Hello, my name is Tamara Hoerner and I am a sodaholic. That’s why, about 18 months ago, in an effort to break my addiction, I decided to try making my own gut friendly soda, otherwise known as water kefir. I quickly discovered that this was the exact thing I needed get away from soda and get my body, and gut, back on track. It’s bubbly, like soda and best of all it cut my sugar cravings! It’s also a wonderful way to get reluctant family members to consume probiotics!
I stopped making water kefir at the beginning of 2020. We were preparing to sell our home and move across the country, from Virginia to Colorado. Now that I’m settled, I decided it was absolutely time to make some kefir again. I missed it. I mean what better way to get healthy probiotics into your gut than with homemade soda?
Kefir starter or kefir grains?
Back when I first started making kefir, I discovered 2 ways of making it. The first way is with active kefir grains, which can be purchased from Cultures for Health. These grains are a living microbiome that are mixed with prepared water to make it into kefir. The main benefit is the number of microbes. There can be as many as 30 or more different strains of microbes. These grains are similar to a sourdough starter, in that, you can make an infinite number of kefir batches with them, as long as you keep them alive, by feeding it sugar water on a regular basis. These grains grow and can be “gifted” to others, just like a sourdough starter. The fact that this microbiome must be maintained is also a negative, as many people don’t want to bother with it.
Another downside… water kefir grains only make water kefir. In order to make dairy kefir, you need an entirely different set of grains. This also means, if you want dairy kefir, you now have 2 microbiomes to maintain. Things can get really complicated if you also have a sourdough starter! It’s almost like having pets in the house! With that said, if you plan on making a lot of kefir, it might be worth the time and effort, as this microbiome is diverse and like a whole food.
The second way is with a kefir starter culture. This is a powder sold in packets that can be purchased from Body ecology. Once you’ve made one batch, you can make up to 6 more batches on a single packet, by adding kefir from a previous batch to the new batch. This type of kefir culture can contain from 7 to 9 different strains of microbes. The starter is also a wonderful way for beginners to get their feet wet with kefir. It’s super easy to use and there’s no grains to maintain. You can also use this same starter culture to make dairy kefir. I find this to be a huge bonus. While this starter definitely has its perks, the microbiome is more processed and less diverse than the grains.
Combining 2 methods into one kooky recipe
My investigations into the 2 types of kefir starter also included 2 different methods of making this healthy beverage. The first one I stumbled upon was when I took some classes with the Traditional Cooking School by Gnowfglins. (TCS) This recipe is a 2 stage process using clean filtered water, sugar, kefir grains and an egg shell (for added minerals. The bugs love minerals). The first stage ferments the kefir for 3-5 days. During the second stage, juice is added for “flavor” and to further ferment the kefir, along with aiding in the creation of carbonation. The second one, from Body Ecology, using the powdered kefir starter, is a simple one step process that uses pure, fresh coconut water and the kefir starter to make Coconut Water Kefir.
For my recipe, I decided to combine these two methods. I call it Kooky Kefir because it was kind of an accidental kefir that actually turned out phenomenal. I used 1/2 clean filtered water and 1/2 coconut water. I opted for the kefir starter over the grains. This was mainly because I had the starter on hand, and didn’t want to wait for the grains to arrive in the mail, plus go through the activation process. I normally like to use sucanat for the sugar, but again, didn’t have any on hand. So, I decided to use regular organic cane sugar. I also added the egg shell. I mean, why not? During the second phase, I added organic concord grape juice from Kedem.
The “accidental” part came when I realized I had the wrong kind of coconut water. (thus the name Kooky Kefir) You see, coconut water kefir normally requires pure, fresh unpasteurized (raw) coconut water. Pasteurized coconut water won’t ferment properly (I’ve also used Harmless Harvest coconut water, which is unpasteurized.) Instead, I purchased Naked coconut water. I thought it was raw, but it turned out to be “lightly pasteurized.” Since I was using only 1/2 coconut water, and I was adding sugar, per the TCS recipe, I theorized it would still work, and it did. See for yourself in the video below!
So there’s my story into my Kooky Grape Kefir creation. Here’s the recipe and step by step instructions. Let me know if you try it or if you have any questions.
Concord Grape Kefir
A bubbly fermented beverage, reminiscent of grape soda, but healthy! This bubbly beverage is packed with probiotics!
Credit: Tamara Hoerner
- 1/2 gallon clean, filtered water
- 1/2 gallon coconut water (see recipe notes)
- 3/4 cup sugar (preferably sucanat, but use what you have on hand)
- 2 packets kefir starter culture (Body Ecology) OR active kefir grains (Cultures for Health) OR 1 cup from a previous batch of kefir
- 1/2 of a clean egg shell (adds minerals to the water)
- 48 ounces Organic Concord Grape Juice (I used Kedem Organic Grape Juice)
- A 1 gallon glass jar
- An instant read thermometer is helpful, but optional
- 6 swing top glass bottles with rubber stoppers (optional-but these help create the fizz in the kefir. See recipe notes for more info)
- Put the sugar in the gallon jar and cover with about 1 cup boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved
- Add remaining water and coconut water to the jar and stir.
- Check the temperature of the water. It should be above 75 degrees but not hotter than 92 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, test the water with your finger. It should feel warm, but not too hot.
- Add the kefir culture, whichever one you’re using. I recommend using a starter culture if you’re new to kefir making. If you’re a kefir making expert, use your active kefir grains or some kefir from a previous batch. Stir well, but gently, so as not too overly disturb your little bug friends.
- Drop in your egg shell, allowing it to fall to the bottom.
- Taste the liquid. This is so you’ll know how sweet it started out, which helps you determine when it’s done, later on.
- Cover with a cotton cloth held to the jar with a rubber band. set aside. Leave it alone for at least 3 days, then start tasting it. When most of the sweetness is gone, it’s done. My batch took about 5 days. The kefir can actually be consumed at this point. You can move it to swing top bottles and refrigerate OR move to phase 2!
- It’s time for PHASE 2. Put 1 cup (8 oz) of juice into each of the 6 swing top bottles, then fill to the shoulder of the bottle with your kefir. Seal the bottle and let set on the counter for 1-2 days. (If your using kefir grains, don’t forget to rescue them from the jar first!)
- After 24 hours, check for carbonation. You should be able to see bubbles forming on the top. You can also check by opening the seal of the bottle. CAREFULLY! If it’s to your liking, and some of the sweetness from the juice has diminished, it’s done. If you let it sit longer than 2 days, burp the bottles every 24 hours. TRUST ME ON THIS! I once had a bottle explode…rookie mistake that will never happen again.
~ This recipe can be made with all water or all coconut water or a combination like mine. If you use 100% coconut water, make sure you use fresh coconut water, or it won’t ferment. If you’d like to buy bottled coconut water, you MUST use an unpasteurized brand such as Harmless Harvest. Most other brands are pasteurized and won’t ferment.
~ If you don’t have swing top bottles, you can use 6 quart jars instead. The kefir won’t be as fizzy, but will still taste good.
~ I recommend storing the finished product in the fridge. The cold air tames the activity of the microbes. It will still be fizzy, but you don’t have to worry about bottles exploding.
~ After 2 days with juice added, the initial flavor will still be a bit sweet. Over time, the sweetness will dissipate as the microbes eat the sugar from the juice. The longer it sits, the less sweet it will be.
~ If 8 ounces of juice in each swing top bottle is too much, adjust the amount of juice to your liking. Just remember, the microbes will eventually eat all the sugar in the bottles, if left long enough. This is what creates the carbonation in the kefir. Your’e not going for the sweetness here as much as the flavor.
There are pros and cons to each type of kefir culture. For beginners, my recommendation is to use the kefir starter powder from Body Ecology. This will give you an idea on the process and help you decide if you even like kefir. Then, once you get the hang of it, you can get some grains and start your own microbiome at home.
Until next time… Bon Appetit! Namaste my friends!