Wednesday food post: Kombucha
I LOVE KOMBUCHA! Kombucha was really my first introduction to the world of bacteria/yeast-enhanced foods (unless you count yogurt), and it certainly opened my eyes. I first tried the stuff at a friend’s mother’s house. This woman introduced us to the world of Weston A. Price, which kind of transformed the way I look at food and health in general. Anyway, I remember she was very excited to have us try it, and I remember being surprised by the taste. It wasn’t bad… just different. It was fizzy, sour, and tasted slightly like tea. I learned all about the history of it- that it was a traditional drink in Russia and other parts of Asia, along with other fermented drinks like kvass. I researched the health benefits, and also how to make it (too easy), and I got started. I got my first "mushroom", otherwise known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and watched this strange looking thing transform my sweet black tea into something beautiful. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Health benefits- personally, it’s been a really delicious probiotic beverage (which have only traces of sugar and caffeine in the finished product), and is a really good replacement for any cravings I might have for something slightly fizzy. I also noticed that after I started drinking it regularly my very irregular menstrual cycles started evening out. Jeff also noticed that he stopped having to use his inhaler (he only uses it now if he’s exposed to cat dander). I can’t be positive that this was a result of the kombucha, but it was the only thing we could think of that changed during that time. I’m telling you, probiotic goodness is so so important! Anyway, the benefits of regular kombucha consumption are as follows- *keep in mind that because there haven’t been any real studies done on the subject, these health benefits are all based on personal reports.
- aids in digestion
- helps to clear up skin problems
- reduces allergies and environmental sensitivities
- detoxifies the body
- boosts immune system function
- improves liver and kidney function
- helps to clear up fungal/yeast related infections
- reduces menstrual cramping (or in my case, helps to regulate cycles)
- improves energy levels
- helps relieve constipation
- some people swear by it as a good household cleaner!
- some claim that it helps prevent cancer, although I don’t know how they measure that.
- and the list just goes on and on…
Just look at the stuff! So YUM!
Shortly after I started brewing it, it started showing up in stores at about $3.50 for 16 oz. of the stuff. Crazy! A batch that I make costs me pennies- and that’s for 3 quarts. It’s so easy to brew, too, there’s no reason to buy it.
Here’s the general recipe I use:
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a stainless steel pot. Remove from heat, add 1 cup of organic white sugar and steep with 4 bags of organic black tea (or the equivalent in loose tea). Be sure not to use teas that have flavorings in them (like Earl Grey, etc.). Let cool to room temperature.
Put the sweet tea in a clean glass container (here’s what I use) with “mushroom” and just a little starter kombucha to get the fermentation going. Cover container with a clean cloth and fasten with a rubber band. Let it ferment until it reaches the acidity you like- usually it takes about a week, but if you have a colder kitchen it may take longer. It’s all related to heat, really. In the summer I’ve had a batch ready in 3 days, and in the winter it’s taken 2 weeks… but you really can’t go wrong. It’s just to suit your tastes. I like it so that I can’t taste any more sugar and it’s well carbonated, but it’s not too much like vinegar. Transfer to a clean container and refrigerate.
Some people like to do a "second ferment" after the kombucha has been bottled and capped. This can help to increase carbonation, and you can add some shaved ginger or fruit or juice to kind of flavor the finished product. You have to be careful with this step, though, as it can sometimes cause explosions if left to carbonate for too long!
It doesn’t matter if your mushroom floats or sinks, if the culture is alive you should start to see a “baby mushroom” form on top of the liquid. This baby tends to be thinner and lighter in color than the "mother". Sometimes they form separately, sometimes they are attached like two pancakes stacked together. I like to remove my "mama" mushroom and save it in the fridge with a little of the finished kombucha as a backup in case any of my batches become contaminated. When I have an excess of mushrooms, I give them away. I’ve posted on craigslist before and gotten rid of them in less than a day! You can also add them to your compost or just down the disposal.
If you see little patches of mold (mine looked spotty and slightly green) then toss and start again with a new mushroom. This shouldn’t happen if you have kept everything very clean, but it does happen sometimes. I’ve also heard not to put the mushroom in contact with any metal. My rule is that I brew everything with stainless steel, but keep the SCOBY in glass. When I clean my jar (which I only do every few brewing cycles), I just gently remove the SCOBY with very clean hands and place in a clean glass bowl until I can return it to the jar.
If you find that you don’t want to brew as much kombucha- that’s fine. The culture is amazingly resilient. You can keep it in the jar with some extra kombucha (it needs moisture and something to live on) or just keep it in the fridge if you don’t think you’ll brew it for a while. I regularly leave my culture in the jar for a week or more before I’m ready to brew my next batch.
Anyway, in the spirit of spreading the love- I’m happy to send a SCOBY to anyone who is interested. It may take me a few weeks to get you one (I don’t have any extras at the moment and am just brewing another batch), but I’d be happy to send one out when I can. Send me a message with your address if you are interested!
Next week: A week in food. Menu planning in action!
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Someone used kombucha as their topic in my speech class then sold a mushroom and a jar for $50 to another student. The cool thing was that even after explaining what it was, almost everyone was willing to try it. That was a nice surprise.
Maybe I’ll try to add a place for a kombucha jar in the truck design.