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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Healthy Sodas? Is that even possible? YES!

I have told you about our relatively new found love for water kefir before, but I have been experimenting since.

The kids and I are perfectly fine with juice based water kefirs, but my husband continues to be a bonified soda drinker, all be it with the soda fountain. He has given up the caffeine soda a couple of years ago, but his favorite drink continues to be coca cola, dr. pepper and root beer.

I have been on a mission to at the very least reduce his chemically based soda intake, so I have been experimenting with making a healthier form of “soft drink” to at least tempt him to try other things!

Since the base of the water kefir is relatively neutral, it really does lend itself to a variety of options. The Cola one is the most work intensive, but it is also the one that can be played with and adjusted to your personal preferences.

The initial ingredients I started to experiment with, were from a variety of websites and suggestions. Many of them included essential oils, but that didn’t work well in a water kefir application. So, I went with this recipe from the New York Times and adjusted it some!

Sounds quite spicy and more medicinal, doesn’t it?

I expected it to be somewhere between a Christmas cookie and a Root beer on the flavor scale. And I don’t really like Root beer all that much, even though the rest of my family loves it. Having been raised in Europe, Root beer tastes like cough syrup to me, conjuring images of being sick as a child. Not exactly that enjoyable, even though after all these years, I am starting to warm to it a little more!

But I know it’s a big thing in the USA! You even float ice cream in it and call it a treat! *shudders*

But I digress! Well, not entirely - I will also show you how to make natural, good-for-you water kefir that tastes like Root beer!  And this one does actually taste like the real thing!

Anyway, back to the Cola syrup!

Amazingly, some way, somehow, once the syrup is done, and fermented for that second time with the water kefir - it definitely reminds me of the flavor of ... Cola! 

Does it taste like Coca Cola/Pepsi?  Definitely not! It’s different!  It’s better! It’s homemade, with wholesome ingredients and no artificial anything added.

Since we are not using any kind of food coloring or caramel color, this syrup is a lot lighter in color than we are used to.



Cola Syrup

Grated zest of 2 medium organic oranges

Grated zest of 1 large organic lime

Grated zest of 1 large organic lemon

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg,  freshly grated

1 section of a star anise pod, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

1 one-and-a-half-inch piece vanilla bean, split

1/4 teaspoon organic citric acid (personally I prefer 1/2 tsp)

1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar

1/2 cup organic brown sugar

2 cups of water + 2 tbsp..

1. In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring 2 cups water to a simmer with the zests, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, vanilla and citric acid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

2. In a non-stick pan, bring 1 cup of organic evaporated cane sugar and 2 tbsp. water to a boil. Slowly caramelize the sugar, JUST until it turns a DARK brown. When it starts to smell ever so slightly burnt, but isn’t actually really burnt just yet, you’re there! Take it off the heat immediately and slowly and very carefully add it to the hot syrup, a little at the time, stirring constantly.

If you are not comfortable with handling all this boiling hot stuff, you can caramelize the sugar ahead of time, pour it onto a lightly greased sheet and let it cool. It will be like hard candy once it’s cooled and you can break it into pieces and add them to the boiling mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar chards.

Then add the brown sugar and stir to dissolve.


Alternatively, you can forgo the whole caramelizing step all together and just add the sugars right to the water and spices. It will taste slightly different as the caramelization and the “almost burnt” sugar add a flavor note, but if you’re going for quick and easy, this is the way!


3. Line a sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Pour the contents of the pot through the sieve. Carefully gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist the top to close. Use a spoon to press the bundle against the sieve, squeezing out all the flavorful syrup.

4. Stir the syrup and let cool. Transfer to containers with a lid and keep refrigerated.




Water Kefir - First Ferment

4 cups of structured, Prill water or living water (or bottled water)

1/4 cup of organic evaporated cane sugar

10 organic raisins or so

1 organic lemon wedge (1/4 of a small lemon)

1.5 tbsp. water Kefir Grains


In a mason jar, combine sugar and water and stir with a non metal spoon to dissolve sugar partially . It doesn’t have to be dissolved all the way, the kefir grains will do the rest.

Add the kefir grains, lemon wedge and raisins.

Tighten lid on the jar and let the water kefir grains do their thing for 24 to 36 hours.

When all the raisins are at the top and are staying at the top or coming right back up when you move the jar, you’re kefir is ready.

Remove the raisins and lemon wedge, strain out the water kefir grains.

Rinse the kefir grains for our next batch.


Combining The Two - Second Ferment

4 cups of water kefir (grains strained out)

1 cup of Cola Syrup


Combine the two and bottle in swing top bottles. Leave the bottles to ferment at room temperature for at least 24 hrs., burping them once or twice. Once you have achieved the desired level of fizziness, refrigerate the bottles.


And there you have it! A healthy probiotic drink, very reminiscent of Cola! And it has nothing artificial or chemical in it! And no gluten!




Incidentally, if you don’t really care about the food color (gluten) and artificial flavor aspects and just want to make probiotic cola - this flavor concentrate makes a pretty mean cola soda that tastes a lot like store brand Cola!


To make it with the flavor concentrate, do the first ferment as described above.

For the second ferment, you will need:


4 cups strained water kefir

1 tsp cola extract (for a gluten free cola extract, try Lorann’s Cola Flavor Concentrate and use 1/4 tsp)

2 tbsp. organic evaporated cane sugar (More if you like it sweeter - the second ferment will feed on the sugar and some of the sweetness will go away, but you need at least 2 tbsp. to feed the ferment!)


Mix everything together in a jar/jug and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Pour into flip-top bottles and let ferment at room temperature for at least 24 hrs., burping them about once a day. Once you have achieved the desired level of fizziness, refrigerate the bottles.


Next up in the series of healthy “sodas” - Ginger Ale!

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  1. I've got the syrup cooling and the kefir water ready to go! It smells delicious--and very reminiscent of cola...more so before adding the sugar syrup to the spices and zests. I think sucanat may not have been the best choice of brown sugars to use. I will definitely try again if this batch seems a little off when it's brewed. Thanks for the recipe!

  2. Gosh, I just wrote out a bigger post about how I'm excited to try to make this for my husband and the comment got deleted.

    Either way, thank you for posting this :)

  3. Thank you for this amazing recipe! I was wondering if you knew how long will the kefir cola will last in the refrigerator?

  4. Thank you for this amazing recipe cannot wait to try it! I was wondering if you knew how long the cola kefir will last in the refrigerator?

  5. After the second ferment, water kefir lasts quite well in the fridge. However, I find that the longer it sits in the refrigerator, the less fizz you have and the more "fermented" the flavor will get. Generally, it's at it's best when consumed within 2-3 days of refrigerating.


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Birgit Kerr