Tibicos, or water kefir, is a traditional fermented drink made with water and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) held in a polysaccharide biofilm matrix created by the bacteria. It is sometimes consumed as an alternative to milk based probiotic drinks or tea-cultured products such as kombucha. Water kefir is typically made as a probiotic homebrew beverage. The finished product, if bottled, will produce a carbonated beverage.
Tibicos cultures are found around the world, with no two being exactly the same; but typical tibicos have a mix of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria, with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera and possibly others. Lactobacillus brevis bacteria has been identified as the species responsible for the production of the dextran polysaccharide that forms the "grains."
As with milk 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 carbonates the drink.
The origin of tibicos grains is unknown. Tibicos grains form as hard granules on the pads of the Opuntia cactus found in Mexico. These granules then could be reconstituted in a sugar-water solution for propagating the tibicos grains. Another study found a similar tibicos culture made from a bacteria cultured from known stocks with similar properties.
Tibicos are also known as tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees, and in older literature as bébées, African bees, Australian bees, ginger bees, vinegar bees, bees, Japanese beer seeds, beer seeds, beer plant, ale nuts, eternity grains, and Balm of Gilead. Pidoux in 1898 also identified the sugary kefir grains with the ginger beer plant. Different ingredients or hygienic conditions might also change the bacteriological composition possibly leading to the different names found in scientific literature.
Tibicos are used to brew a variety of tepache known as tepache de tibicos. The ginger beer plant is also a form of tibicos. Kebler attests that they were used in Kentucky circa 1859 to brew a "home drink" and were referred to as "Japanese beer seeds."
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The basic preparation method is for tibicos to be added to a sugary liquid and fermented 24 to 48 hours. The water is kept at a room temperature range of 68°-85°F (20°-30°C). If the temperature is closer to the 85 degree range, the fermentation period is shortened. A typical recipe might contain the tibicos culture, a citrus fruit, and water. Some ingredients will inhibit fermentation, such as chlorine in tap water or preservatives in dried fruit (sulfites). The fruits used are changed and mixed to create different flavors.
Additional precautions are taken to keep the cultures healthy. The use of reactive metals such as aluminium, copper, or zinc are minimized, since the acidity of the solution will draw these metals out, damaging the culture. Instead, plastic, lead-free ceramic, or glass containers are commonly used. It is recommended to culture grains in a glass jar and use clean plastic or wooden utensils when handling the grains.
- Horisberger, M.; Bauer, H.; Bauer, Heinz (December 1980). "The structural organization of the Tibi grain as revealed by light, scanning and transmission microscopy". Archives of Microbiology. 128 (2): 157–161. doi:10.1007/BF00406153.
- Pidoux, M. (June 1989). "The microbial flora of sugary kefir grain (the gingerbeer plant): biosynthesis of the grain from Lactobacillus hilgardii producing a polysaccharide gel". World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology. 5 (2): 223–38. doi:10.1007/BF01741847.
- Laureys, David; De Vuyst, Luc (April 2014). "Microbial Species Diversity, Community Dynamics, and Metabolite Kinetics of Water Kefir Fermentation". Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 80 (8): 2564–2572. doi:10.1128/AEM.03978-13. ISSN 0099-2240. PMC 3993195. PMID 24532061.
- Lutz, L. (1899). "Recherches biologiques sur la constitution du Tibi". Bull. Soc. Mycol. France. 15: 68–72.
- Stacey, M.; Youd, F. R. (November 1938). "A note on the dextran produced from sucrose by Betacoccus arabinosaceous haemolyticus". Biochem. J. 32 (11): 1943–1945. doi:10.1042/bj0321943. PMC 1264277. PMID 16746830.
- Sopp, J.O. (1917). Hjemmelagning av øl og vin. Kristiania, Norway: Norli. p. 83.
- Kebler, L. F. (June 1921). "California bees" (PDF). J. Pharm. Sci. 10 (12): 939–943. doi:10.1002/jps.3080101206.