Water Kefir Grains / Tibicos – the back story

The origins of water kefir are even more nebulous than those of milk kefir. They may have originated in more than one world location, and there is some confusion over whether it is the same thing as the ginger beer plant (GBP) that was common in Western Europe during the early part of the last century. The first mention of Tibicos though, comes in an 1899 paper by L. Lutz38, who describes Tibi as (translated from French)

“native of Mexico, where it grows on pads of Opuntia [cactus], which in the presence of water containing dissolved sugar determines an active fermentation of the medium by producing a sparkling liquid with tart flavour, slightly butyrous, used as a drink by factory workers”.

Water kefir has been a part of Mexican culture for many years, perhaps even for centuries. But there is no evidence that I have ever seen of these grains being found on cactus pads since this first report – perhaps no one is looking!