The mysteries of life…and water kefir

Life is replete with mysteries. They make conversations rich and adventures possible. Mysteries get me up in the mornings, and they soothe me to sleep at night.

Right now, one of the world’s little mysteries is bubbling and fizzing away quietly on my bench top: water kefir, on its second fermentation. It’s a mystery because while I know it’s a SCOBY – a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts – I have not the faintest idea where water kefir grains come from or how they transform water into sparkling, delicious, gut-nourishing drinks.

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I mean, I know where my actual grains came from. My glamorous, foodie friend Kim gifted them to me, in a small leaky jar of coconut water months ago while her cavoodle walked us around Rushcutters Bay. And I know the alchemy that happens when I combine a few magic ingredients – lemons, figs, and sugar on the first fermentation and all manner of fruits, herbs and spices on the second. But beyond that, honestly, kefir remains this glorious mystery.

Let me tell you about my recipe, which I’ve adjusted from fantastic original instructions at http://nourishedkitchen.com/water-kefir/.

First step. Find yourself some grains. You can buy them online, though it’s way more fun to find a friend who has an excess. The grains multiply, you see. So they need splitting and rehoming every so often. I recall someone saying to me that it broke their heart a little if they had no one to give kefir grains too; they said it was like killing a family pet to toss them away. So save someone the trauma, be part of the sharing economy and reach out to your peer group to find a fellow kefir brewer. Make sure you get water kefir grains – there are others that ferment milk, and that’s a whole different thing.

Assemble some equipment: a big glass jar, a patch of cheesecloth, a rubber band. Later you’ll need a funnel, a strainer (preferably plastic), a big mixing bowl, some jars for bottling, and a sharpie marker to label your blends.

You’re ready for the first fermentation. Big saucepan. 8 cups of tap water. 1/3 cup sugar (not honey, hippy friends, it’s murderous for kefir). Bring to the boil, stir and leave to entirely cool. Cut a whole lemon in half (choose organic, not imported, and wash it well as you’re using skin and all). Toss it in your big glass jar, with two sulphur-free dried figs. Pour the sugar water in and add your kefir grains. Cover with cheesecloth and a rubber band, put on the benchtop and let the mystery begin. Three days. Do nothing. If the weather is super-hot, cut this down to two days.

Then, the delicious part, the second fermentation. You can actually drink the kefir at this stage, but why would you, when the best is yet to come.

Strain the fermented kefir water into a big bowl. Put the grains in a small jar, cover with coconut water and place in the fridge until next time. It’ll sit there happily for ages (at least two months, in my experience).

Dream up amazing flavours. So long as it includes an element with some natural sugars, you’re all good. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Spears of cucumber, springs of mint and parsley, a half teaspoon of sugar. Perfect with gin!
  • Grated ginger, fresh or powdered turmeric, a wedge of lime, a drizzle of honey (it’s not fatal in the second fermentation)
  • Three whole strawberries and a sprig of basil
  • A few wedges of orange, skin removed, with some shards of cinnamon bark

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Put your chosen flavourings in bottles. Use a funnel to pour in the kefir, fill to near the top but not all the way. Put the lids on tight and leave them on the benchtop for a day or two (less in hot weather, to avoid vinegariness). You’ll notice colour changes, bubbles, fizzing….all good signs. Then, strain out the flavouring ingredients (compost them), and label your jars or have a forensic memory for which is which. Place in the fridge, to chill and then drink up the delicious mystery that is water kefir.

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