May 12, 2013

Living with Living Foods

There are quite a few ways to classify foods. There are breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, finger foods, picnic foods, and snacks. There are fruits, vegetables, starches, dairy, beverages, etc., even protein, fats, and carbohydrates. But also, I tend to think of them in a broader and more philosophical sense, in reference to their state of being. My bottom line categories for foods are: real, artificial, live, dead, and living.

Real foods, to me, are pure and unadulterated. They are foods in their natural state, or with all natural ingredients. They are foods made with ingredients that an average person could grow or make for themselves, if they chose. Real foods do not contain ingredients that require a complicated chemical process or patent to make.

Artificial foods are the opposite. The ingredients are things one can't grow for themselves, and probably can't even be pronounced if read off the label. These are things that have been developed by science, through chemistry or other processes, like powdered coffee creamer or high fructose corn syrup. The lines between real and artificial can get a little fuzzy because some things can be found naturally that are altered considerably when they become food or food ingredients. Carrageenan comes to mind. It is often listed as natural and does in fact, come from a natural substance, seaweed. It requires a process to extract, however, that is not do-it-yourself.

Live foods might also be called raw foods. They have not been cooked or processed in any way, such as raw fruits and vegetables. Milk too, if we're fortunate. These still have the vitamins and enzymes which are otherwise destroyed by heat, light, or irradiation.

Dead foods. Artificial foods can come under this category, but I think more of real, raw foods than have been sterilized, irradiated, bombarded with microwaves, or chemically treated to kill every living thing in them including the vitamins and enzymes our bodies need to function properly. This is done for the sake of so called food safety, and it does increase shelf life in the grocery store.

Living foods are not only real and live, they are alive. And growing. If not properly cared for they will die. They must be given an environment conducive for growth and they must be fed if they are to be kept alive.

Milk kefir grains

I have three such foods living in my kitchen: milk kefir grains, water kefir grains, and sourdough starter.  Keeping them alive seems simple enough, just feed them, or maybe it's just remembering to feed them. Even so, each has its own challenges.

As do all living things, living foods respond to their environment, particularly temperature. They do their job and grow faster in warmer temperatures than cool ones. Refrigeration, for example, will slow them down. It's also why time frames for making these products are given in ranges. If one's kitchen remains at a steady temperature, one can fairly well anticipate when one batch is ready and it's time to start another.

The biggest challenge for me is that my kitchen is never a consistent temperature. During winter, it is often in the 50s F (teens C), especially at night or when I'm not at home to keep the wood cookstove going. In summer, my kitchen is usually in the low 80s F (27° C). My living foods are continually responding to these. As the temperatures rise, I find the various batches mature more quickly. I have to keep an eye on them, looking for clues to tell me they've reached that point. With milk kefir, the milk eventually separates. With water kefir, I'm less sure. The water tastes less sweet and bubbles arise when I wiggle the jar, but I'm still trying to find the balance between done and overdone.

Sourdough starter

I've written about my sourdough starter a couple of times ("Accidental Sourdough" and "Problems With My Sourdough"). Also milk kefir awhile back, "Sustainable Cultured Milk", but I haven't mentioned my water kefir so far. Kris, at Melissa Majora and I traded kefir grains several months ago. I sent her milk kefir grains in exchange for water kefir grains. She dove right in and got a handle on milk kefir, while I'm still puzzling over my water kefir.

The real attraction to me with the water kefir, is being able to make "soda": a deliciously fizzy and not too sweet substitute for commercial soda pop. Because of the chilly spring temperatures (including my kitchen), it's been pretty hit-and-miss in the fizzy department.

Water kefir grains

All of this points back to living with them and gaining knowledge through experience. It's like having a relationship; I need to respond to what they tell me if I want them to thrive and grow. It's a learning process, one that I'm still deeply involved int. I figure that as long as I don't kill them off, I'm making progress.

Living with Living Foods © May 2013 


Preppy Pink Crocodile said...

I've been making water kefir (didn't care much for the milk kefir) for three or four months now and I love it. But in the last two weeks, I find it finished the first ferment sooo fast. And then the second one produces sooo much more carbonation. It actually might become a warm weather only drink for me seeing how much better it is when my kitchen is warm.


Ellen and Adrian said...

We're just drinking my first batch of kombucha - yet another living culture, and replacement for (evil, expensive, delicious) pop. It is fizzy, and I can add a bit of extra flavour to the batch after the mother was removed - this one had additional honey and black currant 'tea' added, and my husband agreed to give it a try. There are claims that kombucha can cure just about any ill (and there are a few things we're hoping might improve), but we're moving very slowly on this in case of any adverse reactions. I think it's time to start back with my home made ginger beer too - so much tastier than ginger ale, but it does take attention. Good luck!

Quinn said...

I've been thinking about kefir and kombucha for years, but still haven't tried to homegrow. I don't know anyone who does, so I'd have to order starters online, which makes me hesitate - don't know why, really, since I order just about everything else online! Maybe when the weather warms up a bit more consistently I'll give it a go this summer. Putting it on the list!

Anonymous said...

I just learnt water kefir's existance, thanks to u!

Angie said...

How very interesting to see the grains of both water and milk kefir. I purchase milk kefir and really enjoy it but I know making it myself would be better. I'll have to do a bit more research. My sourdough lives in my frig year-round and does long as I remember to feed and/or use it each week.

Leigh said...

KK, we've got warmer temps too but I still seem to have trouble with my carbonation. It is harder in hot weather, I agree with that!

Ellen and Adrian, kombucha is one I have yet to try. I did try ginger beer, but without success. You're right that they take special care, all of them it seems. I'm just happy there's alternatives for commercial sweetened carbonated drinks. It's fun to compare experiences!

Quinn, let me know when you're ready and if I have an abundance, I'd be happy to share. Otherwise I feed the extra grains to the chickens. :)

Gasilhane, you're welcome! This is why I love reading blogs, there's so many good things to learn from one another. :)

Angie, I may need to do that too, refrigerate my sourdough. I read of someone who did their milk kefir the same way, in the fridge, took out about half occasionally, and added more milk. It seemed to work for them and might help me out too in hot weather.

From what I understand, commercially sold kefir is not "true" kefir because raw kefir contains yeasts as well as bacteria. Raw yeasts are not allowed to be sold, so commercial kefir has to be processed to eliminate (inactivate? kill?) these.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this article. Have never heard of this stuff and sounds like the solution I was looking for. I will be doing more research now! Shannon

Maria said...

Yum! Water kefir! Since I can't have gluten or dairy, the only ferment I have right now is water kefir, and I LOVE it! It is tough to get bubbles this time of year, but the type of sugar you use can also make a difference. I have used organic sugar and brown sugar, and WOW do I get great results with the brown! I never would have tried it except the person i bought my grains from on ebay recommended it. I get incredible growth and at least some fizz even during cooler weather.

If you're having a hard time deciding how to flavor it, the easiest way to start is with fruit. I buy bags of frozen blueberries and add a handful after straining out the grains, then let it sit about 12 hours or so before refrigerating. Kiwi makes a delightfully tart/sweet kefir. But if you're REALLY up for some experimentation, I've found that water kefir LOVES beets! I even tried a batch of beet in with the grains, and they were unbelievably active! They must love the minerals and natural sugars or something. (your grains will turn pink, though!) My grains multiply so fast that I could experiment to my heart's content, but for the most part I actually prefer it plain. It has a unique taste when cultured at just the right temperature, and I find I prefer it over fussy flavors.

Oh, and it's fabulously refreshing after spending a few hours in the garden!

Maria said...

Oh! I thought of another tip! If you continue to have a hard time telling when water kefir is done with the first ferment, you could always find a small plastic ladle (I bet you could find one at a thrift store) and taste it periodically. A few sips here and there won't upset them, especially if you avoid double-dipping, and you'll be able to tell exactly when it's done to your liking. Good luck!

CaliforniaGrammy said...

I'm right along there with "gasilhane" in that I've never heard of water kefir! You're right . . . there's something new to learn every day of our life, no matter what age we are. Thanks "teacher!"

Cat Eye Cottage said...

One day, I would like to try the water kefir, so keep us posted on your progress. So far, I'm loving my mild kefir. I would like to try kombucha one day too.

MTWaggin said...

So interesting, I just remember when we used to have sourdough starter and if we weren't paying attention and it got warm, it would ooze over the sides! :)

Susan said...

Leigh, I would love to receive some of your 'abundance' when you have it! I love kefir, but it did not work well when I tried with dried grains bought online. I had given up finding any locally. I never explored water kefir, but will give it a try as well! I really liked the way you have broken down the 'food groups'. I couldn't agree more.

Leigh said...

Maria, thank you for all that great information. I've been using unbleached sugar, but it isn't organic. The gal got the water kefir grains from had an explosion of growth too, but mine have been very slow to increase. I assumed this was mostly due to our cold temperatures in the house. Not sure if I can get the "right" temperature, LOL. Thanks for the tips and ideas. Much appreciated!

Janice, if it hadn't been for the internet, I wouldn't know about it either. :)

Candace, I'll do that. I will probably try kombucha someday too, but juggling three living foods for now is plenty!

Sherry, yes, it does do that!

Susan, I'd be glad to share in exchange for the postage to mail it to you. Mine have been slow to grow, but when I have enough to start a batch, I'll let you know. :)

Unknown said...

Interesting! I found a company that sells that grain online, I might try that since I'm a bit allergic to dairy...

DebbieB said...

Your little "feed me!" cartoon balloons gave me a chuckle, Leigh! :)

Maria said...

Glad to be of help, Leigh! Oh, and just to clarify, I use regular old light brown sugar from Aldi. I know the Cultures for Health people might get their undies in a bunch over that, but my water kefir grains sure aren't complaining!(and neither is my wallet!) My first batch of grains came dehydrated from C for H, and I religiously used organic sugar and well water. Never grew, and I killed them when I was sick for a long stretch. Then I got 3TBSP live grains off ebay, used dark brown sugar (seller's suggestion) and well water, and WOW. I went from those 3 TB to 5 cups within I think 2-3 weeks. I was SWIMMING in grains! I switched to light brown sugar and their growth slowed a little, but they still grow 50%-75% every 48 hours. I can't give it away fast enough. I suppose that's a good problem to have, but it's sure getting annoying! :D

Leigh said...

Maria, I love Aldi's, LOL. I will definitely try the brown sugar and see what happens. The instructions I got were for organic sugar an organic molasses (= brown sugar). I get organic when I can, but it isn't always feasible. I reckon we all just do the best we can. :)