Bacteria, yeast, tea, and sugar don’t sound like much, but together (with a bit of time), these ingredients work to create a tart, tangy, carbonated drink that tastes delicious and kickstarts your gut health. What exactly is kombucha, and is it really that great? Read on as we delve into the incredible benefits of this yummy drink and how to make your own at home today.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has been around for thousands of years but has only started gaining mainstream traction in the 30 years or so, as people sought new ways to improve their health without pharmaceuticals.
It utilizes the power of the SCOBY or “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” a rubbery, flat, fleshy pancake-shaped living substance to turn sweet tea into a potent health concoction.
The fermentation produces low alcohol and gases, acetic acid, and other acidic compounds that create natural carbonation.
This fizzy drink is sold in grocery and health stores worldwide, and you can even buy it in many convenience stores and gas stations. However, many of these commercially bottled products are mass-produced in large batches and contain additives and flavorings that deduct some health benefits.
The best way to enjoy kombucha (and ensure you know what’s in it) is to make your own at home.
Health benefits of kombucha
- It keeps your digestive system happy: Kombucha supports a healthy digestive system and can restore balance to your gut bacteria. It is a natural source of probiotics, which are critical for keeping your microbiome in check.
- Contains antioxidants: When made with green tea, kombucha has been shown to possess potent levels of antioxidants. These antioxidants help fight disease-causing free radicals in the body and protect you from toxins.
- Can kill harmful bacteria: Acetic acid, one of the byproducts of kombucha, is also present in vinegar and is what makes vinegar such an incredible cleaning product. The antimicrobial benefits of kombucha can make it effective against harmful bacteria in the body.
- Help manage type 2 diabetes: Kombucha can help slow the digestion of carbs, which is essential for regulating blood sugar and improving diabetes risk and symptoms.
- Replaces soda: We all know how damaging sugary drinks can be for your health. Kombucha can be a great way to break your addiction to chemical-filled soda as it still provides that fizzy “bite” that many people crave.
Step 1: Gather your ingredients
Water: This one’s easy. Any clean, filtered water will do. Be sure to use an appropriate filter to remove any heavy metals and toxic contaminants from your water.
The SCOBY: Perhaps the part of kombucha-making that turns so many people off of this incredible health hobby, this strange-looking culture of beneficial yeast and bacteria is the heart of kombucha.
Purchase a live SCOBY online from a reputable source or find a kombucha-loving friend who will share some of theirs with you. This is a great way to find fellow health-minded individuals passionate about fermentation. You can make your SCOBY, but it takes a long time and can be finicky.
Sugar: Wait, what? Sugar? Isn’t sugar a huge no, no in a healthy lifestyle? You’re right, but don’t panic. We’re not telling you to start downing teaspoons of this toxic compound. However, it is an essential part of the kombucha process.
Any cane or beet sugar works, such as turbinado, demerara, sugar-in-the-raw, or brown sugar. Natural cane sugar is a great, organic, non-GMO alternative to refined white sugar. Though the SCOBY eats the sugar during fermentation, it is always best to avoid the harmful additives in highly processed white sugar.
Don’t use artificial sweeteners, coconut sugar, agave, stevia, or honey, as they interfere with fermentation.
Caffeinated tea: Use any tea with caffeine to make your kombucha. Most people stick with black tea, but you can try green, oolong, or white tea. Stay away from herbal teas or any tea with added ingredients or flavors as it could cause mold growth on the SCOBY.
Prepared kombucha: To help jump-start the process (and ensure a successful batch), you’ll need a few cups of unflavored “prepared kombucha” If you’ve made it in the past, simply save some and use that, reach out to your new kombucha buddy, or simply buy a bottle from the store. Once again, avoid anything flavored to prevent mold on the SCOBY.
Glass bottles: Buy a set of glass kombucha bottles with a swing-top lid to help seal in the carbonation or use recycled bottles from any store-bought kombucha. Whatever bottle you use, make sure that it is glass and designed to hold a carbonated beverage. Avoid metal lids as these can react poorly with the acidic SCOBY.
Odds and ends:
- Funnel: For pouring the kombucha into bottles
- Lint-free towel and rubberband: A flour-sack dishcloth works excellent to cover the jar and keep bugs and dirt out
- Stockpot: At least 8-quart
- Gallon glass jar: This is where you’ll place the kombucha and tea for fermentation
- Fruit: This is optional, but adding fruit is a great way to bring flavor, excitement, and natural antioxidants to your kombucha.
Step 2: Make the tea
Bring 3.5 quarts of clean water to boil in a large stockpot, remove from heat, add one cup of sugar and eight tea bags. Stir until the sugar dissolves and leave the bags in a while until your tea comes to room temperature. You can leave it covered on the stove.
It will take a few hours, but be sure to let your tea cool fully. Don’t be impatient, as hot water can kill your SCOBY and make fermentation impossible. Impatience and kombucha making do not mix well.
Step 3: Add the SCOBY
Wash your hands thoroughly. You don’t want any of the nasty dirt and bacteria you pick up throughout the day getting into your kombucha. Once your hands are clean, place your SCOBY on a clean plate.
Pour the cooled tea into your large jar, add two cups of prepared or “starter” kombucha, and gently place the SCOBY in the jar.
Cover with your lint-free towel or double layer of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
Step 4: Now you wait
That’s it! Well, for the most part. Now for the waiting game. Place your jar of kombucha “where the sun doesn’t shine” for six to ten days. A pantry, cupboard, or cabinet is a great option.
How long to let it ferment is dependent on a few factors, such as ambient temperature and your desired flavor. An excellent way to tell if it’s done is to start tasting it around day six. Use a paper straw to capture some of the liquid (use your finger to hold the tea in the straw, don’t pull it up with your mouth) and taste test.
If you’re familiar with kombucha, you likely know what flavor to aim for. It should be slightly sweet with a mild vinegar taste.
Step 5: Final fermentation
This is where the rules of kombucha-making become more like guidelines, allowing you to adjust flavors as much as your heart desires. Your kombucha will gain carbonation in this stage, giving you that fizzy buzz that is perfect for kicking a soda habit.
Strain kombucha out into jars (leaving about 1 ½ inches at the top) until you have two cups left in your jar with the SCOBY to save for your next batch.
Then, add fruit or another natural sweetener of your choice. We love a teaspoon of honey, mashed berries, a piece of ginger, herbs, or an orange slice—experiment with what you like, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Seal tightly and return to the dark location to finish fermenting for about three to ten days. Remember, the more fruit you add, the quicker the bottle will ferment and become carbonated.
Once your kombucha is done, “burp” each bottle by slowly opening the lid to relieve pressure and place it in the fridge to chill. This makes it more enjoyable to drink and slows the fermentation process, giving you a bigger time window to enjoy your homemade brew. Kombucha is most flavorful and fizzy when consumed within a few weeks. Any longer could lead to an overpowering vinegar flavor.
Strain out the fruit before enjoying, if desired. If not, drink it straight from the bottle!
Wait until your SCOBY is about an inch thick, and then you can peel off a few layers to create another SCOBY. Give it in a jar along with 2 cups of kombucha starter, and you can gift a friend their very own starter kit.
A word of warning
Making kombucha is generally safe and is an excellent way to save money and reap the gut benefits of this incredible drink. However, keeping all of your jars and tools clean is critical. Because you are handling live bacteria, any bad bacteria growth could be potentially harmful and make you stick. The fermentation does a lot of the work for you, but be sure to keep your surface clean.
Keep an eye out for any mold or discoloration on your SCOBY. If you notice mold, discard the whole SCOBY and any kombucha made with it and start again with a fresh SCOBY.
Clumps of yeast or other “floaties” aren’t usually a cause for concern and are a normal part of the fermentation process.
Kombucha is one of the best beverages (along with tea and water) for you to get hooked on. Especially if you don’t eat a lot of fermented, probiotic-rich food, this drink is a great way to keep your gut happy, restore beneficial bacteria, and keep the cogs of your digestive system operating effectively. Along with kombucha, you might want to consider a high-quality probiotic such as Heart Helpers to support your gut and boost your microbiome.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD