I love the health benefits and taste of fermented/cultured foods, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m a kombucha fan, too. I’ve been making this probiotic super tea at home for years, but only started playing around with flavoring it this past year. Shame. I know. This post is part one of a two-part post that will walk you through the health benefits of kombucha and how to brew your own. Part two is coming soon, and will show you how to flavor this magic.
While it’s easier to make at home than you realize, it’s very important that you inform yourself about Kombucha first. It’s a longer post, but I hope you’ll make the time to dive in here because Kombucha is so much more than the hottest new celebrity beverage or health fad.
So, what is kombucha really?
Kombucha is a sweetened tea that is fermented by a pancake-like bacterial colony called a “Mother,” also known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), a “mushroom” or even a “tea beast.” The sugar in the tea is food for the SCOBY, so as it eats, it ferments the beverage (while also reproducing itself) loading the tea with immunity boosting probiotics, polyphenol antioxidants (a.k.a. “lifespan essentials”), active enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
When Kombucha first enters the digestive system it coats the stomach with enzymes and probiotics. These healing organisms immediately begin breaking down undigested foods, toxicity, and wastes produced by pathogenic bacteria that often interfere with our normal digestive processes. Kombucha also contains lactic acid which supports the breeding of beneficial bacteria in the intestines which ultimately leads to stronger digestive and immune systems.
Where did Kombucha come from?
East Asia is where Kombucha is thought to have originated, but it has been popular in many countries like Germany and Russia where it’s known as “tea kvass.” Kombucha has become wildly popular in the United States since it came on over in the 1990’s—I’m sure you’ve seen it in health food stores.
What are the health benefits of Kombucha?
Like most unconventional, alternative healing remedies, Kombucha has its nay-sayers. Yes, Kombucha, the “Mother,” the whole process is unusual, I’ll give you that, but this ancient tonic has been around an awful lot longer (over 2,000 years) than sodas, “energy” drinks, “vitamin” waters and yes, even Western medicine.
No major medical studies are being conducted on Kombucha and you will often read that there is no scientific evidence to prove that it has healing properties. Could this be because particular industries wouldn’t be able to profit from researching a health-promoting beverage that folks could make at home for less than 50 cents a gallon? Hmm. I was able to find a few studies showing that Kombucha Tea repairs damage caused by environmental pollutants, that it lowers levels of toxins, that Kombucha Tea is a potent in preventing chemical-driven liver damage, that it prevents cancer and that its consumption limits the effect of radiation on chromosomes.
In his novel, Cancer Ward, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn credited Kombucha with properties that cured his stomach cancer. And in 1987, Ronald Reagan used Kombucha to halt his own bout with cancer.
I am not sure if Kombucha is a Panacea, but unlike medication that targets a particular symptom (causing side effects), Kombucha naturally brings the body back into balance so that it can heal itself by addressing the cause of symptoms. Kombucha is a health tonic meant to prevent disease and assist the body’s natural processes. Collective wisdom can be just as important as scientific evidence, but it’s natural to be skeptical of something unusual. So, do your research, be accountable and see if it’s is a good fit for you.
Kombucha is traditionally and anecdotally known to promote health in the following ways:
(grab a chair, this is a hearty list!)
Protects against radiation: reduces the effect of free radicals thanks to antioxidants
Reduces or eliminates the symptoms of fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety
Reduces kidney stones
Prevents and treats arthritis: Kombucha contains glucosamines which increase synovial hyaluronic acid production which lubricates joints, preserves cartilage and prevents pain
Alkalizes the body by balancing internal pH: much like lemons or apple cider vinegar which are acidic before consumption, kombucha alkalizes once consumed
Detoxifies the liver: glucuronic acid (a metabolite that’s produced by a healthy liver) and enzymes in Kombucha reduce the load on the pancreas, liver and kidneys helping the body rid itself of harmful wastes
Increases metabolism: stimulates digestion and helps the body efficiently utilize nutrients
Improve digestion: keeps your system moving with healthy bacteria/probiotics
Rebuilds connective tissue: helps with arthritis, gout, asthma, rheumatism
Cancer prevention: Kombucha is high in Glucaric acid, and recent studies have shown that Glucaric acid prevents cancer.
Alleviates constipation: loaded with probiotics and beneficial flora needed for a “regular” system—aids the stomach in the breakdown and digestion of food
Relieves headaches and migraines
Boosts energy and helps with chronic fatigue: energy boosting minerals and vitamins give the body what they need to operate at their best
Improves mood: contains the amino acid L-theanine (also in green and black tea) which crosses into the brain and stimulates positive, relaxed feelings
Reduces blood pressure
Prevents degenerative diseases: high in polyphenols
Heals eczema and softens the skin: Clears complexion and firms skin—apply topically, too
Anti-aging properties: helps fight wrinkles thanks to hyaluronic Acid
Prevents artherosclerosis: vitamin B6 is believed to aid in the prevention
Speeds healing of ulcers: kills Helicobacter pylori (h.pylori) on contact. h.pylori is a bacterium that causes a chronic low-level inflammation of the stomach lining and it’s strongly linked to the development of duodenal and gastric ulcers and stomach cancer
Helps clear up candida & yeast infections: beneficial bacteria and yeasts present in Kombucha compete with and help remove or suppress harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites
Aids in healthy cell regeneration
Reduces gray hair: also can make it noticeably thicker and shinier—use as a weekly rinse
Lowers glucose levels: prevents spikes
Boosts immunity: probiotics, antioxidants and other beneficial bacterial goodness
Relieves symptoms of PMS: B vitamins break down estrogen and removes excess estrogen
“Wow, that’s a long, impressive list. But that SCOBY looks weird. Tell me more about it.”
Weird is just a matter of perspective, right? This rubbery floating “jellyfish” is bacteria, yeast (the brown stringy bits) and other micro-organisms that spin cellulose in a fermentation process. Over time, these tiny cellulose threads form to create mat on top of the liquid surface. This mat—the SCOBY—will expand and split into smaller pancake-like patties called “babies,” which brewers often give to friends or sell online (you’ll see from my photos that I have about 4-5 babies right now).
The SCOBY can float on top of a kombucha brew, sink to the bottom or turn on its side—all are normal.
How does Kombucha taste?
Like apple cider vinegar, beer and sweet tea had a baby. If you flavor them (a “part 2” post coming soon), add that ingredient to the “parenting” list.
Can I get food poisoning from Kombucha?
Most folks are terrified that aging/culturing food outside of refrigeration will give them poisoning like botulism for example. Botulism is known to us thanks to canning. Our pal Sandor Katz says, “fermentation is the diametrical opposite of canning. Canning is usually a process of sterilizing foods so that no microorganisms can grow. Heat is used to kill bacteria, Botulism has the distinction of having the highest tolerance to heat, so in a canning situation it is possible to kill all bacteria except the bacteria that produces botulism.” He further explains that canning leaves this bacteria in the ideal anaerobic environment it requires to flourish and reproduce. Fermented foods encourage and cultivate large native populations of beneficial bacteria—this process produces acids, which is basically nature’s “brilliant strategy for food preservation and safety.” This environment is inhospitable to botulism and other food poisoning organisms.
Even when the SCOBY is attacked by mold—which is RARE—Kombucha is not a major health risk. Just think of it like you would other items that can get moldy—bread for example. Any mold could be fluffy, fuzzy, dry or dust-like. It only can grow in spots where the brew (acetic acid) cannot reach. Spooning some brewed tea on top of the mold will destroy the pathogen.
If the SCOBY is healthy, then the kombucha will be healthy
(see pic above—that’s healthy).
Folks have been brewing Kombucha for thousands of years—even in environments dirtier than our own—it’s unlikely that it will ever make you sick. But there are a few things you can keep in mind when brewing your own so you get the maximum health benefits.
Doesn’t fermentation mean alcohol?
Kombucha can produce minor amounts of alcohol in it’s fermentation process, but it’s typically only about 1%.
What teas can I use to brew Kombucha?
So far I have experimented with black tea and Rooibos, and I plan to do more experiments and update this post with my findings. But for now, here are some teas to try and what YU can expect.
Black tea: bold, rich taste and darker amber color than you may see in bottled Kombucha from the health food store
Rooibos: earthy flavor, red-orange in color
Oolong: I’ve read that it’s a nice balance of a fruity, grassy flavor and brews up amber in color.
Green: light, grassy flavor and light color—I hear jasmine green tea makes a lovely Kombucha
Pu-erh: mild and fragrant
White Tea: mild Kombucha with a light color
Yerba Mate: Slightly smokey flavor and blonde color—tastes like campfire a bit, in a good way
Herbal Teas: best used in combination with black or green teas—make sure there is no oil, flavoring or chemicals
Teas to avoid: herbal infusion blends (volatile oils in these blends can kill bacteria) and flavored teas (oils again)
How to brew your own kombucha:
To make Kombucha Tea you take the following simple steps—boil some water, add some sugar, add some tea, cool, add your “Mother” (haha), cover with a cheesecloth and wait 7 days. Once you get the hang of it, every 7-10 days, you’ll just spend about 20 minutes making a new batch.
Let’s dive in with more detail…
What YU need:
• Get yourself a Kombucha “Mother.” You can buy them online from sources like Cultures for Health or Kombucha Brooklyn OR you can save the bits of “Mother” from store bought, unpasteurized plain “original” unflavored Kombucha and brew small batches until it grows into a larger Mother. I haven’t done this, but I know plenty of people who have with great success.
• 3 1/2 quarts of pure water
• 2 cups of starter tea from another batch or from unpasteurized plainstore-bought kombucha
• Glass fermentation jar like this one. You must use glass, not ceramic and not plastic as the beneficial bacteria can eat these other vessels, bringing unwanted chemicals into your brew.
• 1 cup organic sugar (I use vegan cane sugar)
• 8 organic tea bags
• Large rubber band
• Stock pot*
• Recycled and sterilized store-bought Kombucha tea bottles or bail jars like these.
Important note: avoid prolonged contact between the Kombucha and metal both during and after brewing. This can affect the flavor of your Kombucha and weaken the SCOBY over time. Also make sure your hands are washed and clean. Make sure brewing area, jar, pot, hands and utensils are clean and free of soap residue. If you use antibacterial cleaners, make sure the items are well rinsed.
Bring water to a boil in stock pot. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved.
Grab your tea bags and add to the stock pot of boiling water. Leave them in the tea to steep until water has cooled. This will take a few hours—speed it up by placing in an ice bath if you need to.
Remove tea bags once liquid is room temperature. Stir in starter tea.
For your first brew, you will place the starter tea, fresh brewed tea mixture to the jar and add your SCOBY.
Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels and secure with a rubber band. Place in a warmish spot in your kitchen, out of direct sunlight, and allow to ferment for 7 days.
Step 6 / Day 7:
Taste your Kombucha by using a straw. Simply dip the straw carefully into the brew, past the new developing SCOBY and Mother. When you have about an inch or two of the straw in the liquid, put your finger over the top of the straw, and pull it out of the brew. Release the liquid into a glass by lifting your finger off the top of the straw. This way you can keep an eye on how the flavor is progressing and halt the process when you find the flavor most yum.
The longer the fermentation process is allowed to proceed, the less sweet and more acidic the brew be. I tend to brew my Kombucha for 7-10 days, but I know people who let it go for 14-28 days. You can stop the ferment at any time. If you ferment too long and your brew becomes Kombucha “vinegar,” use it in dressings or marinades. Kombucha is healthy and live from the time you inoculate it with the SCOBY until the time it turns to vinegar, so have at it at any time.
Prepare to bottle it! Boil water, steep the tea, add the sugar and get another batch of tea going like you started a week ago with Step 1. Once cool, with clean hands, carefully transfer your SCOBY (and the baby) to this fresh batch, then pour the fermented tea from the fermentation jar into bottles—don’t forget to save 2 cups of the fermented batch as starter for the new batch! You can enjoy your brew right away, store in the fridge for later or…
Give it some fizz and/or flavor with a second fermentation. Store Kombucha in your airtight bottles at room temp on the counter for 3-5 days. Place bottles in the fridge if you want halt the fermentation. It’s ok if your brew doesn’t get fizzy—it’s still super healthful. You can toss a few raisins (food for good bacteria) into the bottles to help get the bubbles going for those 3-5 days.
When you open a bottle, be sure to put a cloth over the cap and place bottle in the sink to release some gas—Kombucha is known to foam and expand out of the bottle on its first open. That’s aliveness at its best! Keep a glass handy to pour into.
Note: if there are active live cultures floating around in the bottle—jellyfish like blobs or brown stringy bits, don’t be alarmed—drink it down (or not)! Those are more of the good guys your body will thank YU for.
What about all that sugar?
The majority of the sugar will be enjoyed as food by the beneficial bacteria, and during the process remade into organic acids that blunt the blood sugar response so it is very low glycemic and non-inflammatory.
So there YU have it.
Get some brew going this weekend and stay tuned for part two where I walk you through making all sorts of Kombucha magic like ginger, raspberry and other flavors!
And for fun: Use SCOBY to grow your own clothes!
Or to make “Apple Pie” Sugar Mama Candy!
– – –
Now, I want to hear from YU.
Tell me what you think of this article with a comment below.
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts…
– – – –
HUNGRY FOR MORE? Sign up for free recipes, tips and a 5-day meal plan with shopping list and prep sheet.