Frugal Friday: Our Not-Soda Soda

Welcome to Frugal Friday, a weekly instalment where we try to provide small, bite-sized frugal tips from the school of Professor Roar Frugasaurus’ Fantastic Frugality Fair! So, come along, grab a chair, and join us as we try to present some bite-sized chunks of frugal living. Not unlikely, several of these might be food oriented, just because we love food. 

A lot of people, myself included, find it difficult to stop drinking soda. I started replacing my soda habits with carbonated water, which worked for a while. But the cost of buying carbonated water was something I wanted to remove from the budget because essentially, it’s not something I need. I’m not saying that anyone should stop drinking soda cold turkey. If you enjoy soda, and you are able to drink it on occasion, that is not a problem. For me, the problem was that I wanted the carbonated stuff all the time.

When I lived in student accommodation a few years back, I solved the problem by buying a used soda stream off gumtree (a site used a lot in Britain for buying and selling used items). A lot of people in the FI community seems to take this route and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, my soda stream had been broken when I came back from the holiday season the Christmas the same year I bought it and I considered the endeavour to be in the past. Been there, done that.

And there might be other reasons why you don’t want a soda stream in your house, for us, it’s simply another thing that can break, and the recurring cost of replacing the carbon cylinder. And since I’m the only person in our two-people household who actually likes carbonated water, I can’t justify the cost of getting a soda stream unless we find it for free.

So, until a couple of months ago, I didn’t really think there was anything close to a replacement. But then Kristine went and proved me wrong. Kristine, full of ideas, as usual, had gotten a few water kefir grains from a friend and wanted to experiment. I was, as I often am, positively sceptical. Which is to say that I didn’t have much hope for the taste of the finished product, but encouraged her to try this new thing. And it turns out that it makes a decent substitute for soda. And the best part is that it doesn’t cost us more than between 1-2 NOK (about $0.13-0.26) per litre (a little more than 4 cups) of this stuff!

kefir sugar
Water kefir making in progress!

So, how do we make these? Well, first you have to get a hold of kefir grains. I would highly recommend simply looking around the internet if anyone in your area are giving away kefir culture that they’ve grown. Fermenting groups on Facebook are generally a good place to look. Alternatively, you can get them on Amazon UK here.

A super great thing about these little grains is that so long as you take care of them, you won’t need to buy new ones. They actually multiply, and that means that you, in turn, can divide the grains when you’ve gotten a sustainable number, and make more water kefir at the same time. And the more jars you place them in, the less you risk losing everything at once. Because if one batch goes bad, you don’t lose the whole sample. Then, when you have more than you need, you can continue the gift of giving and donate some to a curious friend or like-minded local foodie.

What you need:

  • Kefir seeds (we started with 5 soaked in kefir liquid)
  • Mason jar/click top jar or similar container (important: can not be made of metal)
  • Sugar
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Water
  • Dried fruits without sulfites

Grab your empty jar of choice, we use click top jars. Make sure that the rubber ring is removed so that it gets air. Add your kefir seeds to the jar. If you got the ones from Amazon, make sure to rehydrate them before use. From here, it doesn’t really matter which order you add the ingredients, but I usually start by adding 1 dl sugar per liter to the seeds, and then filling the jar up with water until there’s about 1 inch or so left to the edge (this is not an exact science, so don’t worry about the exact amount of water). Stir the sugar into the water until it’s dissolved. For the dried fruits, we’ve tried cranberries, raisins, and dates and found that raisins and dates are the best ones – but you’re welcome to experiment! We use about 5 raisins or 2 dates. And finally, add a slice of lemon and a slice of lime (the lime is optional) for taste.

Store it in room temperature for 2-3 days before pouring it into a bottle. Make sure to taste it first, as it can vary whether it needs 2 or 3 days before it’s finished. It should be a pleasant mix between tangy and sweet, but tastes differ, so trust your own judgement here. If it is too sweet, let it sit for another day. Before you pour the liquid into a bottle, make sure that you remove the dried fruits and lemon/lime slices first. And in order to speed up the process for the next batch, leave a little liquid from the jar with the kefir seeds as these bacteria noms on the sugar and fruits to make your tasty drink faster.

Mr.E's kefir
Mr. E. proudly presents his creation.

PS: A note on safety. Fermentation, being an active process involving live bacteria, can go wrong. If the wrong sort of bacteria or mould dominate your culture, you will notice! A healthy culture should smell tangy and a tad vinegary. If you spot any mould (white yeast is ok and normal), or it smells bad, you have to throw it all out and start afresh with a new set of grains.

Happy drinking!

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