It’s a 3000-year-old soda that is popular again. Water kefir is a natural ferment that was likely first discovered by shepherds who had led their animal to drink in high mountain springs in the Caucasus Mountains.

“The newfangledness of it is really that we’ve lost our culture in America. This is only newfangled to people that don’t have access or a lineage that they’re bringing forward of live culture fermenting of food,” explains Tom Boyd.

Boyd, along with partners Jeffrey Edelheit and Deana Dennard, ferment their live beverages in what they call “the only kefir based microbrewery”, a tiny shop in Sebastapol, California called the Kefiry. They use kefir grains (which aren’t really grains, but bacteria and yeast that turn sugars into carbonation) to create their “enlivened” beverages that contain much less sugar than conventional sodas.

Like sourdough starters, kefir grains need to be kept alive and can be shared with others, but no one has been able to create them in a laboratory. Kefir starters, or tibicos, have been used around the world for centuries and while no two strain of culture is the same, the names are different worldwide:

“Tibicos is also known as tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees, and in older literature as bébées, African bees, ale nuts, Australian bees, balm of Gilead, beer seeds, beer plant, bees, ginger bees, Japanese beer seeds, and vinegar bees.” (Wikipedia)

Water kefir, like other live-cultured foods (from sourdough to sauerkraut), has a following of people interested in probiotics and cultivating a healthy flora in their digestive system, though Boyd argues all of us should be focused on cultivating wellness (instead of simply relying on the medical community).

“All of these live culture techniques are ways to preserve and enhance the bio-availability of the nutrients in foods. So that’s what this movement is about is bringing the live culture back so the foods can be more healthy, more wellness-providing like they’re supposed to be.”