Friday, April 13, 2012

Kombucha - The Brew of Champions

Wanting to ward off those nasty lingering colds from this winter? Maybe you are looking for an alternative to coffee &/or soft drinks? Or maybe you are looking for a new choice of “juice” for you littles, instead of feeding them the pasteurized liquid sugar from the super market. 

Whatever your reasonings may be, Kombucha deserves your attention and a try.

Kombucha has become a new emerging drink in your local grocery store but has actually been around for hundreds and even thousands of years, finding it’s origins in the heart of Chinese and Russian cultures.

The most inexpensive and nutrient packed version of this wonder brew can be made quickly and easily right in your own kitchen!

The Science Behind the Fizz

Kombucha is an effervescent drink formed from ancient fermenting techniques of using a “culture,” often times called a “Scoby,” which means “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.” This scoby looks like a light brown pancake, and actually digests the sugars in the tea to produce a whole host of organic acids, vitamins, enzymes, and amino acids. Antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties are all included in your homemade kombucha as well.

“...The Kombucha mushroom (which is actually a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria) acts on sugar and tea to produce not only acetic and lactic acid but also small amounts of a potent detoxifying substance called glucuronic acid. Normally this organic acid is produced by the liver in sufficient quantities to neutralize toxins in the body, whether these are naturally produced toxins or poisons ingested in food and water. However, when liver function becomes overloaded, and when the body must deal with a superabundance of toxins from the environment, certainly the case with most of us today, additional glucuronic acid taken in the form of kombucha is said to be a powerful aid to the body’s natural cleansing process, a boost to the immune system and a proven prophylactic against cancer and other degenerative diseases.” - Nourishing Traditions

Glucuronic acid is naturally produced in the body, but kombucha gives you an extra boost of this detoxing wonder. The Glucuronic acid binds to environmental and metabolic toxins so they can be excreted through the kidneys.
“Glucuronic acid is also the building block of a group of important polysaccharides that include hyaluronic acid (a basic component of connective tissue), chondroitin sulfate (a basic component of cartilage) and mucoitinsulfuric acid (a building block of the stomach lining and the vitreous humor of the eye).” - Weston A. Price

A by product of the glucuronic acid is glucosamines, which have had their own share of the health news lately. These “structures” have been associated with joint, cartilage, and collagen health. Also produced is Gluconic acid, not to be confused with the above mentioned Glucuronic acid, which can greatly help those suffering from yeast infections such as candidiasis or thrush. It is shown to protect against stress and improve liver function. 

Some people initially experience a detox effect from the natural cleansers in this powerhouse drink, mistakenly considering it an “allergic” reaction or adverse effects on their pre-existing health ailments.... Don't fall into this trap. 

Understand that if your body is toxic it is in need of purging; start drinking this slowly and gradually increase you amounts. This will allow you to bypass some if not all of the “detox” symptoms, which include, but are not limited to:
muscle ache’s and pains, head ache, lethargy, loose stools, etc...

(I am not a doctor, so please be wise about what your symptoms may be and see a medical professional if you are concerned about any persisting symptoms.)

Making Kombucha at Home

Teas to use: Black, Oolong, Green. White and Red are permissible to use, but recommended that you use them in conjunction with a black, oolong, or green. Because of the fermentation process, Kombucha requires real tea, not herbal tea. You also want to be careful of using any tea that holds strong fragrant oils, such as bergamot in Earl Grey. You can used bagged tea or loose leaf.

Where to purchase a scoby: The cheapest way would be to find a friend who has one to give, but if you have no such luck... You can grow one on your own, although I will not cover that here. But purchasing one is a good way to get a healthy scoby if you can't find a friend. 

Here are a few options and sites to purchase a scoby from and that I have found helpful in my journey of experimenting with kombucha. You can also purchase jars and other items helpful in making kombucha at most of these sites.
Kombucha Rediscovered by Klaus Kaufmann is a good resource as well

Here are quick general direction on how to make Kombucha. There are many recipes out there and anyone who has brewed for a while will have their own personal secrets and tips, so go experiment!

You can choose to do continuous brewing vs. batch brewing. I explain the batch brewing method here. Continuous brewing has great benefits although I have found for experimenting and learning sake, the batch method has been most convenient for me. But, experiment and see what you like best. 

Kombucha Brewing Instructions:

This is for one gal of kombucha. You can make several batches at one time, you just need a very large pot for boiling the water. During my research I have found some recipes that use only 3-5 cups of boiling water to add the tea to, then add cold water on top of that. This allows the tea brewing process to be faster because you don’t have to wait for the entire liquid contents to cool off. I have not used this method (although I will personally be experimenting with it) I will continue explaining the instructions with the method of boiling all the water.

Boil 3-4 quarts water, mix in 1 cup organic sugar and place 4-6 organic black (green, white, or oolong) tea bags in the tea. Let sit until room temp (this is the only thing I use sugar for in my kitchen, so I just keep a large glass jar full, and ready for adding to each new batch). You can also use raw honey, or agave, but both have slight variations to the end product, so if you are new, I would stick with the sugar initially.
Once cooled:
Remove tea bags and mix in 1-2 cups of the previous batch of kombucha into the room temp tea. Pour into a glass jar (I use gallon sized jars, but half gallon works great too), place kombucha mushroom (scoby) gently in tea, with the light colored side facing up. Stringy brown particles are normal to find on the scoby, you will mainly see them on the bottom.The top side may be very smooth as well. The new “baby” scoby will begin to grow on top as the kombucha ferments.

You may find specific instructions to start a new scoby if purchasing a starter kit, so follow the instructions you receive with it.

You can leave your kombucha to ferment anywhere that is warm and away from direct sunlight. Cover with a light towel, napkin, or paper towel, so it can still breath. Let sit uninterrupted from about 7-12 days. During this time the scoby will “eat” up the sugar during the fermenting process. I usually find that the best taste comes with leaving it for 10-12 days, but this does depend on the time of year and the weather. If left too long it will basically turn into vinegar.... not that I would know from experience or anything...ahhem. :)

Kombucha can be very hardy, so feel free to experiment with length of ferment time and types of tea to use. Some say that the kombucha has finished “eating” up the sugar when a sweet smell becomes noticeable from the jars.... I have left mine after smelling this with great results, it may also become more carbonated the longer you leave it.... SO experiment with what you like. Once you decide your kombucha brew is done, remove the scoby and then strain the kombucha through a mesh strainer into a clean jar. Use approx 1 cup of this batch to add to a new batch of cooled tea, place the scoby on top and you have begun a new batch. You will have two scoby’s now because each time your ferment your kombucha, a by product of the growing scoby is a new “baby” scoby that grows right on top of the original one. You can separate these, but I have found that leaving them together and allowing them to grow larger(thicker) and keeping a couple scoby’s in each batch produces a better flavor. Again, this is very dependent on your location and weather.

If you like a more fruit flavored drink or more carbonation, you may also want to try “re-fermenting” for a few days....

Many folks enjoy this drink specifically for the wonderful natural carbonation that it provides. To the dismay and chagrin of many first time kombucha brewers, you may find yourself with some batches that are less carbonated than others.

Here are a few tips to help get the carbonation just right the first time:

A healthy scoby that will grow all the way to the edge of your jar, will help “seal” the kombucha in the jar, so that the lack of oxygen underneath is allowing for further carbonation. 

If you notice small or large bubbles in your scoby, this is most likely the natural C02 trying to escape. 

If this does not quite do the trick for you, there is hope... 

Secondary fermentation can enhance the carbonation, if you do not get the desired results after your determined length of brew time. During this secondary fermentation you want to achieve what is called the anaerobic fermentation stage. This part of the fermentation is done “without air,” so you want to take up as much room in the bottle as possible, with the kombucha and fruit. This allows there to be as little oxygen as possible so that the yeast and bacteria will produce bubbles. 

After removing your scoby and straining your kombucha, you can bottle your concoction into a flip-top style, airtight container (see pictures, I have found this style to work best), add a bit of “sugar”, fruit (fresh, frozen, dried), honey, molasses, or refined sugar, all work just fine. Each will vary just a little bit in brew time and amount used, so keep that in mind. 

I have read in places that raw honey is not advised to use because it contains its own natural bacteria that could interfere with the growing kombucha, but I have never had a problem with using it. 

There are some noticeable differences, but those will change with type, location, temp as well. Again, just experiment. 

Ginger makes a great fizz (don't ask me why, because I don't know), and I love experimenting with different flavors of tea and fruit. 

Allow the airtight bottle to sit at room temp for a few days. I find that mine do best anywhere from 4-7 days. Your time frame may be very different though, depending on your location, time of year, and temp in the room. 

Kombucha is a living organism and will vary in taste and consistency depending on its temperature and location. BE CARFUL.... sometimes they become very carbonated and some can have the tendency to explode like shaken soda if left too long. :)

Thanks to Madey Edlin for the fabulous photos!

Kelsey Willard
Kelsey's Health-Food-Courses
Kelsey is a firefighter/paramedic with Clackamas Fire and a dedicated homemaker who has successfully tackled health issues through alternative cooking. Kelsey shares her love of wholesome food with others through small scale health food courses and friendly conversation. She is dedicated to living well and staying fit, and she and her husband are in excited preparations to grow their family through adoption.


Heather Elizabeth said...

Thanks Kelsey, I've always wanted to try making my own and now I might just get the gumption to do it!

Maria said...

What do you add to the tea if this is the first batch you are making?

Bethany Rydmark said...

Hi Maria, to be honest, I've not tried it myself and Kelsey, the author, is out of country and involved in the process of adopting four sweet little ones! I wish I had the information for you -- perhaps someone else with experience can chime in?


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