Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Making Kombucha at Home is Easy

starting another batch w/ starter on the right
About 15 years ago my mom-in-law started drinking this concoction made with this juice from a mushroom. Yuck! Now I've discovered kombucha and when I asked her if it was the same thing, she said, "yes".

First you need to understand that I consider my mom-in-law a hippie. She's actually my ex mom-in-law, but as my ex sis-in-law says,  "You divorced my brother, not me." Anyway, Tina is mom-in-law and she really has been sort of out there, hippyish for most people. Is it even OK to call people Hippies in 2012? I guess today you would say she's into a healthy, natural lifestyle.  She's successfully battled cancer using alternative medicine along with regular medical techniques. She's a vivacious free spirit who has WAY more energy than I do and she's 20 years older than me! I cannot keep up with this woman.

Years ago she starts making this mushroom tea stuff that is supposed to be really good for you. All I needed to hear was the word "mushroom" because I hate mushrooms. And all I needed to see was this glass jar filled with tea and this nasty looking mushroom floating around in it. I ignored it all as some disgusting hippie experiment.



SCOBY floating in the left tea
Fifteen years later and I'm hearing Kombucha left, right, and everywhere. Curiosity gets me and so I grab a bottle of an elderflower flavored kombucha soda at the Co-op to give it a try. I've recently fallen in love with elderflower and so it was a winner right off the bat. But it also had a curious tang to it. I read the label and it went on about some of the digestive health benefits of kombucha. 

I break out my computer and start researching kombucha. First thing I discover is that you can make it at home for pennies and that it is made from a mushroom starter. But as I read on I soon learn that it's not really a mushroom at all, it's just gotten that as a nickname over the years. The real name for it is SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. The bacteria and yeast strains live together in a complex, mutually supportive community, supporting and depending on each other. They create a sort of white, slimy pancake that is the live culture starter to create the kombucha tea. The SCOBY can contain up to seven different beneficial bacteria strains and each SCOBY will vary based on factors such as what tea, water, and sugars were used, temperature, time, etc.

Are there health benefits? Like everything these days, there's a lot of claims but no concrete evidence. You may recall my recent post on drinking vinegar shrubs. Like apple cider vinegar, you can consider kombucha to be a centuries old home remedy. The bacteria are supposed to be the kind that are good for your digestive tract. The glucoronic acid in it is supposed to be a liver detoxifier. Let's just say that if there are health benefits, it's a great bonus, but I'm here just for the beverage.

Also similar to the drinking vinegar shrubs I made last month, kombucha is converting the sugar that is used to make it. Where you start with sugar, tea, water, and SCOBY, you end up with a brewed tea where the sugar has been partially or completely consumed by the yeast and bacteria. Basically, if you wait for it to completely brew you will have a sugar-free beverage! How awesome is that? Something that is tasty, good for you, yet sugar-free!

video


You can even go a step further and take the finished tea and some fruit juice or puree, put it into an airtight bottle, let it ferment some more and Ouila! You have a soda! The fermentation creates carbon dioxide fizz that is sealed into the tea since it can't escape the airtight bottle.  So now I've got a fabulous sugar-free soda!

Like I said, SCOBYs are starters, similar to vinegar mothers, sourdough starters, yogurt starters, etc. You have to keep feeding them to keep them alive. You have divide them up to make new batches as well. SCOBYs get passed amongst family and friends just like you pass on a good sourdough starter. If you are in the Sacramento area and would like a starter, I can give you one. Or anywhere in the world, you can check the exchange for someone in your area who will give you one. That's how I got mine.

The website that I found had the best information, including a video, is CulturesforHealth.com. I'm not going to give a recipe here because you should go to their site, but if you want to know the basics to understand how easy it is, here you go...

You need to get a SCOBY and tea from someone. You will usually get this is a quart canning jar. You brew some green or black tea, let it cool, remove the tea. Add sugar, a piece of SCOBY, and some of the kombucha tea from the SCOBY starter. Cover it with a breathable lid so air can get in and then wait. That's it! Easy! 

graduating to bigger batches

How long you wait is dependent on how you like your kombucha to taste. You can start drinking it after a week, but there will still be a lot of sugar. If you wait for a month, the sugar will be converted, but it will be very strong kombucha. Some people like that vinegary, astringency. I do. Just remember you have to keep some tea and SCOBY to start the next batch. 

I'm thinking of buying some reusable swing-top bottles so I can make some sodas. I did make one with blueberry and lavender and it was delicious and fizzy! 

As with my discovery of drinking vinegars last month, my discovery of kombucha and kombucha sodas has me excited. Since I don't drink alcohol, these additions are wonderful to add as non-alcoholic beverages that I can drink, but also create on my own.


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