Give Your Tummy Some Lovin' - Home Brewed Kombucha

Perfect brew at sunrise

Perfect brew at sunrise

Fermented food and drink is a really big thing in Australia at the moment and has been growing in popularity in recent years. There are plenty of trends like this that are fads, and some that boom for a reason. I believe fermentation is the latter - it is really beneficial, delicious and healthy. I'm certainly not claiming that ferments will heal all and you'll feel like a new person within a week, but I find them fantastic for eliminating bloating and keeping my digestive tract regular. There are many ferments that you can make at home, like sauerkraut, kimchi, water kefir, fire tonics, alcohols, miso, sourdough... the list goes on. The process, called zymology, refers to processing or preservation from interaction of bacteria and/or yeast with sugar or other food sources. The idea behind the health benefits is primarily that it's a delicious way to incorporate large numbers of beneficial bacteria into the gut to aid digestion, reduce illness and promote gut resilience. On top of this, most are low in sugar and fat, and high in fibre (though many contain high levels of salt). It's a great way to preserve foods that can't be grown over a whole year (such as cabbages) which is a much more sustainable way to eat. They're also very fun and satisfying to make! You won't find much scientific evidence on health impacts of the stuff as studies aren't particularly well done, but Im happy with my results.

So what on earth is Kombucha? Bucha, or Booch, is a fermented bubbly drink made from tea leaves, sugar and a SCOBY. It has been around for centuries. A SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast - it is a living jelly-like blob that grows by feeding from the tea and sugar and converting these into carbon dioxide (bubbles), acetic and other acids (vinegar), enzymes, and a very small amount of alcohol. Barely any sugar remains at the end of fermentation, depending on how long you leave yours to brew - the longer, the more acidic. 

Mother SCOBY

Mother SCOBY

Follow the recipe link below to start. There are many different recipes and the only real constants we have found to be important are:
- Don't try to use a different "healthier" sugar replacement. Your yeast won't like it. Just grit your teeth and use the white stuff.
- Make sure you have at least 10% (or more) pre-brewed Booch in your starter batch to get it going nicely.

Some other important tips are:
- DON'T use metal implements in your brewing process. Your SCOBY will hate you (it's reactive).
- If you want to change the type of tea you're using, start off with intermediate batches of 1/2 black and 1/2 other. I have read plenty of blogs stating that herbal teas are quite tricky to master, so often a portion of black tea is needed for a successful batch, at least in the beginning. Your SCOBY is sensitive to immediate changes, so ease it in.
- Temperature is timing. If you start brewing in winter and your Booch takes two weeks to brew, in summer its likely to take a lot less! Warmer temperatures will speed up fermentation so monitor closely.

We use 75g sugar to 15g tea per litre of water - this seems to work well for us. The recipe below uses slightly less tea. We also buy or tea leaves in bulk from local tea and whole foods stores to avoid throwing out heaps of empty teabags every fortnight.

Second ferments are great to flavour your Kombucha. This is done without a SCOBY for a couple of days with something sugary (i.e. fruit). I highly recommend using fresh ginger, apple or fresh turmeric! Use whatever is in season or easily available.

When you do multiple brews overtime, you will get baby SCOBYs forming from the Mother SCOBY. These can be moved into separate vessels once a decent size to become a Mother themselves - within a few months you'll have yourself heaps! If you reach a stage where you have too many, you can a) give them to friends to start their own brews, b) put them in the compost, or c) put them in a SCOBY hotel. This is just a jar of multiple SCOBYs in straight vinegar or Booch that's left in the fridge - they can lay dormant for months until you need them.
Good luck and happy brewing!

Read here for more information on your gut microbiome.

Find a beginner's Kombucha info page and recipe here.

More fermentation recipes for other yummy things here