What is Kombucha? (a.k.a. You Want me to Drink What?!)
Image: The Kitchn
I’m exploring how important a healthy gut is this month, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the super-popular kombucha fad.
Despite recently showing up everywhere (seriously – you can even get it on tap at some brew pubs!), kombucha has been around for over two THOUSAND years. For real! It’s first mentioned in texts from ancient China as “the Tea of Immortality.”
Pretty cool, right?
The reason kombucha is so popular nowadays, however, is for more subtle (and plausible) health benefits – turns out it’s very, very gut for your gut health.
What you’re actually drinking
In short, kombucha is a fermented tea. It’s made by brewing tea (typically black tea, although green and white are also being used), adding sugar (I prefer natural cane sugar, but more traditional recipes use processed white sugar), and then allowing a kombucha culture, or “mother”, feed on the sugar and ferment the beverage over the course of several weeks.
What throws folks off about kombucha is often the “mother” – the culture required to ferment the tea & sugar combo is a bit slimy, and looks a lot like a flattened mushroom. These cultures can live for years and years if properly attended to… and not tossed in the garbage after having been mistaken for the world’s grossest leftovers.
When properly brewed, however, kombucha is delightful – lightly fizzy, sweet and refreshing. You can also add fresh or frozen fruit during the brewing process to change the flavour, making it fun to experiment with.
Why Kombucha’s actually good for you
The cultured fermentation of kombucha means it’s loaded with probiotics – healthy bacteria that help your gut flora grow and flourish.
When your gut flora is doing well, you digest your food more effectively, receive more nutrients into your system, and generally feel healthier, more energetic, and even more mentally stable.
How to make your own
If you visit your local health food store you can likely procure a mother culture, and get brewin’! The process takes patience – it takes about 3 weeks for a good batch to properly ferment and rest – but the results are excellent.
The method below from The Kitchn is bang on, and includes ginger – a great addition to kombucha because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
3 1/2 quarts (14 cups) water
1 cup natural cane sugar
4 bags black tea (or 1 tablespoons loose tea)
4 bags green tea (or 1 tablespoon loose tea)
2 cups pre-made unflavored kombucha (from your last homemade batch or store-bought)
1 scoby per fermentation jar
2- to 3-inch piece fresh ginger (See recipe note)
Six 16-oz glass bottles with plastic lids, swing-top bottles, or clean soda bottles
Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the cane sugar to dissolve. Drop in the tea and allow it to steep until the water has cooled. Depending on the size of your pot, this will take a few hours. (Alternatively, you can speed this up by boiling only half the water, letting the tea steep, and then cooling it down with the remaining water.)
Once the tea is cool, remove the tea bags (or strain out the loose tea). Stir in the pre-made kombucha. (This makes the tea acidic, which prevents unfriendly bacteria from taking up residence in the first few days of fermentation.)
Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon glass jar and gently slide the scoby on top with clean hands. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band. (You can divide this between several jars instead of one big one, but each jar will need its own scoby.)
Keep the fermenting kombucha at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and where it won’t get jostled. Ferment for 7 to 10 days, checking the kombucha and the scoby periodically.
After 7 days, begin tasting the kombucha daily by pouring a little out of the jar and into a cup. When it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle.
With clean hands, gently lift the scoby out of the kombucha and set it on a clean plate. If you’re planning to make another batch of kombucha right away, measure out your starter tea from this batch of kombucha and set it aside for the next batch.
Scrub the ginger clean, but don’t bother peeling it. Grate it finely on a microplane or chop it finely in a food processor; be sure to catch any juices that collect. You should have 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of ginger puree and juice. Divide the ginger evenly between all your bottles.
Pour the fermented kombucha (straining, if desired) into the bottles using a small funnel. Leave about an inch of head room in each bottle. Store the bottled kombucha at room-temperature out of direct sunlight and allow 1 to 3 days for the kombucha to carbonate.
If you bottled in plastic bottles, the kombucha is carbonated when the bottles are rock-solid; if you bottled in glass, intermittently open one of the bottles to check the carbonation (it will re-carbonate quickly once you put the cap back on).
Once carbonated, refrigerate the kombucha for at least 4 hours to chill it down. The kombucha will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. If desired, strain the kombucha as you serve it to catch any bits of ginger pulp.