The first time I tasted kombucha was some years ago at a Weston A. Price Foundation conference, where one of the vendors was offering samples. One sip of a promising-looking sample was as far as I got. Although other flavors were available to taste, I could not bring myself to try even one more. I walked away with a funny look on my face, thinking, “Maybe this is a healthy drink, but I sure don’t like it.” In the years since that first awkward encounter, however, I have learned some simple lessons. Now not only do I enjoy drinking kombucha, but I also make it.
CURIOSITY ABOUT FERMENTATION
I have always been an advocate of real food. I ate and cooked from scratch for a good part of my life. Because I raised my children on acreage, eating real food on a daily basis, I have spent a lot of time experimenting with different ways of doing things. When I became an advocate of the Weston A. Price Foundation and its philosophies, I discovered and became interested in fermenting foods.
For my first fermentation project, I tackled making sauerkraut. Our garden was one-hundred-by-one-hundred feet, and what else do you do with a one-hundred-foot row of cabbage?! After making the sauerkraut, I left it to ferment in a huge crock in my basement. At the time, I also was learning how to can foods and was extremely careful about my canning methods. I had read about the deadly dangers of botulism and knew that it was important to follow canning directions exactly. When I checked on my fermenting sauerkraut and saw a layer of white film on top, I was a little unsettled. To be safe, I canned my sauerkraut after it had fermented, not realizing that canning killed all the beneficial bacteria that the fermentation process had encouraged!
Fast forward a few years. Fermentation was still on my mind periodically, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it safely. When a Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader told me about a weekend-long fermentation class and certification opportunity offered by Immunitrition in Chicago, I was intrigued. I knew that I could probably get my questions about fermentation answered if I took the course—so off I went. I remember watching the teacher talk while gallons of milk sat out on the counter. Although I initially was a little uncomfortable looking at those unrefrigerated jugs of milk, I soon became confident that the instructor knew what she was doing. At the close of that wonderful long weekend, I became a Certified Healing Foods Specialist, and when I got home, I immediately put what I had learned into practice. I have been experimenting with and perfecting my fermentation techniques ever since.
Around that time, I read an article by Dr. Fred Breidt, a microbiologist and fermentation expert at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the article, Breidt assured readers that he knew of not one sickness caused by properly fermented foods. Breidt describes vegetable fermentation as “almost bulletproof” due to the ability of lactic acid (formed during fermentation) “to hunt down and kill any harmful bacteria that might be present.”1 Breidt’s comments seemed both amazing and unreal, given how frequently one hears about food contamination involving unfermented foods.
GIVING KOMBUCHA ANOTHER TRY
As time passed, I read more about kombucha, learning that kombucha contains various strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. (I now call these “good germies.”) I became determined to find a variety of kombucha that I liked. I noticed that our local grocery store had a few brands, but I also saw that these were not cheap. I was determined to find a kombucha that I liked however so I bought a few. Most of them did not impress me—but there was one brand and one flavor that I did like. This intrigued me, but the price tag still did not. I began contemplating how to make kombucha less expensively at home. As with any ferment, I went through a period of trial-and-error before my beverage began to turn out the way I wanted. Since then, I have had people tell me that my kombucha is the best they have ever tasted (and I have also had people even refuse to take a taste).
Although I have been a real food advocate throughout my life, for a long time I held on to one bad habit—Diet Pepsi. (My stepmother initiated me into the “Pepsi club” when I was a teenager, encouraging me to indulge in a Pepsi as a treat after cleaning her house.) For years, I justified the habit by saying that it was my “one daily vice.” After my transition to kombucha, however, I easily left my Pepsi habit behind because kombucha’s flavor and carbonation, coupled with its healthy ingredients, far surpassed anything I had ever experienced when drinking Pepsi. Out of curiosity, I recently tried Pepsi again and it tasted awful—it was very syrupy and burned my throat!
Although I describe my process for making kombucha, there is no “one right way.” Have fun experimenting until you produce kombucha that is to your own and your family’s liking. I tell my clients to pick a “kombucha-making day” of the week. My day for fermenting is Sunday; on Sundays, I make not just kombucha but also kefir and vegetable ferments.
Kombucha requires four basic ingredients: a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast); tea; sugar; and water. I got my first SCOBY from a friend. If you ask around, you will find one, or you can call your closest Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader. (The back of the Wise Traditions magazine lists chapter leaders by state, or you can look on the Foundation’s website under “Find a Local Chapter.”)
When you get your SCOBY, it should be floating in a little of its own kombucha. As you continue brewing kombucha over time, the SCOBY will grow and gain smaller “babies.” Eventually I get rid of (or give away) the older ones. You do not want to brew kombucha with too many SCOBYs because that will overwhelm the sugar and give it too much to feed. My SCOBYs have acquired a brownish tinge over time because of the tea, but this does not mean anything. When you see little pieces or strands in your kombucha, know that these are beneficial bacteria and yeast!
I usually use organic tea to make kombucha, at least half of which should be black tea. I either use tea bags or add the right amount of loose tea to a tea ball (one bag = one teaspoon). Do not use herbal teas.
When purchasing sugar, it is important to know that any sugar that does not say “cane sugar” on the package is probably beet sugar, and beet sugar is likely to be genetically modified (GMO). However, you should also be cautious about using non-organic refined cane sugars such as C&H, which often have been sprayed with glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup). In fact, conventional agricultural specialists tout glyphosate as a highly effective “chemical ripener” that speeds up sugarcane’s ripening process and increases the sugar-to-fiber ratio.2 (These days, unfortunately, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that even organic cane sugar may be contaminated with glyphosate.3)
If you are using tap water to make your kombucha, consider investing in a water filter. I have a filter on my sink that takes out the chlorine. If you do not have a filter and are using tap water, let the water sit out for a minimum of an hour and preferably overnight to dissipate the chlorine.
• 1 kombucha SCOBY in 1 cup of kombucha
• 4 teabags (or 4 teaspoons loose tea)
• 1 cup cane sugar (preferably GMO- and glyphosate-free)
• 3 quarts filtered water (or tap water that has sat out)
• Two one-gallon jars (don’t use “spouted” jars because the little strands will clog the spout)
• A small strainer (non-metal is preferable)
• A funnel
• An unbleached coffee filter and/or a piece of cheesecloth (I prefer unbleached filters because I want to be as chemical-free as possible)
• Bottles or jars: Grolsch-style flip-top bottles are nice (available online at Cultures for Health), or you can use quart-size mason jars—but these will not produce the same fizz.
Bring the water to a boil (twenty minutes). Add the sugar, stir and turn off the heat. Add the teabags or tea ball and let the tea steep for ten minutes. (Set a timer to avoid steeping it for too long.)
Remove the teabags or tea ball. Cool to room temperature, which will take at least a couple of hours.
Pour the cooled tea through a strainer into a gallon jar that contains the SCOBY and one cup of the kombucha in which you are storing the SCOBY. Cover with an unbleached coffee filter and/or the cheesecloth with a rubber band. (I actually double-cover my kombucha with both the filter and cheesecloth.)
Let sit in a warmish area for one week. If it is winter and you keep your house on the cool side, your kombucha may need a temperature boost. I keep mine on a heating pad on a cookie sheet all winter, which works well.
After one week, I do not feel that the kombucha is strong, flavored or carbonated enough, so I do a second ferment. I like the delightful carbonation that results from a second ferment, and I like to experiment with different flavors.
Pour the kombucha into flip-top bottles (typically three) or mason jars, using a strainer over a funnel. Add a few pieces of fresh or frozen fruit of your choice. Because I’m a frugal person, I use the core of a fresh pineapple (cut up in small pieces and frozen) for my pineapple kombucha. I also make blueberry and raspberry flavors. I take the fruit right out of the freezer and place it in the bottles. Tighten the tops or jar lids and let the bottles or jars sit out for another week.
Meanwhile, transfer the SCOBY and one cup of kombucha into another gallon jar. Start the whole process over again. You will now have several bottles of kombucha undergoing a secondary ferment while a new gallon of kombucha is brewing.
Refrigerate the bottles after a week (or “to taste”). Open bottles only after they have been refrigerated. Kombucha can be wonderfully fizzy, but you may want to open the bottles over a bowl or the sink so that you do not lose any or end up with a mess to clean up! Meanwhile, proceed as specified for week two, bottling one batch and starting a new batch.
MY EIGHT KOMBUCHA LESSONS
1. Just because you do not like one flavor of kombucha does not mean that you will not like other flavors.
2. If you are going to sample store-bought kombucha, remember that each brand is different, as is each flavor in the brand’s product line.
3. Keep reading about and studying the old ways of food preservation.
4. When thinking about food safety, remember that our ancestors thrived even in the absence of refrigeration.
5. Do not expect to love kombucha the very first time you try it. You may have to search for your favorite flavor but do not give up. The benefits are too great.
6. Bad food habits can be left behind. It may be a gradual process, but when it happens you will experience the joys of a healthier life.
7. Experiment! Get the kids involved and have fun.
8. Keep an open mind—I’ve come a long way and so can you!
1. Beecher C. Fermenting veggies at home: follow food safety ABCs. Food Safety News, March 11, 2014.
2. Legendre BL, Gravois KA, Bischoff KB, Griffin JL. Use of glyphosate to enhance sugar production in Louisiana. LSU Ag Center, July 9, 2008.
3. Shilhavy B. Alert: certified organic food grown in U.S. found contaminated with glyphosate herbicide. GreenMedInfo, September 12, 2015.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2017.