Can water kefir grains clean contaminated water?
Contaminated water is surprisingly common. Tap water even though regulated by the EPA has a whole host of issues with chemicals, by-products of disinfection, chlorine, chloramine, fluoride, etc. Even 5 years on, flint still has issues with lead. There's also possible contamination within your house before it gets to your sink.
What about bottled water?
Bottled water has its own issues such as elevated levels of arsenic. Sitting in plastic is never ideal either. One study showed high levels of toxic antimony attributed directly to the plastic containers.
What about purified water?
Clean, healthy natural mineral rich water can be surprisingly difficult to get. Clean purified water such as reverse osmosis water is really easy to get and you avoid the contaminants and toxins, but it also takes out essential minerals.
In my opinion, its just like the debate between pasteurized and raw milk. You can drink sterile over-pasteurized milk and not risk contamination, but its no where near as healthy as raw milk. But the downside is you have to trust your raw milk supply as it there is a greater risk of contamination with raw milk. Natural water with all its minerals is like that too. It’s raw and healthier, but there’s also a greater risk of contaminates.
What about berkey and other similar water filters?
The berkey water filtration system promises to give you the best of both worlds. Clean water that leaves most of the minerals. It sounds promising and has a large following. However, when tested, the grains do act different with it and people have reported difficulties when trying to ferment water kefir.
A new study shows that Water kefir grains and the process of making water kefir helps lower the risk of contamination from bad water
In a fascinating study coming out of Italy, researchers tested water kefir grains and found that they are very effective at absorbing toxic metals. They found that under ideal conditions, they drew out about 70% of Chromium and lead. It was also fairly effective at taking out copper, nickel and manganese at about 50%.
The ideal conditions were a 24 hour ferment with added an acetate buffer. However, most people ferment water kefir at 48 hour with no acetate buffer. In those real world home-made conditions, it was still somewhat effective in cleaning the water from metal contaminates.
Basically the water kefir grains absorb the minerals as they ferment and grow and then slowly release again as the pH lowers. I suspect that the greater the grain growth, the higher the absorption overall.
Lemon juice or critic acid had the opposite effect in that it slowed the absorption of metals. Critic acid tends to create its own metal complexes and infers with the absorption process. From our own experience, we’ve noted that the use of lemon seems to suppress growth and that could be the reason.
Another fascinating aspect of the study is the importance of calcium. Calcium is required to jump start the process of absorption and growth. Calcium was the only element that actually increased as it was released from the grains in order to uptake the other elements and metals. One thing we have learned is that water kefir grains love calcium rich water and that is likely the reason.
The study did not test arsenic which is more common than lead. I see no reason why arsenic would not be absorbed by the grains like the other elements though.
What about Coliform, E.coli, Salmonella, Legionella and other bacteria?
Kefir is known to be highly resistant to pathogens. Both the anti-mircobioal ability of kefir grains as well as the low pH (both lactic and acetic acid) helps resist against a broad spectrum of bacteria including e.coli and others It may not completely inoculate contaminated water, but it would likely make it less harmful.
What about chlorine and chloramine when using tap water?
If you use tap water, you are generally protected from heavy metal contaminates and harmful bacteria, but you end up getting a host of other contaminates such as chlorine, chloramine, fluoride and the by-products of the disinfection process.
The good news is that when you do a water kefir ferment, the acids and molasses content tend to neutralize both the chlorine and chloramine. However, you are still left with fluoride and the ugly by-products of chlorine.
The bottom line
Choosing a water source can be tricky. Do you choose a purified water and miss out on the natural minerals? Also the grains and the subsequent ferment will not flourish under purified water.
Or do you choose a natural mineral rich source or water and possibly risk heavy metal and bacteria contaminates?
A new study out of Italy showed the remarkable ability of water kefir grains and its ability to lower the risk of contaminated water. The grains have a natural ability to adsorb some of most toxic metals as they grow. They may also inhibit unwanted pathogens. So that’s one less thing to stress over.