Kombucha has officially hit a cultural tipping point. No longer a cult-ish health drink that’s only available at one-off health food stores and select Whole Foods locations, now anyone can find big ol’ jugs of the fermented tea at Costco and their local supermarket.
Wider recognition is certainly not a bad thing—kombucha has a plethora of health benefits that range from improving digestion to increasing antioxidant activity. The probiotic-rich beverage is made by adding a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to black or green tea, and allowing the entire mixture to ferment over a few days or weeks.
The result is a bubbly, vinegary drink that contains beneficial probiotic bacteria and yeast microorganisms that can have a positive effect on gut health and digestion. For the health conscious, kombucha makes a flavorful substitute for sugary beverages like soda and juice.
There’s just one problem: A bottle of ‘booch costs a pretty penny. A 16-ounce bottle can go for anywhere from $3 to $6, depending on the brand and brew-type. At that rate, a daily habit could end up costing you up to $180 a month. Making your own is always an option, but activating a SCOBY and allowing for proper fermentation can take more than a month, and it feels a bit like a home science experiment.
If you’re looking to improve your gut health and sip on a soda substitute without breaking the bank, try water kefir. It’s basically a bubbly, lacto-fermented drink that tastes a little sweet (like your favorite pop) but without the added sugars and artificial flavors.
Like milk kefir, a yogurt-like dairy drink that you can find at the grocery store, water kefir is made by adding special water kefir grains to liquids including water, coconut water, or juice. The grains are composed of bacteria, yeast, and polysaccharides and look like soft grains of transparent jelly or crystal.
After they’ve been initially activated in sugar water for 48 hours (you only need to do this with brand new grains), they can be added to any beverage and left to ferment for 24 to 48 hours—beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures will grow and multiply, and the liquid will form little bubbles of carbonation. The result is a soda-like drink that’s really good for you … and a lot like kombucha, without the vinegar taste. Unlike dairy kefir or yogurt, water kefir is safe for those with dairy allergies or those who are lactose-intolerance. While the taste of kombucha can throw some people off, water kefir is a much milder and easy-to-drink fermented beverage—even kids will love it!
It’s less mainstream than kombucha, but it’s still possible to find pre-made water kefir in health food stores. If you want to experiment with making your own, you can buy water kefir grains (they’re very inexpensive and reusable, so you’ll certainly get your money’s worth) and start brewing; once activated the grains can make infinite amounts of water kefir. Typically, it takes 24 to 48 hours to brew a fresh batch. Once fermented, you can add natural flavors from juice or fruit, or leave it as is for a slightly sweet, refreshing drink.
Because it’s so easy to make, inexpensive, and delicious, water kefir will likely be as popular as kombucha in the next few years. Get ahead of the trend—branch out from your regular kombucha and try water kefir next time you want to get your probiotic fix.
Have you tried water kefir? Do you think it will it be the next hot superfood? Share with us in the comments below.