Two types of kefir grains exist: water/fruit kefir and milk kefir. Today we will talk about both types of grains and how to use them.
Fruit kefir (or Tibicos)—a naturally fizzy, tangy and healthy fermented drink
While there is very little information on the origin of water kefir grains, some studies state they could come from Caucasia, as milk kefir grains were used by Russians, centuries ago. These grains are translucent and look like little crystal fragments. They are micro-organisms that contain a yeast and bacteria colony (scoby) that live in symbiosis.
The grains grow and split into smaller bits during the fermentation process of the beverage. Usually they are shared by friends, family or people in the community. Nowadays, social media is helpful, too, to find grains.
These micro-organisms feed on sugar and minerals that they use to multiply kefir seeds. The grains produce lactic acid and carbonic gas, making the beverage fizzy and tangy.
It is not a sugary drink since the bacteria use pretty much all of the sugar during fermentation. The role of dried fruit, especially the fig, is to bring more yeast and to feed sugar to the beverage, while lemon or other fresh fruits add minerals, aroma and tartness.
It is quick and easy to make and can be flavoured according to taste. So let’s go with the recipe!
- 4 cups water, unchlorinated (or chlorine will evaporate overnight in a jug)
- 1 Tbsp water kefir grains
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1–2 cups dried fruit: figs, dates, grapes, berries (depending on size)
- Several slices of sour fruit, such as orange or lemon
- Add grains to a large jar with 4 cups of water and all ingredients.
- Place lid on top (don’t seal it)
- Let it ferment 24–48 hours at room temperature. Once the dried fig is at the top of the jar, there is gas in the bottle and the first fermentation is done.
- Filter the beverage, keeping the grains separate. The fruit can be kept for cooking or for making jam. You can drink the water kefir straight away (it won’t be fizzy just yet). To get the bubbles, you will need a second fermentation.
- Pour the liquid into a bottle (beer-bottle type), close it and let it ferment another 24–48 hours at room temperature. If it is ready, when you open the bottle you should hear the gas.
- Leave the bottle in the fridge. You can enjoy it now and keep it for months!
Water kefir can be aromatized with green or back tea, plants, fruits, ginger or other flavours, according to taste.
It is possible to ferment any type of liquid with sugar, thanks to the water kefir. You can use apple juice, as long as it is natural (with nothing added but organic fruit). It will produce a less-sugary, more-alcoholic fizzy juice. Use 2 Tbsp water kefir for each 4 cups of fruit juice.
Once you make your own water kefir, the grains will grow. You can give some away, use part of it straight away and preserve the rest. For the latter, it is advised to leave the grains in a jar (jam-jar type) with water and a bit of sugar. The water should be changed once a month, and the grains fed again with a teaspoon of sugar. It is also possible to dry the grains by placing them on a clean, dry cloth (at room temperature) and storing them in a sealed jar. Or you can freeze the grains. When you want to use them again, put the grains in water, with sugar, to reactivate the micro-organisms.
Milk kefir grains
Originating in Central Asia, these grains have been passed on for generations. Cheese made from kefir has been found on a Chinese mummy dating back as early as 1615 BCE. The grains you might have in your kitchen have a long story!
These grains are easily differentiated (by their colour) from fruit kefir grains. They are white and look like tiny gelatinous lumps of cauliflower. Depending on where the grains came from, they can have a different composition of micro-organisms.
To find these grains, ask people in your community or head to Dawson City. The Klondike Valley Creamery makes delicious cow’s-milk kefir. Loren and Jen, the farmers and makers, are always happy to share their grains when they have extra!
Milk kefir or fermented milk is slightly fizzy due to the production of carbonic gas and a tiny bit of alcohol. The taste is quite tart and creamy, similar to yogurt and buttermilk.
- First you need milk, ideally raw for its nutritious properties (if you have a goat, ewe or cow. If not, you can buy pasteurized milk).
- Pour the milk into a jug or a large open jar.
- Add 1 Tbsp milk kefir grains for every 4 cups of milk. Mix well to dispatch the ferments in the liquid. Cover the bottle or jug (don’t seal it).
- Let it rest at room temperature, 1–2 days or more, depending on the temperature. When ready, the milk will be thicker and a bit gassy.
- Filter the beverage to collect the grains and make more batches.
- It is possible to drink the fermented milk straight away. It will taste quite mild. If you want more flavour and more bubbles, pour the milk into a sealed bottle and let it mature in the fridge for at least another 24 hours. To make it really fizzy, add a spoon of sugar and let it ferment for another day or two at room temperature.
If you let the kefir milk ferment even longer, you are making cheese! The whey will separate from the curd (coagulated milk). Collect the curd by filtering it with a paper coffee filter or in a clean sock, for instance. Add a bit of salt and enjoy on sourdough bread. The whey can be used in any preparation, instead of milk (it is full of protein)—in cakes, bread, pancakes—used for cooking pasta or potatoes, or just enjoyed as is and flavoured to taste with syrup, fruit, plants, etc.
To preserve the milk kefir grains, cover with milk in the fridge. The milk needs to be changed every trimester or so.