Miracle fungus, gout jellyfish and Manchurian mushroom tea – these are all names that describe the popular fermented tea commonly known as kombucha. Global demand for this ‘elixir of immortality’ has bubbled well beyond the health food shops, into the mainstream market.
Originating in the Far East, the naturally fermented health drink was used as a medicinal tonic for centuries. Recognised for its health benefits in aiding digestion and balancing the gut, committed kombucha fans say it also gives them additional immune support, better metabolism, increased energy and a sense of overall wellbeing.
Why are fermented foods, including kombucha, gut friendly?
A healthy digestive system is the foundation to optimal health. A Harvard Medical School study described the gut as having 100 trillion micro-organisms from 500 different identified species, indicating we are much more bacterial than human. We know now that the over-use of antibiotics and exposure to antibacterial products can impact and change the structure of the gut, so demand for fermented foods and drinks that contain billions of beneficial bacteria has correspondingly increased.
Kombucha produces lactic and acetic acid, encouraging beneficial bifida bacteria in the intestines. This creates stable microflora and a probiotic effect that ultimately produces a better-balanced body pH.
Healing from the inside out takes time and patience, and the art of kombucha-brewing requires both. From just water, tea and sugar, the fermentation process produces a complex concentration of essential B vitamins, organic acids, enzymes and probiotics.
Kombucha is an important tool for digestive health, says Kaye van der Straten of K4 Kombucha. "A healthy digestive system has a wide variety of different types of bacteria. The probiotics found in yoghurt are different to those in Kombucha, sauerkraut or sourdough. We recommend eating something that is alive everyday, and from a variety of different live fermented foods. I eat something with live cultures in every meal, whether it's Kombucha or a couple of teaspoons of sauerkraut or sour coconut yoghurt."
There are numerous kombucha brands available, some following a more traditional approach using only black or green tea, while others add fruit and spices.
How much kombucha should we be drinking?
The more you have it, the more your tummy gets used to it, says van der Straten. "Some people can tolerate more than others. Particularly if someone has a digestive health issue they may only be able to tolerate small amounts, but as their digestive health improves, their tolerance for live cultured foods will improve. We recommend a serving size of 100-200ml of live Kombucha, but in our family sometimes we'll have a couple of bottles in a day and none the following day. It is quite acidic, so you don't want to over indulge."
What is it?
The SCOBY resembles a circle of pale colourless rubber and can be re-used for further batches of kombucha.
Grow your own SCOBY from a bottle of K4 Kombucha
Because K4 Kombucha is a live probiotic brew, it is possible to grow your own SCOBY culture from every bottle. K4 recommends using a 500ml bottle for the best results, and ensuring you are setup with a large clean glass jar or urn (2-8 litres) and a breathable cotton cover with the correct sized rubber band to secure it in place. Transfer the entire contents of a bottle of K4 Kombucha to your glass jar, cover and set in a warm place in your home out of direct sunlight. Wait for 10-14 days, and you'll have grown your own SCOBY culture - as simple as that.
Craft your own kombucha
Here's an easy homemade recipe to try that makes about 1 litre
- ¼ cup organic whole cane sugar
- 2-4 teaspoons organic black or green loose leaf tea (or 2-4 teabags)
- 1 litre boiled filtered water
- 1 SCOBY* and starter culture fruits, herbs or spices of your choice (optional)
- Combine sugar, tea and water in a pot. Stir until sugar dissolves.
Strain off tea leaves (or remove tea bags) and leave the sweet tea solution to cool in a large glass jar. Once the liquid is at room temperature, add the SCOBY and starter culture – use a stainless steel spoon or clean hands (that have been washed well with soap, rinsed twice with water, and then white vinegar) or gloves to handle the SCOBY to avoid contamination. Fix a cloth cover over the jar using a rubber band.
Keep the jar in a dry place at room temperature away from direct sunlight and avoid moving it. Check the brew after seven days. If it’s still too sugary then leave to ferment for a few more days. Once you’ve done a taste test and you think it’s ready, refrigerate it and enjoy a flat brew.
Alternatively, you can add fruit, herbs or spices and bottle it to further ferment, creating a fizzy beverage. Fill liquid as close as possible to the top of the bottle to remove any air and increase carbonation. Store bottles in a cardboard box (in case of explosions) to continue carbonation process for a further maximum of three days. A warmer air temperature will increase carbonation.
During this second fermentation process, it is recommended that you 'burp' your bottles. Use swing top bottles that you can open and close again, or screw top glass bottles that they can open and close again. Do this daily during the second fermentation period.
Once this process is complete, refrigerate bottles to keep the kombucha fresh. Note: this second fermentation process should only be short. Any longer than three days will result in explosions and potentially, the production of alcohol.
Note: Second fermentation at home can be dangerous - with the potential of bottles exploding, particularly in glass. Take care.
- A SCOBY can be gifted, purchased or make your own. Should the SCOBY appear to have any mould, discard it and start again.
- Don’t be afraid if the SCOBY looks larger/wider than others you’ve seen – it will take on the shape of the brewing vessel.
- After the first batch of kombucha has brewed, a ‘mini-me’ SCOBY should form at the top of the vessel. You can use both for the next kombucha brew or give one to a friend.
- Save 20% of kombucha from the first brew, which will become the new starter for the next batch. If that's one litre, then save 200ml. If that's 8 litres, save 1.6 litres as your new starter brew.