“Life on earth is such a good story you cannot afford to miss the beginning… Beneath our superficial differences, we are all of us walking communities of bacteria. The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape made of tiny living beings.” ~ Lynn Margulis
Just in case you have missed how important microbes and probiotics are to our health, check out this fantastic TED Talk by Microbial Ecologist Rob Knight titled, How our microbes make us who we are.
(But be warned, this talk triggered a big Ted-Talk loop for me, follow the suggested playlist if you want to spend an hour or four learning all about the human microbial ecosystem. It’s fascinating stuff.)
If you don’t have the time for a Ted Talk binge-watch, the summary is that our bodies are populated with all kinds of bacteria that outnumber our human cells 10:1.*
We think we are just people, when really we are walking ecosystems, and the trillion plus population of non-human-bits that keep us alive are known collectively as our microbiome.
Our microbiome is estimated to weigh about 2 kilos, a bit more than our brain. And when our microbiome it is badly damaged or altered (by being too clean, taking antibiotics, eating a lot of processed food) we experience disease. Probiotics and fermented foods can partially restore our important microbial diversity and overall health.
So with all due respect to Elon Musk, pioneering Mars is indeed a great idea. But in the meantime, re-colonising ourselves wouldn’t be such a bad enterprise for humanities sake either.
Not long after I started my Ginger Beer plant, I discovered water kefir, a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that produces a cultured, probiotic beverage.
Hailed as a cure for irritable bowel disease, obesity, candida, constipation, eczema, cancers, depression and auto-immune disorders, my skeptical mind sniffed a too-good-to-be-true fad. Because while the evidence our microbiome is taking a battering from our modern lifestyle isn’t in dispute, credible proof that water kefir was the ultimate cure or panacea was much harder to find.
Indeed, it is tricky to find details on the kind of probiotics produced by water kefir. Unless each batch is individually tested, we simply can’t know for sure. But, for those of us who get a kick out of the details, here’s a link to the most comprehensive study I could find.
Will water kefir fix all that ails you? Perhaps not entirely. But from a Hippocratic perspective, it certainly isn’t going to do you any harm.
So it’s a good thing water kefir is delicious, even if it’s curative hype is a tad overblown.
I don’t usually drink soft drink (soda), it’s just far too sweet for me. The carbonated water kefir suits my palette much better, as it is certainly not as sweet and has a delicious, sourish note that I think pairs beautifully with herbaceous, spicy, floral flavors. Kind of like champagne or cider, but without the boozy element.
I sourced my water kefir grains locally, from an advertisement in gumtree.com.au. There are some generous souls sharing their excess grains for free, but otherwise expect to pay about $10 for enough water kefir grains to get you started.
The great thing about water kefir is that it can be made in as large, or as small batches as you prefer. Admittedly, the ginger beer plant can be overwhelming in its sheer volume and process. Water kefir is a much simpler task, with a quicker result, endless flavor options, plus it is easy to scale up or down production as you like.
I prefer to make mine in small batches and drink them fresh. And the recipe couldn’t be simpler…
Basic Water Kefir
What you will need…
15g Water Kefir grains
15g of organic raw sugar
500ml of spring, mineral or filtered water.
Pinch of un-iodised, unrefined mineral salt (it seems pink Himalayan salt is everywhere these days…)
One litre Kilner style jar. (I got mine from IKEA for $3.00 each)
Flip top glass bottles with good seals. (I found mine at Kmart, packs of two for $2 or a nice litre one for $1.50)
Dissolve the sugar and salt in the water in a clean kilner jar. The water should be room temperature. Add the water kefir grains, which resemble crystals.
Seal the jar* and leave in a warmish, accessible spot. After 24 hours, “burp” your water kefir by opening the jar.
I like my kefir to brew for about 48 hours.
Then you are ready to do a second ferment, and this is where you can let your creativity run amok.
Today, I’m making two different flavors.
Ginger, Tumeric, and Cardamon Water kefir (makes 3, 250 ml bottles)
1 much smaller knob of fresh turmeric, finely grated.
3 whole cardamon pods
Decant your water Kefir evenly between your three bottles. Add half a teaspoon of raw sugar to each bottle. Divide your grated ginger and turmeric evenly between the three bottles. Add a crushed cardamon pod to each bottle and top with filtered water.
Seal bottles and shake to distribute flavours.
Second Ferment Method
Leave on benchtop for 12 hours then “burp” the water kefir. When you see the fine bubbles at the neck of the bottle, the water kefir is close to being ready, usually about 24 hours, but can be sooner in warmer weather. Burp bottles before placing in the fridge. We consume our water kefir within the week.
You can strain the ginger, turmeric, and cardamon before drinking or just remove the cardamon pod and ingest the grated ginger & turmeric if you are feeling brave.
Pomegranate and Rose.
250ml Pomegranate juice
Decant your water Kefir evenly between your three bottles.
Top up your kefir with the pomegranate juice evenly between the three bottles.
Using a dropper or syringe, add one milliliter of rosewater to each bottle.
Seal bottles and shake to distribute flavors. Follow the Second Ferment Method.
I enjoy a glass of this a day. I have a running list of flavors to try, and the possibilities are almost endless. Pretty much any fruit juice can be used in the second ferment process. You can also experiment with different sugars and herbs. I have read that honey can not be used as it kills the water kefir with its own microbial properties, yet others have used raw honey in their water kefir brews with no ill affect.
As you cultivate more batches of water kefir, your grains will multiply. Excess grains can be given away or sold, or kept in the fridge in the sugar water for a few weeks. To restart, remove from fridge, drain and discard the storage sugar water and refresh with a new batch.
Have you tried water kefir? Experiment and let me know how you go!
*Recent research disputes the 10:1 ratio, suggesting it is likely closer to equal parts human and bacteria. Either way, our microbiome is still kind of a big deal.
** Some water kefir recipes advise covering with a cloth, but not sealing the jar. I seal the jar to promote more lactic acid bacteria growth and to keep out any airborne molds or contaminants. Just remember to burp it daily.