Water kefir

Water kefir drinks are a healthy, tasty and non dairy way to quench your thirst while potentially adding more beneficial gut friendly cultures to your diet.

Q. What is Water Kefir?

Water kefir is made from what is referred to as “grains”. They are not  however actual grains in the traditional sense ( no gluten) , but rather are small, translucent, gelatinous structures  and are comprised of assorted bacteria and yeast ( otherwise known as a SCOBI , a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast ). This SCOBI includes lactobacillus hilgardii which gives them their characteristic crystal-like appearance.   When properly cared for and regularly cultured, they produce a wonderful probiotic-rich beverage and will continue to grow and reproduce indefinitely.

The beneficial bacteria and yeast metabolise the ingredients into an array of beneficial acids and infusing it with beneficial microorganisms, additional B vitamins as well as food enzymes.

Q. Where did Water Kefir come from?

Where the grains originated for certain, like all of the fermented food starter cultures, is very difficult to pinpoint.  Water kefir is known under many different names in different cultures. such as tibicos ,tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees.

There are some that speculate towards Mexico. According to some research, the tibicos culture forms on the pads of the Opuntia cactus as hard granules that can be reconstituted in a sugar-water solution as propagating tibicos. There is documentation from the late 1800s of water kefir grains being used in fermented drink made from the sweetened juice of the prickly pear cactus in Mexico.

There are, however, other stories that place their origin, or at least their use, in Tibet, the Caucasus Mountains, and the southern peninsula of the Ukraine. Determining an exact place of origin is made even more difficult by the fact that water kefir cultures can now be found throughout the world and no two cultures are exactly the same. A lack of recorded history also makes it difficult to place an origin date, but it seems that these grains have been used for many centuries.

Q. Is water kefir good for everyone?

The GI tract or gut, is one big ecosystem, made up of over 500 diverse bacterial species. Much recent research is finding that the quantity and diversity of beneficial bacteria have a much bigger impact on overall health than the medical community initially presumed. The ambition is to make the gut an inviting place for beneficial bacteria to settle down and grow. One of the best ways people can do this is with healthful fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and beverages like kefir and kombucha.

Q. What’s the difference between Kombucha and Water Kefir and Milk Kefir?

Both kombucha and kefir start off with a sugar-containing liquid ( in the case of Milk kefir ,lactose is a milk sugar) and a SCOBY culture in order to kick off fermentation. Meaning they all contain beneficial bacteria for gut health with variations in the strains of bacteria and yeast between the different SCOBI’s .

Although kefirs and kombucha all contain healthful microbes, kefir is a richer source of lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Kombucha has aceto bacteria that produces the vinegar. So you could think of kefir as a drinkable probiotic supplement, and kombucha as more of a digestive aid. Another difference is that kombucha typically has caffeine, since it’s made from tea. Milk kefir also contains a good amount of calcium, while water-based kefir and kombucha do not.

Some further reading :

Pidoux, M. (1989). The microbial flora of sugary kefir grain (the gingerbeer plant): Biosynthesis of the grain from Lactobacillus hilgardii producing a polysaccharide gel. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology,5(2), 223-223.

Waldherr, F. (2010). Identification and characterization of a glucan-producing enzyme from Lactobacillus hilgardii TMW 1.828 involved in granule formation of water kefir. Food Microbiology,27(5), 672–678-672–678.

Lutz, M. (1899). Recherches biologiques sur la constitution du Tibi. Bulletin De La Societe Mycologique De France,15, 68-72.M