Water kefir is a great way to kick the soda habit, and an easy way to get more probiotics into your diet. My kids like it better than kombucha, because it has a milder, less acidic flavor. (Compare water kefir and kombucha.) There's still a certain muskiness to it from the fermentation. You're not going to pass this off as regular soda, but it makes a nice, naturally carbonated option for those of us who avoid sugary drinks and artificial sweeteners. Once you purchase your grains, you should be able to continue culturing indefinitely. It's much cheaper than buying soda or carbonated water, and healthier, too. [Read more…]
Water kefir verus kombucha, which is better?
This is a question I've heard a number of times. My kids like the flavor of water kefir soda better than kombucha tea, but I generally prefer the kombucha myself, and my husband will drink either, depending on the flavor.
Water kefir is quicker to brew than kombucha tea – unless you do a continuous ferment, in which case you can draw off kombucha every day. Some people find water kefir is more consistent, my kombucha tends to be more consistent. Some people feel guilty about excess scobys, I have been able to give most of mine away, or I simply compost them. A few I've used to treat skin ailments, such as my son's cradle cap. (Read The SCOBY Cure.) (DON'T FLUSH YOUR SCOBY! It may just be able to grow in your septic system and cause big problems.) [Read more…]
My First Homebrew Kombucha
Making homebrew kombucha is easy, once you have a kombucha culture, also known as a scoby (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). My first scoby came from another homeschool mom in my natural foods co-op. Before I started brewing, I re-read the info I had on kombucha from Wild Fermentation and Nourishing Traditions. I paid my friend a quick visit, and brought home two new scobys safely packaged in a covered pyrex container. And then – my scoby sat in the fridge. (Which, BTW, is not the best thing for a scoby. Store them at room temperature with enough liquid to cover. A large mason jar works quite well.)
I was excited about the concept, but the original brew I smelled reminded me of a combination of old socks and vinegar. This made me a little nervous. I had a heck of a time tracking down an appropriate container to brew in – very few things come packaged in glass anymore, and I really didn't need a gallon of olives. Finally, I found some nice gallon containers at Walmart. They had a lid that I didn't need, but the ridge around the top was handy for holding the rubber band in place that kept the cloth covering the brew in place.
No more excuses – old sock smell or not, it was time to take the plunge. I used the recipe from Wild Fermentation, shown below. I make three quarts at once and ferment them in a gallon container. If you don't have a neighbor with a scoby, I recommend fresh cultures from Kombucha Kamp.
Homebrew Kombucha instructions
Kombucha Brewing Timeframe
About 7-10 days
Ingredients (for 1 quart/1liter)
1 quart/1liter water
1/4 cup/60 milliliters sugar
1 tablespoon/15 milliliters loose black tea or 2 teabags
1/2 cup/125 milliliters mature acidic kombucha
Kombucha mother (SCOBY)
- Mix water and sugar and bring to a boil in a small cooking pot.
- Turn off the heat; add tea, cover, and steep about 15 minutes.
- Strain the tea into a glass container. It's best to use something wide; kombucha needs adequate surface area and works best if the diameter of the container is greater than the depth of the liquid. Allow the tea to cool to body temperature.
- Add the mature acidic kombucha. When you obtain a culture, store it in this liquid. Save a portion of the subsequent batches for this purpose.
- Place the kombucha mother in the liquid, with the firm opaque side up.
- Cover with a cloth and store in a warm spot, ideally 75- to 85F (21 to 29 C).
- After a few days to 1 week, depending on the temperature, you will notice a skin forming on the surface of the kombucha. Taste the liquid. It will probably still be sweet. The longer it sits, the more acidic it will become.
- Once it reaches the acidity you like, start a new batch and store you mature kombucha in the refrigerator. you now have two mothers, the original one you started with, and the new one. use either the new or the old mother in your new batch, and pass the other one on to a friend (or the compost). Each generation will give birth to a new mother, and the old mother will thicken.
How do you know when the kombucha is done?
I followed the instructions, and low and behold a week and half later I was staring at the brew in the top photo. Floaty thing – check. Acidic – check. Drinkable – check. Tart, with a slight vinegar taste, but no old socks. Still, I like the fancy flavored brews in the store, so I decided to experiment a bit.
I fished out the scoby.
This thing really does look a little gross, like a rubbery piece of old, mysteriously white meat, of maybe blubber. The blob in the bowl is the original, the new growth is in my hand – fat and healthy.
Straining chunks – I wasn't ready to face those yet.
Into the bottles.
Flavoring the Kombucha
I flavor the kombucha after the initial brewing, when I remove the scoby and put the kombucha into bottles. You can use flavored teas for brewing, but not those that contain essential oils (like Earl Grey). They may damage your scoby. With this batch I tried 1/4 cup apple cider per bottle in two bottles, one with some blueberries, and one with some raspberries. I didn't measure the berries, I simply loaded them in until they covered the bottom of the bottle.
Leave bottles on the counter for a couple days produce more bubbles, refrigerate for a sweeter brew.
In addition to the above flavors, I've also tried straight blueberry juice, grape juice, honey and ginger (about a tablespoon of each per bottle), and Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix. So far I think my favorite is the blueberries, but all are tasty. It's fun to munch on the bubbling fruit at the bottom of the bottle.
The chocolate was a hoot. I got a little nervous because the powder formed an obstruction at the top of the bottle and didn't appear to blend in well. When I finally popped it open (after almost a two week ferment), the carbonation had built up so much (because of the high sugar content) that it blew the foamy chocolate snake right out of the top of the bottle. So much for the bottle getting blocked. Most of the sugar was gone by this point, so the flavor was more like straight, strangely effervescent unsweetened cocoa, but it was still pleasant, and highly entertaining. I think the ginger could use more ginger, but I'm not sure how much. Suggestions are welcome, along with suggestions for other flavors.
Why Drink Kombucha?
So why the heck am I bothering with all of this? Sure it tastes good, but it's also good for you. From Kombucha Cultures:
The intestinal microflora is carefully balanced. The human gut is home to around 400 different species of good and bad bugs. However, the good bugs have to share their environment with bad bugs such as Salmonella, E.Coli and Clostridium. The way to balance between good and bad bacteria is to maintain good digestive health, creating stable “microflora”. It is generally recommended that probiotics are taken on a daily basis to create this balance.Prescription medicines, stress, sickness and especially antibiotics can all disrupt the bacterial balance because as well as killing off the bad bacteria they allso kill off the good bacteria. So you need to restore balance. Probiotics need to be taken regularly to maintain levels of good bacteria. Lactobacillus or lactic acid bacteria is a faciltative bacteria, named as such because most of its members convert lactose and other simple sugars to lactic acid. They are present in the gastrointestinal tract and the vagina. The production of lactic acid makes their environment acidic which inhibits the growth of some harmful bacteria. Large populations lactic acid-producing bacteria regulate the levels of friendly bacteria and reduce the levels of toxic pathogens which cause ill health. Resulting in Kombucha being one of the best skin treatments for acne and an arthritis health drink.Even though the beverage is acidic, it does not cause any acidic condition in the stomach; it facilitates and noticeably promotes the digestion. The “yeasts” found in the Kombucha are of a beneficial kind. Organic Kombucha Tea is considered by some as a delicious ‘Cancer Foods' or as a natural alternative ‘herbal nutrition supplement'.By altering the pH of the large intestine to a slightly more acidic level, putrefactive bacteria (those bad for your health and causing foul wind production) tend to be inhibited or destroyed. There is no kombucha danger, It will cause no harm to have even ingested Kombucha mushroom. The pH is altered by active good bacteria producing high levels of lactic acid. The presence of this and other acids inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria, molds, mold spores and yeast, particularly the Candida form.
More Posts in the Kombucha Series
Water Kefir Versus Kombucha – What's the difference between water kefir and kombucha?
Flavoring Kombucha and Kombucha Testimonials – Tips for flavoring kombucha and stories about how people I know have been helped by kombucha
Kombucha Q and A and More Flavoring Ideas– More flavoring ideas and all the Q and A from the comments in a more readable format
Holiday Kombucha Flavors – Ideas for holiday flavor blends such as pumpkin spice and cranberry collins
How to Make Coffee Kombucha – Using coffee instead of tea to brew kombucha
Originally published in 2009, updated in 2017.
How do you go about flavoring kombucha? I add fruit/juice/other flavoring after the initial brewing, when the scoby is removed and the kombucha liquid is placed into bottles or jars. You can also brew with flavored teas, although those that contain essential oils (such as Earl Grey) should be avoided. Many essential oils have anti-bacterial properties that can damage your scoby. After bottling, let the jars/bottles sit on the counter for a day or two and then I refrigerate it.
Time on the counter increases the carbonation. If it is warm/hot the fermentation will proceed rapidly, and carbonation will build up quickly. In winter, I might leave it out for two days, in high summer, one day or less. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process and makes your bottles less likely to fire off like a rocket when opened.
When I first began brewing, I did a lot of hunting around on the internet looking for information on how to flavor kombucha. I didn't have much luck. It seemed like the people who were doing it just did it, and it was a given that you should know how to do it.
To that end, I'll share my kombucha flavoring ideas. One of the things that I like best about kombucha is that you can stick fruit in the jar for flavor and forget it, unlike kefir soda where the fruit needs to be strained out. I don't measure my fruit, I just keep stuffing pieces in until the bottom of the jar is covered, plus a bit more.
Flavoring Kombucha with Fruit
I've tried the following frozen fruit:
- blueberries – my favorite, they burst in your mouth and ad a good flavor
- raspberries – also very good
- strawberries – very good
- banana bits – not so good – they didn't add much flavor and were very slimey
- combo of blueberry and raspberry – also very good
- tart cherries – I tried these plain, with almond extract, with vanilla extract, and with both almond and vanilla extract. Thus far, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract is my favorite, but I still prefer the blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
I've tried the following home canned fruit:
Neither the peaches nor the pears were very good. They just didn't have a very strong flavor. The peaches were a little better than the pears.
I've tried the following dried fruit:
- pineapple and shredded coconut, along with 1/4 tsp coconut extract – this is actually fairly tasty, something like a pina colada
- pineapple – good, light and fruity
- cranberries, with frozen blueberries or raspberries – didn't really notice much flavor from these
- apricots – rather bland
I've also used fruit juice, between 1/4 and 1/2 cup per bottle. I actually prefer just the plain fruit myself, but some people don't like the fruit chunk floaties in their drink.
Flavoring Kombucha with Juices
- Pomegranate – nice when teamed up with frozen raspberries, my husband's favorite
- Blueberry – good, but I prefer the berries themselves
- Apple cider – nice, especially when you add in a cinnamon stick
- Mango – sweet and light tasting
- grape – just strange – I didn't care for it
I've also tried the following flavorings:
- Ghirardelli chocolate drink mix, 1 tablespoon per jar – strange, but okay, something different
- Hershey chocolate syrup, 1 tablespoon per jar – much less tasty than the Ghirardelli
- Tang instant drink mix, 1 tablespoon per jar – ACK! This was terrible – much too strong!
- Cinnamon stick, two cloves, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom – spicy, but good. Tasted like mulled cider.
- Ginger, fresh, enough to cover the bottom of the jar – This was pretty good. I'm still working on finding right amount to have enough ginger but not too much.
UPDATE on the PINA COLADA flavor – my current favorite combo to get a pina colada flavor is: 1/4 cup coconut water, 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract and 1/4 cup pineapple juice or 1/4 cup fresh diced pineapple.
This knocks the pants off the dried fruit version. I've been using less coconut water, since I found out that some companies are harvesting the green coconuts for their water, which is negatively impacting the coconut oil supply. (Not sure which companies use mature coconuts – need to make time to research this.) Fresh coconut water and/or coconut meat really adds and amazing extra punch of flavor.
If you need a kombucha SCOBY or brewing equipment, I recommend Kombucha Kamp.
Kombucha Soothes Stomach Ache
When my sister was bottling her first batch, her brother-in-law stopped by for a visit and asked what she was doing. She explained and offered him a glass of her brew. He drank it down, and then asked how quickly it should have an effect. He then told her that he had had a stomach ache for the last four days, but after he finished his kombucha his stomach finally stopped hurting. My thought on this is that he may have been suffering from low stomach acid, and the kombucha, being acidic, could have very quickly helped with this.
Kombucha Gets Guts Moving
The other story is a little more graphic. Don't read on if you don't want to know about bodily functions. A friend of mine, who has been on a variety of prescription medications for years, had the urge to consume a large quantity of kombucha (around one quart, straight down the hatch). I normally wouldn't recommend this large of an amount to someone who was just starting out with kombucha, but I have read that they used similar amounts, given daily, to treat hospital patients over in Russia. After drinking the kombucha, the next time he paid a trip to the bathroom he passed a very black, almost tar-like stool. Afterward, he said his energy levels felt better than he had in some time. He started brewing kombucha. Hopefully, between this and making other dietary changes, he will continue to see improvement.
I've come to enjoy this bubbly drink, and consume it regularly with meals. I haven't noticed any dramatic results personally, but I anticipate continuing to brew and drink it for years to come. Your guts tend to slow down as you age, so this is a good way to give them a little”jump start”. Consumption of probiotics also helps you ward off infection and illness.
Do you have a kombucha story you'd like to share? If you have favorite flavor combos, please let me know. Happy brewing!
Other posts in the Kombucha Series
How to Make Coffee Kombucha – Using coffee instead of tea to brew kombucha
Water Kefir Versus Kombucha – What’s the difference between water kefir and kombucha?
Kombucha Q and A and More Flavoring Ideas – More flavoring ideas and all the Q and A from the comments in a more readable format
How to Flavor Kombucha – Holiday Flavors – Fun seasonal flavor ideas.
Originally published in 2010, updated in 2017.
Sometimes my ferments don't go over too well with the kids. They're just not into the tangy, sour flavors of a good kraut or relish. Getting them to get plain asparagus is tough enough, let alone trying to get them to eat lacto-fermented asparagus. But there is one lacto-fermented beverage I've tried that has consistently been a hit with kids and adults alike – root beer water kefir. [Read more…]