Thursday, September 19, 2013

What the heck is Kombucha?

Have you heard of Kombucha? I hadn't up until about 18 months ago. I had ordered Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and in her book she raved about it.

Part of my challenge with Ben is to not only feed the kid, but also keep his gut in as good a condition as I can manage. Kombucha has many great healing properties and it's loaded with probiotics. I ordered a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and I haven't looked back.

Kombucha is made from sweet tea that is then fermented by using a SCOBY. The SCOBY eats the sugar in the tea creating a tangy and fizzy drink that's, well, yum. Before I tried my first bottle of Kombucha I had read a bit about it, and I wasn't expecting it to taste so good. The best description I can give is a crisp apple cider with the taste of stone fruits.

So what exactly is a SCOBY? It's a weird looking pancake like jellish thing that floats in your jar of tea. It's odd. In Kombucha circles (yes, there are some) the SCOBY is called the mother and when a white layer forms on the mother, it's called the baby. I told my husband that and he gave me a look that said, let's just call it a SCOBY- Ok?

You can buy a SCOBY and some starter tea from health stores and from eBay. I bought mine for just under $13 including postage from eBay and it arrived in great condition with lots of instructions to get me started.

So why drink it? Apart from the taste, Kombucha has incredible health benefits. The tea has lots of goodies in it like probiotics, it contains lactic and gluconic acid, and a range of B vitamins. Lactic acid helps with digestion and gluconic acid can help with yeast infections and liver detox. Kombucha lovers report benefits in aiding acid reflux, constipation, and weight loss.

How do you make it? My recipe is very simple.

Take 1L of water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and add 2 black tea bags, or for flavoured tea use 1 black tea bag and 1 flavoured tea bag. I've had success with pomegranate, strawberry, blackberry, rooibos tea and orange & ginger.

Brew for 15 minutes (longer if you like it stronger), and add 1/4C of white cane sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, remove the tea bags, and wait until it's cooled down to luke warm.

Add 100ml of starter tea (that comes with your SCOBY when you buy, and then you save 100ml of each batch to use next time).

Poor into a clean big glass jar (make sure it's big enough to hold all the liquid) and slide in the SCOBY.

Cover with a breathable cloth like a hanky or a cheesecloth and attach a rubber band around the rim.

Place in a cool dark place for 7 days to ferment.

After 7 days pour off a bit of the liquid and taste it, if it's still sweet then leave it another day and try again - it should be pleasantly tangy and fresh but not like vinegar.

Bottle it into clean bottles and leave for 3 days to carbonate. Plastic is good because you can tell when it's carbonated - the bottles are hard.

Place into the fridge and consumer within a month.

Is it safe? Now as with any food product, especially fermented food, you do need to be careful with hygiene. I always wash my hands and sterilise my glass jars in boiling water before I start. I also did my research before I started both online and by reading through the detailed instructions my eBay seller provided. If you have a go at googling Kombucha you'll no doubt find a few scary websites talking about Kombucha and people getting sick etc. There are also people all over the world who have been making Kombucha tea for generations, and in much dirtier conditions than our kitchens. I take an educated and common sense approach when fermenting foods.

I don't think there is any good reason why we can't make and enjoy these products at home (and I'm a bit cynical about the blogs who say never to make your own Kombucha and then magically have a commercial brand endorsed as part of their blog post - ahem).

I suggest you do your own research if you're concerned. I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist. There's lots of info out there - far too much for me to write out here.

One thing I do want to mention is that some people have reported a 'cleansing crisis' or a 'healing crisis' in the first few days which is basically the intestines have a bit of a freak out at all the good bacteria. Symptoms are a gurgling tummy, diarrhea, and tiredness. You can help that if it happens by drinking less tea more often - so lots of frequent sips, and by drinking a lot of water. It should sort itself out pretty quickly.

Is it alcoholic? It is slightly. About 1%. You'd need to drink a lot of it to get drunk - and I don't recommend that because it would be way too much for your tum.

So there we go, Kombucha Tea! My kids absolutely love it. Their favourite flavours are pomegranate and ginger & lemon.

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