If you were like me, having just read of tibicos + water kefir, your forehead would be furrowed in a confused frown and you would be mouthing a silent “huh” or maybe not so silent. I don’t know where I’d been, but this was news to me. Apparently its not like its some new fangled thing either, folks have been making water kefir for centuries. Of course, immediately after reading the post by Tammy of Agrigirl, shortly thereafter my very tibicos arrived in the mail.
So what are tibicos, anyway?
Tibicos have a number of aliases including tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees. Not as common, are the names bébées, African bees, ale nuts, Australian bees, balm of Gilead, beer seeds, beer plant, bees, ginger beer plant, ginger bees, Japanese beer seeds and vinegar bees.
To get a bit technical, they are a culture of bacteria and yeasts held in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria – that’s right, try remembering that definition the next time you’re asked. As with kefir grains, the microbes present in tibicos act symbiotically to maintain a stable culture. Tibicos do this in a variety of sugary liquids, feeding off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide CO2 gas (the better to carbonates the drink).
Tibicos are found around the world, and no two cultures are the same. Typical tibicos have a mix of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera and possibly a few others. Lactobacillus brevis is responsible for the production of the polysaccharide (dextran) that forms the grains. Certainly opportunistic bacteria take advantage of this stable symbiotic relation which might be the reason for the many different names/distinction in the scientific literature. Different ingredients or hygienic conditions can change the fungal and bacteriological composition, leading to the different names. People who do not wish to consume dairy products may find that water kefir provides probiotics without the dairy or tea cultured products, such as kombucha. The finished product, if sealed produces a carbonated beverage. The longer the kefir sits the more carbonation results. I’ve read that its not good to let the kefir sit too long as all the sugar gets converted to food and then the tibicos start to starve. I confess to extending the time some of my batches have sat and judging by the reduced sweetness deduced that little of the sugar remained in the mix.
The next logical question is where do they come from? Tibicos form on the pads of the Opuntia cactus (from Mexico) as hard granules that can be reconstituted in a sugar-water solution as propagating tibicos – just like the ones in my latest batch of water kefir. The rest is up to you, as you make repeated batches of water kefir, the tibicos you have grow in volume and can be divided up. The odds increase if you are diligent about only letting the mixture sit for about two days before you process it.
Preparation of Water Keifer (be prepared, its complicated)
- water (2 pints)
- sugar (¼ to 1/3 c)
- tibicos (¼ c)
- flavorings of choice
For the flavorings, you are limited only by your imagination and what you have access to. I’ve loved the batches I’ve made with lemons + fresh ginger, and dried cranberries and limes. Both were very refreshing. In terms of quantity, it was a single lemon and I chopped up a ginger root the size of my thumb. For the lime, cranberry combo, I used a ½ cup of cranberries and a single lime. Note: with the flavoring ingredients, there seems to be a requirement that at least one of them is citrus to ensure the desired pH of 3.0 to 4.6.
The fermentation lasts from 24 -48 hours, although to be honest, my life is so crazy lately, I’ve let it ferment longer, and noticed that the less time you allow for fermentation the sweeter your drink, the longer you let it “brew” the more carbonated it becomes with the conversion to carbon dioxide.
Additional precautions are reqiored to keep the cultures healthy. All the handling needs to be done without using reactive metals such as aluminium, since this metal can be eroded by the acid. Stainless steel, plastic, ceramic or glass are preferable. Culture the grains in a glass jar with tight-fitting lid and using clean stainless steel or plastic utensils when handling the grains is recommended. So the general rules are:
- clean containers and surfaces, as if you were making preserves
- organic ingredients, from the sugar to the flavorings
- filtered water
This drink has fast become a staple in our home, and while we do not drink sodas, this version we can control our sugar consumption and work on our probiotics. I read somewhere that the maximum benefit is derived if the water kefir is consumed on an empty stomach.