Kombucha was something I’d heard of back in the 90s when it was “in vogue” again for awhile. I’d never given it much thought because I’d always heard it called “mushroom tea.” Who wants to drink mushroom flavored tea? Well, there’s no mushroom involved at all. There is a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) and I’ll admit, that SCOBY is a little gross and rather unappetizing to look at, but it’s completely beneficial. That’s far less than I can say for some formerly appetizing foods on the grocery store shelves.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about what goes into our food lately and, to be honest, a lot of what I’ve read has either outright scared me, or just made me go EW!!!” Have you ever noticed the light “dust” on pre-shredded cheese? How would you feel if you learned that the “cellulose” used in shredded cheese and many other packaged foods such as salad dressing and ice cream is actually highly processed wood pulp? Perhaps even more disturbing than foods that are unhealthy for the consumer are foods that harm the very people making them while their companies try to sweep it under the rug. Workers in certain areas butchering division of Hormel (the makers of SPAM), for example, have come down with autoimmune disorders leading to neuropathy due to the working conditions.
For me, and to actually get onto the topic of kombucha, the real eye opener was a report put out by the University of Texas Health Science Center about the effects of aspartame in diet sodas. Apparently the self-same diet sodas we’ve been drinking to avoid extra sugar, calories and weight gain can, in fact, not only make you fat but can impair the beta cell function of the pancreas and result in elevated blood glucose levels. That report was a real eye opener for me. With a history of diabetes in my family going back two generations, I grew up on diet soda. How ironic would it be if the very soda my mother had been buying to help stave off diabetes from too much sugar had been a contributor to my developing it?
I was quite interested, then, when I ran across an article about kombucha while surfing through FoodRenegade.com. I’d actually ended up there while looking for a homemade mayonnaise recipe since, at the time, my options were to make my own or go out into the 105 degree heat just to buy a jar.
So, what is kombucha then? Kombucha is just regular tea (you can use black or green tea) that has undergone fermentation. Wikipedia actually has a very good entry about the stuff. FoodRenegade has an article on its health benefits as well as instructions for growing your own SCOBY if you can’t get one from someone else, or just don’t want to pay for one. If you have friends that brew kombucha tea they’ll more than likely be happy to share a SCOBY with you as these collection of living organisms are self-propigating and split off into pancake-like layers. I got my SCOBY from a local member of the Weston A. Price Foundation who had recently done a demo on kombucha tea.
Now, how does this all relate to my wanting to get away from diet sodas? Well, while kombucha starts off as sweet tea that would make a Southerner happy, the end product is almost completely sugar free. Just how sugar free it is depends upon how long you ferment it for. It’s also naturally effervescent. Once fermented it’s nothing like the original product. There’s no tea flavor left and much of the caffeine and sugar are gone. If you ferment too long you actually end up with a vinegar. I’d suggest trying out some of GT’s Raw Kombucha just to see if you like it. A bottle of GT’s Raw is also an ingredient you’ll need if you want to grow your own SCOBY, if you’ve got enough time (about 3-5 weeks) and patience and don’t want to order one.
Once you have a SCOBY, making kombucha is almost effortless. Some people say to use organic tea while others say plain old Lipton is just fine. I made a big jug of tea using two family sized tea bags, just under a gallon of water, and one cup of sugar. Be sure to use a non-reactive pot such as glass, enameled cast iron, or stainless steal for brewing your tea. When your tea is cooled to room temperature, put most of it into your fermenting jar, add the liquid your SCOBY is in (the starter liquid) and gently deposit your SCOBY on top. Cover it with a loose-weave cloth or paper towel and set it in a shaded corner where it won’t be disturbed for 7-10 days. It is important that you DO NOT MOVE your jar around or else your SCOBY won’t properly form its next layer and you’ll end up with bits of it sinking and floating around. Also, if you are using a jar with a spigot for fermenting make sure that it has no metal parts.
After about seven days, open your jar and draw off a little bit of kombucha. Again, do not use metal. A straw with your finger over one end to make a vacuum works perfectly for this. Of course, if you are using a jar with a spigot that makes it even easier. If your tea is still rather sweet it’s not done. Put it back and leave it alone for another day or two, then test again. Keep in mind that kombucha will ferment faster in warmer temperatures so the length of time needed will vary from one season to the next. When ready it will be tangy and mildly fizzy. You can either bottle it and put it in the fridge as-is, or you can double ferment it to add different flavors and more natural carbonation.
To double ferment your kombucha just draw it off into bottles. Be sure to keep a cup (or more, more is never a bad thing!) of your batch of booch to help start your next batch. After washing your hands (do NOT use anti-bacterial soap – remember, a SCOBY is a beneficial bacteria!), reach in and take out your SCOBY. Put it in a glass dish and ladle your reserved kombucha over it.
Take your prepared bottles and flavor them as you wish. You can pour an ounce or two of 100% fruit juice into the bottom and then top off with kombucha, or you can put bits of cut up fruit, herbs, edible flowers or ginger root.
Fill the bottles the rest of the way and then cap them and store them in a dark place to ferment for another 1-3 days. DO NOT over-ferment during this second fermentation. Pressure will build up in the bottle and it is possible to either blow the lid off or for the bottle to explode. I’ve placed my bottles in this nifty recycled 6-pack wine carrier from my local grocery to make it easy to move around as well as to help protect the kombucha from direct light and to protect my laundry room from any exploding bottles.
When your kombucha reaches your desired level of fermentation, flavor and carbonation just put them in the fridge. This will slow the process to a crawl and keep the pressure from increasing. Let it chill, then pop the top and enjoy!
Kombucha Kamp has a very detailed blog as well as a YouTube channel with a lot of information and tips.
Matt Hodgson has a great series of YouTube videos as well.
If you don’t want to wait 3-5 weeks to grow your own SCOBY, and don’t know anyone who is brewing kombucha, you can order one right from Amazon. You do NOT need to buy an expensive “kit” though, which many people who sell starters will try to get you to buy. Even a recycled gallon sized pickle jar will work just fine for brewing your kombucha.
I have links both to “Nourishing Traditions” and the above SCOBY in my A-store, or you can just click on the images to check them out!