Kombucha? Youbetcha!

Kombucha tea is quite hip these days, and for something faddish, it’s quite ancient. It’s basically fermented green tea. And as fermentation often has alcohol as it’s byproduct, there’s been some recent fuss at  Whole Foods and other organic/health foods retailers about the scant alcohol in these bottled-to-go-teas, and they’ve been pulled from the shelves until some new labeling regulations go into effect.

As usual, when it comes to the more esoteric trends in popular culture, I’m ahead of the curve and started brewing my own kombucha at home several weeks ago: I won’t be affected by any retail shortages.

I got my first kombucha “mushroom” from my cousin Therese when I was visiting Washington D.C. earlier this month; she gave me one, and I managed to get it home in my carry-on bag. This is what it looks like:

Yes, I know. It looks like a slab of uncooked pork. Or some other raw meat. Definitely something you wouldn’t want to eat. But, it’s really just a big saucer-shaped SCOBY, which is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.

There are lots of kombucha recipes online. The basic recipe calls for bringing 2 litres of water to a boil, and then adding green tea and/or some flavored green tea (such as pomegranate) and 1 1/2 cups of sugar (organic, preferably). The tea and sugar mixture is put in a large glass bowl or jar, all tea bags or tea leaves removed, and the kombucha culture is placed on top:

Then the bowl is covered w/cheesecloth, and secured with elastic to keep the cheesecloth in place; the bowl then sits undisturbed in a quiet corner of the kitchen for 7–10 days, during which time the culture grows another duplicate SCOBY. That culture can be stored away, given away (as Therese did with her extra culture) or used to make more kombucha.

The amount of sugar in the recipe may seem high, but, it’s enough to prevent the fermentation from going bad. There is quite a bit of alarmist noise online about how kombucha can make you sick or kill you, but as with just about anything, making  kombucha involves common sense, as well as some basic awareness of what a healthy fermented food product looks and tastes like.

I’m brewing my second batch now; my first batch turned out really good! It’s strong, and I add one part kombucha tea to about 3–4 parts water for a yummy, refreshing drink.

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