Kombucha: ancient remedy for modern tummies

I have never been in love with pickled foods. Well, other than beets. I do adore pickled beets. But for years I tormented my digestive system with the sterile processed foods that were so quick to eat – and, as I discovered, so painful to digest without a nice dose of living, friendly pro-biotic along for the ride. Fermented foods, it turns out, are a declining component of the average diet – yet there are many great reasons for seeking them out!

Enter Kombucha Tea – a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. I had been wanting to try this friendly ferment for quite awhile when I learned that a friend had a baby Kombucha (a SCOBY – Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) to give away. I took that sweet little SCOBY into my home, and I’ve never looked back! She is now mother to a number of offspring who have gone on to raise their own babies in various kitchens around Phoenix.

I was nervous, at first. What if my SCOBY developed “bad bacteria”? I was scrupulous – perhaps a bit obsessive compulsive – in my super-sterile approach to caring for my Kombucha tea. Since then, I have relaxed quite a bit. Kombucha creates its own very powerful probiotic blend, and is very effective at defeating the not-so-friendly bacteria that it encounters. I’m still a stickler for cleanliness, but I’ve relaxed quite a bit about my brew.

If you have an opportunity to adopt a SCOBY, and are interested in improving your digestive health with very little time and effort, I highly recommend that you take that SCOBY home and begin! There are a number of excellent online resources for getting started. The best, for newbies, is culturesforhealth.com. Their videos are easy to follow, and tell you most of what you need to know.  I highly recommend that you watch their starter video before you begin your Kombucha journey. Once you have the basics under your belt, you might like a quick 1-2-3 to remind yourself of the steps to follow. Below is my shorthand version of my own process – taken from CulturesforHealth and blended with a number of other great online resources:

  1. Boil 2 cups of water (filtered is good, but boiling will remove the chlorine, so you can use boiled tap water in a pinch)
  2. Stir in 1 cup white sugar (organic preferred) and 4-5 teaspoons loose leaf tea (black will have a “darker” flavor – I prefer white or green tea)
  3. Steep the tea for 4-5 minutes – then filter out the tea leaves and add another 4 cups of cool filtered (or pre-boiled) water
  4. When water is room temperature, add your SCOBY plus at least 1 cup of Kombucha tea from a prior batch (this is your “starter”). You can substitute organic, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
  5. Cover with an unbleached coffee filter or cotton cloth (I cut an old white t-shirt into 8-inch squares). Secure with a tight rubber band, and place somewhere away from direct sunlight or heat. An open shelf or the top of the fridge are good places – the culture needs some light to do its work. Keep away from cleaning chemicals.
  6. Wait about a week, and taste-test the tea. If it is too sweet for you, leave it awhile longer, and the SCOBY will continue to consume the sugar in the water. I have left my Kombucha tea for up to 5 weeks – it gets increasingly acidic, and tastes a bit like apple cider vinegar. (It can be substituted for vinegar for a nice pro-biotic boost in recipes as well).
  7. Distill the tea into glass jars, and throw in some candied ginger and strawberries, or another sweet fruit for a secondary ferment,* and ENJOY!

* Some Websites don’t warn you against ferments that get a bit too lively. If your house is at all warm, I highly recommend unscrewing the lid, daily, during your secondary fermentation phase. This lets off a bit of the pressure. I experienced a kitchen explosion one day when my fermenting Kombucha got a little too bubbly!


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