Kombucha

Over the past year and a half I have changed my family’s diet from what most ordinary people would consider to be the standard ‘healthy’ norm  in our society – at least five portions of fruit or veg a day along with a good base of whole grains for fibre and energy to a diet where far more portions of fruit and veg are included with far less grains and of course no gluten and no dairy in family meals for the sake of my Type 1 Diabetic daughter. My family’s diet is much, much healthier now (although many would argue that cutting out all dairy is not necessarily healthy) but with my recent venture into fermented foods, I hope it’s getting even healthier.

Like me, you’ve probably heard of the increase in talk about fermented foods and gut health in the general media (or maybe it’s just the people I hang out with nowadays!) Kombucha is the second fermented substance that I’ve made in the past year, the first being Kimchi – an Asian version of Sauerkraut, (recipe to follow).
Anyway, I digress… Kombucha and gut health. We have to be kind to our digestive tract and most particularly our intestines, where most digestion takes place. I remember hearing a well known functional medicine specialist talking about the gut as our first brain in evolutionary terms. The story goes like this: we all started millions of years ago as a tube – a bit like an earthworm today – food passing through this long undifferentiated digestive canal until over the aeons it started to become more specialised at different ends with muscle groups and cilia pushing the food along. As we continued to evolve we developed appendages to help the food substances get into the tube (moving towards food sources as well as physically pushing it into the tube) and over time a brain developed in order to think about the best places to find food to put into the tube, etc. I like this idea and it kind of makes a lot of sense. People still talk about their ‘gut feelings’ about how we make certain decisions,  responding to new people and whether we should really trust them or not.

If we think about this concept for a few moments it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to appreciate that inside that tube where digestion takes place,  other organisms would be present today as they were then, millions of years ago as we starting to evolve; organisms which co evolved with us and subsequently derived and provided symbiotic benefits to us from living inside our digestive tracts. Today these mutually beneficially bacteria, fungi and other organisms as a collective ‘organ’  has been given its own official label of the ‘microbiome’ . This new organ is recognised by scientists on the cutting edge of nutritional health and medicine as being as important to our overall well-being  as any of the other major organs in our bodies like the heart and lungs.

Kombucha, interestingly, is a fermented beverage that is similarly derived from the process of a symbiotic union between disparate organisms like ourselves and our gut bacteria – bacteria and yeast specifically known as a ‘SCOBY’ (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria & Yeast).

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Several scobies waiting to be fed….

I am not going to go into all the pro’s and con’s of kombucha here so if you want more information try this blog – ‘Kombucha Myths vs Truths’. I am now making kombucha because I want to encourage my family and friends to experiment with old-fashioned traditional health remedies and recipes that people have used and trusted for generations before all the science came along to ‘prove’ it was actually safe or not.

Of course in the past, preservation of foods and liquids in a fermented form was a cheap and natural way of keeping seasonal fruits and vegetables longer without decomposition in the days before refrigeration and freezing. Foods were not mass produced in order to be transported all over the world or sold in supermarkets for major profits, but were consumed over several months and perhaps years mostly by the people who produced them originally. This I believe is how food production is meant to be – there may be a few ‘bacteria’ around in the process but not all bacteria are bad and sadly I think so many people nowadays have been indoctrinated into thinking everything connected with these microorganisms is bad. On the contrary, they form an essential part of our internal ‘flora’ and deserve a healthy diet as much as we do in order for us both to stay well.

Below you will find a simple recipe for the kombucha I have made but if you are one of these people who need exact amounts like ‘125ml of such and such’ it might be better to find another recipe elsewhere. I got mine from a friend who originally gave me some Scobies for my first batch along with a few basic instructions but I like this idea – recipes are meant to be ‘organic’ (like the food you prepare) and exact quantities are hardly ever necessary.  For instance, the actual amounts of sugar and tea used was left vague, but that’s fine with me – Kombuca made from this symbiotic living, ‘breathing’ organism, (which many will look at squeamishly and think : ‘why haven’t you flushed it down the pan?’) needs to be nurtured but can still survive without precise, exactly measured amounts of ‘food’ for it to ‘work’.

I liken getting some Scobies from a friend a bit like getting a portion of mixture for one of those German ‘friendship cakes’ but with a difference.  Ironically, I last made one of these sourdough cakes about a week before my daughter was diagnosed with her life-changing condition and of course nowadays, making one of those gluten-based  mixes is the last fermented food I would ever think of making again.   Subsequently, Kombucha is my post-gluten equivalent of fermented friendship food particularly as it is far more caring for its recipients with its purportedly probiotic gut-calming properties.

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Kombucha day 14 – time to filter and add flavouring eg lemon and freshly grated ginger

What does Kombucha taste like and is it for me?

This is an interesting one. For me, I knew I wanted to try Kombucha about a year ago when I first started hearing about it. When I first heard of someone locally, through a raw food group, had some ‘raw material’ (scobies) available, I got in touch straight away. At this point, I still hadn’t even tasted Kombucha but all along, had this ‘gut feeling’ that it was right for me.

Anyway, the woman who gave me the scobies is now a friend so there is definitely something in the ‘friendship kombucha’ idea instead of the conventional cake-based one! I tried two different flavours at her home and loved the lemon and ginger variation for which I provide the recipe for here.

Oh yes, the flavour…? I have only tried the lemon and ginger flavourings myself so far. The taste is that of slightly effervescent unsweetened ginger beer with a very slightly vinegary twist.  Although I haven’t had it analysed for specific nutrients, therapeutic properties, I just ‘feel’ that it is healthy and doing me good. Yes, it is a trust thing as it doesn’t have any of the ‘Ooh! that’s delicious!’ kind of appeal. However, because I’ve brewed it myself and the aroma while brewing has been pleasant and somehow redolent of the past, I’m sticking with it and will continue to offer my new version of ‘friendship Kombucha’ to any of my friends who might be interested.

Recipe & Equipment:

Recipe:

  • 1-2 Scobies per jar
  • Plain black or green tea bags – organic is best
  • Organic sugar
  • Organic lemons
  • Organic root ginger

Equipment: 

  • Standard measuring cup
  • 2 2-3 litre heat-resistant storage jars with flip/swing lids
  • Flip/swing top bottles (or additional storage jars with lids as above)
  • Muslin & elastic bands
  • Non-metallic tongs, spoon, ladle, 1 funnel which fits neck of jars, another to fit bottles
Method:

(Day 1)

  • Ensure all equipment is clean and dry and remove metallic clasps & rubber seals from storage jars so jars are just open without lids ( and store these safely for use later)
  • Boil water and make tea in jars with 4-6 bags per jar (depending on size) with approximately 1 to 1&1/2 cups of sugar and allow to cool.
  • When tea is completely cool, remove tea bags with tongs or spoon/ladle and add 1-2 scobies per jar.
  • Place a piece of muslin over top of jar to cover it and use an elastic band to hold it in place.
  • Leave jars containing scobies and tea mixture for up to two weeks. I left my on the side in my kitchen.

(Day 14)

  • Cut up a lemon and squeeze juice into a small bowl
  • Cut up a 2-3 cm cube of root ginger and grate finely
  • Place funnel large enough to go over neck of fresh jar with lids/clasps in place, drape over muslin squares and strain liquid containing tea/scoby mixture into jars, removing all the bits. (If using bottles instead of different jars, you may want to do this first in a large bowl or large jug then decant into bottles afterwards.) You may want to filter it twice.
  • After you have filtered out the scobies – which should still be disc shaped and intact, return to another storage jar for future use, give some to friends so they can make Kombucha too and/or start making your next batch of Kombucha now.
  • When liquid looks scoby-free add the lemon juice and grated ginger equally between bottles/jars
  • Put on lids and leave for a further two weeks.

Day 24-28

  • I started to try my kombucha at around day 24. The longer you leave it, the longer it will continue to ferment and may produce more alcohol although it is very unlikely to produce very much alcohol.  Kombucha is supposedly a good beverage to drink if you are trying to go tee-total because it will not cause inebriation but still has an effervescent quality particularly like ginger beer if you’ve added the flavourings as above.
  • Enjoy!

Tip: Scobies apparently don’t like to be in contact with anything metallic for very long so don’t use metal cutlery, pans etc as it might not work (ie you  might kill your scobies!) I wouldn’t use anything plastic  such as a plastic storage jar/bottle either but that’s ’cause I’m very anti plastics!  Even so-called PBA-free plastic isn’t really something you should store food or drink in for very long because of likely leaching of the plastic into the food.

As the scobies will continue to form with each batch of fresh kombucha, you will need somewhere to store your excess scobies unless you have a lot of friends who want to make it themselves!