Don’t ask me how it happened but our house has become a veritable laboratory of fermenting beverages. And I’m not talking beer, like most normal home brewers (been there, done that), but stinky, skanky drinks made from strange globs of yeast and bacteria that look more like boogers than something you should eat.
But here we are with our kitchen counter cluttered with glass jars in various states of initial fermentation. Bottles undergoing secondary fermentation, getting bubbly on the shelves. Finished product crowding up the fridge. We even had an explosion in the basement, but I don’t want to go into that right now.
Why do we do it? Mainly because we like the health benefits (and we’re a little nuts!)
Both kombucha and kefir start with a base of sweetened liquid (tea for kombucha, sugar-water or milk for kefir). The cultures (a combo of bacteria and yeast) gobble up the sugars and cause the liquid to ferment. The resulting fermented drink is loaded with organic acids, enzymes, beneficial microflora and vitamins making it pretty darned good for you! A teeny, tiny bit of alcohol is also produced but not enough to be of concern – even kids can drink it safely.
The process: Start by making a batch of sugary, black tea. Then add a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). It’s a slimy, gross-looking blob but don’t be scared of it – it’s the mother culture that makes it all happen. Let them hang out together for one to three weeks while the magic fermentation process takes place. Taste-test once a week or so until it’s pretty sour but still tastes good to you. For more fizz, try a secondary fermentation in a bottle. (See resources at the end for links to more specific instructions.)
- Digestive aid
- Helps detox the liver
- Provides probiotic bacteria
- High in B vitamins
Taste: Kombucha has a sour taste – similar to apple cider vinegar. For many it is an acquired taste. I hated it at first, but now I am addicted. Kombucha can be sweetened with fruit juice or flavored with ginger or dried fruits to make it more palatable.
The process: Kefir is made using kefir grains – which are not grains at all but rather, squishy, clumps of bacteria and yeast. Dairy kefir is made with milk and the grains resemble cauliflower, believe it or not. Water kefir is made with sweetened water (or coconut water) and the grains are typically more crystal shaped, translucent blobs of gel. Add some kefir grains to your liquid and let it sit and ferment on the counter for 24 to 48 hours (yes, even milk kefir is left unrefrigerated). To make kefir soda, you can do a secondary fermentation (done more often with water kefir than with dairy), where you add juice or other flavorings. (See resources at the end for links to more specific instructions.)
- Wide-spectrum probiotic (due to the many strains of active bacteria)
- Digestive aid
- Supports strong immune system
Taste: Water kefir is sweeter and cleaner tasting than kombucha although it has a certain fermented taste that is hard to describe. Milk kefir has a sour flavor, similar to buttermilk. A small amount of fruit or sweetener goes a long way to make it palatable.
Pros and Cons
- Longer fermentation process – from 7 to 21 days (good part is you can just let it sit unattended)
- Sour taste – similar to apple cider vinegar
- New SCOBY culture created with every batch (share one with a friend!)
- Contains caffeine (from the black tea)
- More of an all-around health drink
- Takes only 24 to 48 hours to ferment
- Contains more active bacteria than kombucha
- Sweeter than kombucha
- Easier to flavor
- Cultures reproduce slowly
- Known more as a probiotic drink
When it comes to water-based, fermented beverages, I’m more of a kombucha fan than a kefir fan. I’ve grown to love the sour flavor of kombucha but there’s something about the fermented flavor of kefir that I just don’t love, even when it’s flavored. On the other hand, I’m nuts about dairy kefir. I put it in smoothies or pour it over granola almost every morning.
I’m not giving up on the water kefir just yet – we’ve been making ours with converted dairy kefir grains – which is supposed to be OK but I think that might be affecting the flavor. Next step is to get some “virgin” water kefir grains and compare. Kelly the Kitchen Kop swears that kefir soda is the only way to go and I’m dying to try Crunchy Betty’s dried apple soda.
Do you make kombucha and/or kefir at home? Which one do you prefer and why?
Kombucha recipe from The Soft Landing
Water kefir recipe from Crunchy Betty
For a super scientific explanation see this post from Common Sense Homesteading.