The first time I tried kombucha, I made the mistake of sniffing it before I drank it. It smelled strongly of vinegar, so I thought – I’m not going to like this. I was very surprised at the taste. It was sweet, tangy and slightly effervescent. I learned that the base is acidic, so a vinegar smell is normal, but not indicative of what the taste will be.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from a base of tea and sugar, using a culture called a SCOBY. SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. It is a mushroom-like culture, which is actually the fruiting body of a fungus. The drink ferments within a few weeks to give you a healthful beverage that is like nothing you’ve ever had before.
It’s believed that kombucha was discovered in northeast China or Manchuria around 1910. It made it’s way to Russia and gained popularity in the 50’s and 60’s. From there, it spread around the globe. Only in the last 20 years or so has it come to be enjoyed here in America. There are several bottling companies now that mass produce kombucha, and all of them start the same way.
The starter tea is usually a combination of black and green teas, although many are made from other ingredients, as we’ll show you later in this article. Sugar and a SCOBY are added to start the fermentation process. The SCOBY mother, or original fungus, will float, sink, or turn sideways in the container used. It’s not unusual to see brown stringy things coming from the mother, or it may develop holes, bumps, dark patches or clear spots. All of this is normal. However, if you detect a cheesy, rotten smell, see bugs (such as fruit flies) or see green or black mold, toss it out and start over. The bad SCOBY and liquid can go into a compost pile without harm.
Why should you drink kombucha?
The health benefits from kombucha are endless. It contains a multitude of probiotics, helping to develop good bacteria in the gut. It also contains enzymes, amino acids, polyphenols, and B vitamins. Many say it will cure everything from gout to cancer. While much of this is unsubstantiated, there is no doubt that kombucha is a great treat. On of the proven facts is that it contains glucuronic acid. This aids the liver in detoxification. And while the fermenting sugar can produce alcohol, the amount is usually less than 1%.
So how do you make kombucha? It’s very simple. There are many variations on the method, but this is the way I do it:
(Makes about 1 gallon)
You will need
- 1 gallon filtered water (find the best water filtration systems here)
- 8 black tea bags (find organic black tea here)
- 4 green tea bags (find organic green tea here)
- 1 cup organic sugar (find it here)
- 1 SCOBY (get one either from a friend or find them online here)
- ½ – 1 cup kombucha (use either the liquid that comes with your SCOBY or store-bought raw/unpasteurized kombucha)
- large wide-mouth glass jar (I use a gallon-sized jar like this)
- tea towel (you can find tea towels here)
- large rubber band (find one here)
- Heat the water and add the tea bags. Steep for about 5-10 minutes and remove the bags. Remove from heat.
- Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Allow tea to cool.
- When the sweetened tea is cool, pour into your clean glass jar.
- Add about ½ cup of kombucha – either the liquid that comes with your SCOBY or use store-bought raw, unpasteurized kombucha. With clean hands, place the SCOBY in the jar. (Ask around to see if you can get a SCOBY from a friend or purchase one online. I got a small piece of one from a friend and it took over the jar within a week.)
- Place a tea towel or double layer of paper towel on top and secure tightly with a rubber band. You want it to be able to breathe, but you also need to keep bugs out.
- Place jar in a relatively warm, dark place where it will not be disturbed.
Allow your mixture to sit for about a week. To test it, slip a straw into the liquid and put your finger over the top. This will hold a small amount in the straw so you can taste it. If it is very sweet, leave it a bit longer. It should be slightly sweet, tangy and slightly effervescent. If it tastes off at all, start over. It could take two weeks depending on fermenting conditions, but shouldn’t be much more.
Once the taste is to your liking, you can remove the SCOBY and ½ – 1 cup of the kombucha. Set this aside and use to start another batch of kombucha. Bottle and refrigerate the rest of your kombucha.
Variations on your Homemade Kombucha
Now, what can you do to change things up? I’ve tried many things with my kombucha, and not all were successful.
You can substitute sugars, although sugars with molasses in them (unrefined) are hard for a SCOBY to digest. This is one time using white sugar is okay – after all, it’s just food for the yeast to feed on. Pasteurized (not raw) honey can also be used, but I have not tried this one. Let me know if you do! Don’t use stevia, lactose, xylitol or other non-caloric sweeteners. The sugars are necessary for the fermentation process.
I’ve also had success with red wine. I had a mother that had been in red wine given to me, so I thought I’d try it. I only had a small piece to start, so I put it in a small jar with some black tea, red wine and sugar. Big mistake! I should have used a bigger jar because when I tried it, it was soooo strong!! (I may try it again with a gallon jar next time.)
I have also tried black and green tea, hibiscus flowers (roselle, sometimes sold as “jamaica” in stores), fresh ginger and turbinado sugar. It was just about the best thing I’ve ever had. The fresh ginger is the kicker. Try other fruit juices such as carrot, mango or grape, and also fresh fruits like strawberries and lemon. I’ve also had one made from coconut water and lime.
My next experiment is a cold and flu blend. Black and green tea, pomegranate juice, blackberry, usnea and holy basil. Usnea is a lichen that grows wild and is well known for its anti-viral activity. (You can find dried usnea here.) Holy basil is good for the entire body and has a slight clove or cinnamon taste. (Find it here.)
The possibilities are endless. You can make kombucha from almost anything. What are some of your favorites?