A few weeks into making water kefir I was having trouble with a few aspects of the culturing process. For one, the cultured water kefir was still terribly sweet, even after a lengthy first and second fermentation. The final flavored water kefir was also not nearly as carbonated as I had remembered it, when I first started culturing it a few years ago.
In order to remedy these troubles I tried changing the culturing period to shorter and longer lengths. I also tried creating a more consistent temperature at which it cultured. Furthermore, I dabbled in adding different amounts of trace mineral drops to my water kefir.
None of these things helped. Instead, it was when I switched to a different type of sugar that the barely sweet, bubbly water kefir I remember came back much to my excitement.
I was originally using good old white sugar to culture the water kefir. I rehydrated the grains using it and began making batches for weeks with it.
Now, it could be that I simply was comparing apples to oranges in that my former water kefir culturing experience was had entirely by using sucanat, an unrefined cane sugar.
Because, when I switched to sucanat once instead of white sugar, the water kefir was just as I remembered it, and very different from the white sugar product. And let me just say that I don’t think there was anything wrong with the white sugar water kefir batches; they were just different.
I have a few theories on why there was such a difference:
- The grains simply preferred the sucanat as food and more readily cultured the sucanat-sweetened water than the white sugar-sweetened water. This would also explain the lack of sweetness at the end of culturing.
- The grains were accustomed to an unrefined sugar rather than a white sugar and I hadn’t given them a chance to switch over and produce what I consider a better water kefir.
- There was less overall sugar used to sweeten the water kefir grains in every batch. The sucanat I began using was a much larger granule than granulated white sugar. Therefore the actual amount of sugar per 1/2 cup was less than that of white sugar. (This would explain why it was less sweet, but not why the carbonation was much better.)
In the end, I am leaning towards theories #1 and #2.
I will probably continue to make water kefir with sucanat or a combination of sucanat and white sugar, since we have it on hand for culturing. But my point is not that you should or shouldn’t use sucanat.
Instead, I recommend that you switch things up to see if you get the result you’re looking for. Try changing up the sweetener you’re using, the culturing period, or the temperature at which you culture. All of these things effect the outcome and even in the most controlled environment, you rarely get two batches that are exactly alike.
Which is sort of the beauty of cultured foods.