Many of you may have seen Kombucha in the grocery store. Some of you may have even been brave enough to try it. But I don’t know if any of you realize just how easy it is to make.
First though, what is Kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened tea. The first recorded use of a fermented tea comes from China circa 221 BC, during the Tsin Dynasty. Then, it was simply called “The Tea of Immortality.” When you find out all the possible uses and health benefits of this drink, you’ll understand why it earned that name. The name Kombucha is said to have first been used in Japan around 415 AD. However, it has been used all over the world. It was actually extremely popular in Russia up until the Second World War, when there was a sugar shortage and people could no longer brew it. This may be why it never really gained much popularity in the West. Well, that and the tea we have gotten, historically, here in America is the worst quality that shipped out of China. China kept the best, then each country that it ships to kept the next best quality, until finally it makes it here to the USA, where we got the stuff that’s left over. Then it was so heavily taxed, no wonder the Boston Tea Party happened!
So why has Kombucha become popular in recent years? Not only is it tasty, but it is also amazingly healthy. Kombucha is beneficial for your whole body in a number of indirect ways. However there are four things that Kombucha is really known for.
Our livers naturally create an acid that binds to toxins and helps flush them out. This acid is glucuronic acid. When a healthy lifestyle and diet are followed, our bodies naturally produce enough glucuronic acid to keep us detoxified and healthy. However, in modern times, this lifestyle is impossible to keep up, if only due to the amount of environmental toxin exposure we face daily. Kombucha contains many organic acids, but the main one is glucuronic acid. When this acid comes in contact with toxins in the body, they cannot escape their fate. They are flushed out via the kidney. This helps a number of health conditions, including allergies. Glucuronic acid has also been studied as a cancer preventative, and possible cure. There are a number of testimonials out there where people have claimed to have cured their cancers by drinking Kombucha daily, in combination with changing their diet to 100% organic, vegan, and 80% raw/fermented. I do not have any personal experience with this, but there are studies out there and it might be worth a little research.
One of the side benefits that come from the glucuronic acid is that a by-product is the creation of glucosamine. Glucosamine is typically found in healthy cartilage, typically in the fluid surrounding the joints. When the joint begins to degenerate, glucosamine can actually halt the rate of degeneration and, in a few cases, even reverse the degeneration. This happens because it increases the rate of the production of synovial hyaluronic acid in the body. This acid helps to preserve the lubrication of the joints, and even helps other parts of the body, including connective tissues, to maintain moisture levels which help with natural lubrication and flexibility. Which all works together to make Kombucha a great drink for athletes and arthritic patients.
Glucuronic acid is not the only organic acid present in Kombucha. Lactic acid, acetic acid, usnic acid, oxalic acid, malic acid, gluconic acid, and butyric acid are all present as well as a great number of probiotics, enzymes, and antioxidants. All of this means that Kombucha is a powerhouse of health for digestion. Each acid listed has a slightly different function, but they all work together to prevent an overgrowth of candida (the yeast that lives in your body and can cause health issues if allowed to produce out of control), fight off harmful bacteria, improve the health of helpful bacteria, strengthen the lining of the stomach (thus preventing ulcers and leaky gut), prevent constipation and bowel decay, and detoxify the liver. With the recent studies connecting gut health and brain function, all of this can also lead to improved mental clarity and mood stability. This all also helps to reduce inflammation in the whole body, which can help to reduce the symptoms of autoimmune conditions as well as fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue.
Improving Immune Function
Kombucha is extremely high in antioxidants which help to fight free radicals. Kombucha is made from tea (Camellia sinesis) which is jam packed full of antioxidants already. But during the brewing process there is a very significant antioxidant which is created. (DSL) has been studied in relation to a number of health issues. It has been found to be one of the more powerful antioxidants in its fight against free radicals, it has also been found to significantly reduce the rate of cell degeneration and death, and lessen the tissue damage incurred in diabetic patients. DSL in conjunction with high amounts of vitamin C are suspected to be the main cause for the improvement of immune function in people who drink Kombucha regularly.
There are a few cautions that come with Kombucha. As with all things in life, please consume in moderation. It’s good to start with about 8oz a day and work your way up to a greater number over time. A small number of people have reported stomach upset, allergic reaction, and infections. Consuming an excess (which admittedly takes a lot) can cause problems for people with existing digestive issues related to high acidity, due to the high amounts of acid present. People with compromised immune systems should use extreme caution with Kombucha as it is full of helpful bacteria and yeast which could cause infections in those with weak immune systems. Kombucha does contain a trace amount of alcohol and caffeine, so pregnant women should use caution in drinking it. People who cannot tolerate even small amounts of caffeine, sugar, and/or alcohol should not consume Kombucha as all three are present. Kombucha is perfectly safe for minors because the alcohol content is so low, but if you are worried about your child having alcohol, please know that it is present in homebrewed Kombucha. Keep in mind that the number of people who have these issues is a small percentage of the population, and most people consume Kombucha regularly without any detrimental effects.
How to Make Kombucha
First off, let’s talk about the SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. This is what is responsible for fermenting your Kombucha. Some people refer to the SCOBY as the “mother” or the “mushroom.” I think SCOBY is fun to say, so that’s the term I use. So where do you get one? Well, you can purchase one from a variety of places online, a simple search at Etsy.com will bring up quite a few in fact. You might be lucky enough to have a friend who makes Kombucha and is willing (as most of us are because they reproduce like mad) to give you one. But you can also just go to the grocery store, find an organic, raw Kombucha, preferably one that is a little cloudy or looks like it has stuff floating in it. Bring it home and sit it on our counter for a few days (in Florida it may take less than a week, but other, cooler climates may take up to a month). Eventually there will be a light colored film over the top of the Kombucha, this is a baby SCOBY. Continue to let it sit and your SCOBY will develop into a light colored mass about ¼ inch thick. Now in 2010 there was a Kombucha recall at most stores, these brands reformulated their Kombucha to no longer contain alcohol (the recall was based on the “high” alcohol content of Kombucha, which contains about the same amount of alcohol as most non-alcoholic beer). They will not grow a healthy SCOBY very successfully, and if they do, the SCOBY does not reproduce as healthy of babies.
So, on to the Kombucha itself.
Basic Kombucha Tea
1 cup organic sugar (yes, you have to use sugar), if your vessel is over a gallon, you may have to increase this number
4-6 bags of tea (or 4-6 teaspoons of loose leaf), if your vessel is over a gallon, you may have to increase this number
1-2 cups starter liquid (this can be the rest of the store bought Kombucha, or just retain some from a previous batch of unflavored Kombucha), if your vessel is over a gallon, you may have to increase this number
Purified/well filtered water, enough to fill your vessel
Tea kettle or pot
1 brewing vessel (I use gallon mason jars, or reused pickle jars. Just DON’T use metal)
A cloth cover (choose something with a tighter weave than cheesecloth in order to keep the fruit flies out) or paper towel
A rubber band
Boil 4 cups of water and add tea bags and sugar. Let steep for 10-20 minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger the tea. Pour the tea into your vessel and fill the vessel with cold water, leaving about 1 inch of space at the top of your vessel. If the tea is body temperature you can continue, otherwise wait for the tea to cool to body temperature (you can use it when it’s colder, but the Kombucha will take longer to brew). When the tea is the appropriate temperature, add the SCOBY and starter liquid. Cover with cloth or paper towel, secure with a rubber band. Now you wait.
In Central Florida, it takes about 3-5 days to brew. In colder climates it will take longer. But ultimately you decide when the brew is finished. After 3 days, simply stick a straw (not metal) into the liquid (between the SCOBY and the edge of the jar, the SCOBY is tough so you would have a hard time puncturing it) and taste it. If you think it’s too sweet, let it sit longer. The longer it brews, the more like apple cider vinegar it will taste. I like mine on the sweeter side so I usually consider it done in 3 days. If your Kombucha tastes like straight vinegar this means that the brew has continued on too long. But don’t fear, you can still use it as a cleaning liquid, or in any way you would use apple cider vinegar. Don’t worry if it’s bubbling. The process of fermentation causes a natural carbonation to occur, bubbles mean that the SCOBY is happily brewing away!
What kinds of tea can I use?
Kombucha is traditionally made using black tea, but as long as you are using tea leaves from Camellia sinesis (tea tree) you can play with the tea a bit. These teas include green tea, white tea, red tea, and oolong. Herbal teas might make a single batch of Kombucha, but most of them are highly antibiotic and can kill the SCOBY after one use (this is also why you have to use sugar and not honey). If I want to make Kombucha with herbal tea, I add it in as a flavoring agent.
Flavoring your Kombucha
There are two main ways to flavor Kombucha. One is to add your flavoring agent (berries, herbs, etc) to your tea while you are boiling/steeping it. The second is to add your flavoring agent to the Kombucha once it is done, and let it undergo a second process, one of infusing the flavor. This one adds a few extra days to your brewing time. I use both methods depending on my flavor. I prefer to use the first method with fruit and the second method with herbs. Both methods are fun and experimentation is highly encouraged.
A word of caution about using strawberries
Strawberries are delicious and strawberry Kombucha is one of my favorite flavors. However, strawberries cause a highly explosive amount of carbonation (kind of like shaking up a bottle of soda then trying to open it). So much so that many people have had to clean their ceilings in the process of brewing strawberry Kombucha. This effect seems to be tempered by the use of frozen strawberries, or when strawberries are mixed in with other fruits. My favorite flavor is a mixed berry one that uses frozen strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. I have yet (crossing my fingers here) to have an explosive reaction with this mixture.
Back to the SCOBY
One of the major cautions when brewing Kombucha at home is keeping an eye on the health of the SCOBY. SCOBYs are great reproducers as long as they are healthy. Each batch of Kombucha will yield a new baby SCOBY. You can keep it attached to the mother (the bottom one) or peel it off to start a different batch. You can also compost your old SCOBY. There are actually tons of uses for SCOBYs that you can find online, including SCOBY leather and SCOBY jerky. I have not been brave enough to try the SCOBY jerky myself, but I’ve heard it’s tasty. If the SCOBY is black, it’s dead and will not brew any more, please compost it. If the SCOBY has white and/or green mold on the top, it has been contaminated and the Kombucha it is in can be poisonous. Throw away both the SCOBY and Kombucha. Contamination happens most often when the SCOBY is kept too close to garbage or other ferments (this is a caution for those of you who do other homebrews such as wine, beer, and/or vinegar). If you refrigerate the SCOBY it won’t die, but it will become dormant. This is a good way to store a SCOBY without creating lots of baby SCOBYs, but your first brew will take a bit longer than usual. You can also kill the SCOBY in excessive heat (this is why it’s important to cool down your tea before adding your SCOBY). Please do not let your SCOBY come into contact with metal, metal can kill it or cause a negative chemical reaction that could contaminate your Kombucha. There are few things I recommend plastic for, but when filtering out Kombucha, I recommend using a plastic strainer to prevent the SCOBY from being in contact with metal.
One of my favorite resources for Kombucha craziness is Kombucha Kamp. There are also Kombucha classes taught regularly at The Florida School of Holistic Living in Orlando. If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below!
Dr. Axe: https://draxe.com/7-reasons-drink-kombucha-everyday/
Food Renegade: http://www.foodrenegade.com/kombucha-health-benefits/
Kombucha Kamp: https://www.kombuchakamp.com/
Nourishing Cook: http://thenourishingcook.com/how-to-make-kombucha-tea/#more-4879
Seeds of Health: http://www.seedsofhealth.co.uk/fermenting/kombucha.shtml