Aaah, Kombucha! The darling of the health food & fermentation world. Kombucha is a fermented, probiotic beverage. It’s made by adding a specific beneficial bacteria to sugared tea and allowing it to ferment on your kitchen counter, at room temperature. The otherworldly organism used is commonly referred to as a SCOBY, which stands for a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY is a thick, slimy disc made of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, knitted together into a cellulose zoogleal mat, similar to a vinegar “mother”. It is often referred to as a mushroom, but it really isn’t.
The Kombucha SCOBY contains many various beneficial bacteria and yeasts. The bacteria involved usually includes glucan acetobacter xylinus and acetobacter. The yeasts include saccharomyces cerevisiae, brettanomyces bruxellensis, candida stellata, schizo saccharomyces pombe and zygosaccharomyces bailii. These all work harmoniously to improve your digestive health.
The exact origin of Kombucha is unknown. It’s believed to have been cultivated for over 2000 years, and goes by many different names worldwide. It became known in Eastern Russia as early as 1900, and entered Europe from there. It was first mentioned in German literature in 1913. Kombucha hit mainstream culture in the 1990’s, when it began to be sold commercially.
While commercially produced Kombucha is convenient, it’s not quite as beneficial as homemade. Store-bought Kombucha is generally pasteurized to lengthen shelf life, which kills much of the good bacteria. It also usually has other sugars and additives added. Making your own not only saves you money, but is fresher, has a higher bacterial content, and allows you to control what goes into it.
The nutrients in Kombucha are many, and include enzymes, amino acids, polyphenols, gluconic acid, glycerol, lactic acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, and antioxidants. The benefits include, but aren’t limited to, improved digestion, metabolism, and energy, as well as immune system support and detoxification.
All of this works to improve your gut health, by populating your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria and yeasts. When first beginning to drink Kombucha, you should ease into it. It can initially have a bit of a diuretic effect, as all the good bacteria begin to evict the bad stuff. But let’s face it- many of us could use a good cleaning out! Start slowly, with a small amount each day, until your body is able to tolerate it well. Before you know it, you’ll be craving that bubbly elixir. Your gut will let you know!
The process for making Kombucha is fairly simple. All you need is a SCOBY starter culture, a little bit of finished Kombucha, tea, sugar, and water. Dissolve the sugar into steeped tea. When cooled, add the SCOBY and some finished Kombucha. Cover with a coffee filter, paper towel or cloth, and secure with a rubber band. This allows your brew to breathe. Put in a warm place (70-80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal), out of direct sunlight, where it won’t be disturbed. Usually your kitchen counter is fine. If your house tends to run cooler, think about finding a warmer “microclimate”- on your refrigerator or near an electrical appliance, or wrap a towel around the jar to insulate it. A glass container is ideal for culturing. Never use metal when working with Kombucha. It doesn’t play nicely with your SCOBY. Allow this concoction to ferment until it tastes to your liking. Length of time depends on the size of your container, temperature, and how strong you like your brew. It will ferment quicker with higher temperatures, and will become stronger (more tart) with longer fermentation. A quart-sized jar will take about a week, and a gallon sized jar 3-4 weeks. Taste it as you go- it’s finished when it no longer tastes like sweet tea, and when the flavor is right for you. Longer fermentation time reduces the sugar content, as the process converts the sugar to glucuronic acid. Kombucha does contain a trace amount of alcohol, usually .5- 1%. Not enough to be concerned about, but those with allergies or intolerance to alcohol should be aware of this.
Choose your ingredients carefully. The water you use should be non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated, and chemical-free. High mineral content is not necessary, as it is with Water Kefir. In fact, too many minerals can interfere with your SCOBY. Filtered water is fine, or you can also remove any chemicals by “off-gassing”. To “off gas” your tap water, fill a container with water and cover lightly with a breathable cover, then allow it to sit for 24 hours. The chemicals in the water will be removed through evaporation.
Black tea is the best for Kombucha. Green tea works and creates a lighter-flavored product, but the SCOBY does like black tea best. You want to use a true tea leaf, not an herbal, flavored, or decaffeinated tea. Flavored teas often use oils for flavoring and the decaffeination process usually involves the use of chemicals. You can, however, experiment with using various teas once you have a backstock of extra SCOBYs. Opt for organic tea to avoid any unwanted chemicals or additives.
Regular sugar works best when making your brew. We use evaporated cane sugar. It’s a minimally processed form of white sugar. As with your tea, organic is always best. Honey, agave, stevia or artificial sweeteners are not recommended, but you can experiment with alternative sugars once you have extra SCOBYs to spare.
Once your Kombucha is ready, you may notice that you now have two SCOBYs! Did we mention that you get a new baby with each fermentation? You can potentially keep making Kombucha indefinitely- how awesome is that? It’s a good idea to keep the newest starter, or baby (usually the one on top) for your next batch. This will be the freshest culture. Extra SCOBYs can be shared with friends, used for experimentation, or saved as backup. Be careful not to become a hoarder, though. We know a few people (not mentioning any names) that have one or more jars of SCOBY “hotels” hiding in their refrigerators. Read on for other ideas about using extras.
Start your next batch following the same process. Be sure to reserve some finished Kombucha to include with your sugared tea and SCOBY. This is an important element that creates the proper environment needed and helps ensure success.
The finished Kombucha can be enjoyed as is, added to juice or tea, or flavored using a second fermentation. To do a second fermentation: add fruit (almost any kind- preferably organic, washed, and cut into pieces, if necessary), or juice to the Kombucha. Cover with an airtight lid this time. A canning lid and ring are fine, if using a canning jar. Place on the counter at room temperature for another day or two. The addition of fruit or juice (sugar) starts the fermentation process again, creating carbon dioxide gases and infusing your brew with flavor. With an airtight lid, the gases can’t escape. They build up and create natural carbonation. Use caution, though. Monitor your container. Watch for any buckling of the lid, and don’t leave it sitting for too long. The contents can sometimes build up too much pressure and become slightly explosive. Don’t let this scare you off from experimentation, though. Just make sure you use a sturdy container, choose your location strategically (for easier cleanup), and drape a towel over the top for semi-containment. If you do see buckling of the lid, unscrew the lid a bit to release some pressure. When the second fermentation is finished (one or two days is usually sufficient), strain out fruit (optional) and refrigerate to stop the process. It will keep for a very long time refrigerated. Add the used fruit to a smoothie or other recipe.
If, during the process, you ever encounter mold, throw it out and start again. The incidence of this is very rare, and usually is caused by failure to follow the directions properly. Ingredients chosen, ratio of ingredients, and culturing temperature are very important.
If you find that you need to take a break from production, place your SCOBY in some fresh sugared tea, cover with a solid lid, and put it in the refrigerator. This will slow down the fermentation process and put your baby to “sleep” until you’re ready to start again. Remember that this is a live organism and will eventually need to be fed, so don’t neglect for too long. This being said, these cultures are usually pretty resilient and tend to bounce back from all kinds of abuse. It may take a batch or two before the flavor is right, as the SCOBY has to wake back up and get going again.
Besides drinking, liquid Kombucha can also be used in dressings, marinades, or anywhere you would use vinegar. Both liquid and SCOBY can used to supplement your pet’s diet. Add it to their feed to boost their probiotic intake. Pets can have digestive issues too, and chickens go nuts for SCOBYs! We make a delicious SCOBY candy, and folks are even drying it to make a leather substitute. This is another great chance to use your imagination with experimentation!
If you haven’t tried this gut-healing, system-regulating Superfood yet, it’s time. See what all the fuss is about:)