I have been enjoying fermented foods for several years now. For folks who may not understand the value of fermented foods, here’s the simplicity of it. Fermenting is an ancient way of preserving foods in a way that maintains all of their original nutrients. Fermenting also enhances the nutritional value of food by making it more digestible. The bacteria that cause the fermentation (probiotics) are also beneficial to us because they make their way to our gut and help break down food that would otherwise go out as waste or, worse yet, hang around in our intestines toxifying our bodies.
Every great and ancient culture on our planet has a fermented food that is part of their everyday diet. The Chinese have myriad fermented foods; most of their condiments are fermented to preserve them. Koreans have kimchee. Japanese have miso. Russians have milk kefir /keh-feer/. Yoghurts come to us from India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Germans have their sauerkraut. Scandinavians have piimä and filmjölk. Even the various peoples of the New World, North, Central and South America, had a wide variety of fermented foods and beverages.
And of course there is the European beer, that was nothing at all like what we drink today even just a few hundred years ago.
The truth is, the fermenting culture (usually a strain of lactobacillus, which is a probiotic) is crucial to fortifying our digestive and immune system. We cannot thrive without them.
I love making Tibicos. Tibicos is the more accurate name for water kefir. Its uncertain their origin, but it’s believed Tibicos originated in Mexico, harvested from the surface of a certain cactus leaf.
The drink is very tasty, satisfying, energizing, and highly nutritious. The little grains are very hardy, very easy to maintain, making it a great starting point for anyone interested in fermented beverages and foods.
For me personally, within just two weeks of consuming fermented foods, I noticed my energy remained at a stable level throughout the day, I woke up alert and ready to start, not groggy, going to the bathroom was a much more “pleasant” experience, I no longer got heartburn, my skin cleared up, and my mental acuity improved.
Yes, all that!
So, here’s how it’s done. A quick Internet search will yield all kinds of tasty beverages that can be made with water kefir grains. But I haven’t found anyone who makes a drink quite like mine. Here’s how I make my ginger kefir…
First, follow along in the video to get a visual of the process. The recipe below will make a lot more sense that way.
What you need to make half a gallon of my Water Kefir Ginger Tonic:
8 c. filtered water, divided (I use a Brita pitcher)
¼ c. turbinado (raw) sugar
½ tsp. sea salt (very important, SEA salt)
3-4 oz. fresh ginger (quarter pound or so)
water kefir grains (source below)
2 quart Ball jar with a new lid
funnel (stainless or plastic, NOT aluminum)
stainless steel mesh strainer
stainless steel pot (NOT aluminum)
meat thermometer (optional)
Bring 2-3 cups filtered water to a boil and dissolve the sugar and sea salt into it. Slice up the ginger in little ⅛” circles and dump that in the water. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, and let it steep for 20-30 minutes.
Strain out the now flavored water. This is called a “wort”. It’s a beer-making term, which refers to the solution that will get fermented and ultimately give the beverage it’s unique flavor.
Pour the “wort” into the Ball jar, along with another 3 cups of cool filtered water, which will bring the temperature down. Check the temperature. The water kefir grains will suffer and even die at temperatures above 95°. If the temperature is still above 95°, add a few ice cubes (made with filtered water), or simply wait an hour before proceeding.
Add the kefir grains (about ¼ c. will do it) to the wort and top off to 8 quarts.
Put a tight-fitting lid on the jar, cover with a towel, and place in the warmest place in your kitchen. For me, that’s on top of my fridge, towards the back.
Leave it there for 36-48 hours, checking after about 18 hours. You may find the lid is bulging under the pressure. Loosen the lid to release the pressure, retighten, and put the jar back.
The kefir is done when the mixture is barely sweet. At this point, it’s technically ready, but you probably won’t find it very tasty.
This is where I add another 2 tbs. of turbinado sugar dissolved in 4 tbs. filtered water. Then I strain the water kefir into a swing top bottle (like in the video) and let it go for a second ferment, about 8-12 hours, to build up some carbonation.
Then it goes in the fridge for when you want to enjoy it! About 8 oz. a day, on an empty stomach, is all you need to enjoy the health benefits of water kefir. I also like to drink up to 16 oz. if I know I’m going to be enjoying a sugary dessert after dinner. The probiotics will help to break down some of the sugar before it enters your blood stream (at least that’s my theory!)
Maintaining kefir grains:
When you’re not brewing a drink, you do need to keep the grains fed. Mix up the same concoction above except for the ginger and sea salt. You also don’t need as much water. I usually “store” my kefir grains in about 3 cups of the solution.
Another important thing to keep kefir grains happy and thriving is dried fruit. I’m a little uncertain as to what it is in dried fruits that the kefir grains need but I know they are a lot happier when I give them some. Their favorites seem to be dried dates, dried figs, and dried apricots (unsulfured). They seem to especially like apricots!
Be sure to stay on top of their schedule. Depending on the time of year, your grains will become more or less vigorous. They slow down in the winter and pick up in the summer, regardless of what temperature you keep them at.
I cannot possibly cover all the details about caring for your kefir grains but I know where you can get all the information you need, including purchasing the grains themselves.
There are several online suppliers of kefir grains. And you can even find them in Internet classifieds, like Craigslist. But I have always gotten my fermenting supplies from Cultures for Health. I do not know if they are the best, but they have always been very helpful and their website contains a wealth of information on this subject. The last I checked the grains themselves can be purchased for about $20, including shipping.
I really hope you give this a try. It’s exciting, delicious, and a rewarding hobby!
If you happen to live in the Atlanta area, check out my other website to view my services. I’d love to cook for you!