Kombucha – Health benefits, risks, and how to make your own.
Kombucha might be considered a trendy new health drink in the West, though in truth, the fermented brew has been around for centuries. It is believed to have originated in China or Russia, and touted mainly for its probiotic properties and benefits to the immune system. This effervescent, somewhat vinegary tasting beverage is now widely available commercially. It is sometimes infused with fruit flavors to mask its distinct tartness, and sells in health food stores for anywhere from about $3.50 to $5 a 16 oz. bottle.
As kombucha has only recently become popular in the Western world, few studies in the U.S. have been conducted to substantiate the myriad benefits, often anecdotal, attributed to kombucha. However, as kombucha has been popular in European and Asian countries for decades, there has been far more European research. The findings are impressive.
Kombucha contains probiotics, antioxidants, B- vitamins, beneficial acids, and more. It is known to improve digestion and overall gut health, which recent studies have linked to other health issues. It helps support the immune system, aids in weight loss and detoxification, and has been found to reduce joint pain, increase energy, and has even been associated with cancer prevention.
Here are some of the negative affects attributed to kombucha:
- Because of the high acidity in kombucha, it has been associated with causing decay of tooth enamel. As with lemon water, sodas, coffee, and other foods high in acids, this is potentially detrimental to teeth. Visit com for more information on this. The simple solution is to always rinse the mouth thoroughly with water after consuming ANY acidic beverage or food.
- While store bought kombucha is most often pasteurized, home brewed varieties are not. Experts and the FDA warn that because of this, there’s the potential for unhealthy bacteria contaminating the tea if not made under sterile conditions. ISN’t this true of all food preparation though? If you choose to make your own, be careful to keep containers and equipment super clean to prevent risk of contamination.
- There have been a few reports of kombucha causing upset stomach, and even a condition called metabolic acidosis, toxicity caused by an excessive buildup of stomach acid. It would seem to me that this might be the result of consuming large amounts of the beverage. Everything in moderation comes to mind. Even water can be toxic in excessive amounts! I usually consume about 4 to 6 oz. a day.
I started making kombucha about a year ago, mainly because I was looking for ways to boost my immune system after back surgery and weeks of intravenous antibiotics due to an infection contracted during the surgery. Also, I’ll admit, because I love the idea of creating magical potions! I started with a gallon container, and now have 3 or 4 gallons going at a time to slake the thirst of family and friends. I infuse mine with fresh fruit during a second fermentation for added health benefits and flavor.
If you want to make your own kombucha, there are multiple web sites offering instructions, including flavoring techniques. After researching and experimentation, Here’s how I make mine:
- One gallon, glass open-mouthed container
- Organic, loose leaf black or green tea
- Cotton cloth to cover komucha (kombucha has to breathe without allowing any debris to get into the container). Elastic band or something to tie around cloth at mouth of container so that fruit flies cannot get in. They are attracted to kombucha and will come from miles around to destroy it.
- Tea pot
- Mesh sieve, preferably plastic. It is best to keep metal away from kombucha.
- SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). You can grow your own from unpasteurized kombucha, buy one on line (costing from $15 to about $25), or preferably, buy a fresh one from someone you know locally who makes kombucha.
- Spring water or drinking water
Make a pot of tea using 4 cups (32 oz.) of spring water and 5 to 6 teaspoons of loose tea.
Steep tea for 5 to 10 minutes.
Strain tea into gallon container and add 1 cup of sugar (don’t worry, the SCOBY eats most of the sugar) Stir till granules have completely dissolved. Cool completely, hot water will destroy SCOBY and kombucha.
Add 8 more cups of water & 1 cup of unflavoured kombucha from your last batch (or the kombucha that came with your SCOBY).
Wash hands thoroughly (never use antibacterial soap, as it will kill the good bacteria). Place SCOBY on top of tea. It will probably float, but if it sinks to the bottom or floats sideways, that’s ok.
Cover with cloth and secure with band. Place in a location that does not get direct light or sun, and keep away from other fermented foods or rotting fruit, etc. The kombucha is breathing air from its surroundings and other fermenting foods will affect or even kill kombucha. Once placed, don’t move the container, as the new SCOBY is forming on top of the tea as it eats the sugar.
Label container with date. Leave for 7 to 10 days, depending on how much fermentation you desire. You can even keep it longer. Taste to make sure it is no longer sweet. If it is, it needs more time to ferment. Warm weather or warm location helps with faster fermentation.
Note: if your SCOBY has brown tendrils hanging org, or dark patches, it is healthy. If you see pink or green, it is contaminated with bad bacteria. Discard both SCOBY and kombucha, and start a new batch. Healthy kombucha should have a cider vinegar/yeasty smell.
Your kombucha is ready to drink once it is fermented, and does not need to be flavoured. It will have a certain amount of carbonation already. A second fermentation in airtight bottles with fruit or juice will add flavor and more carbonation. Swing top bottles that are air tight work the best. If you don’t have airtight containers, it will still be good, just won’t have the fizzy quality (which I love!).
Remove the scoby/s. The new scoby will separate easily from the other if they are together. Place them in their own container and cover with kombucha. Keeping them in the fridge prevents them from continuing the fermentation process. Keep aside 1 cup of kombucha for your next batch, and enough to top up bottle after you do second fermentation. As when you strain out fruit, you will need to add a bit more, in general.
- To the bottles, add sliced fresh fruit or juice to fill 10% to 20% of the bottle. Place funnel on top, and add kombucha to within 1 inch of the top.
- Place bottle in warm place away from direct light.
- Leave for 2 to 3 days, burping bottle daily to prevent too much gas building up. They can otherwise explode like a volcano when you open.
- Using funnel and sieve, strain kombucha into another airtight bottle. This can be difficult if the kombucha is really fizzy, so open carefully and be ready to pour into second bottle quickly. I wrap a paper towel around as I open in case it explodes out. If you’ve lost some kombucha, top up to almost the top with what you saved.
- Leave to ferment another day before refrigeration to add more fizz.
Note: You can keep all your SCOBYs, but they multiply quickly, so you might want to compost older ones. But keep some aside in case you have a batch destroyed. Get a fruit fly trap and add apple cider vinegar to it and keep it close to the kombucha so that they will not get into the batch. If you see green or pink on the scoby, or the batch doesn’t have that cider vinegar smell (if it smells bad), then discard the batch and start with a new scoby. This has never happened to me, but it can happen if bad bacteria gets in. Keep utensils or anything that touches the scoby/ kombucha super clean. I rinse containers with vinegar after I wash them and rinse in boiling water.
Good luck! Please feel free to ask me any questions by posting in the comments section below. Or if you’re up for the challenge, let me know how your first batch turns out!