Kombucha – it’s easier than you think

I’ve been brewing kombucha now, off and on, for the past few months.  I took a break after my first few batches because, honestly, I was forgetting about the brew sitting on my counter too often!  I knew it had many potential health benefits, including bio-available vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, and probiotics, but I simply found I wasn’t making it a priority.  So I put kombucha on the back burner, so the speak.

However, after digging into my summer reading of Nourishing Traditions and Enzyme Nutrition, I started back up again.  The idea of raw foods providing digestive enzymes is a whole new world to me.  But I have to admit, the Food Enzyme Concept, developed by Dr. Edward Howell, is quite intriguing:

“According to the Food Enzyme Concept, enzymes possess biological, as well as chemical, properties.  When ingested, the enzymes in raw food, or supplementary enzymes, result in a significant degree of digestion, lowering the drain on the [person’s] own enzyme potential.  The heat, [above 118 degrees F], used in cooking destroys all food enzymes and forces the [person] to produce more enzymes, thus enlarging digestive organs, especially the pancreas.  When an excessive amount of digestive enzymes is made, the enzyme potential may be unable to produce an adequate quantity of metabolic enzymes to repair body organs and fight disease.” (excerpt from Enzyme Nutrition, pg. 4)

Pretty fascinating.  I’ve never made a conscious effort to eat raw foods, especially not for the digestive enzymes.  But because I am reading about how significant the health benefits are, I am now attempting to incorporate raw foods into every meal for our family.  I’m a work in progress though, and don’t do it all the time.  One way I’ve made it a priority is by brewing kombucha again.  It’s a fermented raw food drink loaded with digestive enzymes, as well as the other goodies mentioned above!  And it’s fairly easy to make.  The kids aren’t drinking it (yet) because they don’t care for the flavor, but it’s a great way for me to incorporate raw food into my diet.  If you’re interested in brewing your own, I highly suggest reading The Big Book of Kombucha, by Hannah Crum, for all the details.  For a general overview, keep reading.

Kombucha only requires a few ingredients: 1. a SCOBY, (a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast); 2. strong kombucha (also called starter liquid) to get the ferment going; and 3. strong, sweet tea.  A SCOBY is a gelatinous substance that houses the yeast and bacteria, which does all of the fermenting work.  The yeast and bacteria work together to eat the sugars in the sweet tea (that you brew fresh with each batch).  A new “baby” SCOBY grows with each batch of kombucha, but my babies have been pretty thin, so I use a couple together when brewing.  You can obtain them online, though many require re-hydration.  You can also try to get one from a friend who brews kombucha, or from a local kombucha shop.  I’ve also read that you can grow your own SCOBY from commercial kombucha.

The active time required to brew kombucha isn’t significant.  You’ll need a glass jar (mine has a 1 gallon capacity) covered with a coffee filter.  Kombucha needs access to air in order to ferment properly, so a screw top will not work.  It is important to note that metal vessels or tools should not be used or put into direct contact with the SCOBY.  Metal is fine to use for brewing the sweet tea, though.  You’ll also need a few other tools and ingredients to brew strong sweet tea.

The ratios I use to make 1-gallon of kombucha are:

1. 1 SCOBY (4-5 ounces)
2. 2 cups strong kombucha/starter liquid
3. 14 cups of water (spring, filtered, or well)
4. 2 tablespoons organic tea (I use this one)
5. 1 cup organic sugar (I use evaporated cane juice)

To brew a 1-gallon batch:

  1. Heat 4 cups of water to just below boiling, and then steep the tea in a metal bowl (or glass if it’s very thick and there is no concern of breakage) for about 15 minutes.  I use a loose leaf infuser because I use loose tea.
  2. Remove the tea leaves.  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
  3. Make sure your fermenting jar is very clean.  Poor the remaining (cool or room temperature) water into the jar.  Add the sweet tea and allow to cool to about 75-80 degrees F.
  4. With very clean hands (no antibacterial soap, just use plain old soap), place the SCOBY in the sweet tea.  Then add the strong kombucha/liquid starter.
  5. Cover the jar with a coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.  Place somewhere out of direct sunlight.  Your SCOBY may float at the top, sink to the bottom, or hang out somewhere in the middle.  Totally normal.  You can see one at the bottom and one in the middle of the brew in the picture above.  I should note that one is a baby SCOBY from the last brew – I added it to this brew to try to strengthen it because it was thin.
  6. If all is going well and your brew is fermenting properly, you’ll most likely see a new baby SCOBY start to develop on top of the brew, and you’ll see bubbles forming underneath it (like in the picture below).  You’ll also see yeast strands develop in the brew.  SCOBYs take on many different looks, so don’t be alarmed if it looks quite odd.  The one thing you should be alarmed about is seeing mold, which will look fuzzy.  I’ve never had this happen, but it can.  If you do have mold grow, discard the whole ferment (SCOBY included), and start over again with new ingredients.
  7. Ferment the tea for 7 to 21 days.  I usually start taste-testing at about 7 days by pushing a straw in between the forming SCOBY and the jar, and pulling some tea out.  Sometimes it’s still too sweet, but this is a personal preference.  I usually ferment for about 10 days.  Some people choose to check the PH level of their kombucha with PH strips to know when the brew is finished.  This isn’t necessary, but the range should fall in between 2.5-3.5.
  8. When the tea has your desired flavor, carefully scoop out two cups of the kombucha from the top of the brew for your next batch.  It’s important that it be from the top.  Put the liquid in a separate glass vessel (remember, never metal) and then pull out the SCOBY from the brew to add to it.
  9. Put the SCOBY and new liquid start aside, and then brew a new batch of sweet tea to start the process over again.
  10. I usually strain my kombucha to get rid of the yeast strands that developed during fermentation.  They’re part of the process and completely fine to drink, but I just don’t prefer them.  I use this plastic strainer from Cultures for Health.
  11. You can then bottle your kombucha, or put it in a larger pitcher like I do (consider changing out the spigot though, especially if it’s plastic).  Many people choose to flavor their kombucha in a second fermentation also.  I haven’t done that though, as I just prefer the easier method of one fermentation.

That’s it!  This is a very basic explanation of how to brew kombucha, so I recommend doing more research if you’d like to give it a try.  I simply wanted to share that it’s really quite easy to brew, and doesn’t take a lot of effort.  Most of the time is spent waiting for the SCOBY to work its magic.  It can be a wonderful way to add raw food to your diet for the digestive enzyme benefits.

Disclaimer:

I do want to point out that kombucha is a living food – it has live bacteria in it.  Each brew is slightly different.  If your immune system is compromised or if you have any health issues, are pregnant or nursing, or are a child, please consult your doctor before drinking kombucha.

Also, some people may experience temporary detoxification symptoms when beginning to drink kombucha, possibly including joint/muscle soreness/pain, difficulty sleeping, irritability, stuffy nose, fever or chills, acne, loose stool, or constipation.  I haven’t experienced any of these symptoms personally, but they can be possible.  It may therefore be wise to start out by drinking a small amount of kombucha and working up to a full cup.

Although there may be many potential health benefits to drinking kombucha, only you/your doctor can decide if it’s right for you and I make no promises!  I am not an expert, I am simply a home brewer who wants to share my experience.

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