In a new segment I thought I’d answer some reader questions. Indeed, if there’s enough interest, I’ll answer reader questions every Wednesday. If you have a question about food, recipes, traditional foods and nutrition or frugal cooking feel free to contact me.
Can homemade cider make people sick?
Anything food can harbor potential pathogens. Yet, properly and cleanly prepared foods pose less of a risk in harboring those pathogens than foods that are improperly prepared. Additionally, the better equipped your immune system is, the easier it will be to fight off potential pathogens that you come across. Keep in mind, of course, that beneficial bacteria including those found in fermented foods can help your immune system develop its full potential – particularly in the digestive tract.
Traditional methods of food preservation including fermentation provided a safe way to store foods for our ancestors and has been used for at least 12,000 years. In many ways, we evolved on fermented foods. It wasn’t until the latter decades of the nineteenth century that pasteurization as a way to kill potential pathogens began to be used for beverages like wine, milk and, of course, cider. The result of pasteurization was dead food – that is, food that is nutritionally inferior due to its lack of vitamins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
Wild apple cider, like the kind I make, is teeming with bacteria, and, yes, that’s a good thing. A very good thing. When cider is freshly pressed, its enzymes are intact and those vitamins that are unstable when subjected to heat also remain intact. This creates an environment that is favorable to lactic-acid producing bacteria. These bacteria eat away at the natural sugars present in food: lactose in milk-based foods and fructose in fruits like apples. As they metabolize the sugars present in the apple juice, the juice turns acidic and then it will turn alcoholic depending on how long you allow the juice to ferment. An acidic environment keeps pathogens at bay while allowing the beneficial bacteria to proliferate which, in turn, minimizes risk of illness while actually allowing your body to benefit the way it should from fermented foods.
Of course, as with anything, use caution and wisdom in your preparation of cider just as you would in your preparation of any food. Wash your hands well – especially after using the bathroom. Use clean utensils to minimize transfer of bacteria from food to food. And, when your cider is done fermenting, examine it. If it doesn’t look right, doesn’t smell right or doesn’t taste right, don’t drink it. It’s as simple as that.
Incidentally, you can become ill from drinking commercially produced, pasteurized cider too as foods can easily become contaminated with pathogens after the pasteurization process and, at that point, there’s no acid environment or beneficial bacteria to keep the pathogens at bay.
How do I convert milk kefir grains to water kefir grains?
I should preface my answer with the following: I have not converted milk kefir grains to water kefir grains so I cannot write from direct experience; however, I’ve researched the process and can answer your question through information only.
Milk kefir grains and water kefir grains are, fundamentally, comprised of different organisms; however, milk kefir grains can be converted to make water kefir but do not usually fair well in the process and will eventually die off. Water kefir grains, by contrast, cannot be converted to ferment milk at all.
While milk kefir grains tend to be a bit slimy and chewy and are opaque, water kefir grains are translucent and crystalline. As I mentioned before, they also are comprised of different cultures of bacteria.
Additionally, converting milk kefir grains to water kefir is a lengthy process. It often takes ten to fourteen days of vigilant and regular re-culturing to effect the conversion. Initially, you’ll take three tablespoons of milk kefir grains and place them in a sugar water solution comprised of 1 cup filtered water and 3 tablespoons sugar. Change this solution every two days for ten to fourteen days and, eventually, you’ll be able to have a colony of bacteria successful enough to culture a liter of water kefir. It is likely that you’ll need to throw away your first few liters of water kefir until the beverage is cultured to your liking. I’ve read that some people also add a squirt of lemon juice to the sugar-water mixture during the conversion process.
In my opinion, it’s wisest to use your milk kefir grains for milk kefir and procure another source for water kefir grains. I know they’re traded on MDC’s traditional foods board, sold on ebay and even sold on etsy. You can learn more about brewing water kefir here.