My fermentation experiments
Recently I was reminded of the value to our health of consuming fermented products. Last weekend I stayed with friends on their farm in Breadalbo, an historic locality outside of Goulburn (2 1/2 hours from Sydney). They had been making kambucha – a healing drink, which I hadn’t come across since my brother’s then girlfriend (who is now my best friend), made fifteen years ago in a ramshackle house in Bondi (the good ol’ days when Bondi was chilled!).
Kambucha has a ‘mother’ – a type of ‘mushroom’ which is a jelly-like membrane that floats in a nutrient solution of tea (and whatever else you add) and sugar exposed to oxygen. The membrane is a mix of yeasts and bacteria – not the nasty stuff, but good bacteria that when consumed helps the gut do its job of breaking down food into nutrients that can be absorbed in the body.
So, I asked my host if I could share a part of her mother and brew some up myself. Here is the sample we got to take home.
I will be moving my ‘baby’ into a new vessel soon and post updates on the growth, taste and experinece consuming the brew! Below is the mushroom starting to form on the surface, so it now has a portion of the mother mushroom my friend gave me, and has started growing it’s own on the surface. The red colour is due to my friend pouring in left over red wine. The usual recipe includes tea (steeped and allowed to cool), sugar and water, plus good vibes (perhaps)!
A did a bit of research on the process that the kambucha goes through and this is what I found out:
When you make a brew, it first spreads over the surface of the tea and then it thickens. It reproduces by a process of cylindrical binary fission, unlike other yeasts that reproduce with spores. The membrane is a symbiosis of yeast cells and different bacteria.
The culture transforms the tea into enzymes, vitamins and organic acids and other substances with antibiotic, antiseptic and detoxifying characteristics. Source: http://www.growyouthful.com/recipes/kombucha.php
I will be adding some tea and trying to break my kambuchas alcoholic habit (although every batch has about 0.5% accohol due to the fermentation process, and changing it to a vessel with a wide open surface to allow the mushroom to grow and do its lovely job of producing fermented brew. Stay tuned.
Along with my kambucha experiment I ordered online a ‘starter’ of water kefir. Again, this is a fermented beverage teeming with beneficial bacteria, apparently with a variety of enzymes and a range of vitamins such as B. The list of benefits is huge, and while I will mainly be interested in the assistance it may give to my digestion (which hasnt been too great of late), its also meant to make my hair shiny, skin look great, give me a bounce in my step etc, for more benefits see here.
Water kefir is made with kefir grains (small, translucent, gelatinous structures comprised of assorted bacteria and yeasts), water, and sugars.
I plan on having a small glass of this in the monrings on waking, perhaps mixed with water and lemon, or as a cool drink on a warm afternoon.
My starter kit arrived from growingyouthful.com with no instructions or information, but I was referred to look at the site for the recipe. The amount of starter I got was only about a teaspoon. I was a little concerned I didnt have the amount required accoridng to the recipe listed here, but have made up a batch nonetheless and will see how it fizzez!!!!
This is what I did:
- Rinsed jar
- Added about three tablespoons palm sugar (that i’d bought in Bali, but can easily get in Australia. Apparently can add any sweetener except honey as the anti microbial properties of honey can kill good bacteria in the brew
- Chopped a quarter grapefruit in- skin and all. Recipe said half a lemon, all I had were organic grapefruits
- filled jar 3/4 full
- placed a bit of cloth over top with a rubber band
- placed out of sun in kitchen which is about 20 degrees C at present….
Update: two weeks later:
When my water kefir starter arrived (in the post in a small plastic zip-lock bag), I was disappointed at the small amount and small size of the ‘grains’. However as you can see in the picture below, the grains have tripled in size, so I’m hoping I’ve done something right.
I’m definitely not convinced with my first two batches (neither is my house mate), as it’s on the kitchen bench with a thin white scum on the surface. I’ve trawled the Internet for advice from other kefir enthusiasts and from what i have read i think its ok, and wont kill me, explode. Its not smelly, and tastes quite fine, but I do have my doubts and so until I get advice from someone more experienced I think I will keep the grains alive by feeding them sugar and changing the water solution occasionally, and not certain i will gulp the liquid down in large amounts each day.
I’m keeping about half a litre in the fridge and having it diuted with juice or water. I’ve made it using palm sugar, hence the dark colour. This picture shows the kefir grains strained and the liquid which one can drink, below.
Update April 2013 –
How to make homemade Kefir / yoghurt
I moved house in March, and it was all too much to keep my water kefir going so sadly it ended up in the compost.
However, my dear friend Carla recently gave some excess milk kefir grains and so my love affair with homemade kefir has begun.
You will need to obtain about a tablespoon of kefir ‘grains’. They are not exactly grains in the sense of a rice grain, but are a symbiotic arrangement of yeast and bacteria and form small clusters that are referred to as ‘grains’. You may also be able to order these online or perhaps through a local store. Once I have grown my grains to a sizeable amount, I may be able to post some to you. They should be able to be posted in a zip-lock bag. These are reused at the end of each batch.
Once the kefir has cultured, pour the kefir through a plastic fine meshed strainer into another container which you will then store in the fridge and consume – preferably glass container, but plastic is OK. The kefir grains will be caught in the strainer and can be used straight away in another batch, or stored in the fridge in a small amount of milk. The coolness of the fridge will slow down their growth and consumption of milk sugar (lactose). They can also be frozen.
Luckily my friend Carla who is a naturopath turned midwife, was able to supply me with my starter kefir grains. Although I have also used a natural yoghurt before as a starter, kefir grains are a better option as they are more stable and likely to produce a better result straight away.
Place the grains in a clean jar (I don’t sterilise, just wash well) and fill with milk – preferably organic and ideally raw although any milk works fine.
Leave on a warm shelf with a cloth covering it (to prevent flies/dirt etc but allowing air flow) for about 36 hours in warmer climates, up to three days in cooler climates. At the proper temperature, the yogurt bacteria will consume the lactose in the milk, multiply quickly, and make yogurt. Temperature is important for making yoghurt, but don’t let this stop you. If it is too cold, the bad bacteria may over power the good bacteria and ruin your efforts. In very cool climates you may need to artificially warm the culture or place in a warm place of the house e.g. next to water heater or place in an eski with water bottles.
This video demonstration by Cultures for Health covers everything else you may need to know.
Whats so good about kefir?
Kefir contains probiotics. Probiotics are live organisms often referred to as ‘friendly,’ or good, bacteria. Good bacteria create a barrier in the intestines help keep toxins and bad bacteria from gaining access through the wall and into your bloodstream.
According to many sources, regular consumption of probiotics includes enhanced immune function, improved colonic health, decreased incidence and duration of intestinal infections, a decrease in allergic reactions, and improved digestion and elimination of toxins.
I was inspired to start making my own kefir again since I recently dealt with a bad case of parasites and wanted to ensure after taking strong dose of antibiotics that I was repopulating my good gut flora! Store bought natural yoghurt is fine, but why not make my own, its way more fun, and only takes a few minutes.
Not all kefir/yoghurts are made equal!
Avoid yoghurt with added sugars. Natural yoghurt should have a sugar content of about 4.5g, made up of natural milk sugar – lactose. Beyond this amount, any additional sugar is added, from fruits or raw sugar. If you are used to eating flavoured ‘yoghurt’ you will find natural yoghurt tart. I find it deliciously tart!
Now, onto a coconut yoghurt version!