Friday, May 3, 2013

Everything is Broken, But There's Kombucha

Today, everything gets a big pouty face from me. I feel pretty awful, achy, sore, grumpy. Apparently my hubby has been nauseous and feeling pukey all day. My worst fear when that happens is that something I cooked has given him food poisoning, even though I'm always careful with cooking and cleanliness. To top things off, yesterday I was so busy I didn't have time and energy to post by the time I remembered and NOW my main power outlets that power up my hot plate and oven are overloaded and thus dead (I don't have a full kitchen, technically it's a sink and a counter... with some fancy counter top appliances). I had the fans, lights, oven and hot plate on, which was too much for the outlets to bear. So now I can't cook. Which gets an extra super pouty face. :-(

It's also about 85 degrees in my kitchen because it's hot and humid today and we don't have air conditioning. I'm mostly melting. In fact, I'm sitting on the couch with a fan hooked up right next to me so I'm not a sweaty, gross mess. TMI? Too late...

So, instead of cooking, I thought I'd show you a little bit about another one of my fermented favorites: kombucha. Are you addicted to soda, regular or diet? Do you crave something fizzy and slightly sweet to cure your sweet tooth? Do you wonder how you can fit these things into your paleo diet? Well worry no longer, because kombucha is here to the rescue.

What is kombucha? It's fermented tea, is the short answer. Basically, with the help of a starter culture, sweetened black tea sits out in the air and ferments for 7 to 21 days (depending on what the climate is like where you live). It turns from sweet tea to a tart, fizzy, and slightly vinegary drink, full of health benefits and detoxifying qualities. It's also a raw beverage, so it has all the benefits of adding good bacteria to your gut biome, aiding in digestion and general gut health.

Like most things, I love kombucha because after thirty minutes of work and a week of Mother Nature, you get an extremely versatile and tasty beverage. Bottling it and keeping it fizzy is another hour or so of work, but that's because my batch produces 24 bottles of kombucha to keep me and my hubby (and a few lucky friends) knee deep in 'booch until the next batch is ready.

The recipe is simple, but one essential ingredient is hard to come by. In 2010, it was "discovered" that kombucha sold commercially sometimes contains alcohol (it is a fermented substance after all) and therefore must be regulated like all alcoholic beverages. This put major kombucha companies like G.T's Kombucha into hot water since its traditional recipe fell into this category. But rather than go under, G.T.'s changed its formula by adding a special kind of bacteria to the brew towards the end of fermentation that would keep the vinegary taste but prevent any sugar from turning into alcohol. Even their "original recipe" kombucha which is sold in brown bottles (as opposed to clear ones which are the new formula) contains some of this bacteria. Why is any of this important? The addition of this bacteria prevents growing the main kombucha ingredient: a SCOBY, or a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY, sometimes called a kombucha mother or a Manchurian Mushroom (despite the fact that it's not a mushroom at all), is a filmy squishy thing ("zoogleal mat" is the technical term) that sits atop the kombucha as it ferments. Since you can't just grow your own anymore from any bottled kombucha, you have to order one from a brewing company like Cultures for Health or GetKombucha.Com. If you are lucky enough to have a small cafe in the area that makes its own 'booch, you can snag a glass of theirs and use it to grow your own SCOBY. But you really can't use the kind in the bottle.  Believe me. I've tried multiple times.

What you need to make kombucha:
1 Gallon filtered water
1c. sugar*
4 black tea bags (or 2 black 2 green, depending on what you like. just use some black tea)
1c Kombucha
enough glass containers to hold all the liquid

Boil the water, add the tea and sugar, and then cool it down in the fridge or freezer until it's room temperature. Then put the kombucha and the sweetened tea into the container, placing the scoby on top at the end so it sorta floats. If it sinks, it's no big deal. Sometimes they sink, sometimes they float. I'm sure science would tell me why, but I'm not concerned enough to find out. Whoo!! Science!!

Now, cover the glass container with something to let the air in but keep dust and funk out. Leave it in a warm place for a week at minimum, maybe longer. Test your kombucha until it reaches your desired level of sour/tart. Then put a tight cap on the container. Wait a few more days, say two or three, and when you open the container again, you'll have a slightly fizzy sweet drink! Yay Kombucha!!!!

*You can try Sucanat or "natural" sugar, but don't use honey which has antibacterial properties, and molasses and maple sugar don't work as well, I've tried those too, though it may be possible to use them. I know, I know. The evil added and processed sugar. But this is pretty much completely eaten by the yeast and turned into all the good stuff. You won't actually be consuming the added sugar itself. You can use unbleached sugar in the raw if it makes you feel better. But my pocketbook can't support that habit right now.

You can halve, double, triple the recipe depending on your needs and abilities to contain that much kombucha. The general rule of thumb is to use a 10%/25% kombucha to 90%/75% sweetened tea ratio when brewing. Your sweetened tea also can't be hot, or even slightly warm, or else you risk killing all your happy yeasts and bacteria. Let's not kill the little guys right away, ok? And, unlike fermented vegetables, the inherent acidic quality of the kombucha keeps it from molding unless contaminants get in, but if you get green or fuzzy mold on your SCOBY, you should throw it out and start over. No sense in risking your health when you can start over and be certain. If you want a more in depth how to, check out Food Renegade's FAQ on kombucha. They have a ton of good resources on eating real food and fermented foods for health. Definitely worth your time to check it out if you're interested.

23 bottles! Jackpot!
Lime and mint, my fave mmmmmmm
This is the brief and easy version of events. You can make it as complicated or as easy as you like. I like to add juice and other flavorings for the second ferment (the part where you seal it up tight so it naturally carbonates). Some of my favorites are ginger slices or ginger syrup, lime juice and fresh mint leaves, and lemon juice with a sprig of fresh thyme. I've tried blueberry juice, cranberry juice and fresh strawberries, all of which were yummy but not my favorite. Or you can leave well enough alone and drink the lovely elixir plain.

I have a whole system of bottles, one has a spigot so I can easily bottle large amounts of the stuff with little effort. I use both stock pots when making more, because I can make so much of the stuff.  And if you live in Hawaii and you have any spare glass receptacles you'd like to donate to my cause, I'd be glad to take them off your hands. You can't ever have enough of this stuff.

So that's it for today. I'm going to be drinking kombucha and grilling something for dinner so I don't turn into a puddle. Stay frosty my friends.


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