’ is purely descriptive as they are not ‘grains’ at all nor are they ‘mushrooms’.  Not by a long-shot, although you will find such info online. They’re clusters of good bacteria.  Re-read the bit in yellow above.

Although water kefir has ‘only’ 10 to 15 strains of various lacto-bacteria strains, other bacteria and 4 yeasts compared to milk kefir’s 30-50 strains and assorted yeasts, don’t be too concerned.  Sometimes less, works just as good and for some better than more.  Everyone’s intestinal flora is a little different and water kefir is far less fussy than milk kefir ‘grains’.  In my article on my Ginger ‘Beer’ Water Kefir Experiment, you will find a list of water kefir’s beneficial bacteria and yeasts.

It is not necessary to sterilize the jars you may use as any unfriendly bacteria will be extra food for the ‘good guys’ in water kefir.  Just good and clean and rinsed out with hot water to remove any soapy residue.

The way I do it is to a liter (about a quart) of bottled water (read why in the tips below), I put about 4-6 tablespoons of the water kefir grains with about 3-4 tablespoons of raw sugar (demerara, for example).  Make sure you leave about a good finger width of space to the top.  I put a lid on it and give it a few good swirls to help dissolve the sugar.  Some people cover with a gauze, but I like to keep the carbonation in.  I love the ‘fffitzzz’ it makes when I open the jars.

After 24 hours, I unscrew the lid to release the carbonation.  I taste it with a clean spoon and if barely sweet or not at all, I give them a little more sugar before re-lidding and waiting another 24 hours.  Depending on the temperature, this process can take 48 to 72 hours until it is just as I like it.  At this point, I strain out the kefir grains (which will now have doubled or quadrupled), bottle up the kefir water, rinse out the jar and start again.

3. Second Fermentation

This step is not always necessary, but if you like extra carbonation like a home brewed soda, just add a few spoons of sugar to the kefir water you just strained and stir well to dissolve.  Pour into bottles with a wire snap top type stopper or other bottle/jar with a good lid and allow a second fermentation for 24-48 hours.  If you do this, be sure to release the build up of carbonation once a day otherwise the bottle may explode.  Mine always sound like I opened a bottle of champagne.  Lovely sound and great taste.

4. Flavours

You can flavour your kefir water with the second fermentation.  Instead of bottling it, pour the water kefir (without the ‘grains) in another jar and add any combination of a few unsulfered dried fruits such as dates (delish!!) figs, raisins or even fresh organic fruit such as apple or strawberries.  A few slices of lemon, lime or orange is also nice, but not too much.  Kefir doesn’t ferment well with too much acidity.

5. Tips

Always use bottled water, never tap water to avoid the chemicals nor filtered water.  I don’t know why, but somehow, they do not like filtered and may not grow or turn ‘slimy’.  Use only stainless steel or plastic for stirring or straining and glass or ceramic for fermenting and storage.  No silver spoons either nor use honey (both have anti-bacterial properties).

Going on holiday or need a break?  Not a problem.  Place them in a container and freeze them before starting over.  The first round may be slow but they will recuperate quickly.

The happy little critters multiply like rabbits and you will soon have to find loving homes for the excess or make the sad decision to throw them away.  However, never ever  rinse them down the sink nor the toilet.  They might like what they find down there, multiply and take over the world.  Or at the least, plug up your pipes!

Related Post:  Ginger ‘Beer’ Water Kefir Experience

Suggested resources:

Wikipedia – Tibicos

What is Water Kefir

Troubleshooting Water Kefir and Supplier   (Cultures for Health)

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