Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kombucha

I first read about the health benefits of Kombucha a few years ago when researching kefired milk. Kombucha and Kefir are both probiotic beverages containing many strains of beneficial yeast and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship. When I was expecting my son and we were on vacation, we bought some bottled ginger pear Kombucha that was very tasty and refreshing. Not long after we noticed our store started carrying the same brand. Now there are at least two brands and multiple flavors to chose from at our store. Last spring a girlfriend brought me a Kombucha starter and I've been brewing our own Kombucha tea ever since. 

When I brewed my first batch of fermented Kombucha tea it took me a while to start drinking it. At first taste it is strong and vinegary. This sounds silly, but I kept brewing over the course of the summer without really drinking it. Knowing how healthy it was, I fed it to the chickens but couldn't bring myself to drink it. Ha. Well one day I felt a cold coming on and I poured myself a small glass of Kombucha. A couple hours later I drank some more. Throughout that day and the next I continued to drink a shot or so every couple hours. I never got that cold. This past fall and winter every time I've felt a cold coming on I've increased  my Kombucha consumption and managed to avoid every cold until January when coincidentally we were out of Kombucha.  Ideally my family would all be drinking Kombucha on a daily basis and have strong immune systems. Realistically the kids only take sips now and then. Sometimes it finds its way into smoothies. I go through Kombucha fazes where I drink it daily for a couple weeks and then take time off.

So before I go on, the top picture is a bottle of my favorite store-bought ginger berry kombucha next to a glass of my own home-brewed kombucha tea blended with grated ginger root and raspberry syrup (picked from local raspberries and made this past fall). I am proud to say that in the taste off I preferred my own kombucha to the store-bought equivalent. I tasted for carbonation, ginger and berry flavor. My drink had a more rounded deeper raspberry ginger flavor, but a little less carbonation. I did like the carbonation level of the store-bought drink and will shoot for that in the future. 

Before we go into how to make it, here are a few things you should know, most importantly what is it and why bother??

Kombucha is a fermented tea made up of beneficial yeasts and healthy bacteria. It contains high amounts of B vitamins, antioxidants and chemical compounds made up of various acids which work together to provide numerous health benefits including: immune stimulating, improves digestion and liver function, blood cleansing (detoxifying), thereby energizing and even a cancer preventative. Drinking Kombucha tea on a regular basis contributes to overall health and vigor, side affects range from healthier skin complexions to healing long term health ailments. Have I got your attention yet? 

There are numerous easy to find sources on the benefits of drinking kombucha tea. One of my favorite sites that I ran across discusses different studies done by Russia and Germany, and covers everything from feeding kombucha to chickens to the specific acids in kombucha tea and what they provide for the body: www.gaiaresearch.co.za/kombucha.html

The Food and Drug Administration cautions against the use of kombucha tea for the main reason that it can be brewed in the home in a non sterile environment. As with most food making endeavors (handling and cooking raw meats, hand washing, refrigerating foods etc.) you need to have some knowledge and common sense when it comes to preparing food in a safe manner or in this case a fermented beverage, use clean hands, clean pots and utensils etc. so that your kombucha mother is not contaminated with foreign molds or other home pollutants. Knowing what a healthy starter looks like should prevent any casualties. When in doubt throw it out and start a new one from a new source. It is recommended that you drink small quantities initially as some people may have allergic reactions. Also, if drank in too large of quantities it can cause stomach upset (it is very vinegary so it alters the ph of your digestive tract in a good way unless your body is not use to it) 

Kombucha has been brewed and consumed by entire families safely for thousands of years.  It is an ideal home remedy. It doesn't need or want light or soil to grow. It doesn't need to be refrigerated. All it needs is a clean environment, air, tea and sugar. 

There have been studies done on Kombucha tea, mostly in Russia and Germany. For some reason there have been no official human studies reported in any major medical journals. Therefor many would conclude that there is no direct evidence to support the health claims for drinking Kombucha tea. I would have to point out that there is not a lot of money to be made by any major drug companies; "What? A tea that can cure digestive disorders, cancer, depressed immune systems, what?" What have doctors, hospitals and drug companies got to gain?) (OK, I have trust issues when it comes to big companies, the FDA etc. and am married to a conspiracy theorist) With the exception of companies who are brewing and selling kombucha tea or the mother cultures, there is not much money to be made.

  Here is the recipe I've been following for brewing a batch of tea if you have a baby scobe or mother already: 
3QT filtered water
1 cup sugar 
2 tea bags black or green
2 cups starter solution from previous batch if you have it

Bring water to a full boil in a non aluminum pan. If your water is not filtered boil for a few minutes to get rid of some impurities. Add sugar and stir, continue to boil for a few more minutes. Sugar should be completely dissolved. Turn off heat and add tea bags. Brew until room temperature. Pour into a glass jar or crock. Cover with a paper towel or flour sack cloth and secure with rubber band or yarn. Place in a draft free, no direct light, out of the way sort of place and leave sit for at least ten days to two weeks. 

After the brew time is complete with clean hands remove the scobe to a clean surface pour out all but two cups of the remaining tea into a clean glass jar. Inspect your scobe, does it have babies hanging off it? Does it look healthy? If you can't tell or are afraid to drink the resulting brew, get online and look up pictures of healthy mothers to reassure yourself. Taste the brew. It is better once it is chilled and carbonated. Put a lid on the jar and you can place it directly into your fridge or back on the counter to get some fizz. 
Extra notes, warnings etc.:
  1. Sugar, initially I read that it should be white, that is all I've used but may venture into other sweeteners 
  2. Tea, I go back and forth between black and green. I've heard contradictory notions on why each is better than the other. Tea should be preferrably organic as tea has lots of pesticide residue etc.
  3. Once you've brewed a batch you'll have starter solution which helps each batch get off to a good start. Initially I believe you can use a few Tb of vinegar. 
  4. Always wash your hands, containers and anything coming into contact with the scobe or tea. I've never actually sanitized measuring cups or pots, but I do use hot soapy water and that has worked for me. 
  5. Make sure your cloth over the top can keep out dust and doesn't sag down onto the mother, I initially used a nut sack for straining almond pulp from almond milk. I think the mesh might have let fine particulates in, I now more densely woven flour sacks. Don't put a lid on the top, it needs air. 
  6. There have been reports that brewing in ceramic glazed crocks can be a source of lead or other poisoning from the minerals in the glaze leaching into your tea. Don't use plastic or aluminum. You don't need to be brewing BPA into your health tonic!!!
Ok, so you don't have a kombucha scobe and are looking at buying a culture online, well you can but I don't know if they are any better than one you can start yourself if your local supermarket sells kombucha tea. Make sure your bottle of Kombucha tea is unpasteurized and raw etc., I don't know if they sell tea that isn't but I wouldn't be surprised. So here is what you do once you've got some kombucha tea, it doesn't matter if it has juice added:
  1. Pour a cup of kombucha tea into a clean pint glass and cover with a paper towel or cloth and secure with a rubber band. 
  2. Let sit at room temperature for ten days to a week and check on it. It should have developed a baby scobe on the surface. If it is transluscent, leave it for a few more days. 
  3. Once nicely developed, brew a batch of tea according to the above instructions and once cool, dump your baby and all the starter brew into your clean jar or crock containing the room temperature tea. Secure the top with cloth etc.and leave in a safe room temperature location for ten days to two weeks or longer.
Side notes:  You could make a half a batch of tea for your baby starter as opposed to the entire batch, it might take over faster, but I don't know if it makes much difference. Also, I've heard of adding tea and sugar to you original drink for an added boost, and I think I did that once but can't remember if it did better or not.

 
SCOBY is what many call this mushroom like pancake that grows on the surface of kombucha tea. SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It is scientifically classified as a Zoogleal Mat. Others call it the mother as it grows, multiplies and divides during each brewing cycle. In the photo above I had taken a couple baby scobies from a brewed batch of Kombucha and put it in a fresh crock of tea. This photo was probably a five days to a week along, you can see two babies, one on the bottom and one on the top. The one that surfaced is growing a scoby the size of the crock diameter. Within another week it will look like the picture below, solid. The baby probably stayed on the bottom of the new scoby and I most likely pulled it off and discarded it. I usually just feed the extras to the chickens, but they are supposedly super healthy if you can bring yourself to eat them.

The scoby above is a fresh young healthy looking specimen. The scoby below is also fine and normal but is older. I've had them grow up to three inches thick at times when I wasn't tending them regularly. Generally I don't let them get much thicker than the one pictured below. Depending on how the mother looks, sometimes I'll discard the top layer and keep the newer growth on the bottom.

 



Above is the finished product jarred, and ready to sit at room temperature for a few days to carbonate before heading into the fridge. Below is a picture of a mother that has divided on it's own.


So you have gone through all this work and don't enjoy your healthful tonic, well never fear there some extra measures to take. Well, first of all play around with brew time, carbonation time. Shorter durations of brew time make for a milder flavored beverage are most likely less effective. Chilled kombucha fresh out of the fridge is best. Also, you aren't suppose to be drinking a pint of the stuff. I started out drinking an ounce or two, now I usually drink a four ounce glass at a time. I started reading labels of all the kombucha drinks at the store. They usually contain tea, kombucha cultures and fruit juice. So you can try adding different juices to your finished product, or jam, (whisk and strain), or as I've been doing add berry, fruit or herbal syrups. The combinations are endless.

This is one of my most recent batches of kombucha tea ready to sit and ripen for a couple days. I've been experimenting by adding homemade raspberry and blueberry syrup along with fresh ground ginger root to the brewed kombucha. Once I have all of the kombucha in jars and the scobies are in a fresh batch of tea, I pour about a quarter to a third of a cup of berry syrup into the tea, grate a teaspoon of fresh ginger and drop in and shake. I open the jars each day and taste them to see if they are carbonated to my liking. When they are I put them in the fridge which slows down the carbonation and fermentation. I am going to start filtering out the ginger root, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. If you leave your jars sit out for too long without checking on them they could technically explode from the gas build up. They will also start growing a new mother and you'll get all kinds of phlemmy like chunkies in your tea, mmm.



Final thoughts: for best results drink on a light or empty stomach. I have gotten to the point where I've started craving kombucha tea if I don't have any for a while. Seriously, the next time you feel a sore throat coming on start gargling with and drinking kombucha. I find that a two week brew time is just right for my tastes. Depending on your room temperature and tastes that may change. Once you are brewing, there are all kinds of other things you can do with kombucha tea, including making your own vinegar (just let it keep sitting), feeding it to your pets, putting it into smoothies and I've even heard of bathing your skin or wounds in it for skin health and speedy healing. (I wouldn't recommend putting a fresh serious wound into it). Finally, if you've never researched Kombucha before and you are now thinking of brewing some, I'd recommend that you do some more research, can't have enough knowledge before embarking on a new and exciting adventure. I'd be interested in hearing about other uses for kombucha tea, other recipes and your stories whether successful or not. Happy Brewing folks.

13 comments:

Farmgirl said...

I am enjoying your blog. We too have made our own kombucha. We rebottle it in smaller glass bottles that we have saved from other beverages. Makes it more convenient to grab a small bottle and go.

Emily said...

Hey Farmgirl, I've just started doing that as well. I don't know what it is about bottling and packaging, but it seems to elevate the beverage and making it seem more special when I'm drinking out of a nice bottle.

Jamie @ Woodside Gardens said...

Thanks for this very timely post!

Josée said...

Hello,
I love your blog, I learn many things. I also have some goats and chickens, I preserve my vegetables and I make my comets and soap too. My goal is to become self-sufficient as possible.
I will return often to read
Sorry for the mistakes but my English is not very good ...
Josée

Steve & Paula said...

We are Kombucha "addicts" around here to.
Love the stuff.
We rebottle for the secondary ferment, in ez cap bottles.
Favorite flavor is peach.
But we do cherry, blueberry, ginger and strawberry as well.

Emily said...

Josee, glad you found me, looking forward to hearing more from you - sounds like we are on similar paths.

Steve and Paula, peach sounds great! Do you sweeten your kombucha with juice or syrup?

Steve & Paula said...

We do not sweeten it at all.
Just a teaspoon of friut for flavor is all it needs.
And we avoid juice, as its just pure fructose and very hard on the liver.
:o)

Kimberly said...

Thanks for your honesty with the Kombucha, I am new at making my own, have made one batch already and my next batch should be ready tomorrow or this weekend. How do you grow more Kombucha scoby's and are they mothers or babies? I want to give one away to a friend. Thanks!

Emily said...

Kimberly, over time your kombucha mother will grow in thickness and eventually separate into two. You can give this to a friend. You can also pour some of your tea into a jar and leave at room temperature until a new scoby begins to grow. I believe I cover this process in the post.

Jen said...

Do u think I could use the scoby from my ac vinegar to make this drink? Thanks :)

Emily said...

Jen, what is ac vinegar? If it was started with a kombucha scoby, then probably. Just skim the scoby off the surface and put it in some sweet tea with some of the vinegar. If it is some sort of other vinegar with no kombucha in it, then no.

Anonymous said...

I want to make a gingerberry just like Synergy...How do you make the berry syrup or whatever you add to the tea? thanks

Emily said...

http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/fresh-berry-syrup.aspx

I usually use less sugar. Maybe a cup, maybe a half cup. This year I didn't make any syrups, but I need to. Lately I've been grating ginger and squeezing fresh lemon juice into each bottle. If you don't like the ginger let it sit with the kombucha for a couple days and then strain it out and bottle it. If you do make the syrups, play around with quantity, I find that a couple teaspoons and up to a tablespoon is about right for my taste, per sixteen ounce bottle. I've made some changes to my old practices to get the kombucha more carbonated. I've been changing the kombucha brew every seven to ten days, then bottling the kombucha in old beer bottles with the rubber/porcelain tops - I can't remember what they are called. but they work really well. I leave them sit at room temperature for a week and then into the fridge. They are milder, just a bit sour, lightly sweet and very fizzy this way.