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 SCOBY, a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). This SCOBY 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.
Beneficial bacteria and yeast metabolize the ingredients into beneficial acids, as well as additional B vitamins and 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 parts of the world such as Tibicos ,Tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees. The fermenting process and properties are generally accepted to be the same, but as with all fermentations you will get local microbial profile variations.
There are some that speculate towards Mexico. According to some research, the tibicos/water kefir cultures form 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 drinks 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 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. No two cultures are exactly the same as bacterial strains are constantly evolving and adapting to their environment. 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 (Gastrointestinal) tract or gut, is one big ecosystem, made up of over 500 diverse bacterial species which is commonly referred to as the gut microbiota or as part of your microbiome. Recent research is finding that the quantity and diversity of beneficial bacteria have a much wider impact on overall health than the medical community initially presumed. We should try 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 regular intake of fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and beverages like kefir, Kvass.
Q. What’s the difference between kombucha, 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 SCOBY’s .
Although kefirs and kombucha all contain bacteria , kefir is a richer source of lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Kombucha has aceto-bacter that produces the vinegar. So the flavour profiles are quite different as a result of the different ingredients. The other difference is that kombucha typically has caffeine, since it’s made from tea. Milk kefir contains 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 the 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