Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kombucha - The Elixir of Life

Kombucha - just the name of it sounds mystical and healing. I can't remember the first time I drank it beginning nearly three years ago, but I know that I got hooked immediately. Not only did it feed my "sour" tooth, but I have always loved fizzy soda drinks. Not only does kombucha fit all of those categories but it provides amazing health benefits. If you read the promotional material put out by G.T. Dave's Synergy brand, it does everything from providing essential vitamins and minerals to curing cancer. For me, it has rebalanced my electrolytes, dramatically improved the quality of my skin and hair, and provides a general sense of well being. But what is this so called elixir made of, you might ask?

Kombucha is a fermented tea, made with either black or green tea and heavily sweetened. This sweet tea is then added to a "mother" kombucha culture, sometimes referred to as a kombucha "mushroom" but I think it has more of a jellyfish like consistency. The culture is actually a collection of micro-organisms which feed off of the sugar in the tea, thus "fermenting" it. Contrary to snide comments, the fact that it is fermented does not produce alcohol. But it does produce effervescence and the fermentation process serves to increase the health benefits of the green tea, extracting even more antioxidants and other essential minerals compared to drinking green tea alone.

(Kombucha mother in kombucha liquid)

While you can now purchase kombucha in most natural food stores (Whole Foods, Food Co-ops) it is usually about $3.69 for 12 oz, not exactly a soda replacement price! But the great news is that it is so easy to make kombucha at home. It is easy to google "kombucha starter" and find lots of people who will offer to sell a starter culture in liquid for less than $5. But if you can find some bottled kombucha in "original" flavor, you can use that to get started. In fact, the picture of my kombucha above was started with a 12 oz bottle of "original" style kombucha. It just takes longer to begin fermenting.

While this is a long explanation, kombucha is really simple to make. You heat water, add sugar and tea and allow steep and then cool. Then you strain out the tea and pour it into the culture and it does its job in less than a week. And Voila! You have this wonderful drink! Very little effort, very simple recipe.

Now for the Recipe. I make my batches in a 2 gallon glass dispenser that I found at a thrift store in Minneapolis (pictured below) but many people I know buy a 1 gallon ice tea dispenser which are easily found at Target, etc. If possible, find one with a metal spout as I have heard (although not witnessed) that plastic ones will get eaten away by the fermentation process, and thus begin to drip.

Half Gallon of Original Kombucha

While it appears to be made with a lot of sugar, you will not actually be drinking the sugar since it will be converted to effervescence. The standard ratio is 2:1 water to sugar and 1 teaspoon of loose leaf green tea per 2 cups water.

8 cups water
4 teaspoons loose leaf green tea (use organic since you really don't want to be fermenting tea that has been sprayed with chemicals)
4 cups sugar
12 oz original kombucha or starter with liquid

In large pot, bring water almost to boil and add sugar. Stir to dissolve and remove from heat. Add tea and allow tea to cool completely. Strain out tea leaves and combine tea and starter culture in glass container and cover with cloth, secure tightly with rubber band. Set covered container in warm, unlit space to ferment. I place it on top of the refrigerator, where it benefits from the heat of the motor. Kombucha will ferment in 5-8 days, depending upon your conditions. A shallow "mother" will begin to form on top and you will see strands of mother floating throughout the liquid. Never drink all of the liquid as you need at least 1 cup of liquid plus the mother to make another batch.

Most commercially sold kombucha combines the original recipe with fruit juices, which masks some of the sour flavor but also adds additional health benefits since the fermentation process increases the potency of whatever it is fermenting. You can flavor kombucha with most anything (to a point of course) and when adding additional flavors, such as fruit juices, it helps to let is ferment a few days longer. Also, you should always place flavored kombucha in a separate container, to prevent the original mother from being permanently flavored with whatever additions you put in.

A couple of summers ago I was selling "natural sodas" at the farmers' market in Northfield, MN and I used kombucha as the "fizz." So I developed a few recipes for flavoring kombucha. My favorite is with hibiscus and rose hips, both of which are high in vitamin C and together have a flavor akin to fruit punch, but not nearly as sweet. They produce the beautiful fruit punch colored kombucha featured at the top of this post. You can purchase dried hibiscus flowers and rose hips in the bulk herb or tea section of whole foods or a food co-op. Again, you'll want organic since this will also be fermented.

1/2 Gallon of Hibiscus and Rose Hip Kombucha
1/4 cup Hibiscus flowers
2 tablespoons rose hips
1 cup sugar
4 cups kombucha, original

In a 1/2 gallon mason jar, combine all of the ingredients and top off with water. Stir or shake well to combine the sugar. Cap tightly and allow to ferment in warm place for 3-5 days. Decant, strain, and place in refrigerator and enjoy.

A Word on Fermentation
Kombucha, left to ferment, will go very, very sour. If you refrigerate it, it slows the pace of fermentation. But if you leave kombucha out, especially in a warm, sunlit spot and capped, it will over ferment and go to vinegar. In addition, if you happen to bottle as I have with reusable bottles, if left in a heated space for too long, they will explode (it happened to a few of my customers from the farmers' market!) For myself, I drink it so quickly that this is not an issue, but be forewarned!

Love and hugs!


Anonymous said...

It's getting warmer in Duluth now, so tomorrow I'm making my first two gallons again since December! I've missed my Kombucha!

If you want primo kombucha, use raw turbinado sugar, honey, or agave nectrar (the agave tastes soo smooth) in place of just white sugar.

Here's my fun recipe!

8 teabags
(5 green tea, 2 dandelion tea, 1 mint tea)
1 cup of Raw Agave Nectar
1 small handful of Hawthorn berries

Boil three quarts of water (rolling boil), then stir in the agave until it is mixed. Steep the tea bags and the hawthorn berries in the agave-water for about 20 minutes COVERED.

Take out the tea bags and all of the hawthorn berries and let the tea mixture cool. Then put it in your gallon jar with your mother (not your REAL mother!) and some starter tea. Cover it with a clean cloth and rubber-band it to the jar, and leave it for a week!

This makes FIZZY and tangy kombucha!

Miss you!

-Scott Schumacher

Kirsten Lindquist said...

Hey Scott! Thanks for the recipe, I'll have to try it!

Conor said...

Hello Kirsten,

I drank my first bottle of commercial Kombucha this week and really loved it. It was Synergy brand, guava flavored.

I'm starting to get really interested in all things fermented, starting with my original favorite, home brewed beer. I've also enjoyed making my own yogurt with great success and would like to try making kefir someday.

I found your write up on Kombucha really helpful and would like to try making some of my own. Your rose hips and hibiscus additions also sound delicious.

I've been under the impression that first I need to obtain a "baby" or so-called "scoby" in order to get started, but your method sounds like I could just by a bottle of Synergy from the co-op and use it to get going? You say it will work, but it just takes longer. Is there any added risk of contamination due to a much slower starting fermentation. In home beer making this would be a concern.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with this.

Conor Donnelly
Minneapolis, MN

Anonymous said...

I noticed you have a metal spout. Is that ok? Will it hurt the drink? Or is it ok as long as the mushroom is not touching it?

Love to learn more,

Kirsten Lindquist said...

Robin, thanks for your comment. As far as I know, the metal spout as not hurt it and I have been using that container for 3 plus years with no problems. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Kirsten, how do I store the 'mother' when I am finished making my kombucha? It looks pretty big and round, I am wondering if I have to keep it flat like that when I store it?

Kirsten Lindquist said...

You don't need to store the mother flat, however if you double it over on itself, it will stick together. This won't affect it all and you can try to undouble it when you use it again (I assume you're putting in the frig to store it.) Always store it with some kombucha liquid. Hope this helps!

The Iron You said...

Great apost. I'll tell my readers about it!


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|Allie Ariel Buffone said...

Sounds like you know nothing about kombucha. you are not supposed to put it in a " Sunlit" location, and the metal on your spigot can kill the scoby culture

Lisa Perold said...

Actually,Allie.....she said to leave in an UNLIT, not SUNLIT place. Later on, she mentioned the bad things that could happen should you leave it accidentally in a sunlit place, like for instance if you go to market. And by the way, if you perceive that someone has made an error, it is far better to just tell them YOUR experience,rather than tell them that they know nothing.You would do well to brush up on your communication skills.

Neo Matrix said...

Have you brewed Hibiscus tea in a culture? I have a 2 3 gallon suntea jars One I brew with just black tea the other I brew with 1/2 hibiscus and 1/2 black tea and turns out real good. Something you might want to try with one of your extra scobys. Good luck with this. I also notice it brews much faster than the regular black tea does.

Neo Matrix said...
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