Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Water Kefir

One of the main "missing ingredients" in the American diet these days is fermented foods.  With the advent of canning and refrigeration, there isn't a "need" to preserve food in the old-fashioned low-tech ways like pickling or fermenting.  Both of these take advantage of little friendly bacteria in the air (Lactobacillus) which are happy to start digesting your food for you, releasing a ton of extra nutrients in the process, as well as making your food last longer.  If you think about it, every culture has its own fermented foods:  French with raw-milk cheeses and wines, Latin American with salsas of many kinds, Koreans with kimchi, Africans with sour gruel (ogi), Turks with kefir, early Americans with pickled veggies and sourdough breads, Germans with saurkraut, etc.  These all provide organisms which we desperately need to digest our food and defend our bodies.  If we don't have enough good bugs in us, the bad bugs take over, basically. Personal example:   I used to have a chronic yeast imbalance all over my entire body-- seen in skin problems, fatigue, and so many other ways.  The drugs I took for that, though, wiped my body clean of ALL yeast... and then I got a bacterial infection... antibiotics wiped my sistem of ALL bacteria, and I got an even worse yeast imbalance... you get the picture.  It wasn't until I used probiotics like those in kefir, kimchi, and yoghurt (both fermented milk products) to build my "good bugs" up, in conjunction with natural anti-fungals like cinnamon and garlic, that I finally found relief (and have kept in balence for 4 years now!).

Anyway, I am trying to add fermented foods into our diet and consume some every day if not at every meal.  My hope is that my daughter will grow up with a healthy internal "gut flora" from day 1.  Right now the easiest way to add fermented "foods" to our diet has actually been through drinks!  Sure, we enjoy sour cream, yogurt, and home-made cream cheese, but the main way Eowyn and I stay fortified is in our cups.  You may have heard of kefir, basically a drinkable yogurt.  Well, there is a such thing as water kefir, which provides the same benefits without having to mess with the milk aspect. My friend and neighbor Ruth has had great success brewing this for her family, and she offered to supply me with some starter grains in a muslin bag.  With much trepidation, I set out.  Here are photographs of the first few steps:

1. Purifying the water-- any extra chlorine in the water will kill the kefir grains, and carbon-based filters mess it up, too, so you can either boil tap water (letting it cool to room temp), let it set out overnight (the chlorine will evaporate), or aerate it with a blender (to make the chlorine vaporize faster).  As you can see, I chose the blender option:

2. Feeding the starter.  Kefir grains are formed of living organisms so they must be fed.  Here I dissolve 1/4 c organic sugar into 1 c boiling water.  Notice that everything I use is glass or plastic.  Metal utensils can damage kefir grains. Yes, they are kinda finicky.

3. Adding the kefir grains-- after adding enough cool water to the water-and-sugar mix to fill a quart-sized mason jar (with about 1" head room), I let it cool to room temperature.  Temperature is crucial; apparently too hot will kill them... too cold puts them to sleep (which is great when you want to take a break). The kefir grains are in a muslin bag to protect them.  I rinsed them off really well before adding them.  Cover it loosely with a cloth (keep out flies), and let it sit at room temp for 24-48 hrs (longer means more of the sugar is eaten= less sweet taste).

4. not shown:  flavoring the kefir.  After it's fermented to your liking (I did only 24 hrs to minimize alcohol content), you remove the kefir grains (rince & add them to a new batch),  and add flavors.  Let ferment- it gets nice and fizzy at this point!- another day, then remove fruit pieces and add any vanilla.  I tried several recipies; our favorite being ginger-lemon (2-4 T freshly grated ginger, 1/4 c lemon juice, with a splash of vanilla added the next day.  I tried a plain vanilla as well as an apple-juice one.  Ruth's kids love grape-juice-flavored kefir.  Once you've done all this, the kefir needs to be stored in the fridge or somewhere else cool.

If you want to try it, read a great tutorial here.  Ruth got her kefir grains from cultures for health... and if you live in the area, I'd be happy to share some of my very-healthy and growing grains with you!  Just ask!

I drink the kefir straight, starting with just 1/4 glass per day to get my body used to it.  Now I can drink pretty much as much as I want.  For Eowyn, I give her only about 1/4 cup per day, diluted in 8 oz or more of water.  She LOVES the stuff, crying if I tell her it's all gone.  I've gotten to the point where I crave the fizzy, slightly sour taste.  It is a great thirst-quencher, and helps digest meals. 

One other fermented drink that is super-easy to make, and very kid-friendly, is ginger "beer."  Our friend Blythe shared some with us, and Eowyn had a total melt-down when I finished my cup of it and she got no more sips.  I remember reading in the Little House on the Prairie books that Ma sent ginger-beer out to the workers on hot days because it wouldn't hurt their stomachs like water would.  Now I know what she meant!!  Here's an article with quite a few fermented drink recipes.

Lately, we've been enjoying a friend's home-brewed kombucha (a fermented tea).  Eowyn does like that (super-diluted, sometimes mixed with diluted juice), too, but she makes a really funny face after every sip, before going back for more... kinda like she does with pickles or lemons.

I'm so glad she's getting a taste for GOOD foods early on instead of empty calories like soda, candy, or straight fruit juice!


Ryan Szrama said...

Don't worry... I'll set her straight with Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper when she's old enough. ; )

Leslie said...

do oyu have one of those fancy vodka-infused bottles the co-op offers? do you think it would be handy when serving this? I find that the big wide mouth Ball jars are not exactly user friendly ;)