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A Gut Feeling

According to the Bible, kefir grains may have divine origins. Some people say — and some people — believe that is the bread that God sent to feed the Israelities on their 40-year-long endless desert crossing was in fact kefir grains.

“The people of Israel called the bread manna,” the Bible reads. “It was white like coriander seeds and tasted like wafers made with honey.”

This is one of the enduring legends that explains the origin of water kefir grains, which we know now are simply cultures of bacteria and yeast.

For centuries, water kefir grains were widely used by people of various origins and lifestyles to make a special brew that kept them strong and healthy.

The first stories about water kefir grains date back  to the 1800’s when the grains were discovered in Mexico, Tibet, Caucacas Mountains and the southern peninsula of Ukraine. Some people say that the grains originated from an Opuntia -prickly pear – cactus plant found in Mexico and were collected from the plant’s pads. 

Other people believe that the first to use water kefir grains were the Old Cossacks – people from the Caucacas Mountains Region. That is in close proximity to where the grains’ more popular cousins -milk kefir grains – are reported to originate from.

To go back to the divine origins of the grains, another story tells us they originated in Tibet and were then gifted by the monks to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Some also suggest that the grains were brought back to Europe in 1856 by British soldiers after they returned from Crimean War.

And today, health fanatics are discovering the benefits of water kefir grains all over again. This is now the trendy, ‘it’ drink of the moment, from New York to London to Tokyo.

This brew is now recognized as a probiotic fermented drink that is beneficial to your gut and overall health plus has more than 70 health benefits. The same brew that now stands hand in hand on the shop shelf with its popular sister, sugar-free soda alternative, Kombucha.

What is water kefir exactly?

The reason there is so much uncertainty about the origin of the food is that no two water kefir grains in the world are the same. They are known by different names. Tibicicos, Tibi grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese beer seeds, Caliornia bees, Ginger beer plant or balm of Gilead, Bèbées, ale nuts – you name it. They are only called grains because of their similar appearance but in fact they have nothing else in common with grains such as rye or wheat. Then what are these jelly-like crystals you may ask?

The grains are a symbiotic cultures that contain a number of beneficial bacteria and yeast. Each grain can vary but they are found to have a few of the same bacteria and yeast responsible for the foundation of water kefir.

To make the fizzy water kefir probiotic drink that you can find in shops, you simply need the grains, pure spring water, a few pinches of salt, organic dried fruits like raisins or figs and organic raw sugar.

Before the mere mention of the word sugar makes you bite your lip and start questioning the whole thing – let me explain something. Sugar is the food for the grains. The bacteria consume it, metabolize it and turn the sugary liquid into a crisp drink full of enzymes, organic acids, minerals and vitamins. 

Only the good stuff for your gut to thrive on. 

Benefits of water kefir

So what makes water kefir so healthy?

Here it is. Water kefir helps with a number of problems, such as a compromised immune system, liver issues, helps with leaky gut syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, chronic fatigue and lower LDL cholesterol. It can also boost energy levels and is even known to help with bad breath!

The gut is our second brain and it is linked to everything in our body, therefore the benefits are extensive.  

“It is not a silver bullet medicine that will fix your health just like that, but it is an adaptogentic tonic – your body will take from it what it needs to restore health.

The trend of water kefir is now moving from our home kitchen benches to general public. Buchi Brew Co. based in Brisbane and owned by Jason Callender, specializes in we-know-all about-you Kombucha.

Callender introduced Water Kefir to the Buchi family about 7 years ago, just after 2 years from starting his business, to bring another option of sugar-free beverages to his customers. As he says, water kefir is another lovely fermented probiotic drink which as opposed to kombucha doesn’t contain caffeine and has more of a crisp flavour.  

“I recommend it to people who are new to fermented foods or those who simply prefer more subtle flavours to rather sour kombucha,” said Callender when asked about differences between the two sisters-drinks. 

Buchi offers a couple of flavours in bottles available country-wide. You can also find them in various farmers markets around the Brisbane area with more seasonal flavours on tap – like the strawberry water kefir made with sunshine-grown organic berries straight from the fields of Coochin Hills Organics farm hidden in Sunshine Coast Hinterlands.

Callender’s journey with fermenting and culturing started when he realized he needed to make some lifestyle changes to keep up with his young kids at the time. Brewing and making food that is alive and makes people thrive changed his life.

Callender developed a passion that he is passing to people through Buchi’s creations – their motto is authenticity without compromising and cutting corners.

Variations of water kefir

“Quite some years ago I had a chronic fatigue, water kefir and saurekraut seemed to be a big difference on my health when it was falling short on me. It felt pretty special,” confesses Maggie Dylan, co-owner of Folk Byron Bay. 

Her journey with water kefir started about 10 years ago on her kitchen bench at home. She and her partner started their business in 2014, opening a garden cafe in Byron Bay to serve a range of homemade and ethnic inspired food. Water kefir was on their menu since day one.

Folk’s kefir is a take on a classic creaming soda and is full of vanilla, sweet strawberries and cake-battery baobab flavours ­­

“We use rapadura sugar to feed the grains which give a caramely and earthy type of flavour,” Dylan describes. 

They also add lemon to give the hard working grains an extra push to help with extra nutrients.

Creaming soda kefir is joined from time to time by other seasonal flavours. Folk also makes other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and ginger beer.

“We make those primarily for flavours but the health benefits are an added bonus. The cultural element they add to a dish is where our greatest passion lies.” Dylan says “We don’t make kombucha at our cafe. We believe kefir lends itself better to a cafe environment as well as a much simpler fermenting process.

Learning the art of water kefir

Lauren Chircop is a nutritionist and an owner of the OPAAT health shop in Port Stephens in New South Wales. It is a mission based business founded in 2016 focused on changing lives, one person at a time.

Her personal journey with brewing and fermenting started in 2013, when she and her teenage daughter embarked on a charity mission to the African continent.

“That trip changed my life. I came back wanting to help other people. I needed to change my habits in order to do so.” Chircop says. Since then she has become passionate about an alchemy-like world of fermented foods and beverages like kefir.

Her enthusiasm for water kefir wasn’t love from first sight ­­­­

“At first I was against it because it was made with sugar but it kept coming up in one way or another, so I looked more into it and found that the sugars were fermented away predominantly. I became very passionate about gut health and after researching the benefits I decided to learn how to make it.”

She now offers kefir in a range of fruity flavours like raspberry, passionfruit or ginger. “Water kefir is very popular. We can hardly keep up production. We have many regulars who return their bottles for refills.” – she says.

Chircop opened her health shop to help people live healthy and bring awareness to gut health. She runs workshops where you can learn all about water kefir and how to make it at home along with other workshops – Kombucha, Vegan Cheese or Healthy Eating Cooking Class.

Manna from heaven — an unexpected aid, advantage, or assistance — dictionary definition. Yes, we are talking water kefir. Divine or not, people have benefited from its existence and are continuing to do so.

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