Water kefir is a drink made by fermenting sugar water with grains called kefir. Kefir grains are composed of different types of bacteria and yeast. When the grains are added to sugar water, the yeast and bacteria eat the sugar and produce healthy bacteria, called probiotics, as well as lactic acid and some alcohol. The cultures used to ferment water kefir are different from those used to make a similar drink known as milk kefir. After fermentation, water kefir can be flavored with fruits or other ingredients.
The process of making water kefir starts by creating a solution of sugar and water. The sugar water acts as a food for the active bacteria and yeast found in the kefir. The grains are added to the water and allowed to sit for 24 to 48 hours. During this time, the bacteria grow and the water becomes a pale brownish color. Although alcohol is produced during the process, it is not usually present in the water in any significant amount.
The kefir grains used during the fermentation process do not actually dissolve. Instead, the grains grow in size as more bacteria and yeast are produced. When the water is done, the grains can be removed from the liquid and set aside for future use. There are many combinations of bacteria in the kefir cultures, allowing for different waters, each with slightly different properties. Variations in the composition of the kefir grains are both regional and based on the bacterial culture originally used to make the water.
While water kefir is fermenting, lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid is a vital part of the human body and is required for the proper health and functioning of various organs and tissues. The water is able to provide this acid without a person needing to consume dairy products, where it is normally found.
A number of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics also develop in the water. The probiotics assist in digestion by destroying harmful bacteria in the body and are thought to provide some relief to those who are suffering from various diseases. The water also contains several vitamins, including B12.
As water kefir is created, it releases carbon dioxide when the bacteria consume the sugars. This means that closing the container being used for fermentation can make the water become carbonated. Likewise, the water can remain plain if the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape from the container.