After discovering my gluten allergy, probiotics became my saving grace to help rebuild my intestinal villi back to a healthy state. Probiotics are essentially strains of healthy bacteria that aid your body’s ability to digest food. There’s a lot more science to how probiotics function in the intestinal tract but since I am not a health expert by any means I’ll leave it up to google to explain the precise process to you ;)
I ingest probiotics in multiple forms, the first being in capsule form. My favorite are the Raw Probiotics for Women by Garden of Life because they have a diverse strains of bacteria, are derived from real food, and is uncooked without binders and fillers. However in addition to purchasing probiotics capsule, I also ingest probiotics through food products such as kombucha and lacto-fermented vegetables. For the point of today’s post I will focus on kombucha, however I will post on lacto-fermented vegetables in the near future.
Kombucha is ancient chinese elixir that has been consumed for thousands of years. The beverage comes from a process of fermenting sweetened tea using a scoby, which stands for a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” The scoby feeds on the sugar in the tea which it digests and turns into probiotics strains and enzymes. Traditionally kombucha is brewed with black, green, or oolong teas which provide a nice acidic atmosphere for the scoby to thrive in.
I however like to fudge the rule on things a little and when brewing my kombucha I decided to try using medicinal herbs as the tea base for my brew versus a traditional tea. There is a lot of information out there that suggest that herbs cannot be used to make kombucha during the initial fermentation process however I have found this to not be entirely the case. As long as the herb you choose does not have an oil content, which will harm the scoby, and also has a nice acidic quality to it then I say try your hand at brewing kombucha with herbs and see what you end up with. The results might be quite nice.
The brew pictured above was made with red raspberry leaf tea. Not only was this a successful batch but I was also able to grow my own scoby using the red raspberry leaf tea proving that medicinal herbs can in fact produce kombucha. I chose red raspberry leaf tea because it has tremendous nurturing qualities for the female endocrine system, helping to balance hormones and tone the uterine and pelvic floor muscles. Considering that my husband and I are trying to conceive our first child, red raspberry leaf tea seemed to me like the perfect tea to ferment into a kombucha to accentuate and heighten the feminine medicinal properties of the herb.
Like I mentioned above, I grew my own scoby with this batch of kombucha and as such this brew took longer to ferment than a kombucha brew made with an already formed scoby. Also we had a cold front move through the SF Bay Area which lowered the temperatures in my house causing the ferment to take a little longer. Altogether it took about 4 weeks for the scoby to grow and to complete this brew, when brewing kombucha with a preformed scoby it usually takes 7 to 10 days or longer only if you’d like.
While some discourage drinking the kombucha from the batch that you’ve grown the scoby in, because of its strong vinegar like taste, I chose to consume this kombucha which taste much like some of the better quality varieties you find at health food markets. I didn’t find it to have a strong vinegary taste in any sense, it’s quite flavorful and filled with yummy healthy bacteria. And now my scoby is back to work brewing another batch of kombucha this time I chose to use green tea for the brew which I am sure will turn out just as great as this red raspberry leaf kombucha.
- 8 Tbsp Loose Red Raspberry Leaf Tea or 6 Tea Bags (or tea of your liking)
- 1 Cup Organic Cane Sugar
- 10-14 Cups of Filtered Water (Depending on how much Kombucha you’d like to make)
- 1 Bottle of Raw Original Kombucha (Not the flavored version) or a Scoby + 2 Cups of Starter Tea (reserved tea from a previous batch of kombucha)
What You’ll Need:
- 1 Gallon Glass Jar
- Rubber Band
- Clean Wooden Spoon
- Sieve for Loose Tea
- Cheesecloth or Clean Paper Towel
- Rubber Brand
- Swing Cap Bottles for Storing Kombucha (I used old Lorina Bottles)
- Glass bowl to Store Scoby while Bottling
- Large Glass Measuring Cup
***Before I begin I cannot stress the importance of having clean hands, surfaces, and containers for this process. This point is absolutely vital as you do not want to risk contaminating your kombucha brew by introducing bad bacteria into the process. Take precaution when working with kombucha to make sure not to end up making yourself sick. Now there is a difference between clean and squeaking clean. While you do want to produce a bad bacteria free environment, you do not want to do this by using antibacterial soaps. Antibacterial mean anti “all” bacteria including the good bacteria you need to grow and cultivate your scoby throughout its life. As such clean your hands with a natural soap and follow that process by cleaning your hands with good ol’ white vinegar. Use this same process for your vessels (gallon jug, pot for tea), spoon, surfaces, etc. Okay now that that’s out-of-the-way, onto brewing your kombucha.***
Starting Your Kombucha Tea
To start, bring your water to a boil on your stove top. Once water reaches a boil remove from heat, add tea, and cover. Let tea steep for at least an hour or even two. When tea is still warm but not hot, strain tea into your glass vessel using a sieve, like in the image below.
Add sugar to the tea and stir with your wooden spoon. Let mixture sit and cool until at room temperature. This is important because hot tea will kill the cultures in the raw kombucha you add to the batch to grow the scoby or will kill the scoby itself if you already have one.
Next, take your bottle of raw kombucha and add it to the sweetened tea then stir contents together. If you have a scoby and starter tea, add that at this point instead of the bottle of purchased kombucha. Cover with a piece of cheesecloth or paper towel, secure with a paper towel then store it in a dark well ventilated place where it can sit undisturbed for weeks and forget about it.
The Above Picture is what the complete mixture looks like once tea and kombucha bottle are combined. Notice the dark color. You will know your batch is fermenting and your scoby is growing when you see the color lighten. Throughout the fermentation process you will see a serious of things from bubbles to brown floating pieces and mini scobies forming, this is all normal for fermentation and scoby growing. However if you see fuzzy mold growing on your kombucha/scoby like the mold you see on bread discard the entire batch and start again. Mold indicates that the batch has gone bad and will harm you if consumed.
If using a pre-formed scoby: Check the flavor of your kombucha after one week. If the tea still tastes sweet allow it to ferment a few more days. Check again every few days until the right flavor balance is achieved. For those who drink kombucha regularly you will know what this is. If not, you are tasting for a tart vinegar like flavor with a hint to no sweetness. At this point your kombucha is ready to bottle.
If growing your own scoby: Monitor the growth of your scoby weekly. In warmer climates your scoby can grow quickly. In colder climates of course it will take longer. Your kombucha and scoby are ready when the scoby is about 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch thick. It can take anywhere from one to four weeks for the scoby to fully form. Have patience as fermenting while growing a scoby is a slow process but it’s well worth it.
The above photo is the last stage of my kombucha brew, after 4 weeks, the scoby has grown to about 1/4 of an inch thick. At this point the kombucha is ready for bottling.
Removing Scoby and Bottling Kombucha
With your clean hands, remove the scoby from your gallon vessel and place in a sanitized glass bowl with 2 cup of reserved tea, this is your starter tea for the next batch. Inspect your scoby to make sure it does not contain mold or black spots. Remeber brown strings and spots are okay, just no black or green mold. Pour your kombucha into a large glass measuring cup then transfer to your storing bottles. At this time you will begin brewing another batch of kombucha in your gallon vessel, follow the above steps again and using your scoby and starter tea to begin the batch. Each time you brew, your scoby will “have a scoby baby” you can use this baby for another batch, give it to a friend along with some starter tea, or add it to your compost.
You can enjoy your bottled kombucha as is or you can second ferment it to add flavor and fizz. Kombucha stores in the refrigerator in airtight containers for a couple of months as long as the containers are not opened. However for me these bottles will not last that long.
Secondary Fermentation or The Second Ferment
The photo at the very top is of my bottled kombucha on day 1 of the secondary fermentation process. What the second ferment allows for is the kombucha to continue culturing while developing carbonation (fizz) and flavor (if you’d like). You can add fresh fruit, herbs, fresh fruit juice, roots such as ginger or turmeric to the kombucha to impart flavor. Add your chosen contents to the bottle, I added ginger, and let them rest on your countertop. This process can take anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Try not to overdo the second ferment or you can risk your bottles exploding if too much carbonation forms in the containers. After this ferment is complete, transfer to the refrigerator and enjoy your kombucha.
Kombucha Flavor Idea
- Ginger and Tumeric
- Any or multiple Berries such as Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, etc
- Goji Berry and Ginger
- Nettle Leaf and Ginger
- Dandelion Leaf and Ginger
- Vanilla Lavender
- Lemon Lime