Kefir grains are cultures of various strains of healthy bacteria and yeasts which are held together in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. The symbiotic relationship of the microbes produces a stable growing culture. The microbes feed on sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide, yielding a fermented carbonated beverage. The alcohol content in kefir varies with the fermentation time, and is usually less than 1% .
While some people have successfully converted milk kefir grains to culture in sugar water, water kefir grains are different from milk kefir grains. Milk grains are white and look like cottage cheese or cauliflower florets. They are squishy, kind of slimy, and rubbery in texture. Water kefir grains are translucent white and break easily under light pressure. They more closely resemble irregular crystals. To the tongue, water kefir grains have a very mild taste and remind me of eating hominy. Milk kefir is quite chewy and tough. Both kinds of grains are safe to eat or put into smoothies.
Water kefir grains are sometimes called tibicos, tibi, or Japanese water crystals. Kefir grain cultures may vary in numbers and types of microbes. Typically Water Kefir grains have a mixture of healthy (friendly) strains such as : Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus casei rhamnosus, Lactobacillus alactosus, Lactobacillus casei casei, Lactobacillus pseudoplantarum, Lactobacillus plantarum, Streptococcus lactis, Streptococcus cremeris, Leuconostoc mesenteroide, Saccharomyces florentinus, Saccharomyces pretoriensis, Kloeckera apiculata, Candida lambica, Candida valida and possibly others. Lactobacillus brevis has been identified as the species responsible for the production of the polysaccharide matrix that forms the grains.
There is considered to be a probiotic benefit from the many varied microbes. Water kefir provides this benefit without the use of dairy products. It can be a healthy and valuable substitute for sugar soda products. Sugar is added to the kefir recipes because that is what the kefir eats; however, there is far less sugar in the finished kefir beverage. Stevia or chemical sugar substitutes will not support kefir fermentation and growth.
Secrets and Recipes for Culturing and Growing
Water Kefir Grains
The following recipes produce 3 cups of water kefir. The first recipe yields the healthiest fastest growing grains for me. I use high mineral well water as I have found that filtered water will not produce healthy grains. You may wish to maintain your kefir grains with the first recipe and experiment with different juices using the second recipe. I find the grains thrive with banana (you may used fresh, dried or frozen banana slices).
For these recipes, use one packet of dry grains or 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wet water kefir grains. Remove some as necessary when they grow, maintaining about 1/2 cup of grains to 3 cups of liquid. If desired, you may double the recipes as your kefir grows. Of course, you will also need to use a larger glass jar.
If you do not have well water, spring water, or mineral water available, you can try boiling tap water to remove the chlorine. Allow it to cool to room temperature before adding the grains. Or you can use a blender to aerate the water and remove the chlorine. DO NOT use filtered or distilled water as they do not have the minerals that kefir needs.
ANY HEAT OVER 105 degrees MAY KILL YOUR GRAINS. Your kefir prefers to be too cool or even cold, rather than too warm. First fermentation may take 1-4 days dpending on the temperature and other variables. Ideal temperature is in the 70's F. Cooler is fine but it will ferment slower.
Put the following in a 4-6 cup glass jar with a lid. If the lid is metal, line it with plastic wrap. Use spring water, hard well water, or mineral water. The apple juice and banana are optional and used to promote growth.
3 cups water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4-1/2 cup kefir grains
1/4 cup apple juice OR 1 Tbsp thin apple slices
about 1 inch of banana cut into thin slices
Cover and let it sit in a cupboard for 1-3 days. Don't seal it too tight as pressure will build up as the solution ferments.
Each day you may taste it. If it is too sweet, you may ferment longer. If you like it, spoon off the bananas and discard. Strain out the kefir grains using a fine mesh strainer (preferably nylon). Bottle and store the liquid water kefir in the refrigerator. Repeat the process with the kefir grains in fresh sugar water solution each day or two.
This involves adding juices or flavors to the kefir beverage after the grains have been removed. Bottle the kefir beverage. Add any flavors or juices to the Kefir beverage and let it ferment out of the refrigerator for about 12 hours. Then place it in the refrigerator.
Any frozen fruit juice concentrate
lemon or lime juice for delicious lemonade or limeade
bottled fruit juice (cranberry, grape, orange, peach, mango, pomegranate, apple, raspberry, etc.)