A Growing Wise Kids Column
Most health-conscious parents are well aware of the dangers of soda, with its 10 to 12 teaspoons of health-eroding sugar per serving, corrosive phosphoric acid, and copious amounts of nerve-wrecking caffeine. Youngsters make up the largest soda-drinking portion of the population, which is why it is so critical for us as parents to provide tasty, nutritious alternatives. Lacto-fermented beverages are the best of your beverage choices. They taste fantastic and, more important, offer outstanding health benefits that your darling little angels won’t even know about!
Drink to Your Health
Fermented beverages infuse the gut with lactobacilli and lactic acid to sustain their growth, as well as serve up a nice array of enzymes and nourishing minerals. Water kefir, honey-lemonade, apple cider, beet kvass and sun tea are just a few. Traditional populations knew that these effervescent drinks were more hydrating and thirst-quenching than even water. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon writes, “Throughout the world, these lactic-acid-containing drinks have been valued for medicinal qualities including the ability to relieve intestinal problems and constipation, promote lactation, strengthen the sick and promote overall well-being and stamina. Above all, these drinks were considered superior to plain water in their ability to relieve thirst during physical labor. Both soft drinks and alcoholic beverages—and even plain water—are poor substitutes for these health-promoting beverages. Taken with meals they promote thorough and easy digestion of food; taken after physical labor they give a lift by replacing lost mineral ions in a way that renews rather than depletes the body’s reserves.”1
Traditionally, people used locally available foods to make their lacto-fermented beverages, such as palm sap, coconut juice, herbs, roots, tubers and fruit. Fallon explains that we have a natural craving for live culture sodas: “We offer the theory that the craving for both alcohol and soft drinks stems from an ancient collective memory of the kind of lacto-fermented beverages still found in traditional societies.” As we see, these live culture sodas are just another piece of the traditional food way of life.
A Little Goes a Long Way
When it comes to fermented beverages, a little goes a long way. Not only are they super- hydrating and supportive to the intestinal ecosystem, but lacto-fermented beverages are also quite detoxifying. The process of lacto-fermentation with both foods and beverages creates a host of beneficial micro-organisms. Many of these bacteria are crucial to detoxification.
Because of these powerful properties, the average adult will do well to consume around four to six ounces and a child would need even less at one time. Quite small amounts might be best for those just getting started. A person’s optimal quantity can also be influenced by his unique sensitivity and the strength of the beverage. A good place to start a toddler would be with a few tablespoons mixed into a blend (see Tate’s “Juice” recipe).
While lacto-fermented beverages are mildly alcoholic, the amount is minimal and typically of no concern, even for children. For example, kombucha may contain anywhere between 0.08 percent to 2 percent alcohol, while beet kvass can contain around one percent. These are small figures compared to beer that has up to 8 percent alcohol. (A healthy body naturally produces about one ounce of alcohol per day.)
Several factors contribute to the level of alcohol produced within a lacto-fermented beverage—the amount of sugar, the length of fermentation and the strength of the cultures. Alcoholic fermentation is the conversion of sugar into carbon dioxide gas (CO2) and ethyl alcohol through the work of yeasts found on the food itself and within the culturing agent (kefir grains, kombucha culture, whey, ginger bug, etc.). The more sugar that the solution contains the more alcohol will be produced. Also, the longer a beverage is allowed to ferment, the less sugar it will contain and the more alcohol will be produced. In fact, if left to ferment too long, it may become more like vinegar, as the presence of certain benign bacteria convert the alcohol to acetic acid. Another factor is oxygen. The more oxygen the yeast cells are exposed to, the more they multiply, but the less alcohol they produce.
Pregnant women may want to use caution, particularly if these beverages were not consumed consistently before conception. If the mom’s system is accustomed to the benefits and detoxification effects of these beverages, they can be consumed in moderation without worry during pregnancy. In fact, Fallon explains that the liver-supporting properties of beet kvass and kombucha help prevent morning sickness.
According to Fallon, “alcoholic fermentation can be minimized by the addition of whey and a little sea salt to our beverage preparations. The results are pleasantly acidic drinks, sometimes slightly bubbly, with complex flavors, especially if allowed to age for several weeks or more.” The bacteria in the culturing agent use the sugar to produce lactic acid during the fermentation process. The lactic acid is responsible for the tart taste in lacto-fermented foods and beverages and naturally preserves the end product. In other words, that slight tart flavor of a fermented food is a good thing!
Making Bodacious Fermented “Sodas”
There are five key Weston A. Price Foundation resources for the “how-to’s” of fermented beverages: Nourishing Traditions and Eat Fat Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, along with three articles found on the foundation’s website (www.westonaprice.org). Charles Eisenstein offers up easy directions for making homemade fermented soda in his article titled “Old-Fashioned, Healthy, Lacto-Fermented Soft Drinks: The Real ‘Real Thing.’” While many soda or small beer makers get technical, Charles keeps things nice and simple for us average Joes. Charles explains that “The minimum equipment is a glass fermentation vessel and the minimum ingredients are sugar, water and the culture. Mix them together and fermentation happens.” Sally Fallon wrote two excellent articles, “Kvass and Kombucha: Gifts from Russia” along with “Fermented Honey,” which offers recipes for fermented beverages using whey and honey. Read and reread each of these resources to learn the basics and then use the information along with this article as a guide to come up with your own cultured soda creations!
Water Kefir Grain Soda
This is my favorite lacto-fermented soda. It is not only easy, but you can transform its flavor in many ways and ferment different liquids. While these carbonated sodas are exceedingly easy to make, they require water kefir grains (also called sugar kefir grains), which are gelatinous communities of yeast and bacteria. Dairy kefir grains can be converted into water kefir grains, but check with your local WAPF chapter to see whether anyone has water kefir grains to spare; they self-replicate rapidly.
The simplest way to make kefir soda is to use approximately one Alcoholic fermentation is the conversion of quart of mineral-rich water, such as spring water (a quart canning jar size with about an inch left at the top), 4 to 6 tablespoons of grains and 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar. Dominic Anfiteatro, owner and operator of the informative culturing-art website Dom’s Kefir In-site (http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage), says that kefir grains grow better with a non-refined, mineral-rich sweetener, such as Rapadura, muscovado or sucanat compared to a refined white product. (Note that the grains will turn a light brown color due to the minerals within these sweeteners.) Try other sweeteners like barley malt or sorghum syrup or molasses to vary the flavor.
Dom also makes a ginger root concoction by adding two to four tablespoons of freshly grated ginger into an 8 cup batch of basic mixture. In Europe, dried fruits are added (such as raisins or figs) to add flavor and additional sugar.
Cover the mixture tightly and allow it to sit anywhere from 24 to 48 hours (possibly longer if it is in a cold spot). The longer it sits the more fermentation that occurs and the less sugar that is left. Plan to experiment to find where it ferments best in your house (preferably at room temperature) and the length of time that makes for the best brew for your family. A perfect batch will result in a product with a nice sweet, neutral flavor; an over-brewed batch will taste acidic and leave a tangy taste in your mouth. After the “soda” is done fermenting, it is time to add in your flavors; see Soda Taste Boosters below for ideas.
Here’s a brilliant idea. Dom adds a bioavailable calcium carbonate nutritional-kick by including sea coral, limestone or eggshells to the brewing water kefir. The added mineral sources slowly dissolve into the liquid due to reactions created during fermentation. A side benefit is improved growth of your kefir grains.
If you want to take a rest from brewing, put a fermented batch in the fridge without straining for a week or two and then pick up where you left off. Also be sure to rinse the grains between each batch to prevent a build-up of yeast that may reduce their growth.
Fermented Fruit Juice and Fruit Peelings
Nourishing Traditions has a wonderful recipe for lacto-fermented apple cider using freshly prepared juice. Raw juices are not only fresher and retain more nutrition than pasteurized options, the native microflora they harbor enhance the microbial level of your finished brew. Nevertheless, while fresh, unpasteurized juice is ideal, not everyone has a juicer, or the time to make it from scratch, at least not every time. There is no doubt that commercial pasteurized fruit juice is simply sugar-water and certainly not a healthy beverage for children, or for adults for that matter. However, when fermented, the pasteurized juice is revitalized with enzymes and lactobacilli to build one’s inner ecosystem and contains much less sugar than the original beverage.
There are several ways to ferment pasteurized or fresh juices. The first is with kefir grains (as discussed above in the Water Kefir Grain Soda section). In fact, in his fascinating work Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz explains that virtually any fruit or vegetable juice, including nut milks, can be fermented with kefir grains although the grains won’t reproduce as rapidly as they do in milk. Be prepared for the kefir grains to take on the color of intensely hued juices such as cranberry! Use excess grains for more adventurous creations and always reserve a backup batch of grains in their original state in the off chance of a mishap. This is especially wise since some juices cause grains to retard their growth.
The second way to make fermented fruit juice or water with fruit chunks or peels is with whey. Whey is another culturing agent that is well endowed with yeasts and bacteria to activate the fermentation process. It can be obtained in a number of ways; see Nourishing Traditions for directions. Kefir whey is believed to offer a wider array of bacteria and yeasts than other probiotic products; however, whey made from yogurt, buttermilk and piima milk will also work and is more diverse than pasteurized sources.
As seen with many of the recipes mentioned here or in the aforementioned resources, the options are limitless. Try using chopped fruit or fruit peels—such as apple, pineapple or pear—in a water/whey base to create a fun soda (just be sure the fruit is covered with water). As Fallon presents in the recipes in her “Fermented Honey” article, start with using 1/2 cup whey in two quarts water and add whatever you have on hand to make experimental new beverages. Whether or not you also add salt is up to you— some people like the soft salty taste and others do not.
Bear in mind, different juices will have different results. While all fruit juices can be brewed, sweet juices such as orange, peach or mango may not respond as well as tart juices like cherry or pomegranate. Add a bit of sweetener to the less-sugary juices to encourage fermentation. Also try adding an herb or spice for even more variation, such as a cinnamon stick or hibiscus flowers; see the “Taste Boosters” for more ideas.
This snap-to-make, easy-to-assimilate healing tonic is a blend of beets, water, salt and whey (see Nourishing Traditions for direction). Fallon states that beet kvass is “valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. . . One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments. Beet kvass may also be used in place of vinegar in salad dressings and as an addition to soups.” While this beverage is highly therapeutic, it may not be accepted with open arms by your little ones. It can be a bit too “beety” for children and occasionally a bit too salty. First, be sure to brew it long enough, and consider allowing it to “age” in the fridge for a while after it has completed fermentation at room temperature to further round out its flavor. Also be sure to use fresh beets. The amount of salt could also be slightly reduced. Finally, try the Soda Taste Boosters to make it a touch more soda-like. Try, for example, a little sparkling water and a few tablespoons of a fruit juice or juice concentrate.
While this lacto-fermented beverage takes a bit more work than the others discussed, many people are drawn to its taste. This tea is produced using a “mushroom fungus” which is actually a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts. The “mushroom” is placed in a freshly prepared infusion of tea and sugar. It then ferments and oxidizes. Essentially, the fungus will feed on sugar and in return produce a range of healthy organic acids, many vitamins, amino acids and antibiotic substances. Mix things up to a base batch of kombucha by adding herbal teas to the brew, such as raspberry or another family favorite. Of course, the “Taste Boosters” found below can be added after brewing is complete to really make things sparkle. And if it turns flat, add a touch of fruit or Rapadura after you decant, cap it tightly and it will get fizzy again, even in the fridge.
Every family will have its unique preference or just a method or two that seems to work best in their kitchen, which is why trial and error is your best companion in this soda making process. With spring in the air, it is the perfect time to take advantage of the hydrating and gut-nourishing benefits of bodacious lacto-fermented beverages. It may seem a little intimidating at first, but consider it a new “science experiment” with the kids and see what happens—most likely you will be pleasantly surprised with the tasty results!
Tate’s Toddler/Preschooler “Juice”
Once when Tate was under the weather with a little cold and not showing much enthusiasm for hydrating himself, I decided to give him a little encouragement with a juice blend that could mask the taste of a few nutritional superfoods. Thus, Tate’s “juice” recipe was born.
1 cup fresh mineral-rich water
2 to 6 tablespoons water kefir, kombucha, or beet kvass
1 calcium lactate tablet from Standard Process (the most bio-available source of calcium and vital for many body functions, including the immune system)
1 to 2 teaspoons pomegranate juice concentrate
3 drops stevia extract or other sweetener of choice
Put all ingredients in a sippy cup and shake to dissolve the tablet. Tate truly thinks this is “juice” and will remind me to add his “medicine” (meaning his calcium tablet). Two additional ingredients may be Congaplex or Immunplex from Standard Process, especially during an illness or when your little one is around lots of sickies. These two whole food supplements support immune function—just break open the capsules and pour the powder.
Soda Taste Boosters
Many sodas have a unique taste all their own; however, for some children, adding a little “boost” to make it even more appealing to their tastes buds will increase your chances of regular consumption. Try adding one or more of the items below. Bear in mind, straight fruit juice is not recommended for children (see Taking the “Icky” Out of Picky Eaters for an explanation as to why), however, it is my opinion that using a small amount is a good compromise to make these nourishing beverages more drinkable and enjoyable—particularly for those parents trying to compete with commercial soft drink choices. Most of the ideas below are added after your initial brew, but use your imagination and have fun.
- Sparkling/soda water (gives it a bit of fizz) with a fruit juice or juice concentrate (see suggestions below)
- Grape, blueberry, blackberry or other nutrient-dense juice
- Pomegranate, blueberry or black cherry juice concentrate (found in a bottle, rather than a typical “fruit juice concentrate”)
- Sweetener: Stevia, maple syrup or a swirl of honey
- Ginger for ginger ale (added during fermentation or after)
- Lemon juice for lemonade or lime juice for limeade
- Vanilla, hazelnut or almond flavor extract
- Orange juice, orange extract or orange essential oil (just a drop or two)
- Fresh mint from the garden
- Peppermint tea, peppermint flavor extract or peppermint essential oil (just a drop or two)
- Brewed herbal tea or raw herbs—fruity flavors are tasty for kids and other herbal choices offer medicinal benefits, such as elderberry for its antiviral activity, passionflower to calm frazzled nerves, or licorice to soothe a sore throat.
- Mixed fermented beverage concoctions (see The Water Butterfly recipe)
- Herbal additions to try during a brew: licorice root, ginger, citrus zest, cinnamon stick, hibiscus or elder flowers
Lacto-Fermented Beverages for Everyone
Fermented Sun Tea
I remember helping my mom make sun tea when I was a little girl. There was nothing better than a tall glass of ice cold tea after a day of playing outside in the hot Arizona sun. Here is a healthier fermented option! This recipe was created by Terry, an adventurous kitchen scientist in Ohio.
3 tablespoons of whey (see Nourishing Traditions for directions)
4 tablespoons of granular sugar
1/4 of lemon or lime or orange (squeezed)
12 teabags of your choice (half caffeinated and half herbal is nice)
Mix all your ingredients into a gallon-sized canning jar and secure the lid. Let your mixture sit out in the sun for 8 hours. For your next batch, add 1/2 cup of the fermented sun tea to the gallon jar, add 4 tablespoons of white sugar or another sweetener and the teabags of your choice. Add mint leaves from the garden or any herbal amendments.
1 quart unfiltered apple juice
2 tablespoons of home brewed cider or kefir grains or kefir starter
Place apple juice, starter and a dash of salt in a quart jar. Top with a lid and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours or until it gets bubbly. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Taste your cider at different stages to notice how it changes over time, starting out sweet and rich, then turning more acidic. Reserve two tablespoons of this batch or use the kefir grains to start another batch. Mix things up by adding a cranberry or blueberry concentrate.
Dom’s Kefir D’uva (Grape Juice Kefir) and the Water Butterfly
1 part grape juice to 1 part water
A few fresh mint leaves or spices such as cloves, optional
Optional post-fermentation additions: milk kefir, coconut kefir
Fill the jar 2/3 full and then add the kefir grains. Secure an airtight lid on the jar and ferment for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature and strain. The refreshing beverage is bubbly like champagne. In fact, when including a little green [unripe] grape juice, a healthy champagne alternative can be prepared. Try mixing 1/4 volume of the unripe grape juice with 3/4 ripe grape juice by volume, in the recipe above. An alternative to green unripe grape juice is lemon juice. Add the juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon to every 2 cups of grape juice, and then brew as explained above. When brewing kefir d’uva, one may use bottled grape juice, as long as the juice is 100 percent organic pure juice, without any added preservatives. Make what Dom calls “the water butterfly” by adding 1/3 cup kefir or coconut milk kefir to 2/3 cup kefir d’uva with a swirl of honey. Also, try making various flavors by changing the fruit juice base – try black currant, black cherry, blueberry or pineapple.
A Few Useful Last Pointers
- To cover tightly or not? While covering your fermented beverages is important to just prevent bugs, dust and unwanted organisms from finding their way into your precious brew, the tightness of the lid is debatable. While some people prefer a loose or breathable cover (such as cheese cloth secured with a rubber band), others twist it on tight. Some even start the brew with a loose lid and then tighten it mid-ferment. One thing is for sure, during fermentation carbon dioxide gas builds, which are the bubbles that create pressure. In an airtight container, the pressure can build to a point that can cause an explosion within either the container itself or the contents once opened. CO2 build-up can cause overflow in a non-airtight container. This is why it is vital to first leave some headspace (about 1/4 of the container) to allow room for the gases. If you want a fizzier beverage, a tight fitting lid is typically the best way to go. Charles Eisenstein discusses the topic of bottling after initially brewing your beverage. One idea to reduce the chance of a beverage geyser is to “burp your bottle,” that is to periodically “bleed” the bottle by opening the lid and allowing some CO2 gas to escape during the fermentation phase of your beverage. Gauge your ferment’s “burping” needs by using a metal canning lid, which will swell when it is time to burp. Always use caution when opening fermented beverage bottles!
- How long to ferment? Fermentation times vary, so keep checking and taste-test frequently. The surrounding temperature will speed up or slow down the process. The amount of sweetener used (whether added or from food) may alter the time. The longer your beverage ferments, the more sugar that is digested, and the less sweet your end produce will be. The type of culturing agent also makes a difference. Kefir grain soda may take only 24 hours to create the best product for your family, but the ginger bug (as explained in Charles Eisenstein’s article) may take up to 10 days. And the honey beverages described in Fallon’s Fermented Honey are kept in the fridge for up to three weeks after the initial room-temperature ferment. The bottom line is to keep experimenting with your beverages. The only thing you can be sure of is you will know if undesirable bacteria have taken hold—it will smell unmistakably awful. Always trust your nose! There will be no question if your brew is bad and must be thrown on the compost pile.
- Use the previous brew beverage as a culturing agent. A small amount of a current batch of fermented beverage can be used to start the next. While this does work, there will likely come a time when it will loose its culturing zing and you will need to start afresh. Use your taste buds as a guide. You want a clean, slightly-tart, not too-sweet taste to your brew. An “off,” yeasty flavor means your culturing agent is not up to snuff and you should start over. These concerns are typically eliminated when using a self-replicating culturing agent, such as kefir grains or a kombucha “mushroom.”
Need More Help?
There is much more to know and more experiments to do than presented in this article. This information is meant to inspire and inform the reader about all the fun fermented beverage options available and provide a bit of simple direction. For more, refer to the resources mentioned and contact your local WAPF chapter. Also, check out the many WAPF-focused chat groups on yahoo.com. One chat group in particular is “Microbial Nutrition” (http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Microbial_Nutrition), which holds detailed discussions regarding all things microbial; it is fascinating!
- Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends Publishing. 2001 p. 585.
- Enig, Mary. and Fallon, Sally. Eat Fat Lose Fat. Hudson Street Press. 2005 p.92.
- Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends Publishing. 2001 p. 584.
- Hentges, D.J. Human Intestinal Microflora in Health and Disease. New York: Academic Press, 1983.
- Dom’s Kefir In-site found at http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html#alternativekefir.
- McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Fireside Books. 1984. p. 448.
- Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends Publishing. 2001 p. 598.
- Kefir In-site found at http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html#alternativekefir.
- Katz Sandor Ellix. Wild Fermentation. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2003. p. 89.
- Farnworth, Edward R. Kefir: a complex probiotic. Food Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada J2S 8E3. Found at http://www.ifis.org/fsc/bulletin-ff-free.
- Wood, Rebecca. Home Brewed Cider. Found at http://www.rwood.com/Recipes/Home_Brewed_Cider.htm.
- Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends Publishing. 2001 p. 610.
- http://www.kombu.de/ – Günther W. Frank, “Kombucha – Healthy beverage and Natural Remedy from the Far East.” W. Ennsthaler, A-4402 Steyr, copyright ©1995.
- Wood, Rebecca. Home Brewed Cider. Found at http://www.rwood.com/Recipes/Home_Brewed_Cider.htm.
- Dom’s Kefir In-site found at http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/Makekefir.html#Grape-juice_Kefir
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2008.