Tibicos, also known as tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California Bees, are a culture of bacteria and yeast held in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. As with kefir grains, the microbes present in tibicos act in symbiosis to maintain a stable culture. Tibicos can do this in many different sugary liquids, feeding off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide gas which carbonate the drink (i.e. makes it bubbly).
Tibicos are found around the world, with no two cultures being exactly the same. Typical tibicos have a mix of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera and possibly others. Lactobacillus brevis has been identified as the species responsible for the production of the polysaccharide (dextran) that forms the grains.
People who do not wish to consume dairy or have a Vegan type diet may find that water kefir provides the living pro-biotics without the need for dairy or tea cultured products, like kombucha. Since the finished product, if bottled, will produce a nice carbonated beverage it provides a nice alternative to sweet soda drinks for children and adults alike.
Basic preparation method is to add tibicos to a sugary liquid and allow to ferment 24 to 48 hours. A typical recipe might be:
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of tibicos
- 1 dried fig, halved
- 1/2 lemon
- 60 grams or 4 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 litre (4 cups) of water
- 2 litre jar with lid
Method: dissolve the sugar in the water, and add the juice of the lemon and any fruit and spices. After mixing, drop in the tibicos and cover the jar. If the lid is on tightly, you get a carbonated drink; if loose, a still drink. Set the jar aside to ferment at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours. When finished, strain out the tibicos to add to the next batch.
It is important to use ingredients that will not inhibit the fermentation. This means:
- if using tap water, filter or boil to remove chlorine (note that boiling does not remove chloramine)
- fresh fruit should be washed to remove pesticide residues, and ideally be organic fruit
- dried fruit should be preservative free, so as not to unbalance the bacteria counts in the tibicos or water kefir.
It is recommended to follow the above recipe to maintain a healthy culture. The fruits used may be changed and mixed to create difference taste, however, it is very important to use the lemon or other acidic fruit like grapefruit. This is for the safety factor of thoses drinking the finished beverage as the pH of 3.0 to 4.6 is desired.
Additional precaution has to be made in order to keep culture healthy - all the handling needs to be done without usage of metal, since it can cause considerable damage to the grains. Recommend culturing grains in a glass jar with tight fitting lid and using clean metal or plastic items when handling the grains. Once a batch is ready it may be consumed fresh throughout the day or stored in sealed bottles in the refrigerator for a few days.
- Pidoux (1988). The microbial flora of sugary kefir grain (the gingerbeer plant): biosynthesis of the grain from Lactobacillus hilgardii producing a polysaccharide gel. Abstract
- Moinas, Horisberger, Bauer (1980). The structural organization of the Tibi grain as revealed by light, scanning and transmission microscopy. Abstract
- Daker WD, Stacey M (1938). Investigation of a polysaccharide produced from sucrose by Betabacterium vermiformé (Ward-Meyer). Article