Make Your Own Kombucha: Yes You Can!
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea. According to the new book Mastering Fermentation, its roots are in China, where people began drinking it more than 2,000 years ago.
Kombucha has exploded in popularity in recent years, and it's one of those foods/drinks to which people attach all sorts of (often wildly extravagant) health claims. While I can't personally attest to its ability to prevent or cure disease, it is indeed high in B vitamins and detoxifying acids; it's also a wonderful source of natural probiotics.
I first started drinking kombucha because of its potential to promote good health, but I've continued to do so because I adore the taste and the subtle way in which it energizes me. I also find it to be a terrific thirst quencher. I've gotten my whole family hooked on the simultaneously sweet and sour fizzy drink, too.
Store-bought kombucha is pretty pricey: I was spending a small fortune on it at the health food store until I started making my own. If you, too find yourself frequently emptying your wallet to purchase kombucha, you'll be happy to know that DIY'ing it is a cinch: all you need to get a batch fermenting on your countertop is loose-leaf organic black tea, sugar, and a "SCOBY."
(What's a SCOBY? It's a Symbiotic Culture/Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast (aka a "kombucha mushroom"), and it resembles a spongy pancake).
You may obtain a SCOBY from a friend or from a reliable retail source. Each time you make kombucha, you'll "grow" another SCOBY: pass extras on to friends (a SCOBY in a small glass jar with some finished kombucha is a wonderful gift for someone eager to get started making their own) or store in the refrigerator immersed in finished kombucha (or apple cider vinegar) for future batches. If you end up with far more than you can use, you can compost them.
Though many who drink kombucha use it as a soda replacement, it's probably best if you sip it in small amounts rather than guzzling a lot at a time. I like to drink a small glass (often mixed with some fruit juice) along with a snack in the afternoon, or before I eat dinner.
Recipe for Homemade Kombucha
During the fermentation period (which typically lasts a week, or a bit more), the yeasts and bacteria in the SCOBY convert the sugar and tea into beneficial substances (the aforementioned detoxifying acids).
Finished kombucha, therefore, doesn't contain much caffeine or sugar. Green or herbal tea may be substituted for black tea (but I personally haven't tried it with either one). Raw honey or molasses can be used instead of sugar, but your kombucha may take longer to ferment (and the flavor will be different). Though you're welcome to experiment, most sources state that other sweeteners will not work well.
You'll need a 1-gallon glass jar to make this recipe; I prefer to use a jar with a wide opening.
Source: adapted slightly from Mastering Fermentation: Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods by Mary Karlin
- 13 cups water, divided (use filtered water, if possible)
- 1 cup sugar (I prefer organic sugar; raw honey or molasses can be used instead, but most sources state that other sweeteners are not appropriate for making kombucha)
- 5 teaspoons organic loose-leaf black tea
- 1 cup finished plain kombucha (from a previous batch, a store-bought bottle, or from the liquid the SCOBY comes in)
- 1 kombucha SCOBY (obtain from a friend or purchase from reliable retail source)
1. Boil 3 cups of water in a stainless steel pot. Add the sugar, and stir until it has dissolved. Remove pot from heat and add loose tea. Allow to soak/cool for about 30 minutes.
2. Pour sweet tea through a fine mesh strainer into your fermenting container (a 1-gallon glass jar with a wide mouth works well...don't use metal or plastic). Compost or discard the tea leaves. (Alternatively, you can place your loose tea into a muslin tea bag and simply remove the tea bag after steeping.)
Add the finished kombucha and the SCOBY to the jar with the sweet tea, then add the remaining water (10 cups). Cover the top of your jar with cheesecloth and secure it with a rubber band.
Leave undisturbed for 7 to 10 days in a warm, dark place. (As your kombucha ferments, a new SCOBY will grow attached to the original one to the width of your container.)
3. After a week, sample your kombucha to determine if it's ready to drink. It should be a bit bubbly and taste both sweet and sour without much hint of the tea. If you're pleased with the taste, use clean hands to remove your SCOBY (and carefully separate it from the new one) and store as directed above.
Transfer kombucha to glass jars for storage (swing-top bottles work well), leaving about 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Allow bottled kombucha to sit at room temperature for a day or two to ferment a bit more/build up carbonation, then place in refrigerator until ready to drink.
Kombucha will last in the refrigerator for up to three months, but it's best if consumed sooner; Mastering Fermentation recommends drinking it within a week of opening a bottle.
Winnie Abramson is the author of One Simple Change, available for pre-order now. She grew up in a restaurant family and is passionate about the connection between good food and good health. She has a graduate degree in naturopathic medicine and you can find more of her delicious recipes at HealthyGreenKitchen.com.