If you would have asked me year ago if I would like a glass of fermented tea made with a slimy rubbery “mushroom” I would have look at you with disgust on my face. But now, it doesn’t seem all that bad. So, I guess the journey toward healthy living also broadens one’s horizon. My attempt at describing Kombucha will hopefully prompt you to consider trying this healthy beverage and broaden your horizon as well.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with black or green tea, sugar and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) mushroom. The “mushroom” is not really a mushroom but a culture. The mushroom or mother culture takes the shape of the container it grows in. The fermentation processes takes anywhere from 5- 30 days. The result is a somewhat vinegar flavored drink with slight carbonation.
A Little Bit of History
The exact origins of Kombucha tea is unknown, though it is thought that it originated in China thousands of years ago. A first known record of the use of Kombucha was found to be in 221 BC during the Tsin Dynasty. The tea was then known as “The Tea of Immortality” (source).
People-groups in Easter Europe, Russia and Japan have also consumed this beverage for centuries. Though the teas has taken several different names over time and in different cultures, the health benefits still remain. Interest in Kombucha began to decrease after World War II, and then regained interest after German doctor, Dr. Rudolph Skelnar used it on cancer patients, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The health claims of medicinal drink such as Kombucha are difficult to specify. Since little research has been done in a clinical setting it is difficult to say what exactly it’s benefits are. Clinical research done on rats shows protection against stress and improve liver function. Historical health claims include help with increased energy levels, metabolic disorders, allergies, cancer and digestive problems.
What Kombucha is Not
I don’t want anyone to mistake the benefits of Kombucha for a miracle drink. In my opinion there is no such thing as a miracle drink, drug or supplement. Instead, I believe in the miracles God creates in vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains, fruits, meats, fish and the ability to improve health benefits of some foods through the process of fermentation.
What usually comes to mind when I mention fermentation is alcohol beverages. Although alcohol beverages are created through the process of fermentation, this is not the type of fermenting I am speaking of. The practice of fermenting foods and beverages has been around for a long time. According to this source, it is believed that people where fermenting beverages in 5000 BC. Leavening of bread, also a form of fermentation, has been around for centuries as well.
Cultures across the globe have long since enjoyed the benefits of fermenting in foods such as Natto (Japanese), dosa (India), kefir (Central Asia), injera (Africa), sauerkraut (Europe) and pickling (Americas). The process of fermentation differs a little from recipe to recipe but the basic method is allowing a chemical change to take place over time. It will turn juices into wine, grains into beer, carbohydrates into carbon dioxide to leaven bread and sugars in vegetables to preservative organic acids (lactic acids).
A bit more information on lactic acids..
It may seem strange to us that, in earlier times, people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. This was done through the process of lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine.
The ancient Greeks understood that important chemical changes took place during this type of fermentation. Their name for this change was “alchemy.” Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.
How to Make Kombucha
Ingredients for one quart:
1 ½ t. loose tea or 2 tea bags
1/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. water (approx.)
½ c. starter tea (Kombucha)
You can also purchase a Kombucha SCOBY here. For a Kombucha starter tea you will either have to find someone who will give you some or you can also purchase a bottle a raw Kombucha from a health food store. Just be sure it’s raw and original flavor.
How Does Kombucha Taste?
We only have made two batches of Kombucha so far. The first batch I made with Oolong tea in a two quart glass jar and second was with English Breakfast tea in a gallon glass jar. The Oolong tea was allowed to ferment for 11 days and the English Breakfast for 29 days.
Kombucha has a somewhat strong vinegar scent but the vinegar does not seem as strong in the taste. It’s not like drinking apple cider vinegar or anything but it does burn slightly when swallowing. Those of you who like alcoholic beverages might find it does have a similar essence but with very little actual alcohol (something like 1 %) My husband likes to drink the Kombucha as is but I found the flavor not very appealing. Making a smoothie with frozen strawberries, Kombucha and honey is so far my favorite way to drink it.
There are several ways to add flavor to the drink once it has been fermented. By adding ginger, you can make an ale-like beverage. You can also add fruit juice and/or fruit to the tea.
Fermenting in Our Future
Kombucha is not my first experience with fermentation but so far it has been my most successful. I have made beet kvass and sauerkraut but they didn’t turn out to be very good on the taste buds. I would like to try making sauerkraut again and try my hand at fermented salsa and gingered carrots. Cultured dairy is another area I am working on. My goal is to always have homemade yogurts, cheeses and buttermilk on hand.
I believe fermenting is a lost preservation technique that needs to be brought back to the main stream. The health benefits are more than enough reason to bring it back but another reason would be to get back to basics. The American culture has lost many useful skills and healthy eating habits. We depend entirely too much on grocery stores and the government created food pyramid to guide us to health.
My daughter went on a field trip the other day to a local grocery store chain and I was a little disturb by the end of the tour. The grocery store associate guided us around the store while reading her field trip guide to the children. She showed the kids “healthy” foods which included white flour tortillas and American cheese. This is what grocery stores view as healthy food. If you don’t already know, I am here to tell you, white flour tortillas and American cheese are not healthy foods. But when we walk through the grocery stores we will be told, through advertisements and displays, their idea of healthy food.
I am not out to blame the grocery stores for our food choices. They only provide what the consumer we will buy. I blame you… and me. I blame our lazy way of thinking and doing. I believe as a culture we have decided to let someone else think for us. Someone is telling us processed American cheese is good for us when it really is not. Let us not be lazy anymore and really think about what we are putting into our bodies. Let’s bring back the tried and true ways of food preparation, preservation and consumption.