Even if you’ve never tried it, undoubtedly you’ve heard the term kombucha, which has gained a lot of popularity in the health food market in recent years. Not to be confused with kabocha, which is a squash, kombucha is a fermented probiotic drink that is among one of the more interesting beverages I’ve ever come across.
Tasting kombucha for the first time is not unlike tasting coffee for the first time. Like coffee, kombucha is an acquired taste, and one that might not resonate on the first try. But with time, it has the potential to become a new addiction. Uniquely sour and rich, the flavor becomes something that you will crave, a beverage that makes you feel clean and just good in general when you drink it. It’s true: In time, you too might be one of the crazy-eyed and clear-skinned health fiends who tout its many benefits and enjoy its unique flavor.
Let’s explore the world of kombucha and its many benefits.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented probiotic drink. Its place of birth is up to some debate: some say it was invented in China, others assign it to Russia.
The beverage is made using tea, sugar, a SCOBY (an acronym for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”; in appearance, a gooey, odd-looking disc), and a starter from a previous batch (though for your first batch, you can start with vinegar).
It’s the magical fusion of the SCOBY and the starter, which “feed” on the tea and sugar to fuel a fermentation process that lasts between about week and a month. During the fermentation process, the beverage becomes naturally lightly carbonated, giving it a fizzy finish in the mouth.
The use of a starter makes kombucha similar in some ways to sourdough bread. While the end products are obviously quite different, both can develop a very complex flavor over time when each batch starts with a little of the previous one.
Kombucha boasts a plethora of health benefits, from increasing metabolism, liver detoxification, cancer prevention, candida prevention, and even a reduction of grey hair. Is it all true?
While it’s not a magical pill, it is a very beneficial beverage to your health. The “good” bacteria in kombucha is responsible for a lot of health-aiding activity. Like the probiotic bacteria in yogurt, it will promote good bacteria in the gut, and overall intestinal health. And when your intestines are functioning properly, you will see all systems working better, including improved digestion, which helps promote healthy metabolism, reduces constipation, increases energy, and helps all of the internal organs work in harmony. The “good” bacteria can assist in fighting bad bacteria, too, which can reduce illness and improve well being.
So yes, kombucha can help aid health in a number of ways. It won’t completely eliminate health ailments, but by improving your overall health, it will make you less prone to disease. It’s wisely summed up thusly: “Kombucha is not a panacea – it doesn’t cure anything!”
While the bacteria in kombucha is good, if you don’t take care in making it, it can easily go bad. Here are some tips to keep you safe and healthy while making kombucha:
- Do not attempt to grow a SCOBY from a commercial brand of Kombucha which has been pasteurized or treated in any way.
- Store your SCOBY in a dark, dry place.
- Use a healthy, fresh SCOBY for your Kombucha
- Peel off the bottom (oldest) layer every few batches. This can be discarded, composted, used to start a new batch of kombucha, or given to a friend to start their own.
- Better to be safe than sorry. If you suspect there is a problem with your SCOBY, don’t proceed with it–the problems will just become more pronounced the older it gets.
- A vinegar-y smell is natural. If your kombucha begins to smell moldy or rotten, this is NOT a good thing. Discard the liquid and start anew.
Ingredients: Many of the ingredients and supplies will be common pantry items, but these ones might require seeking out.
- SCOBY: You can make your own scoby, or you can purchase it.
- Starter: From a previous batch, a prepared but non-pasteurized variety you have purchased, or you can substitute distilled vinegar
Tools and equipment: Be sure to assemble the following before proceeding.
- A large pot to boil water.
- A brewing vessel: either glass, stainless steel, or oak will work well.
- A cloth cover, but not cheesecloth, as it is too loosely woven.
- A rubber band or tie of some sort to secure the cloth to the vessel.
- Bottles with seals, for storing your finished kombucha.
How to make kombucha
Adapted from The Kitchn
- 3 1/2 quarts water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 8 bags or 2 tablespoons of black or green tea (a mix is fine)
- 2 cups starter tea from last batch of kombucha or store-bought kombucha (unpasteurized, neutral-flavored)
- 1 SCOBY, homemade or purchased online
- Stock pot
- 1-gallon glass jar
- Cloth, for covering the jar
- Rubber band or tie to keep the cloth in place
- Bottles with seals, for storing your finished kombucha
- Make the tea. Bring the water to a boil in your stock pot. Remove from heat, and add the tea and sugar. Let the tea steep for quite a time: until the water has cooled. To hasten this process, place it over an ice bath. Give it a stir once cool to make sure the sugar has completely dissolved and mixed.
- Add the starter. Once cooled, strain and remove the tea. Stir in the starter.
- Transfer to your large jar, and add the SCOBY, gently sliding it into the jar with impeccably clean hands. Cover the mouth of the jar with cloth, and secure with a rubber band or tie.
- Ferment. Let the mixture ferment at room temperature, away from direct sunlight and where it won’t be disturbed, for 7 to 10 days. Seriously–don’t disturb the kombucha. Loud noises, jostling, and bright sunlight could all potentially kill the SCOBY.
Note: Don’t be scared if the SCOBY travels around during fermentation: it might go sideways, rise to the top, or go to the bottom. A brand new layer of SCOBY will begin to form on the surface of the mixture within a few days, which may or may not attach to the old SCOBY.
Weird as it sounds, stringy bits on the SCOBY or sediment forming at the bottom are normal.
- After 7 days, you can begin to taste your kombucha. Pour a tiny amount into a cup and give it a taste. Let it go as many more days as it takes to suit your taste buds. Once you do this, it’s time to bottle it up.
- Since the SCOBY will need to be transferred to its next batch, you can go ahead and brew more tea as specified in step 1, following the steps and transferring the SCOBY. If needed you can remove the bottom layer if the SCOBY is very thick.
- Strain and bottle up your finished kombucha, reserving a small amount for your next starter. In my experience, this is the ideal time to start your next batch, too. It might seem odd to be starting your next batch before you’ve even tasted this batch, but given the amount of days required for fermentation, you’ll be glad that you did. By the time you finish your first batch, your second will be ready! If you do need to store the starter, keep it in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use.
- Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature for 1 to 3 more days for the kombucha to get fizzy.
- Refrigerate to stop the carbonation process. The kombucha will taste best if consumed within 1 month.
Notes and considerations
- You can increase or decrease the batch size as long as you maintain the same ratios specified in the recipe. One SCOBY is good regardless of the batch size.
- You can experiment with the type of tea you use in the kombucha, but if using herbal tea, add a little bit of black tea, too, because this caffeine feeds the fermentation process.
- Metal can impart a flavor on your kombucha, so it’s not the best choice for a fermenting vessel.
- It’s normal for the SCOBY to move around during the fermentation process. It’s also normal if it begins to grow little hairs or form sediment.
Making kombucha is a fascinating kitchen experiment which lies somewhere between science experiment and food preparation. It may take some time to fall in love with the flavor of this fascinating beverage, but once you’ve acquired a taste for it, you won’t know how you’ve lived without it.
Do you like kombucha?