We all know about probiotics, those little capsules of white stuff that cost a fortune or are hopefully present in that yogurt we eat occasionally. Most of us have heard of Lactobasillus acidophilus or L. acidophilus. Some of us have seen L. casei and L. sporogenes on yogurt ingredient lists. If you have a knowledgeable physician she will suggest that you take probiotics if you are prescribed antibiotics.
The health benefits of probiotics, or good bacteria and yeasts, are myriad. Scientists believe that the immune system may be centralized in the gut, or the digestive system. It only makes sense that ingesting probiotic foods and drinks is beneficial to overall health. I have read articles that claim anti-inflammatory properties of some probiotic drinks such as water kefir, kombucha and jun. We do know that Saccharomyces boulardii help reduce candida yeast overgrowth. Different beneficial bacteria and yeasts have different effects on the digestive system and the body. It only makes sense that it is best to eat and drink a variety of fermented foods full of probiotics. Today I want to talk about kombucha.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from black tea and sugar or a combination of black and green teas and sugar. The strange floating object in a kombucha brew is called the mother, sometimes a kombucha mushroom, which is a scoby or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It is not a fungus or a mushroom at all.
Commercial kombucha lists only a couple of different organisms. Kombucha brewed at home will have different bacteria and yeasts, and I am guessing a lot more strains as it will adapt to the wild bacteria and yeast in each home. I read an article awhile back that described a San Francisco sourdough starter that moved to New York City. After a few months in its new home it was tested. It had transformed into a completely different starter with different bacteria and yeasts within. This just makes sense.
I was gifted with a beautiful kombucha scoby from a friend in South Carolina last summer while at the same time growing one from a commercial kombucha. The scoby from GT Kombucha was very slow to grow while the lovely scoby I received in the mail was full of life from the get go.
Scoby, Where Are You?
Once I knew of the existence of kombucha I started searching for a scoby source. There are people who sell them online for about $20, groups of people on Facebook that share them for free, or you can grow your own from a starter liquid. I will attest that if you can get a scoby shared for the cost of postage go for it. It is a gift of life, in my opinion.
You can grow one from a commercial kombucha. Just put the starter liquid in a quart-sized canning jar (or any food-grade glass container) and cover with a paper towel or cloth. You don’t want mold spores to get in your liquid. Place in a warm location in your house (doesn’t need to be the kitchen) and don’t move it for at least 2 weeks. Jostling it could displace the young, thin scoby that is trying to form on the liquid. Use a flashlight to check it but try not to touch it if possible.
There is a wonderful Facebook group called Kombucha Nation full of the most wonderful, giving, lovely people. There is a huge list of people who will share scobys for the cost of postage. The understanding is that you will not turn around and then sell scobys on eBay or elsewhere.
Craigs List or internet search. There are forums that have lists of people in different locations that will share scobys. You just drive and pick it up.
Preparing for the Arrival of the New Scoby
You need to do a little preparation before getting a scoby. You don’t want to have a kombucha scoby in a bag full of liquid sitting on your counter for a week while you try to figure out what you are doing. It will probably survive but you just delayed your first taste of kombucha by a week! Seriously! Take a few days to prepare for the new arrival and then you can get your first brew started immediately.
- Food-grade glass container (canning jar, glass bowl, Fido (with lid removed)
- Organic black and green teas
- Organic sugar
- Container to boil water (I use my 4-quart sauce pan)
- Coffee filters, muslin or some other fabric
- Rubber bands
Wash your brewing container well with very hot water and soap the first time. Rinse in cold water thoroughly. You do not want soap residue on your container. Do not use antibacterial soap on your container. You can use a commercial sterilizer from a brew shop if you prefer; allow to air dry without rinsing. After the first brew I do not even use soap on my container. I simply wash in very hot water and rinse in cold water thoroughly. I have a dedicated bottle brush for cleaning my brew equipment.
It is very simple: brew your tea (hot, cold, room temperature, whichever way you like). Stir in 1/4 cup sugar per quart of tea or 1 cup of sugar per gallon. Allow to drop to room temperature. DO NOT put your scoby in hot tea. It will kill it. I cover my tea/sugar liquid while it is reducing in temperature.
HELPFUL HINT: Make a tea concentrate, stir in sugar until dissolved and then add cold water. This results in much shorter preparation time.
I use 6-8 teabags in 2 quarts of hot water. Allow to steep for a few minutes (or longer — it is up to you). Remove teabags. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Add 2 quarts of cold tap water or filtered water.
- Make sweet tea: 6-8 teabags per gallon. 1 cup sugar per gallon. 1/4 cup sugar per quart.
- Pour sweet tea in your container. Carefully place scoby on top of brew. Pour starter liquid on top of scoby. It is okay if scoby sinks. It will come back up in a day or two.
- Cover with coffee filter, paper towel or cloth and secure with a rubber band.
- Place container in a warm, quiet location. Leave undisturbed for at least 1 week. You don’t want to jostle that baby scoby that will form on top of the liquid. I use a flashlight to check my brews every day.
- After 7 days do a taste test. Take liquid from bottom of brew (the top will be much farther along than the bottom of the brew). Decide if you like it. This is your kombucha. If you want it a little sweet and it tastes a little sweet, it is time to pour into bottles for the 2nd ferment. If it is too sweet then leave it another few days. I don’t like mine sweet at all, so I brew for about 8-10 days.
- Drink kombucha OR bottle for second ferment.
The Second Ferment — I Want Fizz!
The second ferment typically consists of adding a flavor of some kind and transferring the kombucha to an anaerobic environment so that the sugar in the addition (or remaining sugar in the kombucha itself) is turned into co2 creating fizz. It can be as simple as adding 3-4 crushed raspberries to kombucha poured into a Grolsch bottle. Or you might put nearly 1/2 gallon of kombucha in a large canning jar or Fido (bail top jar) with 1/2 cup of black cherry, apple, or pomegranate juice. Some people add freshly grated ginger only. Some don’t add anything. The second ferment will produce more fizz, whether you add anything or not. The sugar in the fruit or fruit juice will be eaten by the living organisms in the kombucha reducing the sugar content again. The longer you leave it out the more sugar is reduced and more fizz created.
Burp those second ferments daily, please! You don’t want any explosions.
I take the scoby out of the brewing container and into a large glass bowl along with a cup or two of liquid. This will be used to start your next batch. I have heard you should never touch your scoby with your bare hands. I always use my hands. Of course, I wash them well with soap and water and then rinse in cold water first.
I have a variety of funnels that I use to pour kombucha into Grolsch and Fido swing-top bottles. You will get the most fizz with the Grolsch or other brewing bottles. They have very strong wire and thick gaskets. No co2 will be escaping from those bottles. This can be good and bad. I burp my Grolsch bottles every day they sit out or they can explode. Yes, explode. Glass and kombucha can go everywhere. Some people put their bottles in an ice chest to contain possible explosions. I burp mine daily and then refrigerate before drinking (refrigeration calms the co2 down when the bottle is opened though it can still become a fountain and you can lose most of your liquid if you aren’t careful).
Leave your second ferment out on the counter for 1-2 or more days. Refrigerate before opening. Enjoy!