Complete Guide to Kombucha
Kombucha may have crossed your radar recently. It's experiencing a small renaissance of popularity, especially since celebrity TV doctor Dr. Oz has been promoting fermented foods. You can visit Kombucha bars in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and many restaurants and traditional bars in the area serve it fresh from kegs. You can even bring your growler and get it filled if you're in the NYC area.
Got a Whole Foods in your neighborhood? Step up to the cafe and you'll also find Kombucha on the menu there.
Once you start looking, it's everywhere. Apparently Jamie Lee Curtis is a big fan. But why are people so fascinated with this ancient beverage all of a sudden? Here we'll take you through everything you need to know about Kombucha, from history to health benefits and even how to make your own.
But first, let's start with the basics…what exactly is Kombucha?
What is Kombucha?
If you take tea and add a few things to make it ferment, you have Kombucha. It's slightly fizzy, tastes a bit like vinegar, and can be described as “earthy” tasting. Some Kombucha brews are milder, since they are fermented for less time.
The vinegar-like taste comes from the fact that Kombucha is fermented tea. If you like kimchi, beer, or other fermented foods you might like Kombucha but ease yourself into your first bottle when trying it for the first time. It can be a surprising taste, even for people who love vinegar. Although sugar is an ingredient, it's not a sweet drink. Most of the sugar is eaten off by the cultures in the brew. Therefore, this is a low-calorie drink.
People drink Kombucha for the probiotics, the antioxidants, and because they believe it imparts a whole range of health benefits. In general right now, probiotics are very popular, as the public learns more about taking care of the “gut” and the healthy bacteria which reside in there.
Don't be confused by the term “mushroom” people use when talking about how Kombucha is made. It's not made from mushrooms, for the most part. It's made from tea and a few other things. There is a mushroom-like substance involved, which is where the confusion comes from. More on that below.
Some sources do say that traditionally, Kombucha was actually brewed from mushrooms called Chaga in Russia.
What is the History of Kombucha?
They say Kombucha dates back to the BC era, where it was first produced in Northeast China or Manchuria. Take a look at a map and you'll see why it spread quickly to Russia. It's also a traditional drink in Korea and Japan.
From Russia, the drink spread to Germany around the turn of the last century. In Japan, it was consumed by Samurai but fell out of favor after their era. It resurfaced in Japan after World War I.
Kombucha had a wave of popularity in the United States in the 1970s when health food circles got wind of it and embraced its fizzy taste. People started making it at home (for more on making your own Kombucha keep on reading).
What About Alcohol in Kombucha?
You might be wondering whether, if this is a fermented beverage, there's alcohol in Kombucha. Yes there is, but very little. Unless specifically desired to be otherwise, Kombucha contains only about 1% alcohol. You'd have to drink a lot of it to feel the least bit tipsy!
However, if you don't want any alcohol whatsoever in your body then this is one nutritional trend you should probably skip.
The Health Benefits of Kombucha
Like lots of nutritional or health trends, you will hear a lot of exaggerated health claims for Kombucha. People claim all sorts of health benefits like curing arthritis, treating depression, and fixing heart burn. The Chinese even believe it leads to immortality!
None of these health benefits have any science to back them up. In fact, after a systematic review of Kombucha, a researcher in 2003 summarized his findings like this: Kombucha should not be recommended for therapeutic use.
But we do know that Kombucha contains probiotics, which are important for a healthy intestinal environment. The friendly bacteria and yeast in this drink are very good for your gut, which is one key to overall good health.
The most widely accepted health benefit of drinking Kombucha is derived from the powerful antioxidants and probiotics it contains. Both can degrade when the product is stored on warehouse shelves. That, plus the active fermentation process that forms a film on the drink combine to make a product that's far less effective than what you get when you drink freshly made Kombucha.
Since the Kombucha you make at home is the freshest possible, many people prefer to make their own. Read on to find out how to make your own Kombucha.
Are There Any Negative Side Effects?
It's rare that anyone suffers negative side effects from consuming Kombucha. Nevertheless, The American Cancer Society claims serious side effects and the occasional death have been associated with drinking Kombucha tea. These side effects would include liver and kidney toxicity and metabolic acidosis. That's because Kombucha is a very acidic drink. If you drink too much an anything it's never good, though!
The only other danger to be aware of is contamination during the brewing process. This is of course true in the beer industry. More on that below.
How to Make Your Own Kombucha at Home
Before You Start
Before you dig into making your own Kombucha at home, know this: cleanliness is ultra important! You'll be working with fungus and bacteria so don't accidentally grow mold while you're trying to brew Kombucha. Don't let your SCOBY get contaminated.
To do this, make sure you're in a hygienic environment at all times when brewing your Kombucha. Got a mold problem in your house? It will disrupt everything to the point where maybe you shouldn't even try. Same goes for heavy smokers…the smoke can seriously mess with your SCOBY.
Next, make sure the fermentation jar you're using does not contain lead. Kombucha will leach the lead and other toxins out of metals or colored glass and ceramic pots.
Sterilize everything you use first: spoons, your jar etc. Use boiling water for this.
What You'll Need
Kombucha is like sourdough bread and yogurt in that it requires a “starter” culture. In fact, if you have other cultures stored in your fridge, you'll have to keep them at least four feet apart (good luck with that).
You'll need a SCOBY. Some people call it a “mushroom”, which is where that confusion mentioned early derives). You'll grow new Kombucha culture when you brew a batch of Kombucha. You can order them online, and they'll be shipped (sometimes in dehydrated form).
Here's the list:
— 4 Tea Bags (green Or Black, Even Jasmine…experiment!)
— 1 Cup Of Sugar
— Scoby (bacteria And Yeast Culture) (grow From Your Last Batch Or Bought)
— 1/2 Cup Kombucha Starter (saved From Your Last Batch Or Bought From A Store)
— Cotton Tea Towel
— 1-gallon Glass Jar
— Distilled Water
— Glass Measuring Cup
— Wooden Spoon
How to Brew Kombucha
— Brew the tea.
— Stir in the sugar.
— Steep the tea until has cooled, a few hours.
— Remove the tea bags.
— Add the starter.
— Pour it into your 1-gallon glass jar.
— Put the SCOBY on top.
— Cover the mouth of the jar with the tea towel and secure with a rubber band. You can use paper towels or coffee filters, too.
— Let it ferment for a week to 10 days.
— Keep it at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Don't let it get jostled.
— After 7 days, test it to see if it tastes right. When the sweet/sour balance is right, it's ready.
— Remove the SCOBY.
— Bottle your Kombucha.
— Remember to keep some starter tea for your next batch.
The Verdict on Kombucha
Whether you drink it for its supposed health benefits, the wonderful things it does for your gut, or because you like the taste, Kombucha is a wonderful addition to our beverage repertoire. Enjoy it in a bar, a specialized Kombucha cafe, or at home and experience all the different tastes this drink offers. With additives like juice or ginger, the possibilities are limitless. It's a culinary discovery tour that's as fun as it is healthy!