One of the goals I have made for myself over the past 2 years, is to try to buy less prepackaged food and make more myself from scratch. Feeding a gluten-free family automatically means I have to make more at home to ensure safe eating for my son. However, it also puts me in control of the ingredients I use, leading to healthier meals with more whole ingredients. However, some food items are much easier to buy from the market or the thought of making them seems intimidating. Over the past few months, I have conquered one of my “to make homemade projects” which is kombucha. What I once thought would be a daunting endeavor has turned into a fun hobby that requires very little hands on time or effort. The idea of at-home fermentation used to be scary and, to be honest, made me a little squeamish. The message I want to convey through this post is how easy and satisfying the whole process has been.
For those who are not familiar, kombucha is a fermented tea drink. It is created by fermenting tea (usually black tea or green tea) using a Symbiotic Colony of Yeast and Bacteria, also known as a SCOBY. Kombucha is a lovely fizzy, mildly sweet and slightly tangy tea, usually flavored with anything including, ginger, citrus, and berries. The real bonus of kombucha is probiotics. Any fermented food will create probiotics that are essential for a healthy digestive system. Lately probiotics are all over the news. More and more studies are being done that show how critical gut health is to the balance of our whole body. Note: kombucha can contain small amounts of alcohol (typically 0.5% from the fermentation) and caffeine (from the tea).
You can find bottled kombucha at almost any health food store in the refrigerated drinks area. Whole Foods has a wide selection with almost any flavor you can think of. The most popular brand is GT’s Kombucha. A 16 oz bottle of GT’s Kombucha goes for about $4. This becomes a problem when you are a real kombucha fanatic like me. I can now make it for pennies a bottle (another bonus of making it myself).
Making kombucha at home requires following a simple set of steps and patience. The process takes time, even though you are not actually doing much to move the process along. I followed instructions recommended by one of my favorite bloggers, Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. of The Paleo Mom. A link to the Paleo Mom’s kombucha directions is here and the site she recommended from smallnotebook.org, which I followed, is here.
For anyone who is squeamish, the hardest part of the process is getting over the SCOBY. Honestly, it is kind of gross. Click here to see many pictures of SCOBY’s online. However, I have come to love my SCOBY and I am so proud of how it grows and thrives each time I make a new batch of kombucha. I made my own SCOBY from an unflavored bottle of GT’s Kombucha from Whole Foods (steps included in instructions). Worked like a charm. However, you can buy dehydrated SCOBY’s and even kombucha making kits online or use a piece from a friend’s SCOBY.
SCOBY’s live on tea and sugar. The process involves feeding your SCOBY until it uses up enough tea and sugar to your taste preference, bottling, flavoring, and restarting the fermentation. The instructions I link to are a detailed, but simple 2-step process. It is important to follow the instructions to achieve success, but here is a brief overview of what to expect and some of my notes:
- Fermentation: Add SCOBY to sweet tea (tea and sugar) and place in the dark at room temperature for 5-14 days. This range allows you to determine the sweetness level you prefer. The longer it sits the less sweet it will get as the SCOBY uses the sugar to live. My sweet spot is 11 days.
- Flavor and increase natural carbonation: Remove SCOBY and pour liquid into bottles containing flavoring of choice. I like fresh squeezed lemon juice, pomegranate juice, grape juice and sometimes a hunk of crystalized ginger. Then place sealed bottles in the dark at room temperature for 5 days to develop natural fizz. Refrigerate and enjoy!
All and all the process does not require much of your time, but from start to finish (including 2 weeks if you are making your own SCOBY), it will take about 1 month before you can enjoy your first bottle. However, once you get going, it is a rolling process and now I always have bottles in my fridge. Recently My SCOBY also got big enough to scale up. Not I brew double the amount of sweet tea in 2 large mason jars using 2 SCOBY’s.
Kombucha is a fun way to start fermenting at home. I hope this post motivates you to give it a try. Please send me a note or add a comment if you need any help getting started. Have fun!