“It’s like drinking candy!”
Sophie Ly, 2ser
So what is Kombucha?
Kombucha is an ancient fermented beverage that has grown dramatically in popularity in recent years, to the point where you can now find it in cafes and supermarkets rather than just health food or organic stores. Due to its long history, it has been known by many names such as the Immortal Health Elixir, Elixir of Youth, Manchurian tea, Tea Kvass, Mushroom tea and Booch.
Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened tea made using a live culture called a SCOBY which is an acronym for a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. The culture resembles a rubbery mushroom-like disk that reproduces/develops on the top of each new brew. The fermentation consumes the sugars, a short brew can still have a sweetness to it from the added sugars but a longer ferment increases the vinegar flavours. People often comment on the vinegar flavour when they first try Kombucha but this is less noticeable to those who consume it regularly.
As a beverage it is mildly effervescent, acidic and may contain small amounts of alcohol, this is regularly less than 0.5% of volume but can get as high as 1-2%.
Commercially available Kombucha suppliers have twigged to the wonderful diversity of flavour complexity that can be introduced with a second ferment. You can replicate this at home though!
Where did Kombucha originate?
It originated in China around the third century BC but then migrated to Russia, India and Japan and is still consumed regularly in parts of Europe and Asia. As an ancient beverage it is surrounded by folk lore and claims about its benefits which all broadly come back to the way it promotes health. It works with the body towards wellness by detoxifying the liver, aiding digestion and delivering vitamins, enzymes and acids to the body. The claims of benefits and warnings are both quite extreme and somewhat unsubstantiated or unproven by science…….but it has still survived the test of time!
What are the benefits of Kombucha?
The benefits of Kombucha that may be experienced when it is consumed raw (unpasteurised or unheated) include:
Improve gut health - Aides digestion and improves gut health as a raw fermented product
Detox - Detoxes the body as it cleanses the liver due to the enzymes and bacterial acids it contains and that the body uses to detoxify. High in glucaric acids/glucuronic acid (GA) which also help detoxify the body which is where the anti-cancer claims come in. This claim of the glucuronic acid is not backed up by scientific testing but is often touted by supporters. Warning: as it is a detox, I’d advise to avoid consuming it whilst pregnant. Why take the risk?
Eases joint pains - The glucuronic acid is converted to glucosamines which are associated with cartilage, collagen and joint lubricants which is why there are claims about it easing joint pain and treating arthritis.
Energy boost - Contains abundant anti-oxidants (Vitamin C, E, beta-caratone, and other carotenoids) which result in it being an immune boosting beverage. This gives an energy boost and imparts a feeling of wellbeing and mental clarity through improved gut health. As it’s a fermented tea, the Kombucha supporters claim that as an antioxidant its Vitamin C is 100 times more powerful than regular tea so, over time it may assist with the impact of chronic illness caused by oxidative stress as well as promoting the regeneration of cellular walls in blood vessels.
B Group Vitamins - Loaded with health promoting B vitamins, enzymes and acids (glucuronic, acetic and lactic acid content)
Decrease Blood Sugar - It is promoted as curing diabetes but I’ve not found the science to back this up. Consume with caution as the sugar content can vary widely.
How do you make Kombucha?
To make Kombucha you need a live culture known as a SCOBY, or a mother, or a kombucha mushroom, some starter liquid from a previous batch of about 5-10% of the final volume, some sweetened tea, a breathable cover as it’s an aerobic process but you need to keep out fruit flies and other contaminants. And finally a wrap to give her privacy, no really it’s just to keep the environment dark while brewing.
To prevent toxic leaching, it is necessary to brew Kombucha in an appropriate vessel that is free of heavy metals. I prefer to brew Kombucha in a glass vessel and recommend people who are new to Kombucha to brew it for 7-15 days before they decant the brew, bottle and refrigerate to slow further fermentation down.
The variables to note are:
Tea - Black, green, white tea or rooibos as tea bags or loose tea. Regular tea, that is the plant Camellia Sinensis rather than herbal teas like Verbena and ensuring the tea does not contain essential oils.
Sugar - Simple organic cane sugar such as rapadura, raw or white sugar which will be metabolised into the acids.
Water - Filtered or un-chlorinated water
Vessel - Ideal shape of a 1:1 ratio of depth to diameter. The new SCOBY will grow to the shape of the liquid surface.
Brewing - Brew until you like the flavour which will vary with time, ambient temperature (ideally 24-30 Celcius), SCOBY thickness and the amount being brewed. If it’s too vinegary for you then adjust the brewing time.
Each batch will yield fermented Kombucha and the starter liquid for the next batch. It will reproduce a new Scoby baby from the mother which can be kept or separated. Your Kombucha SCOBYs will soon be abundant so make sure you have friends to give them to!
Some Warnings if….
You are pregnant or nursing; be-aware of the detoxifying nature of the beverage and don’t consume.
You have a compromised immune system, like AIDS patients or cancer patients then it may be too strong for your body to deal with the toxins released during the detox process.
You are avoiding alcohol as it may have about 0.5% by volume or more if it has not been appropriately refrigerated once bottled and has continued to ferment.
You have a tendency to just sip your Kombucha over an extended period of time in that the acids may damage your teeth enamel. Rinsing afterwards is then recommended.
Can you flavour Kombucha?
Once fermented, the SCOBY is removed and the brew is bottled. You can increase the carbonation and create flavour diversity in your kombucha by adding an additional sugar source to continue the fermenting process. This is referred to as second fermenting. You can second ferment the brew for 1-4 days on the bench by adding fruit juice, un-sulphured dehydrated fruit, fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to create wonderful variety and fruity flavours. Just remember that as the dehydrated fruit rehydrates that you’ll need to make sure it can be removed from your bottle!
I consume a glass of Kombucha each day, along with other fermented foods. I currently have a couple of favourites, the first is a fresh herb mix of basil & cucumber. This has a fresh flavour but the Kombucha pickles the herbs so I remove them before serving and add fresh ones to the glass for serving to friends. My second favourite this summer is a Christmas mulled spice blend by OVVIO Organics which imparts a rich fruity flavour and a beautiful berry colour. The last one is strawberry and vanilla which Sophie Ly referred to as “happy times in a cup” on Brewmancing Sydney recently. (2ser)
How much Kombucha should I drink?
If you’re new to Kombucha then enjoy in moderation and respect the life in this ancient beverage. Start small with ¼ to ½ glass a day to regulate the detoxifying impact it may have. You should follow it up with a glass of water to rinse the acids from your teeth and flush the toxins from the body. Moderation and diversity are key as you learn to read the feedback of your body’s introduction to Kombucha. If it makes you feel off colour then cut back for a while before trying to increase consumption to a glass a day. You will start to enjoy the many benefits of Kombucha once you find your own level of consumption.
To find out more information about Kombucha or to try it first-hand check out a course on it.