The third session of the Ferment-Activity Club engaged with fermented drinks, especially with the art of making Water Kefir. Kefir is a drink that cannot be bought commercially. Antje Nestler broadcasted live from her kitchen how to take care of the kefir grains. Antje’s personal journey with fermenting water kefir started at a Yoga retreat, where grains were passed on to her from a fellow yogi. Since then different cultures keep growing in her kitchen and are passed on from her likewise to other people.
Water kefir is not only the finished drink, but also the term for the clear, crystalline grains.
The grains themselves have probiotic superpowers — so strong that they might upset your stomach, if you’re not used to them. But fermentation regulars like to put them in smoothies. Health benefits of fermented drinks are widely agreed on in the community of water kefir makers, but did not get scientific approval, yet. Maxime accentuates the intersubjectivity of the practice, while Salla mentions how you also don’t have to justify your fermentation practice with possible health benefits.1
Antje describes the see-through crystals as “clusters of bacteria and yeast living a symbiotic relationship”. They tell you by their shape, color and texture how they’re feeling and what they need. A healthy grain hast sharp edges, not frizzy and is clear rather than milky.
Then Antje turns to her cutting board and starts the session by showing us the water kefir grains. The main character in your own fermentation experience! Next to them you need sugar, she uses raw cane sugar, and dried fruit to your liking. Recommended by Antje through trial and hit were dried apples, figs or cranberries.
As every fermented good has some mystical stories around it, so does the water kefir. It is said that the grains mustn’t touch any metal and Antje sticks to that. As her grains are already in a readily fermented drink, her process differs slightly from fresh grains. But we hand out grains from a batch of water kefir as well, the process stays in the family.
The first step is to filter the grains out of the liquid and catch the liquid in a collecting bin – this is your drink, ready to be devoured. The grains are rinsed, inside of the plastic sieve, as well as the glass jar the fermentation is happening in. Different than Kombucha every fermentation happens from scratch and there is no leftover from the old drink.
While washing the grains, Antje presents us the “squishiness” of them and explains the benefits of cranberries, which she collects out of the sieve to separate them from the kefir grains. She will put fresh ones directly into her drink today. An interesting difference from Kefir and Kombucha is that the presence of the fruits doesn’t affect the grains. “They don’t encapsulate these organic material like the Kombucha does” tells us Maxime. The freshly showered grains are then softly shoved into a big glass jar from the sieve. After every fermentation you should have around 10% more grains than before. In this step you also have the chance to literally get in touch with the grains and listen to what they tell you. Less defined and watery grains demand for more sugar, it’s a sign of hunger.