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Water Kefir FAQ: Fermenting Other Liquids

 

 Water Kefir FAQ's 

Part 9 - Fermenting Other Liquids

Questions in this Section:

Can you use artificial sweetener or vitamin-infused water with kefir?
Can you use kefir liquid as a starter (instead of the grains)?
Does it matter what water you use?
What about reverse-osmosis water?
What about well water?
What liquids can you ferment with kefir grains?
How can you convert water grains to kefir other liquids such as coconut or soy?
What can you do to encourage growth and proper fermenting in other liquids?
Can you add other things in with kefir while its fermenting?

Can you use artificial sweetener or vitamin-infused water with kefir?

Artificial sweetener does not work with water kefir. This is because it contains no calories or nutrients. The kefir grains simply have nothing to eat and live off. Vitamin-infused water or water brands like 'Smart Water' may or may not work with your grains. Water kefir thrives primarily on sugars and minerals and may even react negatively to vitamin-infused waters. Save some extra grains and test before trying something like this on your whole batch.

Can you use kefir liquid as a starter (instead of the grains)?

Kefir liquid actually also contains billions of bacteria and yeast that are effective at making more fermenting liquid if you add some fresh sugar or fruit juice and let sit out or in the fridge for atleast 24 hours. It will dilute and get weaker each time, so its best to start with freshly made kefir (from kefir grains) each time for the freshest and safest ferment. But this is a great option for fermenting other liquids or making a quick batch in a pinch (and to protect the grains themselves from harmful fruit juices that could hinder their growth).

Does it matter what water you use?

Water is one of the crucial ingredients for water kefir. What water you use will make a difference. Since most of us don't have the equipment to test what is in our water, let alone on a day-to-day basis, this usually requires some experimenting. Water kefir generally prefers a nutritious highly mineralized water (also called hard water, or mineral water / spring water if its from a bottle). Soft water, filtered water, carbon-activated, ionized or otherwise altered water does not seem to encourage the same amount of growth or vitality in our observations. Reverse osmosis water has in most of our observations led to eventual kefir grain death even. It just doesn't contain enough of the various and vital minerals found in normal tap, spring or mineral water. Also, chlorine can be an issue and should be avoided if possible. To remove some of the chlorine you can let your water set out (without a lid) and it will evaporate in about 24 hours. Some forms of chlorine such as chloramine won't dissipate as easily. If you are unsure what your tap water contains, contact your local water facility for details.

What about reverse-osmosis water?

Reverse osmosis water has in most of our observations led to eventual kefir grain death even. It just doesn't contain enough of the various and vital minerals found in normal tap, spring or mineral water. It is what we like to call 'processed' or 'refined' water, basically an empty water devoid of its normal nutrients and properties, much like white sugar is compared to whole cane sugar. It's an unbalanced and empty nutrient.

What about well water?

Water Kefir grains typically love well water as it is usually high in good minerals - usually much more minerals than you find in a typical spring water bottle. We have exclusively used only well water for our water kefir grains for many years now. Sometimes, well water can have some interesting things in it or too much iron, but most will generally provide good water for your water kefir grains. If you are concerned about harming the grains, have your well water tested for contaminants or compare to store-bough spring or mineral water.

What other liquids can you ferment with kefir grains?

Fruit juices are the usual medium for experimentation with excess kefir grains. After a couple times of fermenting, they will typically become discoloured, get 'white specks' or a filmy coating, and may start to disintegrate or stop performing. Kefir d'uva is simply kefir grains in grape juice - which make for a delicious drink, but it usually is not sustainable. You will want to keep a separate traditional batch going in case these die. You can also try fermenting canned fruit (which has its own sugars and juice in the can - simply add water and use a can of lychees, pineapple or peaches for example). It may be possible to ferment all forms of mammalian milk (mare, goat, sheep, cow, buffalo, camel etc), however milk kefir grains are obviously more adept to do this. Some people with cancer have even experimented fermenting human milk as a medicinal therapy. Coconut water is one of the most liquids to ferment with water kefir grains. You can also try to ferment other mediums such as coconut milk, soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk. You may try tea (along with your regular ratio of sugar and water) too. To convert your grains to handle a new liquid you will have to convert the grains gradually and keep some on back-up in case they fail to thrive.

How can you convert water grains to kefir other liquids such as coconut or soy?

Converting grains is a patient process of trial and error. It is best to mix the two mediums for awhile if possible, letting the grains get acquainted with the new liquid, while still having access to some of its familiar liquid (for example, if you usually ferment with sugar-water and want to switch to soy, mix in half sugar-water, half soy milk for a week or two). You can gradually taper the grains off of their previous medium and see if they continue to ferment and grow in their new one. Some grains will just refuse to grow, but will still produce a kefired product. This is ok, just make sure that you have some backup grains or even some that you are maintaining in a liquid that they do grow in. It is actually quite common for kefir grains to be able to produce a kefir, but are not able to grow and reproduce in it. It is also a good idea to sometimes 'refresh' your grains by giving them some of their original sugar-water mix every month or so just to increase the likelihood that they will maintain their strength and health in their other liquid (though this is not always necessary - some people have had great success doing just purely soy etc - just watch your grains and adjust to their needs). If you need to have the other liquid (rather than sugar-water) and your grains seem to struggle, you will mostly likely have to keep a 'mother source' in the traditional sugar-water, creating new healthy grains that you can continuously use in the new liquid and dispose of. This requires more work, but is an option if all else fails. You can also use kefir liquid (from kefir fermented in sugar-water) instead of grains to ferment other liquids. Simply put in about 25-50% kefir into the liquid of choice and let sit out for 12-24 hours at room temperature. There are enough bacteria and yeast within kefir itself to properly ferment. We do not recommend trying this with store-bought kefir, since it may not contain enough cultures to safely ferment at room temperature.

What can you do to encourage growth and proper fermenting in liquid-alternatives?

Sometimes water grains will take to another liquid, and sometimes they won't. If it looks like your grains need a little encouragement, there are a few options. You can include a couple more ingredients to help boost its health and growth, such as barley or rice malt extract (available from brewing stores and sites), or a sweetener such as raw cane sugar (Rapunzel makes a nice one) or some fresh fruit juice from an acidic fruit (such as grape juice, apple juice, lemon orange or lime juice, tropical juices such as pineapple, kiwi, mango or papaya). You can also go with just adding a little bit of sugar-water 10%-50%) if that is not an issue. If the grains refuse to ferment in your liquid-alternative, then it may be best to continue to ferment your grains in their native sugar-water, and then simply take a cup or two of the finished kefir and add it to your liquid-alternative. This finished kefir, even without the grains, is powerful enough to properly ferment. This way your grains themselves are never in contact with your other liquid, and continue to grow and thrive in their traditional medium, while at the same time producing a starter you can use in the other liquid. This means there would be a minor amount of sugar-water liquid-alternative kefir, but it is another option if the sugar-water is not a concern.

Can you add other things in with kefir while its fermenting?

Yes, (besides the usual dried fruit and lemon) but experiment carefully as some things may hinder or even harm the grains (some foods contain natural antibacterial properties, such as grapefruit and raw honey). Dried fruits are better tolerated than fresh fruits. You may be able to do fresh bananas, fresh carrots or fresh ginger though. And possibly fresh figs, coconut meat or dates if you have access. Some fruits, like raspberries, will dye your grains and may irritate them as well (especially fresh fruits because of the active enzymes and acids in them). Juice is also best to use as a flavor enhancer after you have strained the grains out for the same reason. You can just as easily add the desired ingredients or flavors after you have strained the grains out, and then let the kefir sit for 12-48 hours before consuming. Adding mangos, vanilla beans or raspberries are some of our favorite secondary ferment flavors (for milk and water kefir)!