The gut microbiome appears to be the next frontier in our understanding of human physiology. As we dive deeper into the world of genetics and health we can further our appreciation of how much our microbiome contributes to making us who we are. There are billions upon billions of microbes living inside our digestive tract (and on our skin and other mucous membranes) that play important functions in digestion, immunity, and perhaps even surprising things like weight and mental health. There is so much bacteria living on us and in us if we were to add up all of the human vs non-human DNA in our bodies, we are actually made up of more bacteria DNA than human!
If that totally freaks you out, don’t worry! These microbes are our friends, and actually help us stay healthy! They keep our digestive system working optimally, they prevent pathogenic bacteria (the kind that CAN make us sick) from entering our bodies, and may even play a role in more areas than we ever could have imagined.
So what does this all have to do with Kombucha?
Well, Kombucha tea is a fermented beverage that contains probiotic microbes. “Probiotic” means that the bacteria present are beneficial for it’s host (us!). Different probiotics have different benefits (ranging from helping with digestive issues to reducing incidence of yeast infections). Kombucha tea is unique in that it is not only fermented with bacteria (like a yogurt would be), it is also fermented with yeast (the same way we make wine and beer), so the range of compounds produced by the fermentation is different and more varied than in other fermented foods. Kombucha tea as a beverage originated in what is now China, more than 2000 years ago. The first written record of Kombucha tea is from 221 BC, and it was referred to as the “Tea of Immortality”.
Almost all cultures around the world consume fermented foods as part of their traditional diet. Dairy, soy, fruits, vegetables, honey, grains, and even meats all are fermented and consumed somewhere on the planet. What’s often considered a delicacy in one culture is definitely an “acquired taste” for others, but the value and benefits of eating fermented products is almost universal. Even some other species in the animal kingdom create their own fermented foods from nuts, fruit juices and nectars.
When we consume fermented foods that contain active, living bacteria, we are adding to the diversity of our own gut microbiome, and are better able to protect ourselves against certain illnesses (because the new bacteria provides us with it’s beneficial properties). It is one way our bodies communicate with the outside world, the bacteria we consume gives us information about the environment we’re living in. Probiotic cultures and fermented foods help us have better digestive function, and perhaps even improve our health on a more holistic level (this is a very new area of science so the mechanisms between the microbiome and things like mental health or weight are not well understood…yet!)
So, Kombucha tea is a fabulous way to add more fermented products to our diets. It is becoming significantly easier to find commercially (even my local grocery store carries it now), but that can often come with a considerable price tag. Especially when you see how simple and inexpensive it is to make your own, you’ll never want to buy store-bought Kombucha again!
As with all home-cooking or fermentation products there is always a small risk of harmful bacteria making their way into your product and potentially causing food-borne illness. A few simple food safety steps go a long way in preventing any unwanted organisms from setting up shop in your Kombucha tea! The first is to always WASH YOUR HANDS before starting any food-related project. Wash and sanitize all equipment and work space before using it to ensure there is no cross contamination of bacteria.
Kombucha tea is fermented with the use of an organism called a SCOBY. This stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast”. They are kind of spongy to the touch and vary in color from white to brown. As they do their job fermenting your tea it actually grows and produces new SCOBYs in the process. So, we call the original SCOBY the “mother” culture, and it’s offspring the “baby” SCOBYs. These baby SCOBYs can be removed from the original fermentation jar and used to start a new batch of Kombucha.
This is what a SCOBY can look like. It’s pretty…interesting…..don’t worry the grey bits are completely normal!
So, will drinking Kombucha tea (or any fermented food for that matter), make you immortal? Nope, but it’s definitely a tasty way to get more probiotics in your diet and reap the gut health benefits!
What you need to make your own Kombucha Tea:
How much of each ingredient you needs depends on the size of jar you will be fermenting your Kombucha in. See amounts below.
- 1 large wide mouth glass jar
- Glass bottles with a clamp top
- Paper towel or coffee filter
- Elastic band
- 1 SCOBY (you can get one if you know someone who already makes their own Kombucha, buy one from a health food store, or order one online. They come dried so just follow the instructions that come with it for activating your SCOBY)
- Tea bags or loose tea leaves (I like experimenting with different flavored green and black teas)
- White sugar
- Starter liquid from Mother SCOBY, or plain white vinegar (to lower the pH of your tea for proper fermentation)
1 Litre (one quart):
- 2 tea bags (or 2 tsp loose tea leaves)
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 cup starter liquid or vinegar
2 Litres (half-gallon):
- 4 tea bags (or 1 tbsp loose tea leaves)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 cups water
- 1 cup starter tea or vinegar
4 Litres (gallon):
- 8 tea bags (or 2 tbsp loose tea leaves)
- 1 cup sugar
- 12 cups water
- 2 cups starter tea/vinegar
What to do
1. Heat water and pour into your jar. Add tea bags to brew your tea. After steeping for 3-5 minutes, remove tea bags or strain out tea leaves.
2. Dissolve sugar into tea, stirring well to make sure there are no sugar crystals remaining.
3. Let tea cool to room temperature (I usually brew my tea the day before I am planning on making my batch of Kombucha and let the tea cool on the counter overnight)
4. Add SCOBY and starter liquid (or vinegar) to cooled tea. Gently stir to mix starter liquid with tea, but be careful not to damage your SCOBY
5. Place paper towel or coffee filter over top of jar and secure with an elastic band. Do not seal jar- the fermentation process produces gases that need to vent
6. Store jar in a cool, dark place for about 1 week. You can leave it for a few extra days, but the longer you ferment the less sweet and more vinegar-y your Kombucha will taste.
7. After one week your Kombucha is ready to drink. Pour your Kombucha into another container, leaving enough starter liquid behind with your SCOBY for your next batch. You can drink your Kombucha as-is, or you can complete a secondary fermentation to make bubbly kombucha!
8. Pour Kombucha into bottles with rubber stopper and clamp top (IKEA has perfect bottles for this, pictured below). This traps the carbon dioxide gas inside the bottle and creates a bubbly, effervescent final product. You can also experiment with adding different fruits or spices to your Kombucha during this step as well for different flavours.
9. Store bottled Kombucha for another 48-72 hours before drinking to allow for secondary fermentation.
I keep my bottled Kombucha in the fridge so it’s nice and chilled when I’m ready to drink it