I’ve been out for a while, and there’s been a whole lotta food in my life since my last post…but of all the new things I’ve tried & made, I’d like to dedicate my first post de la renaissance to this oddly and grotesquely-made nectar of the gods…so I’ve been told. I had the opportunity to try my first kombucha this year in none other than the well-known neighborhood store Trader Joe’s at Rancho Cucamonga in sunny California. Known for their focus on private labelling, the store places value as their primary focus, removing many of the additional costs that come from sales, marketing, & all those other unnecessary fees involved when selling other people’s products…apparently, that paved the way to where they are today! With over 500 stores nationwide, it still keeps its neighborhood grocery store feel offering the best quality products for the best, everyday prices. I loved it!
It was a beautiful sunny day, as usual in Rancho Cucamonga, as we cruised around town on our way to the nearby Trader Joe’s. It only felt right to find ourselves a little snack inside. We drove back home with some yummy honey wheat pretzel sticks & a refreshing batch of kombucha. As I tried the new bubbly in my life, I couldn’t help but wonder: what the heck is kombucha, anyways?
Easily put: fizzy fermented tea. But there’s so much more than meets the eye. Even though it starts out as a sugary tea, it turns out to be a functional beverage & a great source of probiotics, vitamins, amino acids, & other nutrients associated with health benefits. It’s become a DIY fave and the internet is flooded with simple guides on how to make kickass kombucha at home…I’m still trying to understand what the heck it is exactly, so let’s get technical before we start to make some homemade chemistry experiments happen in the kitchen.
The details aren’t delightful. The term literally means ‘kelp tea’ in Japanese, and refers to a kelp tea made with kombu, an edible kelp. But this kelp tea is a completely different beverage from the fermented kombucha the world has gotten to know. Basically, the drink got lost in translation somewhere in the 1940’s, when the word kombucha was first used in the English language to describe ‘a gelatinous mass of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts grown to produce a fermented beverage held to confer health benefits’. Yum.
The culture itself is referred to as tea mushroom, tea fungus, or Manchurian mushroom; and it is used to make kombucha, which is basically defined as a fermented, slightly alcoholic, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drink commonly consumed for its supposed health benefits. It is thought to have originated in Manchuria, China where the drink is traditionally consumed; but is now bottled & sold or home-brewed globally! It’s produced by fermenting sugared tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast (SCOBY) commonly called a ‘mother’ or ‘mushroom’. The living bacteria are said to be probiotic, one of the reasons for the popularity of the drink.
Kombucha is made by dissolving sugar in non-chlorinated boiling water. The tea leaves are steeped in the hot sugar water and discarded. The sweetened tea is cooled and the SCOBY culture is added. The mixture is then poured into a sterilized breaker along with previously fermented kombucha tea to lower the pH. The container is covered with a paper towel or breathable fabric to prevent insects from contaminating the kombucha. The tea is left to ferment for a period of up to 14 days at room temperature. A new ‘daughter’ SCOBY will form on the surface of the tea to the diameter of the container. After fermentation is completed, the SCOBY is removed and stored along with a small amount of the newly fermented tea. The remaining kombucha is strained and bottled for a secondary ferment for a few days.
Many people drink kombucha for its health benefits, even though none have been demonstrated in humans. It is said to detoxify, hydrate, reduce heart disease, protect against cancer…you name it. But, to tell you the truth, my research simply led me to believe that kombucha is one of the trendiest beverages on store shelves nowadays and, like many other products that have found themselves in the spotlight, has only been touted by loyal enthusiasts as delivering fantastic health benefits. Drinking too much kombucha can actually lead to excess sugar and calorie intake and side effects like digestive distress, not to mention it’s unpasteurized and contains caffeine & alcohol – which means, a big no-no for kids.
This much said, I was happy to have had the whole Trader Joe’s & Kombucha experience, but I can’t say I’ll be looking for a German version of the thing, nor will I venture into the art of bottling my own. Happy sipping, New Age enthusiasts!