You’ve seen it in Whole Foods and other natural food stores, the blends of mysterious kombucha “tea” as it is usually called. Sometimes it’s mixed with other flavors, similar to juice or apple cider, and has slight carbonation from its fermentation process.
But what is it? Is it really alive? Should I drink the slimy stuff? Is it safe to make it at home? These are great questions. Let me show you!
What is a SCOBY?
Kombucha tea is made from the fermentation of a SCOBY, which is an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." You use it to start your kombucha culture. A SCOBY is basically a self-propagating formation of yeast and bacteria.
What are the benefits of kombucha?
Kombucha is believed to have curative properties, especially in regard to improving the digestive system, boosting the immune system, and increasing energy levels. It is also believed to help the skin, promote well-being, and detoxify your body.
Is kombucha really made out of mushrooms?
Kombucha is the name of a mushroom that's also known as a Manchurian mushroom. For centuries, it has reputedly been used in Asian and Russian countries. The SCOBY, also called the mushroom, is not eaten.
It gets confusing, I know. A tea is made by fermenting the mushroom (the SCOBY formation, not an actual mushroom) in water, sugar, and green or black tea for a week to a month.
How do you make more Scobies?
Sometimes apple cider vinegar or original “culture” is added, meaning tea from the last batch (similar to making buttermilk, using previous cultures to culture the next batch). Baby SCOBY (“daughter mushrooms”) are produced during this process and can be used to create more and more kombucha.
What You Need to Know Before Making Kombucha
- Clean, clean, clean: When you’re fermenting this liquid, you’re growing a culture, and then you’re consuming it. So cleanliness is of the utmost importance! Wash your hands. Have a clean, empty sink to work in.
- Use the right tools: ONLY use stainless steel, glass, or clean wooden utensils. Invest in a clean, stainless steel pot. Use a glass dish to store the SCOBY in while you make a new batch of tea. Remove all jewelry from your fingers. Other metals can kill a SCOBY.
- Be aware of temperature: Room temperature is everything, all the time. Extreme temperatures can kill a SCOBY. In warm, humid environments, people leave their kombucha teas on the counter. Here in Northern California, I place mine in the back of my pantry on the floor.
- Ferment in the dark and quiet: It’s a living organism, and it’s growing. Have you ever made bread? Have you ever watched it fall when a door was slammed? Store your SCOBY in a safe, quiet, dark place so it can do its thing. This way you avoid many mishaps, dirt, spillage, disruption, etc.
- Don't drink the slimy bit: And no, you don't have to drink the slimy part! It's part of the culture. The benefits come from the liquid.
- Start with a SCOBY: You can buy the drink for $2 to $5 per 16-ounce bottle, but why? Kombucha SCOBY (or mushrooms) can be found through friends, at health food stores, on Craigslist or other networking boards (like at your local health food store), and on the internet. Obviously, it seems safest to obtain a SCOBY from a person deemed trustworthy, because you’re going to make a concentrated tea from this stuff that you’re going to proceed to drink it! If you’re desperate to make it and can’t find flesh and blood to give it to you, turn to the internet, and search wisely.
- Get a glass jar as big as the amount of liquid you want to make.
- In a stainless steel pot, boil water. Turn off the heat. Add 5 to 7 green and/or black tea bags. (I use organic. Ask the previous owner what they were using and transition slowly, so as not to disrupt the SCOBY, possibly killing it.) And add 1 to 2 cups of sugar (if you have a smaller jar, use one; if it’s extra large, use two).
- When the liquid is room temperature (neither hot nor cold), remove the tea bags with a wooden or stainless steel spoon and pour the liquid into your glass jar.
- Add in the SCOBY with the reserve liquid it came with.
- Cover with a piece of cloth (I cut up an old T-shirt). Secure it with a rubber band.
- Wait. Some say a week. I aim for 28 days. I’ve fermented for as long as three months, but don’t recommend it.
Making Kombucha Is Safe, Fun, and Easy!
Have fun! Please don't hesitate to ask me questions in the comments section below
- Balch, P.A., (2000). Prescription for nutritional healing. Avery Books: New York.
- Haas, E.M. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The Complete guide to diet & nutritional medicine. Celestial Arts: Berkeley, CA.
- Kirschmann, J.D. (2007). Nutrition Almanac – 6th ed. McGraw Hill: NY.
© 2008 Theresa Singleton