Health and Wellness

What is Water Kefir and Why Should You Drink It?

Words by Michele Marko

The old adage that necessity is the mother of invention certainly holds true for Lyndsay Scott. The mother of two young boys was desperately seeking a solution for her 18-month-old’s acute eczema, and her long-winding journey through doctors’ offices eventually led her to create water kefir brand Kindred Cultures (formally Culture Kefir) after discovering the holistic benefits of the fermented beverage.

On a grey, misty Vancouver morning in a meeting room above her small corner of a cooperative food-production commissary, Scott explains how she discovered what could be the next big thing in healthful drinks.

“For six months, we were in and out of dermatologists’ and doctors’ [offices], trying to figure out what to do, and we weren’t finding any way to relieve it,” recalls Scott of her son’s condition. “We decided to work with a naturopath. They recommended allergy testing and probiotics. So, I started making kefir at home and within three days, his face stopped bleeding and healed. And it was revolutionary.”

Though Scott acknowledges she later found out that food allergies were at the root of her son’s skin issues, and that removing those items from his diet has ensured he’s almost completely clear of eczema, she does credit the probiotics in water kefir for the healing properties that helped rapidly improve his condition. She also had a work colleague who experienced a dramatic improvement with a difficult digestive issue when she started drinking water kefir.

The benefits of water kefir

Like other fermented drinks (kombucha comes to mind), water kefir contains probiotics that are great for the digestive system. “In the world of probiotics, there are hundreds of strains of beneficial bacteria that our body can utilize for different functions,” Scott observes. “When we went after kefir, I did that because these specific strains of Lactobacilli are known to support autoimmune conditions: things like eczema and asthma and digestive things like Crohn’s disease.”

For Scott, her son’s recovery made her a probiotic evangelist, which led her to turn her creation into a brand. She infuses her fermented water with flavours such as strawberry, lemon, and cranberry, making it appealing to both children and adults.

Why water kefir over milk kefir?

Kefir can come in either water or milk form.

Milk kefir has more strains of beneficial bacteria, which are generated from the milk fermentation (this can be done with dairy milk or coconut milk), while water kefir is derived from grains which are thought to come from both southern Mexico as well as Russia and Ukraine. No one can date exactly when either drink originated, but water kefir is thought to be newer.

Water kefir can be a great substitute for soft drinks or juice, as it can be made either flat or carbonated, and it has a low sugar content compared to those drinks; Scott’s water kefir, for example, has six grams of sugar to 250 millilitres of liquid, unlike juice boxes that can have as much as 24 grams in 187 millilitres.

Water kefir also lacks the distinctive tangy odour and acquired taste of milk kefir, which many find difficult to enjoy.

Why water kefir over kombucha?

Water kefir is caffeine-free, unlike kombuchawhich is fermented with black tea, is always carbonated, and is more acidic. The fermentation process is also shorter: 24 to 48 hours for water kefir versus seven to 21 days for kombucha. Scott says that kombucha is predominantly composed of Acetobacter and Gluconobacter bacteria, which support digestion and can be beneficial for many people. Flavour-wise, water kefir is usually lighter and not as tart as kombucha.

Scott believes that water kefir is just one way of incorporating probiotics into one’s diet, and that water kefir and kombucha are definitely complementary. “I think it is one piece to a holistic approach to gut health,” she says. “You need some kefir. You need some sauerkraut. You need some miso and good, real-culture yogurt. You can combine all of those.”

For Scott, it’s all centred around feeding the body with good bugs to support its immune system. And that’s an easy drink to swallow.