You know, I was thinking, when my diet changed earlier this year, so did this place. And along the whole journey, from the early stages of removing refined flours and sugars, to the next steps of incorporating new ingredients (from whole wheat pastry to spelt to buckwheat flours), and even recently as I’ve started soaking flours overnight, you’ve stuck with me. You may have been shaking your head or laughing out loud, but at least a few of you have jumped right in, and those of you that haven’t: you’re still here.
I was telling my brother yesterday that I really value people who will stay, who will stick by you and not run when things get uncomfortable or hard to understand, who are willing to put a little effort into relationship. And while of course every relationship is valuable because every person is, I have to say: those people who will fight through the rough stuff? They’re few and far between. They’re the best ones. They’re you guys.
So that said, I’ve got a real treat for you today, one that friends on Twitter or Flickr will probably have already seen coming, and one that friends in real life have already heard about. Buckle up: it’s time to talk about kombucha.
I started drinking kombucha in January, partly for the probiotics, partly for the soda-like carbonation, partly because someone told me I wouldn’t like it and hello? Game. On. The first time, it tasted a little strange, a little acidic, with weird strands of what I later came to learn were (good) bacteria cultures. Pretty quickly though, that fascination grew to affection grew to full-on addiction, and I was drinking it almost every day.
Essentially a fermented tea, kombucha gets credit from drinkers for all kinds of health benefits: better skin, detoxification, easier digestion, even cancer recovery, although there’s little research to support this. Anecdotally, I can tell you it definitely affects my digestion and I can absolutely feel it in my body. The levels of acids and vitamins in a batch varies pretty dramatically, but when done right (like GT’s did it), there’s super-low amounts of sugar, too.
I attended a class back in March, where I was given illustrated instructions and articles about the benefits of kombucha while I watched a live demonstration of the kombucha-making process. There are a few things you need: a four-quart glass bowl, plain tea, sugar, a wooden spoon, a thin and clean white towel, a big rubber band. But the biggest thing you need is what’s called a kombucha “mother” and six ounces of starter. You can order one from Laurel Farms or, if your life is full of crazy providences, you can walk into a Bible study three months after taking a kombucha class, recognize a girl who was at said class, introduce yourself and find out she has a culture/starter she’ll give you.
Kombucha and me = meant. to. be.
So obviously you have to get a starter to begin making your own kombucha, but that aside, the process is crazy simple: (1) Boil three quarts of water and then add around 1.5 cups of sugar, dissolving it completely.
(2) Steep five plain tea bags (I use four green and one black) for ten minutes off of heat. Remove tea bags. Let cool for a while. Then pour into a glass bowl and let cool for a little less than two hours.
(3) Add the starter kombucha liquid and lay the mother (sometimes also called a mushroom) on top.
(4) Criss-cross tape over the bowl.
(5) Cover with a clean, white towel (like t-shirt material) and tie a rubber band around the bowl. Store in a dim, ventilated place for 7 to 10 days (or 11 if your kitchen is super cold like mine). Strain through a funnel lined with a towel into glass containers.
That’s it. Then you can start the whole thing over again. Raving about it to everyone you meet is optional.
Other kombucha questions:
Q: What flavor will the kombucha be? Someone asked me this when I made it, and I said, I don’t know, Original? You can add fresh or frozen berries to some if you like; I do this. I’ve tried blueberries, mixed berries, cherries and peaches. Original still might be my favorite.
Q: So do I really have to order a mother online? No. The kombucha world is growing, and if you’re lucky, you might know someone who already makes some. If you know me, for example, we can talk. Or if you’re brave, I’ve also heard Craigslist is an option.
Q: Doesn’t kombucha have alcohol in it? Yes. It’s a very, very small amount, not even enough to make it legally alcoholic. However, as the article above indicated, in certain circumstances, at certain temperatures, kombucha may ferment again, raising alcohol levels slightly, warranting a new label in stores (but seriously, not that much). Also, note that when you make your own, it’s pretty hard to measure the alcohol or sugar levels. You just know it’s very low.
Q: Did I really hear someone talking about a kombucha baby? Whaaat? It sounds so strange when people talk about it, but when your kombucha is finished fermenting, it will have a second mushroom-looking thing that’s grown on top of the mother, and that’s called the baby. Assuming they look good, both can be used to create a new batch.
Got more questions? Shoot.
More questions, drawn from comments below:
Q: Could you explain a little more about the mother? I couldn’t exactly tell by looking at the pictures. It sounds like some kind of fungi but it LOOKS like a piece of thick paper. Is that a mother in the third picture down? Is it like a filter with yeasty stuff in it or something?
It’s like a weird, thick fungi-like thing that conforms to the shape of the container you’re using. Absolutely, I can give you a better look, although I warn you, it’s not that pretty. Here are a few more shots I took today, as I just so happened to be finishing up another batch!
Q: How does one share it? Basically what happens is that over the 7 to 10 (or 11) days, the mother reproduces itself into a replica that grows on top of it, called the baby. Then you can take either the mother or the baby and brew a new batch (or give it away).
Q: Is the mother bacterial or fungal (or a mix of the two)? Will different mothers give different flavors of kombucha, like the way different sour dough starters will give different flavors of bread? The mother contains a combination of yeast and live bacteria, like yogurt. And as far as I know, there are not different flavors of starters like there are different flavors of sourdough.
Q: It definitely seems to have some health benefits, but dang it is putting a big hole in your pocket all the while! I’m so glad you said this because I forgot to mention it above. The bottles were definitely pricey (like $3 or $4 a bottle!) so that makes making it yourself a good idea for another reason!