It sounds like a magical drink, looks just like tea and taste sweet as a strawberry dipped in sugar. What is this all about? It has nothing to do with magic, but it is said to give your body a digestive-break and a boost at the same time.
Note: before taking it; consult your licensed physician.
What is it?
Kombucha is a fermented drink of sweetened black tea. Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar into gasses, acids or alcohol. Kombucha is produced by fermenting the black tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, also known as ‘scoby’. Symbiotic means that the bacteria and yeast live in a community together in which they support and depend on each other. The scoby is often called “the mushroom”, because it looks like the smooth thick body of a mushroom.
Not every kombucha has exactly the same strains of bacteria and yeast in it. But listed below are the bacteria and yeast you might expect in kombucha:
- Acetobacter: always present in kombucha. It is an aerobic (needing oxygen to live and function) bacteria strain that produces acetic and glyconic acid from alcohol. This strain also builds the ‘scoby mushroom’.
- Saccharomyces: a number of aerobic and anaeorobic (needing an oxygen-free environment) yeast strains producing alcohol, often present in kombucha. The strains used are saccharomyces ludwigii, saccharomyces apiculatus, saccharomyces pombe, saccharomyces cerevisiae and zygosaccharomyes
- Brettanomyces: a yeast strain, either anaerobic or aerobic, produces alcohol or acetic acid
- Lactobaciilus: a commonly known aerobic bacteria strain, sometimes found in kombucha. It produces lactic acid and slime.
- Pediococcus: an anaerobic bacteria strain, also produces lactic acid and slime. They are sometimes, not always, found in kombucha
- Gluconacetobacter Kombuchae: an anaerobic strain of bacteria unique to kombucha. It feeds itself on nitrogen that is found in tea and produces acetic acid and gluconic acid. Just like the acetobacter it produces the ‘scoby mushroom’.
- Zygosaccharomyes: a yeast strain unique to kombucha. It produces alcohol and carbonation (fizz).
There are a lot of different ways to make kombucha by varying the type of water, length of brewing, type of cultures used and type of tea. All kombucha’s contain acetic acid, glyconic acid and fructose.
What is it’s history?
Kombucha is said to be originated in Northeast China and was believed to be the tea for Immortality. It’s use was first recorded around 221 B.C. during the Chinese empire of the Tsin-Dynasty. It was brought to Japan around 414 A.D.by Korean Doctor Kombu to treat the Japanese emperor Inkyo. From Japan, it was spread to Russia via India and from there to the rest of our planet.
Why is it good for me?
Kombucha is not a cure. It brings the body back into balance; a huge difference. Many reports on the positive effects of kombucha are available throughout the world. It is said to regenerate bowel flora and promotes digestion. Also it is used for a wide range of problems like insomnia, fatigue and arthritis and is said to be a natural detoxifier.
Is there scientific proof?
A few experimental animal studies are performed, suggesting positive effects on for instance liver and kidney function. Apart from a few case reports on the possible side effects of kombucha, no quality scientific evidence of the positive effects is available yet.
Preparation for the brewing process
Making Kombucha is not as easy as making a cup of tea and requires quite a bit of discipline and eye for safety. Below ingredients and a short description will follow about how to make your own kombucha. This is more to be seen as a summary. To be sure the kombucha you make is healthy and not harmful, you can download a free ebook on www.culturesforhealth.com which includes a really clear explanation about the process, equipment and ingredients to be used.
Kombucha requires 5 different basis ingredients; water, tea, sugar, starter tea and kombucha culture (mushroom).
Filtered water is recommended, as it has the least contaminants compared to tap water. Don’t use water made in a water ionizer (alkaline water); it might kill the culture.
Real tea needs to be used for kombucha and it is recommended to use the organic variant because of the absence of pesticides. Suitable tea can vary from black, green and white tea to Darjeeling or Oolong. Black tea is the most ideal for fermenting kombucha, whereas green tea contains the highest number of nutrients.
This unavoidable ingredient is needed for the fermentation process. The scoby breaks down the sugar and turns it into acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and carbon dioxide. WARNING: if you don’t use the recommended amount of sugar, the fermentation process is disrupted, potentially resulting in a kombucha which is not safe to consume. Sugar types to be used are for instance plain white sugar, brown sugar, radapura, raw sugar and turbinado. There are a lot of sugars (or sugar alternatives) not suitable for brewing kombucha, like corn syrup, lactose, fructose and stevia; make sure you use the right one!
Starter Tea and vinegar
Very important for the taste and safety of the batch is the acidity. Securing the pH to vary from 2.5 – 4.0, mold families and invading bacteria don’t settle in the scoby. Acidic liquid playes an important role in the safety of the batch. Most ideal to be used is kombucha tea brewed from a previous batch. But if this is your first brew, a good alternative is unflavoured kombucha from a organic food store or specifically distilled white vinegar.
As explained above, the scoby (mushroom) is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast; the starter culture. You can purchase scoby online or grow one from a bottle of kombucha from an organic food store. Also, you can ask friends who brew their own kombucha for references.
How to make Kombucha?
First you prepare the tea in a glass container, dissolve the sugar in it and let it cool down. After, the starter tea and scoby is added. The container is closed off with a breathable cloth, securing it with a rubber band. Then the fermentation process starts and can vary from 5 – 30 days. When the fermentation is finished, the scoby and new culture formed are removed. Before getting excited about consuming your kombucha, a couple of steps are yet to be taken. First remove an amount of starter tea for the next batch and refrigerate it. Then you can tip the kombucha in glass bottles and leave them at room temperature for 1-3 days for the carbonation to take place. And then: enjoy!
Once again; written above is a summary of the process of brewing your own kombucha. If you wish to give this a go; you can download the ebook and use the instructions in the book.
When should I avoid drinking it?
The most important step before consuming your kombucha is your judgement of safety: if you suspect that there is something wrong with your brew (mold on the scoby, black scoby, pests, an inadequate pH level or an unpleasant smell or taste), don’t drink it!
IMPORTANT: don’t consume kombucha or any other fermented or cultured food, unless get fully medical clearance from a licensed physician.