Last week I mentioned that I am in search of a healthier gut. Mainly, I am looking for foods that balance out the healthy flora in my belly and chill my acne-prone skin out. I saw a specialist, and she suggested I eat fewer grains, and more fermented foods.
One fermented edible she suggested is kombucha. According to her, drinking a bit of kombucha daily would be great for the vast ecosystem inside my stomach. Here is the thing: I don't really LIKE kombucha.
Three months ago, I would have told you kombucha tastes like yeasty piss-water, comparable in flavor to sipping from the gutter outside a bakery in mid-town after a good storm.
All of the bottled brands I have tried tasted nasty. Some had chia seeds floating in them, which made the entire thing remind me of placenta, despite the fact that I have never before come into actual contact with placenta. When I told the specialist my issues with kombucha, she suggested I try and brew my own, so I can control the flavor and the level of fermentation. The longer it sits, the more fizzy/yeasty it gets.
This was several months ago, and since then, I have been brewing batches of yeast tea on my counter. The first several attempts were a bust -- and the actual process of brewing it freaked me out -- but I finally got down a recipe that I am into. And, surprisingly enough, slowly dipping my toes into the yeasty kombucha tub has made me less freaked out by store-bought brands.
First, WTF is kombucha, and why drink it? It is a fermented tea with awesome probiotic compounds, as well as B vitamins, and amino acids. As a vegan, these are things I am not getting from animal food sources (meat and dairy, yo!) so vegans adoring kombucha is not just some hippy dippy stereotype –- stuff is good for us!
To make kombucha, you need four main things: Tea, sugar, starter and a scoby. A what!? A scoby, which stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast,” is a living bacteria culture, and it is where all of the amazing probiotics come from.
You can order one online, but I was lucky enough to grab one from my mom's fridge. (She has been brewing for years, but I have been snobbily refusing to partake.)
Scobys look like a gelatinous mushroom, with a texture similar to what I imagine after-birth would feel like. This may sound disgusting, but if you're into science, they're actually sort of cool. Scobys are self replicating! They can be used more than once, and a new batch of kombucha will grow a new scoby, called a “baby,” so you can retire your “mama” scoby eventually. No, really. Babies and mamas exist in scoby land.
A few notes on brewing your own kombucha:
− It's best to use a glass container to brew your kombucha, as plastics can leach into your drink.
− You can pick any type of tea you want, although you should probably aim for one without lots of weird added ingredients. I like to use simple caffeinated teas.
− A note on sugars: You add a ton of sugar to your initial kombucha. In fermenting, the scoby noms up all of the sugars. The longer you ferment, the less sugar you end up with, and less sweet it tastes. So if you're drinking the kombucha brewed for only 5 days because you're antsy pantsy, it will probably taste better but you will be getting a good amount of sugar in your drink, and that's important to know.
− Since it is fermented, there is a wee trace of alcohol in kombucha. For this reason, some are wary of consumption.
− Make sure all of your brewing accoutrement are CLEAN. Kombucha is a living bacteria, and if you get it dirty it will mess up your brew.
Okay, now that I have lectured, allow me to commence with:
HOW TO BREW BANGING KOMBUCHA
You will need:
− 1 scoby
− 6 – 8 tea bags. (I have found I preferred plain black tea. My favorite is PG Tips.)
− 1 cup existing brew. If you have a starter kit, this will be included. Otherwise, you can use 1 cup of PLAIN, flavorless, store bought kombucha.
− 1 gallon of water
− 1 cup of organic sugar
− A glass 1 gallon container
− Cheese cloth or clean dish towel
− Rubber band
− Bottles for storing your finished brew
Boil 1 gallon of water. Add the tea bags and sugar, and let cool completely. COMPLETELY. If you add a mama scoby to hot water, bad things will happen. We have all seen Gremlins.
Remove the teabags, put tea in your glass container, and add your cup of kombucha. Give it a little stir, and then carefully add your mama scoby. She may float to the top, or she may hang low at the bottom.
Cover with cheese cloth and rubber band and let sit on your counter for 10 – 30 days. Ideally it should be in the warmest environment possible. I learned that my kombucha sweet spot is 20 days. Any earlier, and it tastes just like sweetened, mildly acidic water and I am convinced it is mostly sugar.
Any longer, and it starts to get a little too stinky for me. In fact, after being away for a weekend with a scobester chilling on my counter for some odd 27 days, I walked into my kitchen and thought “Who vomited?” I have roommates. I can't be stinking up the kitchen like that. However, you should start sampling your brew (with a CLEAN spoon) after 7 days.
On the last day of your brew, remove your mama scoby. You may see that while you left her alone, she made like an asexual amphibian and reproduced. I have serious baby fever right now, and I am mildly jealous of my mama scoby's impressive, casual reproduction capabilities.
Carefully transfer your mama and her babe to their own CLEAN jar with a few cups of their own liquid. You can use the scobys and their liquid for your next batch, or to give as a gift to someone else looking to kombucha it up. Or maybe sell it Craigslist?
Put your kombucha into bottles and keep in your fridge. Refrigeration stops the fermentation process so if you leave it out on your counter it will continue stewing.
Family photo! Forefront is the mama, in back is the babe.
You can enjoy the tea plain, or add flavor. I mostly found that I enjoy kombucha plain, but I tried a few different flavors, my favorite being mango. I blended up a mango and added a few tablespoons of the puree to a bottle of my kombucha.
Okay, what if you're bored of drinking your kombucha?! And what if you still do not like it? In an attempt to get creative with my kombucha, I turned it into popsicles. YEASTICLES! I pureed up a mango and a banana, stirred in some brew, and froze it in a popsicle tray.
My yeasticles were delicious. I preferred this method of ingestion over drinking, hands down. I was enjoying a mango yeasticle every day for about three weeks when a friend of mine mentioned that in freezing it, I am probably killing all of the probiotics. Fuck.
SO, do make kombucha popsicles to enjoy for taste, but don't count on it as your main source of tummy culture. I drink a small glass of kombucha most days -- the finished product lasts several months in the fridge. It still is not my most favorite thing in the world, but I no longer gag at the thought. I also am housing an array of scobys in the back of my refrigerator, much to my roommates' dismay.
If you want to talk about scobys, hit me up on the Internet and we can be friends. The energy and excitement I put into this whole kombucha project only proved that I probably do need more friends.