This week’s Healthy Living HK features guest writer, Jacqueline Renée Cohen, also known as LantauMama. She introduces the basics of how to make water kefir in this short introductory article to this super fermented drink.
One of the easiest, and yummiest, family friendly fermented drinks is kefir. Kefir is a probiotic rich drink which is versatile and provides you with probiotics, enzymes, amino acids and goodness to help support your overall digestion and health.
Why is this important? Because we each have over 100 trillion microbes in our guts. These microbes not only assist with digestion, but potentially influence chronic ailments, our immune systems and our overall health. Taking care of our microbes, helps them to take care of us. Making and drinking probiotic rich kefir helps to keep our gut bacteria balanced.
Kefir is believed to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains hundreds of years ago. It became common in Russia in the early 1900s, eventually spreading around the world. Traditionally it was made with animal milk – goat, ewe, buffalo and cow. Recently, it has become popular to make kefir with water and non-dairy milks. In Hong Kong, more and more people are adding probiotics into their daily life through kefir.
Where can you get kefir and how do you make it?
You can get store bought kefir, which is an easy option, but generally expensive and not particularly potent. Most of the store bought kefir are not ‘true’ kefir and only have a few strains of bacteria, which decrease in potency over time. They are often not actually fermented, but pasteurized, with probiotics added to them after the fact and some have added sugars. They compare poorly to the many live strains in a homemade fermented kefir.
The best way to add the most probiotic benefit to your day is by making your own ferments. Kefir is made with ‘kefir grains.’ These are not actually grains, but a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, where the two elements work together to ferment the liquid/sugar combination into a probiotic rich drink. According to various scientific studies, water kefir can contain up to 25-40 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
E.R. Farnworth goes on to describe kefir in the Food Science and Technology Bulletin saying, “The microbiological and chemical composition of kefir indicates that it is a more complex probiotic, as the large number of different bacteria and yeast found in it distinguishes it from other probiotic products.” (Farnworth, E.R. (2005): Kefir – a complex probiotic. Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods 2, 1-17.)
How to make your own kefir
- 1-2 Liter glass jar
- 1 Nylon sieve/strainer (do not use metal)
- 1 Plastic funnel
- 1 Liter jar for the storage and serving of the final water kefir
- Filtered water
- Sugar (ideally coconut sugar or another high mineral sugar)
- Water kefir grains
Kefir grains love high mineral sugars, such as coconut sugar or maple syrup. But really, you can use any (preferably organic) cane sugar. The main difference you will notice when using high mineral sugars is that the grains tend to thrive and no sweetness remains once fermented. Maple syrup is also a favourite source of food for grains, and after fermentation it leaves a slightly sweet maple syrup flavour. With other more cane sugars, a sweet residue can often be left in the water kefir. It is best to use filtered water, to avoid chlorine and chemicals, which could be detrimental to your kefir grains.
In Hong Kong, water kefir takes from 8-24 hours to ferment. In the hot humidity of the summer it takes around 8 hours, and in the cooler drier winter, around 24 hours. It’s always good to regularly check your ‘brew’ to see how it tastes. With coconut sugar, once it is not sweet, it is done.
NOTE: You can also make kefir with dairy, nut or seed milk, coconut water or juice. When making it with those, there is no need to add sugar.
After fermentation, kefir is delicious when flavoured. After straining out the grains, just add some fruit, herbs or spices into a jar with the water kefir. Sample flavours include ginger, lemon, passion fruit, raspberry chia seed, apple and cinnamon, the possibilities are endless. For me, I use plain water kefir as the liquid in my green smoothie every morning. My husband prefers water kefir blended up with ginger, which he claims tastes like ‘ginger beer’. My brother in law takes it a step further and likes a kefir gin n tonic for his nightcap!
A favourite way of sharing kefir with children is via LantauMama’s Probiotic Ice Pops. These are particularly delicious during the hot summer days or when a child is recuperating from illness. Another great recipe to try is Kefir Gummies by Louise Buckley at LoulaNatural. Louise has also written a book Culture Your Life, which has information on how to use kefir for your skin, hair and as household cleaners!
More resources about kefir
This is only a short introduction to kefir, giving you an overview of how easy it is to make, as well as resources to learn more.
If you want to get started right away and just need kefir grains, pick them up for free by bringing your own container to:
- The Body Group
- Find someone locally by signing up to the Fermenting Hong Kong Facebook Group: FermentingHK
Here are some of my favourite references for more information on kefir and fermentation.
LantauMama– Kefir: The Probiotic Elixir Class Notes
Yemoos – Kefir FAQ
Wild Fermentation – Sandor Katz
Economist – Gut Instinct
Huffington Post – What Your Gut Bacteria Says About You
Daily Mail – The Unlikely New Medicine… Pickled Cabbage
Jacqueline Renée Cohen, otherwise known as LantauMama, lives on Lantau Island between the Big Buddha and the beach. Jacqueline makes healthy living accessible for everyone through teaching, writing, and her website www.lantaumama.com.