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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kombucha for Beginners

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Kombucha. Yes, it's a strange word. The name alone has turned some people I know off to drinking it. For others, it's the stringy goop floating around in the bottle. I didn't even know what kombucha was until I was about 17, and even though I was a "real-foodie" then- it still sounded and tasted strange. However, my taste buds quickly got acclimated to the fizzy-fermented flavor, and it soon became my favorite beverage. Brewing kombucha is fun for the whole family, and you get an end product that is chock full of health benefits.

So, what is kombucha?

Kombucha is a naturally effervescent, fermented tea made with a scoby (the culture), green tea, and sugar. Despite it seeming like a new health food fad, kombucha has been around for centuries! We don't know the exact time and place kombucha came about, but it is thought that it originated in Asia in 212 BC. We know that kombucha was brought to Russia in 1910, and spread to other countries from there. Families have been brewing it in their homes since the 1950s. Starter cultures like kombucha scobies and kefir grains are extremely mysterious because you need a culture to make more cultures. So where did the original culture come from? Many people in Russia, where kefir is a wildly popular drink, say that the grains were a gift from God; because we still haven't figure out how or where they originated. It's a bit like the chicken or the egg question. 

As early as we have evidence of it's existence, we can tell that it was revered as a health tonic. Our ancestors knew this before they were able to look at the substance under a microscope, and before they new exactly how our bodies function. We now know that kombucha is chock full of enzymes and probiotics- making it a super elixir for our digestive tract. Because we live in the year 2014, most of us have taken an antibiotic at some point in our life. Antibiotics are great, and I'm not quite sure I'd be here if it weren't for them. However, I'm sure you're aware that they are often overused. We have over 400 different types of bacteria residing in our guts alone, and they amount to billions. When we take an antibiotic, it not only kills off the bacteria that is causing us to be ill- it also kills off our good flora. The flora in our gut, and entire body, make up a large portion of our immune system. They are responsible for many functions, and one of those is to fight off "bad" bacteria that enters our body. So, when we've taken an antibiotic, our immune system has been greatly compromised. And not only do antibiotics kill off our good flora, so do environmental toxins. So, whether you've taken antibiotics or not, your beneficial flora is something you should be concerned about. There is an immense amount of research going on about how this affects us (both physically and psychologically), and how we can recover. While there is no clear answer or proof that we can ever fully recover those bacterias, we know that fermented foods can help.

The beneficial bacteria found in kombucha, yogurt, kefir, and fermented food can actually inhabit our digestive tract and help fight off the bad bacteria. Having lots of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract also helps to regulate digestion and bowel movements- since lack of can often cause constipation and digestive issues. Kombucha also offers digestive enzymes that promote healthy digestion. Enzymes help us to properly break down food so that they can be fully digested and utilized. For more about the benefits, read this article

Essentially, kombucha works like this: Over the course of 7+ days, the scoby (culture) consumes the sugar from the tea, and converts it into probiotics. What you get is a virtually sugar-less, tart, tangy, fizzy, soda-like beverage. You can add fruits and spices to it, or whatever you desire. It's versatile, and real treat! Kombucha is a functional food that is both delicious and incredibly nutritious and healing. 


How to make it

First things first, you've got to get yourself a starter culture. There are multiple ways to do this, and all are fairly simple. 

1. Get one from a friend. 

If you have a friend that brews their own kombucha, I'm sure they would be happy to give you a "layer". Each time you brew kombucha, it forms a new layer on top. They can be easily peeled off and given to a friend to start their own. 

2. Grow your own from a bottle of kombucha.

If you're not sure what kombucha looks like, you can ask someone when you visit a health food store next. Most health food stores offer an array of brands and flavors. If you're using this method, I recommend GT's Original. You don't want to start your kombucha with fruits and herbs. 

3. Buy a freeze-dried scoby. 

There are several different places to buy one of these online, but I recommend using this one. Cultures for Health is a very high quality and reputable company. They also offer a lot of support and information for all of your fermenting needs. 



What you need

1. If using a dehydrated scoby, follow the instructions that came with it to "rehydrate" it. If you are using a culture from a bottle you bought, only make half of this recipe (1/2 cup of sugar, and 3-4 bags of tea), and add the entire bottle of kombucha to the tea- instead of a scoby. If you are using a scoby that a friend gave to you, simple add it to the tea once it's cooled.

2. Bring water to a boil. Add tea bags. Turn heat off. Steep for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags.

3. Add sugar, and stir well. Let tea cool completely before adding it to one gallon jar with kombucha.

4. Once you've added the tea and kombucha to the jar, cover the top with cloth or a dish towel. Use a rubber-band or string to secure the fabric on top of the jar. 

5. Leave to ferment in a well lit area that gets sunlight. Allow the tea to ferment for 7-30 days, or until the taste is to your liking. The longer you let it brew, the more sugar that will have been consumed, and the more "sour" it will be. You can dip a straw in it as frequently as you wish to taste it, to see how much of the sugar has been consumed. I like to leave mine to ferment until there is little to no sugar left, and it is quite tart- usually 10-12 days.

6. Once the tea has finished fermenting, you can either pour it in a large pitcher and refrigerate, or do a second fermentation. Whichever you choose to do, be sure to reserve one cup of the tea to start your next batch with.

7. For a second fermentation, simply pour the kombucha into hermetic bottles or empty glass bottles with lids. You can get creative and add fruits and herbs at this point. After you've added your chosen flavors, seal the bottle and leave out at room temperature for an additional 2 days. After 2 days, add them to the refrigerator. Leaving them at room temperature for two days allow the beverage to keep fermenting, and for the culture to consume sugar from the fruits you've added. How sweet the fruit you've added is will determine how fizzy your end product is.

  Some flavor ideas:

  • lemon ginger: 2 teaspoons of minced ginger, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • minty pineapple- 1/8 cup of chopped pineapple, 5 fresh mint leaves
  • strawberry lemonade: 2 strawberries (finely chopped), 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • grapefruit ginger: 1 slice of grapefruit (finely chopped), 2 teaspoons of minced ginger

Enjoy! 



6 comments:

  1. Awesome! I really enjoyed the pineapple kombucha, and I plan on making some of our own very soon. You've inspired me to do so. :)

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    1. Lovely photo, by the way.

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  2. Replies
    1. Good question! lol. I can't believe I left that out. For every 1 gallon you use 6-8 tea bags, and 1 cup of sugar.

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  3. Your flavor ideas, is that per bottle? or for the total amount of liquid taken out?

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  4. How long does the kombucha last in the fridge after you've let it ferment? Thanks for sharing this!

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All recipes are original creations by Tyler Peacock (The Primitive Homemaker), unless otherwise noted. If you wish to use a recipe on your own recipe or blog, please provide your readers with the link to my original recipe.