Here at Decolonize Your Diet, we look at the health benefits provided by the preColumbian foods of the Americas. We’ve recently started looking at traditional beverages.
There are more than 200 fermented beverages in Latin America that pre-date European contact. These include pulque (fermented from agave honey), pozol (fermented corn porridge), atole agrio (fermented atole with chile), tesgüino (fermented water from germinated corn), chicha (beer made from corn, quinoa, amaranth, yuca, or palm fruit), colonche (fermented prickly pear juice), chorote (fermented drink made from corn and roasted cacao beans), native fruit wines (capulin, jocote, chirimoya, guanábana, pitahaya, timbiriche) and tepache (fermented pineapple).
These fermented drinks range from fizzy and fruity to alcoholic, and from clear to porridge-like. Some had spiritual significance, others were for everyday consumption, some were for medicinal purposes, and others for general health and well-being.
Today we’d like to focus on bebida de tibicos, or water kefir, a fermented, naturally fizzy drink that originates in Mexico. As with kombucha, fermentation is initiated by a microorganism culture, in this case the tibicos granillos or hard granules that grow on cactus paddles. Tibicos is traditionally brewed at home in Mexico, Ecuador, and Brazil using a sugar solution with figs. Note: One species of figs, amate figs are indigenous to the Americas.
- Fermented beverages and fruit vinegars are rich in probiotics which promote a healthy immune system, acting as a natural antibiotic.
- Fermented products promote healthy bacteria in the stomach, which aids digestion.
- Research suggests that kombucha is beneficial to diabetics, promoting insulin production and protecting the liver against damage (Srihari 2013, Aloulou 2012, Bhattacharya 2011, 2013). Preliminary animal studies involving water kefir suggest that tibicos also lowers glucose levels. (Alsayadi 2014)
- Tibicos is very safe to ferment at home, under non-sterile conditions because it creates a specific environment in which pathogens cannot survive (Reiß 1990)
How to Make Bebida de Tibicos
First, you will need your starter kefir grains. They are available online or at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco or at Pollinate in Oakland. Once you buy them, they will last forever and reproduce. You’ll have some to give away. (I often have extras so hit me up if you can pick up in Oakland.) I bought mine online at yemoos: http://www.yemoosmarket.com/genuine-live-water-kefir-grains.html.
Water kefir goes through two ferments.
- In a mason jar, mix 1/4 cup sugar in one quart water then add the water kefir grains to the sugar mixture. . Add one or more of the following to help your ferment: A drizzle of molasses, a slice of lemon peel, a dried fig, a tablespoon of raisins, a few slices dried apple. Cover jar with a clean towel and rubber band to keep out fruit flies. Leave on the counter (preferably at 70-75 degrees) for 24-48 hours. The longer you leave it, the more sugar ferments out. I recommend 48 hours. Don’t leave much longer than this as it can can stress the grains.
- After 48 hours, strain the water kefir grains through a plastic mesh strainer or cheesecloth (don’t use metal) pouring the liquid into another container. You can start a new batch of kefir right away with the same grains.
- To start the second ferment, put the strained, fermented liquid in a glass jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid. Add your flavoring (herbal tea, fruit juice, or pieces of fruit). There is no a firm rule about how much to add so experiment. I find a few small pieces of fruit are plenty but if I am adding herbal tea or juice I use a ratio of about 1:4 tea/kefir water. For additional fizz, you can add a few tablespoons of sugar to the second ferment. Cover jar with a tight lid and allow to set for two days on the kitchen counter. After 2 or 3 days, strain and decant into jars with a tight lid and refrigerate. I like to refrigerate for about 24 hours before drinking to get maximum fizz.
I grow passion fruit in my backyard. In the fall, I harvest them, scoop out the pulp and freeze for use throughout the year.
The first time I tried making the prickly pear fruit kefir, I added something like 5 or 6 fruits. That was WAY too much and produced a drink that was too thick. With water kefir, I think less is more. 1 fruit is perfect and produces a light drink with a gorgeous color.
Recipes for Kefir using ingredients native to the Americas
Lemon Verbena/Strawberry: Make 1 cup of lemon verbena tea by putting a small fistful of fresh lemon verbena in boiling water and allowing to steep for 30 minutes. Use tea and about three strawberries in the second ferment.
Hibiscus Flower: Put 5-6 dried hibiscus flowers along with a lemon cut in half into the second ferment.
Prickly Pear: Peel one prickly pear fruit and cut in quarters. Add fruit along with a 1/2 lemon (if desired) into the second ferment.
Passion Fruit: Scoop out the insides of two passion fruits and add to the second ferment. Add 1/2 lemon if desired.
Blackberry and Vanilla: Add 5 blackberries and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or scoop the seeds out of a vanilla pod. Will taste like blackberry creme soda!
Note: The origin of Hibiscus is up for debate. We think it was present in the Caribbean before Columbus but it was also in China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands.