In recent years I’ve trended more and more towards natural foods. I rely less and less on processed and packaged foods. The same philosophy applies to my nutritional needs. I’d much rather get what I need via natural food sources than supplements. So for probiotics I eat yogurt regularly, but a diversity of probiotics seems like a good idea. So I’m interested in exploring other sources of probiotic cultures - kefir, kefir water, fermented pickled foods, miso, tempeh (something I eat semi-regularly as a local restaurant makes wonder patties) and of course kombucha.
Over the summer I experimented with drinking apple cider vinegar (with mother, like Bragg’s) laced water first thing in the morning to help with some skin issues I’ve been having from the weight loss as well as some digestive issues that have plagued me most of my adult life. It seemed to be helpful for both issues, but I wasn’t keen for the flavor. Some coworkers turned me onto kombucha a few months ago and I became hooked and the results seem similar to ACV water. But, the $3+ per 12-16 ounce bottle price tag was not something I was enamored with.
We’ve definitely done our share of culturing around these parts between DH and myself. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz has been on our cookbook shelves for some time and we recently added his Art of Fermentation as well (a more encyclopedic book). We’ve done yogurt, cultured butter, homemade ginger ale, cheese etc. So brewing my own kombucha seemed pretty doable. I did some further research on the Internet and bought a Kindle ebook that is a collection of the articles from the Cultures for Health web site.
I needed a starter scoby (simbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and did not know anyone currently brewing kombucha who might have a baby scoby to part with. After some reading I decided to grow my own. It sounded as though it wouldn’t take much longer than rehydrating a dehydrated bought scoby. To grow the scoby you use a bottle of plain, raw kombucha mixed with some sweetened black tea and let it sit for 4 weeks or so until the scoby has become about 1/4″ thick or so. I grew mine over the month of December. The resulting brew is much too acidic to drink due to the long fermentation period so you pull out what you need as starter tea for the new batch of kombucha and dump out the rest or find other ways to use it other than drink it straight.
On New Year’s Day I started my first official batch of kombucha - a 2 liter size. I let it ferment for one week. Last Tuesday evening I pulled out what I needed for a gallon batch and split the remainder between 2 different pint jars to flavor. In one I put about 1/3 cup of frozen mixed berries (mostly strawberries) and in another I put about 1″ of slivered ginger root. I let the jars sit on top of the fridge, covered for about 3 days. Then I strained out the flavoring agents and bottled them in repurposed bale top 750mL bottles. These I let sit out at room temp for about 2.5 days or so to carbonate, then moved them to fridge.
I had my first 8 oz serving on Tuesday morning - 2 weeks after starting the first official batch. I opted for the berry first even though my favorite commercial brews all contain ginger. When I opened the bottle there was a satisfactory fizz, though little seemed to be retained in the actual kombucha. It smelled strongly like vinegar at first whiff, but tasted quite good and not overly acidic. I think at current indoor temps I could have let it go an extra day or two at any of the three stages and still found it quite good. I was a little concerned the ginger might be a tad too strong based on the scent when I bottled it, but I tried it this morning and it could have held up to even more ginger.
The times can vary greatly depending on the temperatures where you are brewing the kombucha. I have chosen for the winter to take it down to the basement where there is less temperature variance and it is a bit warmer at night. I’m thinking I could go as long as 10 days in the initial brew process right now, but come summer it could be as short as 5 days or so. The longer you let the first fermentation go, the more acidic and vinegar-like it will be, but also the less sugar remains (and thus calories). You just have to experiment and find the balance that you enjoy. But the warmer the temps the faster the scoby uses the sugars and the flavor profile changes.
There is a decided lack of scientific study on the benefits of kombucha, just lots of anecdotal evidence. In the 1990’s there were even two deaths thought to be linked to kombucha consumption. Given this information I am moderate in my kombucha consumption. I generally drink only 8 ounces per day. Occasionally I’ve had as much as 16 ounces, but due to the acidity I wouldn’t recommend any more than that. I try to drink it right away in the morning on an empty stomach. If I end up waiting for some reason until later in the day I tend to drink it between meals, much like the instructions on many probiotic supplements.
I am excited to play around with other types of tea. So far I’ve just used an organic keemun we’ve had at the house. Each type imparts a different flavor profile to the final brew. Amanda brought me some freeze dried fruits from a recent trek to Omaha’s Trader Joe’s that can be added with the tea (as long as no oils have been added) to the initial brew period rather than as part of the secondary fermentation that should prove interesting. I also have tons of other ideas for flavoring in the secondary fermentation stage. This could prove to be a fun, long-term experiment!