I don't have insight re. the non-kefir part of your post unfortunatley... But I'll tell you how I make my water kefir. My grains are HAPPY.
I use figs in the iinitial brew. I know Uny uses dates (or adds dates to the figs?) I've tried dates 3 times, and each time my grains weren't as happy. i.e. didn't multiply very much. Only say 1 & 1/2 the original amount. When I use only fig(s), my grains double in quantity. Go figure!... Also be sure to add a little baking soda if you don't already. They like it.... Here in Texas the days have been warm of course -- 80 degrees in my apt during the day. It only takes one day at this temp for mine to brew. I use the secondary fermentation too: Bottle up the brew, add a little sucanat (& usu. some freeze-dried fruit), cover tightly, and brew one more day. Then it goes in the fridge and is incredibly delicious. Fizzy awesomeness.
Yes the longer you brew, it will get increasingly sour. From what I've read, you don't want to over- brew the grains (to keep them happy). If you want a sour-er brew, let the secondary brew go longer... or just keep your potion in the fridge longer before you drink it.
Here's the formula that has worked for me perfectly. Use same ratio for 6-cup batch (use 2 smaller figs & thick slice lemon or 1/2 lemon):
I tried adding some dried cranberries (sweetened) one time to the secondary brew. Maybe 2 T (4-cup batch). It was waaay too sweet. Probalby would work, but I'd use 1T at the most if I used them again... I left this batch in the fridge for a few days before I finished drinking it, so it wouldn't be so sweet.
I have to be careful w/ my water kefir drinking! I do notice just the small touch of alcohol, and for me (recovered alcoholic) it's tempting to swig a bunch of it. In fact I'm taking a break from it for that reason, and b/c I'm so busy these days.
Re. milk kefir, I sure don't know. I went on a big kick w/ it for a while, maybe a year ago. I LOVED it. But I had a couple sinus infections while drinking it, and Uny straightened me out fast re. dairy. At the time, I was suspecting i had candida issues too - -so I'd decided to hit my gut w/ probiotics. Anyway i think the concerns about dairy are valid, esp based on my experience... I also tried sauerkraut. It was good. But it was just hard for me to eat much of it.
I have a fermented pickle recipe that is pure awesomeness. The recipe was printed in a book I have called Quick Pickles... Here it is copied from a forum I just found. These are just INCREDIBLE -- spicy and delicious. They small so delicious while they are brewing that you'll be tantalized and tortured by them waiting for them to finish!
[ EDIT: Feeling weird about printing the recipe. I had thought the cookbook was out of printbut i found it on Amazon. Here's a link to the book. It's very, very good. ]
Kick-Ass Westport River Barrel Cukes [Yield: 4 quarts]
4 1/2 pounds pickling cucumbers, 3 to 5 inches long, blossom ends removed
1 or 2 handfuls small fresh chiles of your choice, stabbed or slit twice
1 cup peeled, grated fresh horseradish
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into disks about 1/2, inch thick
1 handful dill heads or fronds (optional)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed
2 tablespoons coriander seed, cracked
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 handful grape, sour cherry, or oak leaves, well washed (optional)
i large head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
8 cups water
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
In a giant bowl, combine the cucumbers, chiles, garlic, horseradish, onion, dill, mustard seed,
coriander seed, peppercorns, bay leaves, and grapes leaves. Pack this mixture into a wide-mouth
gallon crock or jar.
In a large separate nonreactive bowl or pitcher, combine the water. vinegar, and salt to make the
brine, stirring until the salt dissolves.
Cover the cucumbers with a plate, then weight the plate down with a clean stone, a brick, or whatever
you have available; the idea is to keep the cucumbers sub-merged as they pickle. Add enough of the
brine to cover the cucumbers by 2 inches or more.
Cover with a clean cloth and store at room temperature for 4 to 7 days, taking care to keep the contents
submerged at all times and to skim any foam that may form on the brine's surface every day or two.
These pickles are done when their pale green color is mostly the same inside and out—or when they just
taste so good your discipline falls apart. They will keep, covered and refrigerated, for a month, but they
start to soften around then unless you have included plenty of grape, cherry, or oak leaves. To freshen
the flavor of the brine, you can strain the solids out of the liquid, bring the brine to a boil, cool
it to room temperature, and re- immerse the cucumbers and other vegetables in it, discarding the original
flavorings and freshening the flavor with more of those same flavorings.