Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Kombucha, Mother of All Beverages

Written by Ian Gold
Some believe that around 2012 the world will undergo a distinct and profound shift in worldviews. I believe this shift will not be unrelated to fermented foods. It has long been discussed and even popularized, in science fiction to some extent, that a small parasite can undo civilization, as we know it. Those less educated might continue to rid themselves of all bacteria using Purell-like hand sanitizers that are increasingly provided to customers in places like grocery stores or airports. It is the sterilization and pasteurization of our environment and, in the United States especially, our food, which is actually harmful to our future. The burgeoning group of fermenters that exist today and the entrepreneurs who are marketing bottles of kombucha at $3.95 a piece insist that we need to imbibe bacteria and benefit from the bounty of flora that exists, when there are natural healthy wonders like sauerkraut, which is made without pasteurizing, or the ancient Chinese kombucha, which is consumed in its live active form.
Some believe that around 2012 the world will undergo a distinct and profound shift in worldviews. I believe this shift will not be unrelated to fermented foods. It has long been discussed and even popularized, in science fiction to some extent, that a small parasite can undo civilization, as we know it. Those less educated might continue to rid themselves of all bacteria using Purell-like hand sanitizers that are increasingly provided to customers in places like grocery stores or airports. It is the sterilization and pasteurization of our environment and, in the United States especially, our food, which is actually harmful to our future. The burgeoning group of fermenters that exist today and the entrepreneurs who are marketing bottles of kombucha at $3.95 a piece insist that we need to imbibe bacteria and benefit from the bounty of flora that exists, when there are natural healthy wonders like sauerkraut, which is made without pasteurizing, or the ancient Chinese kombucha, which is consumed in its live active form.

Kombucha is a tea that originated in China and Russia. It is brewed from what is often called a mushroom, mother, or SCOBY. While mother is my preferred term (for comedic effect), SCOBY is an acronym for what most accurately describes the secret kombucha ingredient: Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s basically a thick slimy disk of bacteria and yeast that develops when you brew kombucha. It’s not much different from the skin that forms on something that should be refrigerated but isn’t. This is exactly what happens if you were to leave a bottle of store-bought kombucha sitting out. Leave it in a 70-degree room for a few days, and you’ll have your first mother.

Natural fermenters, those who make kombucha, believe the natural bacteria found in our environment can actually be beneficial to our digestive systems and bodies as a whole. Hence, the long list of health benefits you can find on any commercial kombucha bottle. These include preventing cancer, aiding digestion, providing energy, weight loss, and healthy skin. Homegrown fermenters are the opposite of the Purell and pasteurized food enthusiasts. Pasteurization heats liquids like milk, for example, until all the bacteria are killed and then the product is consumed. There are currently legal battles over selling raw unpasteurized milk, and don’t be surprised if you see the first pasteurized version of kombucha marketed by Snapple in a few months. The irony would not be lost on kombucha’s ancient Chinese cultivators. It’s both legal and much cheaper to make kombucha at home, and there may be many added benefits. From my brewing experience, I not only found a new hobby but also something to talk about with friends.

Now before the recipe, a word of warning: kombucha is a responsibility and kombucha overload is a sad reality for many. For example, if you have three jars in your kitchen, it can be a full-time job keeping up with those growing mothers. No one wants to throw away a mother; it’s just too sad. Also, there are only so many gallons of kombucha you can drink in a day, just saying.

KOMBUCHA

What you will need:

1 kombucha mother
a gallon jar*
12 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 black tea bags
rubber band
clean cloth

1. Find your kombucha mother. If you don’t know someone who makes kombucha, you can probably obtain one from craigslist.org, getkombucha.com, or a bunch of other sites that will actually mail you a mother for money. You can also make your own mother if you buy bottled kombucha and let it sit in a widemouthed container, like your gallon jar. The skin that starts to form on the surface in a few days is the start of the mother. This is really all it takes to start a batch going.

2. Boil 6 cups of water and brew the tea bags in the water for 15 minutes.

3. Remove tea bags and stir in the sugar until it dissolves.

4. Add 6 cups of cold water to the gallon jar and combine with 6 cups of brewed tea.

5. Let this mixture sit and cool until it is room temperature. The mixture should not be too hot or very cold.

6. Add the kombucha mother with a little bit (1-3 cups) of already made kombucha (this is called an inoculant, and it helps get your culture started).

7. Cover the top with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band. This is just to make sure nothing really unwanted gets in your kombucha. Sealing the jar with a tight cover, however, will not allow the kombucha the air it needs to thrive.

8. Let your kombucha sit undisturbed for 2-4 weeks in a warm area. Taste after just one week to note its progress. The kombucha will become more vinegary the longer you let it brew, so continue tasting until your desired flavor is achieved.

9. When you’re happy with the flavor of your kombucha, you can bottle it in glass bottles and refrigerate to slow the fermentation process. Now you have kombucha to enjoy for days ahead!

10. Once the fermentation process is complete, you can now separate the new layer of slime from the mother. This is called the baby and can be used to start a new batch, either your own, or you can give it to a friend. The original mother can be reused or discarded.

Things to note and watch for:

•The temperature of the room—kombucha will grow, ferment, and thrive faster in higher temperatures.

•The kind of tea—black tea is recommended, but green tea can be used also. Herbal teas should be avoided since they are thought to prevent the culture from developing.

•The baby—The baby is the new layer of slime that will form over your mother. It should be white and slimy. That’s what you want. When your kombucha is done brewing, you can peel the baby off and start a new batch with it or give it to a friend to continue the tradition.

•Strands—There should be strands of slime floating around in your jar. That’s a good thing.

•Kombucha overload—Having a few batches going at once can become confusing. I suggest using a calendar to note when each batch gets started. If you have too many mothers and babies developing, make sure you give them away or throw them out or else your kitchen will look like mine—a kombucha mother explosion.
 
Illustrations by Molly Schulman & Photos by Ian Gold 

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