Sunday, April 14, 2013

The benefits of fermented foods: How to make Kombucha

What is Kombucha? When people ask me, I often struggle to find an answer that sounds inviting. I have been saying that it is fermented tea, but the word fermented turns a lot of people off. So I guess it is better to say that it is a bubbly beverage with bacterial benefits.

If you have heard about Kombucha or had it, you probably drank from the fancy, expensive little bottle that you bought at Whole Foods for a fortune. It probably tasted good and you might have been intrigued why such a sweet drink has hardly any grams of sugar in it. You may have noticed a logo claiming its probiotics benefits. You might have been exposed to it through a friend who is making their own, or at a health workshop, where the presenter was selling their bottle for something like 8 or 9 dollars a liter. You may even have come into contact with a SCOBY, which is the main character in the making of kombucha. If you have never heard about Kombucha, you are in for a treat.

The SCOBY, which is the culture we use to ferment the tea, is a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. I know, it looks a bit like an alien, it doesn't look appetizing, but wait until you find out what the SCOBY can do to your body, and how good kombucha can actually taste!

Fermented foods have been a part of our culture since the beginning of times. Back then, fermented foods served different functions:

- It is nature's way of preserving foods, making it possible to have access to certain foods year round,    before the invention of fridges and aluminium cans.
- It allows for food to be pre-digested, making it easier for the body to absorb nutrition.
- It facilitates the assimilation of vitamins, which our body can't always create on its own.

Where digestion and assimilation happens is our gut. And in order to have a healthy body and a healthy mind, we need to have a healthy gut. Let me try to explain why:

There are more neurotransmitters in our gut than there are in our brain. Our gut can sense things, remember things, tell us what is going on. There are a lot of bacteria that live in our gut, and that are really important for our gut health. But in our environment, there are a lot of things that assault that bacterial balance. From toxins and chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods (GMOs, artificial colorants, additives, preservatives, pesticides) we eat and the products we put on our hair and skin, to the stress we are under, and the drugs and medicine we ingest, our gut is under constant assault and the balance between the healthy and harmful bacteria is often compromised, as these intruders wreak havoc on our gut. When our gut is sick, it doesn't know how to recognize the foods that are good for us and not anymore. It doesn't know how to process them, and starts perceiving certain foods as enemies, certain cells as invaders, and  starts attacking its own cells, creating auto-immune diseases, or food allergies.

You may have heard the saying: "all disease starts in the gut". When you are bacterially strong, meaning that the good bacteria outnumber, or are sufficiently present to fight the bad bacteria, you don't get sick as much. Restoring the good bacteria in your gut is extremely important. And one way of doing that, is to eat fermented, good bacteria containing, foods. Fermented foods are probiotic foods, vs. antibiotics, which destroy everything in your gut.

Here are some of the benefits of fermented foods:

- they improve digestion by breaking down your food for you
- they boost immunity by creating a lining in your gut, protecting it from bad bacteria
- they reduce inflammation
- they alkalize your PH, which protects you from inflammation and disease
- they contain and produce healthy bacteria and yeast
- they reduce sugar cravings. Sugar addiction means your gut is out of balance.
- they bring the body back into balance

What kinds of foods are fermented foods?

The ones you most likely have had access to the most is yogurt and cheese. But you may also have heard of Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kim-Chi, Beet Kvass, Pickles, or Kombucha.
Some of these are lacto fermented, but Kombucha is an acetic acid ferment similar to vinegar.

The SCOBY is this mother ship. It is not a mushroom, but because it  kind of looks like a mushroom, many people call it that way. It is alive and reproduces. Every time you make a new batch, the scoby makes a baby. Even in a bottle of kombucha drink, if you let it sit long enough, it will create a new scoby, by itself.
It has other usages, outside of making the drink. You can use the scoby as a bandage that heals wounds, you can use it as a facial mask, or in your compost to enrich your soil.

Let's look at the symbiotic cycle at play in the kombucha making:

You only need four ingredients: water, sugar, tea and a scoby. The yeast in the scoby consumes the sugar in your tea and creates ethanol and CO2. The bacteria in turn consumes the ethanol and creates healthy acids that help to release toxins and detoxify our liver, promote healthy joints and stimulate muscle building. Because it is such a detoxifier, it is important to drink a lot of water with your kombucha, to flush all those toxins out.
So basically, Kombucha takes sugar and transforms it into healthy acids. Isn't that awesome?

Kombucha also contains B vitamins, which our body can't create on our own, and is alkaline, which helps put the minerals back into your body. A diet rich in grains, beans, citrus, dairy and meat or fish tends to be acidic, which causes inflammation and disease. It is important to alkalize our diet to create a healthy PH and balance in our body, and kombucha helps doing that, even though it has an acidic PH. Once absorbed, it has an alkalizing effect, just like lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.

In summary, kombucha restores balance so your body can heal itself.

Making kombucha is super easy:

You will need a big stock pot that doesn't contain aluminium, 3 quarts to 1 gallon of distilled water (preferably, because you want your water to be as free from chemicals as possible), 1 cup of sugar and 3-5 bags of tea.

Boil your water in the stock pot. When it starts boiling, add your cup of sugar and keep it boiling for 5 minutes. Then turn the stove off, add your tea bags (green tea or black tea, non flavored, non organic or it will cause mold) and let it steep for 10 minutes. I usually put 4-5 teabags of green tea, a little less of black tea. After ten minutes, remove the tea bags and let the tea cool down to room temperature. For a gallon, it takes about 16 hours to cool down.

Then pour the tea in a big glass jar. Add 8oz of starter liquid (which you will get with your scoby), mix, and place your scoby dark side down, on top of the tea. Cover with a kitchen cloth, place a rubber band around to keep it closed, and place your kombucha in a well ventilated place, away from direct sunlight, and away from fruits and other fermented foods. Leave it for 7 to 10 days at a room temperature of 70 to 90 degrees. The colder it is, the longer the fermentation will take. After 7 to 10 days, you will see that another scoby has formed. You now have two kombuchas.

Start over right away, and do not store the scobys in baggies in the fridge. Also, no metal must touch the kombucha, or it will die. Gently remove the baby kombucha from the top of the mother, and place each of them in jar with some of the fermented liquid. If you are not ready to start a new batch right away, you can keep them like that, covered with a cloth, for a few days.

Then place a white cotton cloth on top of a plastic funnel and pour your kombucha tea in clear glass bottles or jars. Close the lid and keep it in the fridge. You will know your kombucha is ready when the mother has made a baby, you can see gooey stuff hanging from the mother or lying at the bottom of your jar (which is why you filter it), it smells a bit like vinegar, and it is is fizzy and bubbly when you pour it into your bottles. If the Scoby looks moldy, toss everything away, it is not safe to drink it.

The best way to drink this, is to have small doses often. I usually have about a cup a day, in the morning, followed by a big drink of water. You can also dilute it in water, or add a little bit of juice to it. Kombucha tastes sweet and tart and bubbly all at the same time. Sometimes, if I am craving a cold drink on a hot day, I will have a second drink in the afternoon. If you are addicted to soda, this is a GREAT substitute!

My next post will be about how to flavor your kombucha through a second fermentation.

In the mean time, I have kombucha bottles for sale, because I am not drinking them fast enough for how much I am making, and because I would really love to start turning this little labor of love into a bit  of a business, which would then allow me to go back to school and learn the stuff that will make me a legit health coach. I also have scobys, which you can buy online for 20 or more dollars, or get free from me if you buy two bottles of kombucha.

Here are the flavors I currently have:

- Dixie Peach
- Dixie Peach and Ginger (ready in 2 days)
- Blueberry (ready in about a week)
- Pomegranate
- Blueberry lavender rose (ready in about a week)

Each bottle of 1 liter is $5.50 and I will sell it to you for $5 if you bring me an empty clear glass bottle with a lid. Or you can buy your probably pasteurized and not so full of good bacteria half liter bottle at Whole Foods for about $4. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! I will deliver if you're local. So write a little something in the comments if you'd like to embark on the kombucha adventure :)


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