Flavored Water Kefir: A Versatile Fermented Beverage

A kombucha SCOBY
A kombucha SCOBY

When I first fell in love with making my own fermented beverages, flavored water kefir was not a priority on my list. Experimenting with flavors of Kombucha was at the top. I had a natural affinity for kombucha. It fascinated me. The whole process of fermentation was something I had not experienced before in all my years of health food preparation. I was thrilled to enter the world of fermentation. A door had opened to me inviting me into a whole new way of preparing and preserving food and beverages.

Each time, I experimented with new kombucha flavors, I had great success. I make very cherry, which is heavenly since I am a cherry flavor lover. I also make chocolate which drives all the chocolate lovers wild. I seem to encounter no impediments to making great kombucha. I continue to experiment with different flavors and still love everything about it.

Very Cherry Kombucha
Very Cherry Kombucha

I guess I should step back for a moment to provide some insight into this amazing technology. There are numerous tools or techniques for fermentation and preservation. So far, I have tried about seven of them. Salting is one that I imagine everyone is familiar with. Dehydrating and smoking are two others that have long histories but not too old that many people know about them as well. But then there are the fermentation techniques that have histories indigenous to many ancient cultures. Fermentation is so old that it is believed to pre-date man!

The SCOBY is the essential fermenting agent. SCOBY stands for, symbiotic colony (or community) of bacterial and yeast. When I first heard of SCOBY I was told it was a mushroom. It is not. There are many kind of SCOBY. Kombucha is most commonly linked to the term SCOBY. But kefir grains are SCOBY, too.

Water kefir grains
Water kefir grains

There is also a SCOBY for making JUN which is considered the ‘champagne of kombucha’. It is indistinguishable in appearance from a regular Kombucha SCOBY. But the ingredients needed to create this beverages are not the same as regular Kombucha. Green tea is used instead of black. Honey is required instead of sugar. We’ll talk more about this delicate and delicious drink at a future date.

Now that you have a general introduction to the SCOBY world, some explanatory definitions and an overview of beverage fermentation, we can discuss kefir, water kefir and flavored water kefir. The Kefir SCOBY is in the form of grains or crystals. They are actually very pretty to look at. They are much less intimidating than a Kombucha SCOBY. There are two kinds of grains. One is for kefir water. The other is for kefir milk. We will only focus the water kefir grains and flavored water kefir.

my pearlescent mystery SCOBY
my pearlescent mystery SCOBY

It took me some time to cozy up to water kefir. It just didn’t excite me the way Kombucha, natural sodas and lacto-fermented lemonade did. As a result the water kefir I had brewing just sat in the jar unattended. Then something happened. A Kombucha looking SCOBY formed on top. Underneath it was a membrane like a baby SCOBY forming and a brown bulging sack. I decided to explore. I separated everything. I opened the sack. To my surprise and delight, it was filled with grains. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I suppose I could have started a new batch using these grains. I saved the SCOBY for a while planning to show it to Matt. But I thought the whole thing was a result of cross-contamination from Kombucha bacteria. The two jars were closer together than I now know to keep them, at least four feet apart. Lastly, the liquid had turned sour. I got discouraged with the whole mystery and threw it everything out, the SCOBY, the sack with new grains, the membrane and the liquid.

water kefir sack
water kefir sack

But I like a challenge and I don’t like when I cannot master something. Between those two aspects of personality and persistence at work, I knew that learning to make kefir water was going to be my next endeavor. So I started from scratch, I got some new water kefir grains from my friend and fermentation mentor, Matt Fallon. At his suggestion, I even got a painter’s mesh strainer bag. This would keep my new babies contained while still being submerged in the liquid.

I arranged my new set up and even added some adornment to my most elegant dispenser. I filled the jar with bottled water (about a gallon and a half) and organic sugar (about a scoop per gallon). I submerged the grains contained within the mesh strainer’s and secured them to the dispenser’s top with the elastic band sewn into the top of the mesh strainer. I was ready for action.

Keeping the fermenting beverage warm enough
Keeping the fermenting beverage warm enough

Water kefir grains only take about 24 hours to ferment their liquid. This is much faster than it takes to make Kombucha. That can take a few days or even longer.

The number of days depends upon the temperature of the environment the container is in. In the summer, my Kombucha brew is ready in a few days. When the temperature gets colder, I wrap a light kitchen towel around the jar. Some people report weeks for fermentation to be complete. There are actually both heating pads purchasable for jars and creative fermenters make ‘coats’ and covers designed to keep the container and liquid from getting too cold. This allows for a speeding up of a process that would otherwise slow down too much or virtually stop when it just gets too cold.

My kefir water dispenser
My kefir water dispenser

I didn’t have the same spontaneity at first that I had with making Kombucha. But I gave myself a good talking to and said, ‘This is the same process as making Kombucha. It is fermentation and the grains, not a jelly fish looking pancake, are the SCOBY. I am only using another type of SCOBY. Everything else is the same. So do basically what I do when I make Kombucha’. I did just that and it works. It is so much easier than I thought. I have been going wild making all kinds of flavors of water kefir just like I had started to do with my first love, Kombucha. I’ve made chocolate peppermint with dried leaves from Matt’s garden. I made a ginger-orange brew that needs a touch of maple syrup to sweeten it. I’ve made Cherry Kefirade which is my favorite. It is a combination of Cherry water kefir and fermented lemonade. That recipe will definitely have to wait for another blog post. It even deserves a pedestal it is so outstandingly delicious (and nutritious).

Flavored, versatile water kefir
Flavored, versatile water kefir

This is just another beginning, seeing how far I can stretch what appear to be the normal limits of a technique. Water kefir is clearly very versatile. It is quite cooperative and easy to make flavored water kefir. It does not mind when I use the tea that has already been used for a Kombucha or JUN brew. I let it sit for a day or two and there I have it, a new water kefir flavor. This new world I have entered allows me continual exploration. It is a world that has existed for millennia. Some say that fermentation existed before man rather than man ‘inventing’ fermentation. Be that as it may, I am thrilled to have been introduced the world of beverage fermentation and food preservation.

If you would like to get more involved in beverage fermentation, there are many groups to join on facebook. Some are about fermentation in general. Others get specific to Water Kefir, Kombucha, SCOBY exchange, etc.

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Help, I need a wool soup recipe.

wool soup recipe
Help, I need a wool soup recipe
So far no one has come up with a wool soup recipe for me. Why do I need one? you may ask. Well, it involves a story. So I hope you don’t mind. Have a seat and make yourself at home.

In 2008, when the stock market crashed . . . . Let’s stop right there and go to a shorter version of my story. We are part of The Middle Class Poor. We get food stamps, go to food pantries and get assistance for living. I am not sure how much living one can call this when food stamps is $17 per month (it went up from $15!). Food pantries have no food we can eat. That is where the wool soup recipe comes into the story.

Garden Pool
Turning a worn out swimming pool into a source of food for a family from ‘GardenPool’

One of the food pantries we go to is in a church that has a wealthy congregation. I get clothes from Talbot, Lord & Taylor and lots of other prestigious names. It is fun to get new clothes each month. But I need food. I need real food not peanut butter and jelly or mac ‘n cheese. So therein lies my problem. I had become clothes rich and food poor. If I could only find a wool soup recipe, then I could be both food and clothes rich. No wool soup recipe has appeared or is likely to do so in the near future. It became apparent to me that I would have to find another solution to our hunger/nutrition crisis. I decided to call it The Food Project.

The Food Project
Art & Bytes, The Food Project

The first idea was something called, Donate It Local. I started my research by going around to local restaurants and supermarkets to see if they would like to donate food that was not used up by the end of the day or was about to expire. The answer was the same everywhere. ‘Sorry, but we can’t risk the liability if someone gets sick’. ‘If someone gets sick’, I thought. Hah, I’ll risk it. It’s better than going hungry. But not as far as the powers that be saw it. They could only respond in terms of their potential legal situation instead of the real food/nutrition crisis.

Donate It Local
An attempt to enlist local stores and restaurants to donate fresh food.

My next effort was part of the Global Food rEvolution. The focus was on fighting for healthier, non-gmo food. I participated in that for a while by posting about everything to do with GMOs and their danger. I also announced all the marches and activities I could for Occupy Monsanto and other such rallies. But we were still hungry and the amount of money we had available for food when our food stamps were cut from $367/month to $15/month was a shocking wake-up call that we had to do some thing more immediate and personal.

Occupy Monsanto
The Occupy Monsanto Facebook page felt like right approach at first
Global Food rEvolution
But my Global Food rEvolution was feeling more subdued, peaceful and based in my gut.

Back to Basics and Millenial Food Freedom felt more personal and hands on for us than ‘occupying’ a global corporation. I began to make my own laundry detergent and thought about other ways to save money.

Back to Basics
What a great feeling to make something yourself and not buy it prepared
Millenial Food Freedom
Millenial Food Freedom provides probiotics lemonade now not after the Food Revolution

When we were receiving $367/month in food stamps, I was able to food shop in our local health food supermarket and get the kind of foods we needed to stay healthy. One of my favorites had become Kombucha. It is a fermented tea that is high in probiotics, energy boosting and very healthy. But at $3.50 a bottle and $15/month in food stamps, a disparity existed-no more store bought Kombucha. So I started to make my own. I became more involved in making other fermented foods and drinks too. For fun, I named my efforts, Ali’s Kombucha Kitchen.

Ali's Kombucha Kitchen
Ali’s Kombucha Kitchen is where the miracle of fermentation takes place every day

I now spend most of my time in Ali’s Kombucha Kitchen as A Food Fermentation Farmer doing what I call, Fermented Food Farming. I have no land. I have no garden. I do not have a single flower pot. But I have managed to learn how to cook, prepare and preserve fermented and cultured food stuffs that are nutrient rich and delicious.

A Food Fermentation Farmer
The bounty of A Food Fermentation Farmer
Fermented Food Farming
The tools for Fermented Food Farming

One of my traditional nutrition favorites is bone broth. It is as old as the hills as are many of the other culturally indigenous foods and beverages I am learning to make. Many of these traditions have Facebook groups where I can meet other like-minded folks and discuss our experiences.

The BoneBroth Pot Group
The BoneBroth Pot Group Image on Facebook

We still have a ways to go. But I already feel as warm and nourished inside like when I have a wool sweater or skirt on the outside. I may not have found my wool soup recipe. But wool has led me in the right direction. I will not rest until I have found The 100 Percent Solution for the hunger/nutrition crisis for everyone.

The 100 Percent Project
The 100 Percent Project’s goal is the solution to global hunger and malnturtion
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