KOMBUCHA – WHAT IS IT?

KOMBUCHA

A Potted Background History

The first recorded reference to Kombucha as a health drink was apparently reported over two thousand years ago in the Tsin Dynasty of the Chinese Empire in 221 B.C.. It was then known as “the Divine Tsche”.

Some 200 years later, in 14A.D., a Korean Herbalist called Kombu treated the Japanaese Emporor Inkyo for various ailments and it became known as Kombu Ch’a (The herbalist’s name plus the Chinese word for tea “Ch’a”.

In mediaeval times, Japanese warriors would carry hip flasks of Kombucha into battle to maintain their health and give them energy.

Since then, Kombucha culture has had a consistently favourable record for promoting good health and has been part of natural medicine that has been part of everyday life in the Far East and Eurasia until relatively recently, and has increasingly made inroads into western thinking over the last few years.

Kombucha has long been part of traditional folk medicine in rural Russia where for much of the time the peasant culture was untouched by Western medicine. Unsurprisingly, the first modern scientific research on Kombucha was initiated in the Soviet Union.

Indeed, the Nobel prizewinning author Alexandr Solzenitsyn wrote in his autobiography “The Cancer Ward” that Kombucha helped to save his life whilst he was incarcerated in the Siberian slave camps in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Through the second part of the twentieth century, Kombucha enjoyed some marginal faddish success in Europe (Germany and Italy) and to some extent was popular in Australia through the work of Harald Tietze, a German born herb grower in New South Wales.

Its main resurgence came about in the 1990’s on the West Coast of the USA largely thanks to its popularity with HIV sufferers. Consequently, the main interest in Kombucha has been amongst people who feel that medical practices are not adequately successful with chronic diseases, particularly those relating to deficiencies in the immune system.

It’s likely, then, that with greater recognition of environmental and stress factors on day to day life, together with the limitations of conventional medicine, that the potent anti toxic and immune enhancing properties of Kombucha will become increasingly recognised and accepted as part of treatments of illness.

How does Kombucha Work?

For the past 150 years medical treatment has been based on the idea that a particular disease is caused by a specific disease-causing germ. Such “germ theory” dates only from the mid-nineteenth century and led to the development of antibiotics whose purpose is to kill off offending germs.

Undoubtedly, antibiotics have a valuable place in the control of life-threatening illnesses and have saved many lives over the years. However, overuse of antibiotics results in an increasing number of problems:-

  • Increase in the number of diseases caused by antibiotics themselves (iatrogenic diseases).
  • Weakening of the body’s immune system through the use of antibiotics, making recovery from the original illness and new germs and viruses more difficult.
  • The emergence of bacterial strains which become resistant to antibiotics.
  • Antibiotics have been developed by the pharmaceutical industry using synthetic chemicals which compromise healing the body’s whole system without side effects. Which, in turn, need to be treated with further drugs etc. etc.

Antibiotics means “Against Life” (Anti = Against; Bios = Life), whereas Probiotics means “For Life” (Pro = For; Bios = Life).

Kombucha works with the probiotic life of the body rather than destroying microbes, which is the purpose of using antibiotics.

Probiotic Kombucha encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut in a similar way to acidophilus bacteria, the active ingredient in live yoghurt.

Kombucha should be seen as a food unusually rich in nutrition, rather than just a health drink. As in yoghurt, the bacteria that it contains are a great source of nutrition,  but also contains a wide range of organic acids, vitamins and enzymes that give it an extraordinary property. It contains, amongst other organic acids and vitamins:

  • Vitamin B – Vitamin B1, B2, B6 and B12 that provide energy, help to process fats and proteins and which are vital for the functioning of the nervous system.
  • Vitamin C – a strong detoxifier, immune booster and energy booster.
  • Lactic Acid – essential for a healthy digestive system and for energy production by the liver, and is not found in the tissues of people with cancer.
  • Acetic Acid – an antiseptic and inhibitor of harmful bacteria.
  • Glucuronic Acid – is one of the few products that can cope with pollution from the products of the petroleum industry as well as plastics, herbicides, pesticides and resins. It “kidnaps” the phenols in the liver which are then eliminated by the kidneys. Another by-product of glucuronic acid is glucosamine, the structure associated with cartilage, collagen, and fluids which lubricate the joints.
  • Amino Acids – produce important enzymes, such as glutathione which is a powerful antioxidant providing protection from pollution, alcohol, and which is depleted from the body when you are on a pharmaceutical drug regime.

Because of its role in pH regulation and of the above detoxifying acids, Kombucha is a valuable restorative of liver function.

The most commonly observed effects of Kombucha are:

  • Balancing the metabolism of the body.
  • Cleaning the Blood and helping to regulate the pH level of the body.
  • Improving liver, gall bladder and digestive functions.
  • Detoxifying the body and improving the immune system.
  • Raising energy levels.

Kombucha is not, however, a universal cure for all illnesses. Many other factors need to be taken into account which affect good health such as diet, exercise, lifestyle, emotional outlook and psychological make-up as well as the length of time that you have had a particular imbalance or disease. When feeling tired, ill or out of sorts it can be hard to take positive steps towards a better lifestyle and better health. Kombucha’s role is to assist the body to function properly, by relieving some symptoms and giving the energy and encouragement to improve our health.

Kombucha does not have to be taken as a remedy for people who are ill, but most importantly as preventative therapy to keep the body functioning well.

 

Scoby Doo ..!!

How To Make Your Own Kombucha Scoby

Makes 1 kombucha scoby

What You Need

Ingredients 7 cups water 1/2 cup white granulated sugar (see Recipe Notes) 4 bags black tea, or 1 tablespoon looseleaf (see Recipe Note) 1 cup unflavored, unpasteurized store-bought kombucha

Equipment 2-quart or larger saucepan Long-handled spoon 2-quart or larger glass jar, like a canning jar (not plastic or metal) Tightly woven cloth (like clean napkins or tea towels), coffee filters, or paper towels, to cover the jar Rubberband

Instructions

1. Make the sweet tea. Bring the water to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar until it is completely dissolved. Add the tea and allow to steep until the tea cools to room temperature. Remove and discard the tea. (Alternatively, boil half the amount of water, dissolve the sugar and steep the tea, then add the remaining water to cool the tea more rapidly.)

2. Combine the sweet tea and kombucha in a jar. Pour the sweet tea into the jar. Pour the kombucha on top — if you see a blobby “baby scoby” in the bottom of your jar of commercial kombucha, make sure this gets transferred. (But if you don’t see one, don’t worry! Your scoby will still form.) Stir to combine.

3. Cover and store for 1 to 4 weeks. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of tightly-woven cloth, coffee filters, or paper towels secured with a rubber band. (If you develop problems with gnats or fruit flies, use a tightly woven cloth or paper towels, which will do a better job keeping the insects out of your brew.) Place the jar somewhere at average room temperature (70°F), out of direct sunlight, and where it won’t get jostled. Sunlight can prevent the kombucha from fermenting and the scoby from forming, so wrap the jar in a cloth if you can’t keep it away from sunlight.

4. First, bubbles will gather on the surface. For the first few days, nothing will happen. Then you’ll start to see groups of tiny bubbles starting to collect on the surface.

5. Then, the bubbles will collect into a film. After a few more days, the groups of bubbles will start to connect and form a thin, transparent, jelly-like film across the surface of the tea. You’ll also see bubbles forming around the edges of the film. This is carbon-dioxide from the fermenting tea and a sign that everything is healthy and happy!

6. The film will thicken into a solid, opaque layer. Over the next few days, the layer will continue to thicken and gradually become opaque. When the scoby is about 1/4-inch thick, it’s ready to be used to make kombucha tea — depending on the temperature and conditions in your kitchen, this might take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks.

7. The finished scoby: Your finished scoby might look a little nubbly, rough, patchy, or otherwise “not quite like a grown-up scoby.” It’s ok! Your scoby will start to smooth out and take on a uniform color over the course of a few batches of kombucha — take a look a the before and after pictures of a baby and grown-up scoby in the gallery above.

8. Using the liquid used to grow the scoby: The liquid used to grow the scoby will likely be too strong and vinegary to drink (and if you’re not used to drinking kombucha or very vinegary beverages, it can give you a stomach ache). You can use it to start your first batch of kombucha, or you can use it as a cleaning solution on your counters.

Trouble-Shooting

* Your scoby is forming normally and is healthy if… You see bubbles, clear jelly-like masses, opaque jelly-like masses, stringy or gritty brown bits. Also if the tea smells fresh, tart, and slightly vinegary (this aroma will become more pronounced the further into the process you go).

* Your finished scoby is normal and healthy if… It’s about a quarter-inch thick and opaque. It’s fine if the scoby is bubbled or nubbly or has a rough edge. It’s also ok if it’s thinner in some parts than others or if there’s a hole. Your scoby will become smoother and more uniform as you brew more batches of kombucha.

* There is a problem if… You see fuzzy black or green mold growing on top of the forming scoby, or if your tea starts to smell cheesy, rancid, or otherwise unpleasant. In any of these cases, bad bacteria has taken hold of the tea; discard this batch and start again with a fresh batch.

* If you can’t tell if there’s a problem… Continue to let the tea ferment and the scoby form. If it’s a problem, it will get worse; if it’s a normal part of the process, it should normalize (or at least not get any worse!)

Recipe Notes

* Covering for the jar: Cheesecloth is not ideal because it’s easy for small insects, like fruit flies, to wiggle through the layers. Use a few layers of tightly woven cloth (like clean

napkins or tea towels), coffee filters, or paper towels, to cover the jar, and secure it tightly with rubber bands or twine.

* Using Other Sugars: Scobys form best if you use plain, granulated table sugar. Organic sugar is fine, but avoid alternative sugars or honey.

* Substituting Other Teas: Plain black tea is the best and most nutritious tea for scoby growth. For this step of growing a new kombucha, use black tea if at all possible; you can play around with other teas once you start making kombucha regularly.

How to make Kombucha at Home

How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home

Makes about 1 gallon

What You Need

Ingredients 3 1/2 quarts water 1 cup sugar (regular granulated sugar works best) 8 bags black tea, green tea, or a mix (or 2 tablespoons loose tea) 2 cups starter tea from last batch of kombucha or store-bought kombucha (unpasteurized, neutral-flavoured) 1 scoby per fermentation jar, homemade or purchased online

Optional flavouring extras for bottling: 1 to 2 cups chopped fruit, 2 to 3 cups fruit juice, 1 to 2 tablespoons flavoured tea (like hibiscus or Earl Grey), 1/4 cup honey, 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh herbs or spices

Equipment Stock pot 1-gallon glass jar or two 2-quart glass jars Tightly woven cloth (like clean napkins or tea towels), coffee filters, or paper towels, to cover the jar Bottles: Six 16-oz glass bottles with plastic lids, 6 swing-top bottles, or clean soda bottles Small funnel

Instructions

Note: Avoid prolonged contact between the kombucha and metal both during and after brewing. This can affect the flavour of your kombucha and weaken the scoby over time.

1. Make the tea base: Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the 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. You can speed up the cooling process by placing the pot in an ice bath.

2. Add the starter tea: Once the tea is cool, remove the tea bags or strain out the loose tea. Stir in the starter tea. (The starter tea makes the liquid acidic, which prevents unfriendly bacteria from taking up residence in the first few days of fermentation.)

3. Transfer to jars and add the scoby: Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon glass jar (or divide between two 2-quart jars, in which case you’ll need 2 scobys) and gently slide the scoby into the jar with clean hands. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers tightly-woven cloth, coffee filters, or paper towels secured with a rubber band. (If you develop

problems with gnats or fruit flies, use a tightly woven cloth or paper towels, which will do a better job keeping the insects out of your brew.)

4. Ferment for 7 to 10 days: Keep the jar 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.

5. It’s not unusual for the scoby to float at the top, bottom, or even sideways during fermentation. A new cream-colored layer of scoby should start forming on the surface of the kombucha within a few days. It usually attaches to the old scoby, but it’s ok if they separate. You may also see brown stringy bits floating beneath the scoby, sediment collecting at the bottom, and bubbles collecting around the scoby. This is all normal and signs of healthy fermentation.

6. 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.

7. Remove the scoby: Before proceeding, prepare and cool another pot of strong tea for your next batch of kombucha, as outlined above. With clean hands, gently lift the scoby out of the kombucha and set it on a clean plate. As you do, check it over and remove the bottom layer if the scoby is getting very thick.

8. Bottle the finished kombucha: Measure out your starter tea from this batch of kombucha and set it aside for the next batch. Pour the fermented kombucha (straining, if desired) into bottles using the small funnel, along with any juice, herbs, or fruit you may want to use as flavouring. Leave about a half inch of head room in each bottle. (Alternatively, infuse the kombucha with flavourings for a day or two in another covered jar, strain, and then bottle. This makes a cleaner kombucha without “stuff” in it.)

9. Carbonate and refrigerate the finished kombucha: Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature out of direct sunlight and allow 1 to 3 days for the kombucha to carbonate. Until you get a feel for how quickly your kombucha carbonates, it’s helpful to keep it in plastic bottles; the kombucha is carbonated when the bottles feel rock solid. Refrigerate to stop fermentation and carbonation, and then consume your kombucha within a month.

10. Make a fresh batch of kombucha: Clean the jar being used for kombucha fermentation. Combine the starter tea from your last batch of kombucha with the fresh batch of sugary tea, and pour it into the fermentation jar. Slide the scoby on top, cover, and ferment for 7 to 10 days.

Recipe Notes

* Covering for the jar: Cheesecloth is not ideal because it’s easy for small insects, like fruit flies, to wiggle through the layers. Use a few layers of tightly woven cloth (like clean napkins or tea towels), coffee filters, or paper towels, to cover the jar, and secure it tightly with rubber bands or twine.

* Batch Size: To increase or decrease the amount of kombucha you make, maintain the basic ratio of 1 cup of sugar, 8 bags of tea, and 2 cups starter tea per gallon batch. One scoby will ferment any size batch, though larger batches may take longer.

* Putting Kombucha on Pause: If you’ll be away for 3 weeks or less, just make a fresh batch and leave it on your counter. It will likely be too vinegary to drink by the time you get back, but the scoby will be fine. For longer breaks, store the scoby in a fresh batch of the tea base with starter tea in the fridge. Change out the tea for a fresh batch every 4 to 6 weeks.

* Other Tea Options: Black tea tends to be the easiest and most reliable for the scoby to ferment into kombucha, but once your scoby is going strong, you can try branching out into other kinds. Green tea, white tea, oolong tea, or a even mix of these make especially good kombucha. Herbal teas are okay, but be sure to use at least a few bags of black tea in the mix to make sure the scoby is getting all the nutrients it needs. Avoid any teas that contain oils, like earl grey or flavoured teas.

* Avoid Prolonged Contact with Metal: Using metal utensils is generally fine, but avoid fermenting or bottling the kombucha in anything that brings them into contact with metal. Metals, especially reactive metals like aluminium, can give the kombucha a metallic flavour and weaken the scoby over time.

Troubleshooting Kombucha

* It is normal for the scoby to float on the top, bottom, or sideways in the jar. It is also normal for brown strings to form below the scoby or to collect on the bottom. If your scoby develops a hole, bumps, dried patches, darker brown patches, or clear jelly-like patches, it is still fine to use. Usually these are all indicative of changes in the environment of your kitchen and not a problem with the scoby itself.

* Kombucha will start off with a neutral aroma and then smell progressively more vinegary as brewing progresses. If it starts to smell cheesy, rotten, or otherwise unpleasant, this is a sign that something has gone wrong. If you see no signs of mold on the scoby, discard the liquid and begin again with fresh tea. If you do see signs of mold, discard both the scoby and the liquid and begin again with new ingredients.

* A scoby will last a very long time, but it’s not indestructible. If the scoby becomes black, that is a sign that it has passed its lifespan. If it develops green or black mold, it is has become infected. In both of these cases, throw away the scoby and begin again.

* To prolong the life and maintain the health of your scoby, stick to the ratio of sugar, tea, starter tea, and water outlined in the recipe. You should also peel off the bottom (oldest) layer every few batches. This can be discarded, composted, used to start a new batch of kombucha, or given to a friend to start their own.

* If you’re ever in doubt about whether there is a problem with your scoby, just continue brewing batches but discard the kombucha they make. If there’s a problem, it will get worse over time and become very apparent. If it’s just a natural aspect of the scoby, then it will stay consistent from batch to batch and the kombucha is fine for drinking.