What is that? It's a jug of water kefir slowly brewing. What is water kefir? It's a probiotic drink made with water. There are also milk kefirs made with dairy products, which make (presumably) creamy, tangy yogurt-like drinks. I wouldn't personally know, as I don't consume dairy these days.
Water kefir is interesting because in addition to getting more probiotics in your diet, you also can make your own at-home sodas, since the cultures in the kefir give off CO2. It's a cheaper, easier, and healthier way to make your own fizzy drinks at home. It is also possible, for those vegans like me out there, to make a creamy drink with coconut milk out of water kefir grains. However, personally, I have not yet tried it out. I'll let you know when I do!
I decided to give water kefir a try after I saw it mentioned on the Green and Crunchy blog. You can easily get kefir grains (water or milk) from the Kefir Lady, where I got mine. It costs 20 dollars to have a little baggie of water kefir grains to be shipped to you. To get started all you need is some filtered water, a large jar or jug (larger than a quart), and some sugar.
It should be noted that you want water without the chlorine typically found in tap water, however you don't want the filtered water that has had all its minerals stripped out of it by a Brita water filter. If you do use tap water, make sure you let it sit out overnight to have the chlorine evaporate off. If you've ever had pet fish, this shouldn't be anything unfamiliar. :)
Getting water kefir grains is preferable to the kefir packets you can sometimes find in health food stores. The packets are only good for one time, while the kefir grains themselves will continue to grow, providing you give them some lovin'. One purchase should last you as long as you want them, with leftovers to share with friends and family or to eat straight up in smoothies. Secondly, most kefir packets are from milk kefir, which means there are traces of dairy from when the cultures were growing. If you're a vegan, that may be unacceptable to you.
Once you get your water kefir grains in the mail, you want to get them into a solution of 1/4-1/3 evaporated cane sugar and a quart of water. If you're more prepared, you can put them in a solution of 1/4 evaporated cane sugar + 1 tsp molasses to up the mineral content. You can also add dried, unsulfured fruit to flavor the water soda. When everything is added, you want to use a clean dishcloth with a rubberband to cap your jar. The cultures need the ability to breath and you don't want the CO2 to build up. Place in a dark area, out of direct sunlight. Do not place in the fridge as it will drastically slow down your kefir grains and basically put them in hibernation.
Pic 1: Water kefir grains at the bottom of water and sugar mixture. Pic 2:Water kefir grains with molasses mixture and mango
Let sit for 24-48 hours. If you take a whiff of it, it will smell like kind of a yeasty bread smell plus anything you added to it. One of my batches is currently mango, so it kind of smells like mango-y bread. At this point, you want to strain out the water kefir grains, so get a mesh strainer and a container you can pour your water kefir into. Place water kefir aside, and focus on the grains. You should see a bunch of clear-ish blobs of goo in your strainer (plus any dried fruit if you added some). I recommend not directly blasting water at them, since they are crumbly under physical pressure. I fill up a bowl with water and put the strainer inside, swishing it around to rinse off the grains. Once clean, you can start over with a new batch. Eventually the grains will grown enough that you can split the batches into two separate containers, leaving you the ability to experiment with those extra water kefir grains without worrying you'll kill off the whole batch.
With the kefir water you placed aside, you can either drink it like that (I like it refrigerated). You can also mix it with juice. I don't recommend growing the kefir directly in juice as it can turn your grains funny colors. You can also do a second fermentation, without the grains, to get more CO2 build up. To do that, add your mix-ins and cap for 24-48 hours on the counter to let the CO2 build up. Volia! You made your own fizzy drink.
If you give it a whirl, be sure to let me know your favorite flavor combinations!