What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is all the rage these days, but it can be quite costly. I’ve been drinking it since GT’s Kombucha first showed up in my local health food store. Last week I started making it as part of my practical homesteading lifestyle. A few weeks ago I put an update on Facebook asking if anyone local had a SCOBY to share. My friend Elizabeth Hill in Baton Rouge, Louisiana had one. I sent her some dehydrated zucchini and squash chips as well as some Umami Dust in a trade. She didn’t ask to trade, but I always like sharing goodies back and forth with my friends, so it was a perfect deal for me. Ask around, you may have a friend who makes Kombucha and would be happy to share a SCOBY. During the process of making Kombucha the mother SCOBY sometimes produces a baby SCOBY so Kombucha makers can end up with extra.
What is a SCOBY?
SCOBY is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY feeds off the sugar in the tea recipe below, fermenting and transforming it into a slightly sour beverage. Expect your SCOBY to have a weird texture, aroma and appearance. It is bacteria and yeast after all. One Kombucha website refers to the SCOBY as a mobile home for friendly bacteria and yeast.
Why Drink Kombucha?
The story that sold me on Kombucha all those years ago was that of the mother of the founder of GT’s Kombucha. I love the entrepreneurial spirit of Dave and how he was inspired by his mother’s experience of using Kombucha before, during and after she was diagnosed with cancer to launch his company as a teenager. You can read The Story Behind GT, but also read Laraine’s Kombucha Story.
The bottom line is that Kombucha purported to be good for you. It is full of probiotics.
Kombucha Recipe, First Ferment
1 cup Sugar
14 cups Water
5 tbsp. loose Black Tea (or 8 regular sized tea bags)
1 SCOBY with starter tea from last batch (see SCOBY note below)
1 clean glass gallon jar
1-2 coffee filters
1 big rubber band
Glass bottles to package in after the 1st ferment
- Make black tea by bringing your water to a boil. Add black tea. Steep tea for 3-5 minutes.
- Once you tea is made add the sugar. Stir to thoroughly dissolve.
- If you have a sturdy glass jar (which you should be using) place your prepared tea in the clean gallon jar. Set aside until completely cool to room temperature, which could be hours.
- Gently place your started kombucha and SCOBY into the glass jar. If your kombucha did not come with about of cup or more of starter kombucha you can use some store-bought kombucha as your starter. This step is important because it make the fresh batch slightly acidic and prevents unfriendly bacteria from growing while you are waiting for the fermentation to take place. Don’t skip it.
- Place a coffee filter over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band. This will keep the fruit flies out while allowing air to enter the jar during the fermenting process.
- Set the jar on your counter and allow the magic to happen for 7-10 days at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. I did some research and it is okay to allow the first ferment to sit for up to 30 days. I was having a busy week and missed the window of time, but all was fine.
- During this time your SCOBY might sit look like it is doing nothing at all. Mine sat at the bottom and never floated. It appears that it is perfectly normal for the SCOBY to be completely unpredictable. It may float, sit at the bottom, or change positions.
- After 7 days you can use a straw to start tasting your Kombucha until you find the perfect balance between tartness and sweetness for you.
- When you are ready end the first ferment gently remove the SCOBY with either clean dry hands or a clean stainless steel spoon. If you are going to immediately start your next batch, simply set it aside in a clean bowl. If you are going to store it place it in a clean glass container. If you SCOBY has gotten too large removed the extra layer, and if it has had a baby SCOBY prepare it just as described for the first one in steps 9 and 10.
- Measure out 2 cups of this batch of batch of kombucha to serve as the starter of your next batch and pour it over your SCOBY.
- If you are going to drink your Kombucha unflavored, bottle it in clean glass jars. Leave a ½-1 inch headspace in your jar. Set it at room temperature for 1 to 3 days. Be sure to burp (carefully allow air to release by partially unscrewing the lid) your kombucha every day. Place it in the fridge to stop the fermenting process when you are ready to drink it.
- If you would like to do a second fermentation to flavor and carbonate your kombucha you can place it into another clean glass gallon jar with a lid or multiple quart glass jars. Pour 1 quart of juice (not orange, lemon, lime or pineapple) into the jar. Add kombucha (minus the SCOBY) over the juice. Tightly cap the jar and leave at room temperature for 2-7 days, burping as needed. There are exceptions to the citrus rule, see my Ginger Lemon Turmeric Kombucha Recipe, Second Ferment.
*You can find detailed instructions on How to Make Your Own Kombucha SCOBY on thekitchn.com or you can get one from a friend or buy one.
Don’t Want to Make Your Own Kombucha?
Test out some of the amazing brands (and see if you have any local makers at your farmers market) to find the right one. They can vary greatly in taste. I, personally, only like the ones with a bite like ginger flavored ones, but some people really love the fruity ones. Of the store bought brands I like GT’s Kombucha and KeVita Masterbrew Kombucha
According to Web MD’s article The Truth About Kombucha, “The claims are greater than the science can prove and the safety factors require careful selection” and “It would be prudent for pregnant women, elderly people, children, and anyone with a compromised immune system to avoid it.”
According to Dr. Axe’s article 7 Reasons to Drink Kombucha Everyday, “Ultimately, this cocktail of good bacteria interact together in a unique way to produce some unbelievable health benefits for those who drink it.”
Health Ambition has an excellent article What Are The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods? to learn even more about the topic of fermented foods and drinks.
Bottom line: if you look you can find an article to support drinking it or not drinking it; another to support home brewing and yet another to suggest never home brewing. You are an adult, so I will leave that decision up to you.
Disclosure: There is trace amounts of alcohol in Kombucha, it is a natural by-product of the fermentation process. It generally contains less than 1% and if your job requires that you be 100% alcohol-free, or you have sensitives to alcohol or are a recovering alcoholic you may want to consider not drinking Kombucha. I have been sober since 1992 and have had not ill-effects, addiction lapses or cravings caused by Kombucha. (You can read One Super Bowl Sunday for the full story.) But I wanted to make you fully aware so that you can make your own informed decisions.