I gave some of my kefir grains to my friends who are vegetarians or strict vegans. They were hesitant to use them at first because they weren’t sure how vegetarian friendly they are, but I think with all the ways you can make and use kefir, there will surely be one process that it will be good for the vegetarians and vegans.
Who is a vegan? A vegan is someone who refuses to use any animal product. It is a much stricter discipline than simply going vegetarian. A vegetarian may take an ounce of meat here and there, eat poultry and drink dairy. Veganism began in 1944 with a group of people who refused to eat egg and drink milk. The term originally meant “non-dairy vegetarian”.
I have friends who are vegans all the way. They refuse to eat, wear and use anything that had something to do with animals. And that is exactly why I decided to introduce water kefir and its many possible varieties. It is a good source of protein and other important nutrients for vegans.
What is kefir? There are two types of kefir and what’s more commonly known is the dairy kefir. This was not what I suggested to my friends but it is difficult to talk about kefir without saying something about milk kefir first. It is not clear how or where people started drinking kefir but all sources point to people living in the Caucasus Mountains. They were the first on record to ever ferment their milk using kefir grains. People living in this area have been reported to live long healthy lives.
They fermented their milk inside goat intestines and hung them on their doorposts to occasionally knock on them to make sure the grains were doing their job. The people who used the grains took care and protected them well. They were treated as very important family possession, almost sacred. Somehow words leaked and soon the Russians started promoting kefir as an effective cure for tuberculosis.
Through the millennia, people have perfected using the grains and perfecting their milk. Today, kefir is a known to cure for arthritis, bronchitis, depression, leaky gut syndrome, lung disease, heart problems, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. It cleanses the intestines, boosts the immune system and promotes over-all good health.
To create this wonder health drink, kefir grains feed on lactose to ferment the milk and grow. This makes it absolutely important to make use of milk since without lactose, the probiotic bacteria in the grains will starve and die.
The other type of kefir is water kefir. It is definitely a much later discovery than the dairy version, but nobody has a clue where and when water kefir was first used. It comes by different names, which suggests it’s been widely used in different parts of the world. Water kefir is referred to as tibicos or tibi, Japanese water crystals, California bees, African bees, and ginger beer plant among others. It is also known as sugary kefir grains because it feeds on sugar instead of lactose.
Water kefir doesn’t need lactose at all; it makes use of sweetened water as its liquid base. In other words, my friends were delighted to know that water kefir is non-dairy beverage but more nutrient-rich than milk or yogurt and packed with all the nutrition and probiotic contents found in milk kefir.
What are probiotics? These are helpful microorganisms that are actually what make kefir special. Composed of good yeast and bacteria, the probiotics cleanse your intestinal tract and kill bad bacteria. And to make sure your digestive system remains bad-bacteria-free for a long time, the probiotics, the good guys, multiply and populate your intestines.
In addition to the probiotics, kefir is also packed with vitamins, lactic acid and other helpful acids. And all these without dairy, which makes it perfect for my non-milk-drinking vegan friends.
Below are a few tips on how to make vegan-friendly kefir drinks. Let’s start with a simple water kefir.
Get 1 tablespoon of water kefir grains, about a quart of filtered, spring or mineral water, and 4-5 tablespoons of sugar. Unrefined sugar is best. Try brown sugar, Sucanat (whole cane sugar), Rapadura (sugarcane juice), or maple syrup. Don’t use honey as it has antibacterial properties that could damage your grains.
Dissolve your sugar first before putting in the grains. Put your sugar water inside a jar and place the grains. Cover and allow to stand for at least 24 hours to 48 hours or more. If you want it less sweet, allow to ferment for a few more hours until you achieve your desire taste. After that time, you should have your first dairy-free kefir drink.
But this is just the start. There are many ways to spice up a water kefir drink. It is more versatile than dairy kefir since it only needs sugar to thrive. You can try replacing your sugar water with coconut water and any kind of fruit juice.
For your second batch of fermentation, try adding any fruit flavor or juice as you ferment at room temperature for about 12 hours. Put in your fridge after that time to cool.
What fruit works best with water kefir? It’s really up to you, although people have been saying that that grains love banana. Try peach, mango, apple, pomegranate, cranberry, grapes, raspberry, basically anything and everything you have in your kitchen.
Fermenting with ginger juice is also a popular variety. Water kefir is acidic, fizzy and slightly alcoholic, which means you can make your very own ginger ale kefir. Whatever you do, make sure not to let your grains get in contact with metal or chlorinated water.
My vegan friends are now kefir users. They also love the idea that they can actually eat the extra grains for an additional dose of probiotics. I don’t know if they actually did eat them but that certainly is not a bad idea. Some used the extra grains to garnish a vegetable dish. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you will quickly discover that water kefir is perfect for you and your way of life.