Recipes

All About Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made out of tea and sugar. Sounds like some pretty unhealthy ingredients but the end result is actually brimming with health benefits.

The tea and sugar are fermented with the help of a so called SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). SCOBYs look like some kind of giant mushroom and are therefore also referred to as kombucha mushroom. The bacteria and yeasts in the scoby eat the sugar and tea which creates a sour tasting and carbonated drink that reminds me of cider (mmm)!





In the process the microbes create vitamins and acids that can be very beneficial to health. At the same time the drink is a potent probiotic.

Kombucha’s history stretches back over 2000 years to ancient China and it is also known to have been consumed in Russia and India. It has seen a comeback in the western world in the past few years.

The microbial strains found in kombucha can vary in each batch, depending on the environment and the ingredients. Typically it contains yeasts of the Saccharomyces species that seem to be beneficial to health (the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii is often used as a probiotic to counteract pathogenic yeasts such as Candida).

Brettanomyces is another yeast commonly found in kombucha.

Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis is a yeast only found in kombucha.

The yeasts produce alcohol, carbonation and acetic acid. The two most commonly found bacteria are strains of Acetobacter and Gluconacetobacter kombuchae, which is unique to kombucha. Both produce acetic and gluconic acid. Kombucha also sometimes (but not always) contains Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.

Universally, kombucha will contain acetic and gluconic acid and fructose. The rest depends on the ingredients and brewing method. Apart from that, kombucha may contain many different acid esters, B vitamins, vitamin C, caffeine and alcohol.

Acetic acid has anti-microbial properties and therefore kombucha may help with gut dysbiosis (also by introducing some beneficial strains).

Gluconic acid is said to help with liver detoxification. Anecdotally, kombucha can assist the body’s recovery from different ailments such as digestive problems, allergies and migraines. It may also assist regulation of the intestinal pH, support the liver with detoxification and assist the flow of digestive juices.

In any case, it tastes delicious and is a great healthy substitute for sugary pop.

You can also second ferment kombucha to add flavor.

If you’re new to kombucha you need to go slow and start with drinking small amounts at first. The introduction of probiotics and nutrients can cause so called ‘die-off reactions’, depending on your health status.

The worse your health, the worse the reactions can be. These should ease off after a while though and you should start to see some benefits. If they don’t ease off after a while you might want to stop consuming kombucha.

If you’re severely immune compromised you could be reacting to the alcohol, caffeine or sugar still contained in the drink. In that case you could try longer fermenting times, using rooibos tea (naturally caffeine free) and honey instead of sugar (this is GAPS intro friendly).

As the microbial composition is not always the same, your kombucha may also contain strains that cause a problem for you. This can depend on the composition of your individual gut microbiome. So the trick is to go slow and watch for reactions.

There are two different ways to brew kombucha: the batch brewing method and the continuous brewing method.

For the batch brewing method you ferment the kombucha in a jar, consume it and then start a new batch. For the continuous method the kombucha is fermented in a crock.

Once it’s ready to consume you draw off some of the kombucha and then refill the same amount of fresh tea. The drink will be ready again in as little as a day. I prefer this method as it’s a lot less work.

To start your brew you need a SCOBY and starter liquid. In the UK you can get them here: Large Kombucha Scoby.

You also need to decide on your brewing method. It is recommended to use glass jars covered with cloth. It is not recommended to use any type of metal with the SCOBY. Don’t use a cheese cloth to cover the jar as it can let wild strains of bacteria and yeasts into the brew. For the continuous brew I like this Kilner drink dispenser. For the batch method you need a big jar like this 2 litre glass jar or you could purchase a Basic Kombucha Starter Kit.

The brew needs warmth and good air flow to ferment properly. Throw away any moldy batches and start again.

When handling kombucha always make sure your hands and utensils are clean to avoid contamination.

The most basic way to make kombucha is by using black tea and white or brown cane sugar. However, there are other options depending on your taste.

The most commonly used sugar is good old white cane sugar. Other varieties of cane sugar can also be used. The sugar is food for the bacteria and will be consumed but the microbes before you consume the drink.

Other sweeteners like molasses, maple syrup, coconut sugar and honey may also be used but with very different results and tastes. Stay clear of xylitol and stevia as these will not feed and may even actively kill the microbes.

The following teas are good to use for brewing depending on your preference: all unflavored black teas apart from earl grey, all unflavored green teas, rooibos tea and coffee.

You can learn everything about kombucha at the dedicated blog kombucha kamp. For more sources of kombucha ingredients etc in the UK check out this list on seedsofhealth.co.uk. You also might be able to find someone in your area who is willing to give away free spare scobys at Kefirhood.com, a worldwide culture sharing network.

After you’ve brewed your basic kombucha why not give it different flavors by second fermenting it? Check out my recipes for elderflower kombucha, rhubarb and elderflower kombucha and my absolute favorite raspberry and mint kombucha!

 

All About Kombucha

All About Kombucha

Ingredients

    For the batch method:
  • 1 scoby
  • 200 ml of starter liquid from previous batch (you should receive some when ordering a scoby)
  • 160 grams of cane sugar
  • 3–4 tea bags or 3–4 tsp of loose tea
  • 2 litres of filtered water
  • For the continuous brewing method:
  • 1 scoby
  • 200 ml of starter liquid from previous batch
  • 320 grams of cane sugar
  • 12 tea bags or 12 tsp of loose tea
  • 4 litres of filtered water

Instructions

    For the batch method:
  1. In a pan, bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the tea and the sugar. Stir thoroughly and let steep for 30 mins. Let the tea cool (heat will destroy your culture).
  2. Pour the cool tea into the glass jar and add the starter liquid
  3. With clean hands put your scoby into the jar. It may sink or float.
  4. Cover the jar with a kitchen towel and secure with a rubber band
  5. Leave the jar in a warm, airy spot (not in a cupboard) and out of direct sunlight
  6. Leave for 5–15 days. You can start checking after 5 days. You want a sweet and sour and carbon-ated drink. The tea will get lighter in colour and a new scoby will form on top of the tea
  7. When your kombucha is ready you reserve a scoby and some tea in a bowl and strain the rest of the liquid into glass bottles ready to consume. You can now clean your jar and start your next batch.
  8. For the continuous brewing method:
  9. In a pan, bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the tea and the sugar. Stir thoroughly and let steep for 30 mins. Let the tea cool (heat will destroy your culture).
  10. Pour the cool tea and the starter liquid into the crock and lift the scoby in
  11. Cover with a kitchen towel and secure with a rubber band
  12. Choose a warm but airy spot out of direct sunlight where you can keep your crock
  13. Leave to ferment 7–15 days. You can taste test after 7 days. You want the kombucha to be bubbly and sour but still sweet
  14. Once your kombucha is fermented to your liking you can draw off as much as you want to consume (but always leaving at least a pint)
  15. Then brew as much tea as you drew off, let cool and pour on top of the scoby
  16. The brew will be ready again after about a day (longer if you added a lot of new tea)
  17. Clean out the crock every 6 months, always reserving enough to start a new batch
  18. Occasionally take out extra scobys. You only need to keep one to keep the brew going.

Sources:

  • http://www.happyherbalist.com/analysis_of_kombucha.htm
  • http://www.culturesforhealth.com/kombucha-yeast-bacteria
  • https://www.kombuchakamp.com
  • http://www.culturedfoodlife.com

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