You want to know everything about the fermented drink water kefir? What is the synonym Japan crystals all about? Is water kefir healthy and what does it taste like? Here you can find out everything you need to know about the quick and healthy miracle that is water kefir!
What is water kefir or Japan crystals?
Water kefir is called Tibicos or Japan crystals. It is a sparkling and healthy drink that comes from a simple brewing process. Compared to lemonades or juices, it is less sweet and has a pleasant acidity. It is similar in taste to a slightly bitter tonic or a dry Federweisser.
Water kefir is a multi-talent in fermentation. It is sweetened with different types of sugar. Sweetened water, tea, juice or coconut water form the basis for the fermentation. At room temperature, the Japanese crystals are active and quickly develop carbonic acid reminiscent of champagne. Kefir gets its slightly sour and refreshing note during the brewing process. Lactic acid and acetic acid are produced during this process.
What does water kefir look like?
Kefir crystals or Japanese crystals vary in size. They are between 2 and 20 mm in size and relatively soft in consistency. You can compare them to softened gummy bears. Kefir crystals resemble small crystals that have a glitter effect ✨. Depending on the colour of the nutrient solution, they look like diamonds, rubies or emeralds.
How does the production work?
All you need is water, sugar, dried fruit and the original Fairment water kefir crystals. Ideally, you add a dash of acid in the form of a citrus fruit or juice. All sugars that contain glucose and/or fructose are suitable as sugars. Be careful with honey, coconut blossom sugar and agave syrup. Use them only as a supplement to the original recipe, because they contain too many nutrients.
The sugar is almost completely broken down depending on the fermentation time. Lactic acid, carbonic acid, alcohol and valuable metabolic products of the microorganisms are produced from the sugar.
A wide variety of fruits are suitable. Read more about this in our water kefir recipes on the blog. Popular varieties are dried figs, dates, sultanas, apricots and goji berries. Exceptions are creamy fruits, such as avocados. Fruits are a source of nitrogen for crops. However, you can replace this by using tea instead of water. We recommend using ready-made water kefir for acidification.
After a few hours you can observe the activity of the water kefir crystals. They bounce around, divide, form CO2 (carbonic acid) and rise upwards, like genies. The more CO2 there is in the drink, the more active it looks from the outside.
How is water kefir formed?
Water kefir crystals are a symbiotic culture (colony) of yeasts and bacteria. These form a gelatinous, soft structure. This protects them particularly well from harmful environmental influences. The yeasts metabolise sugar and produce sparkling, fine bubbly carbonic acid (CO2) from it, like champagne.
At the same time, some alcohol is produced. The lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) convert some of the alcohol into acetic acid. Lactic acid is vegan and has nothing to do with milk.
How much alcohol is there?
During each fermentation, some alcohol is produced. The alcohol content depends on the time of fermentation, the nature of the culture, the fermentation temperature and the ingredients. Basically, you can assume that the alcohol content of a water kefir will settle between 0.5% and 1.5%.
Did you know that ripe bananas, orange juice and some types of white bread have similarly low alcohol levels?
The drink contains no more alcohol than commercially available apple juice and is also suitable for children. We recommend tasting regularly to check the alcohol content. Bonus: The kefir is a good alternative to commercial lemonade packed with sugar!
When is the water kefir ready?
Depending on the temperature and pH of the liquid, the water kefir is ready after 1-3 days. A delicious, healthy, natural lemonade has been created from a "sugar water". Due to the activity of the yeasts, the drink is slightly cloudy and tingles strongly. Just like with kombucha, you can also conjure up sparkling kefir directly as a beginner - healthy and simple.
Yeasts and bacteria in the beverage
Microorganisms multiply during the brewing process. Bacteria and yeasts even double in the crystals in the new batch. You should sieve off an excessive number of crystals in relation to the liquid, as the crystals will otherwise prevent each other from doing their work.
If you were to look at the crystals through a microscope, you would see a symbiosis of yeast (large) and bacteria (small). In real raw food quality water kefir there are quite a few living micro-organisms that live in an interplay with each other.
The following microbes are the most common.
Bacteria in water kefir
- Lactobacilli: brevis, casei, hilgardii, nagelii, hordei
- Leuconostoc: mesenteroides, citreum
- Acetobacter: orientalis, fabarum
- Streptococcus: thermophilus, lactis
Yeasts in water kefir
- Henseniaospora vabyensis
- Lachancea fermantati
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Zygotorulaspora florentina
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Saccharomyces pastorianus
- Saccharomyces radaisii
- Dekkera bruxellensis
What about superfluous crystals?
After each fermentation step, the volume of the water kefir crystals has usually increased by 25-75%. If these crystals gain the upper hand, the micro-organisms will hinder each other from eating. Of course, you want to prevent this. The best thing to do is to follow our approximate quantities from the water kefir recipe. We have developed this recipe together with food technologists and microbiologists and have always optimised it.
Can I eat the crystals? Yes, you can, because they are a source of good fibre! So you are doing something good for your health.
The mystical origin
The origin of the crystals is unknown. The first depictions of water kefir date back to 1899, when a researcher discovered the crystals on a plant. They fed there on the nectar of the plant and "drank" the dew water that formed on it.
This is a naturally occurring culture. It has existed for millions of years and must have had frequent contact with mammals. The water kefir culture multiplies with each batch because it contains the full spectrum of different living microorganisms.
Like kombucha, water kefir unfortunately fell into oblivion during the Second World War. Fermentation was no longer in vogue. New techniques like canning and refrigeration were used to preserve things. Sugary soft drinks (similar to Fanta) were on the rise.
Nowadays, water kefir is back in fashion. People appreciate its age-old provenance and health benefits.
Do you feel like making water kefir yourself? Then get the all-round carefree water kefir set from our online shop!
FAQs about water kefir
Can I use fresh fruit instead of dried fruit?
You can also make your lemonade with fresh fruit. Strawberries, ginger, apples or mangos are good examples. You should change the fresh fruit for each batch.
Is it normal for the kefir crystals to change colour?
The crystals typically take on the colour of the fruit. After 1-2 new preparations, the crystalline colour will return.
How long can my kefir keep?
You can store your drink in the fridge for 1-2 weeks without any problems. The longer you leave it, the more acidic it becomes due to the secondary fermentation.
What should I look out for when buying water kefir?
Many retailers pasteurise their products. This heating makes them last longer, but they no longer contain living and healthy microorganisms. Therefore, make sure that your drink is not pasteurised.
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- Laureys D1, De Vuyst L. (2014): Appl Environ Microbiol. 2014 Apr;80(8):2564-72. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03978-13. Epub 2014 Feb 14. Microbial species diversity, community dynamics, and metabolite kinetics of water kefir fermentation.
- Laureys, David; van Jean, Amandine; Dumont, Jean; Vuyst, Luc de (2017): Investigation of the instability and low water kefir grain growth during an industrial water kefir fermentation process. In: Applied microbiology and biotechnology 101 (7), S. 2811–2819. DOI: 10.1007/s00253-016-8084-5.
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