K is for Kombucha

I recently attended a ‘Fermentation Basics’ workshop with about 8 others in Amherst and had such a blast, that I am compelled to write about it. The workshop was sponsored by the Ecology Action Centre and the Cumberland Food Action Network (CFAN) and facilitated by Jody Zinner and Steve Wiseman, a dynamic duo who are both local food activists and CFAN Board of Directors members. The workshop was held at Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre (http://www.maggiesplace.ca/cumberland/home/), which boasts a fabulous kitchen and foodie-friendly staff, making it the perfect venue for this small group learning experience.

We set out to make a batch of green cabbage and hot pepper sauerkraut, plus to learn how to make kombucha tea. Participants left with a jar or two each of sauerkraut and a “starter” jar of kombucha tea, which contained what I referred to as a “baby kombucha”, but is more widely referred to as a “scoby” (Symbiotic Culture of friendly Bacteria and Yeast) – a small part of the mother kombucha bacteria, for us to begin replicating on our own at home. This blog will remain focused on the kombucha tea making part of the workshop mostly and is not intended as a ‘how to’.

Jody started off the workshop, giving a bit of history about fermentation, stating that it is the most ancient form of food preservation, as well as probably the safest. One of the main reasons fermentation is safe from contamination is that it works on the principle of not trying to eliminate bad bacteria, but by encouraging the good bacteria you want to grow. Jody further added, that bacterial growth can be moderated by temperature: Increasing the temperature of your ferment increases the bacteria’s proliferation and vice versa. She suggested as “a must” resource if you are interested in learning more about fermentation: The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz.

Jody then went into a bit about the science of fermentation, stating that the lacto-bacsillus culture helps us to digest the enzymes in food that are hard for our bodies to digest. She suggested that many of our modern day ailments, such intestinal disorders, may be due to the absence of this beneficial pro-biotic bacteria in our diets. She also cited some of the many reported health benefits of fermented food and beverages as well, such as the noted immune-boosting and improved brain functioning properties.

Jody sharing the mother kombuchas
Steve then raised the mother kombucha they brought with them, out of the crock that she lived in. It was like being at ‘show-and-tell’ in grade-school all over again, as the group gasped in awe at the googly mass he held up before us. After the oohs and aahs and many curious questions subsided, the pair proceeded to demonstrate how to make the brew.

Steve w mother kombucha
They suggested that you start your kombucha with a good black tea, such as organic fair trade Darjeeling. About a cup of sugar (again, aim for organic and fair trade), is added to the black tea after it is cooled. The mother or scoby is then added in. The sugar and tea is eaten by the mother and it turns into kombucha. The proliferation of bacteria creates carbon dioxide as a by-product of the process, which results in carbonation.

Every batch of brew creates a new mother, which can be shared with others. Jody and Steve will sometimes feed their extra mothers to their dogs and chickens, which they say has resulted in noticeable health benefits for them too!

Steve gave the group some samples of some of their home brew, which included a taste of blueberry kombucha, jun, and a natural kombucha. Everyone loved the blueberry and several commented that kids would love this stuff. Jody posited that it would make a great healthy substitute for pop and other carbonated sugar drinks the kids are hooked on these days. The group’s favourite seemed to be what Steve and Jody called “the champagne of kombucha” – the jun tea, which is derived from a green tea base vs. black tea and is actually not really a kombucha at all, but that is another blog story.

Once brewed and bottled, you can store your tea at about 40 degrees, or fridge temperature, either in your basement or in a root cellar if you have one and it should last up to a month. If stored at warmer temperatures, the tea will turn to vinegar more quickly, but this can be used for salad dressings.

I plan to follow up with the participants in attendance to see how they all fared in making their first batch of kombucha home brew. I am attempting mine today, but I won’t deny that I feel slightly intimidated, not by the simple process of making it, but by the commitment to keeping the mother and her scobies alive batch after batch. Keep your eyes open for any riveting reports back!

For a really good and easy recipe on how to make kombucha tea see: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-kombucha-tea-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-173858

Check out CFAN on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CumberlandFoodActionNetwork), and soon at their new website.

Blog written by Su Morin, The Ecology Action Centre’s Community Food Coordinator for Cumberland County, NS

steeping the black tea

mamma kombucha

mamma kombucha

One thought on “K is for Kombucha

  1. Great article! I’ve been making kombucha for only a couple of months and have found it very easy and was able to score some SCOBY from a friend. I do have to admit I feel bad composting the old mothers as I don’t have anyone (or animals) to give them to. I’ve added ginger to the kombucha about a week after starting the brew and let it sit on the counter for a week or two making sure to open the lid from time to time as this creates more carbonation. Yum.

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