What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha, a fermented Chinese health drink, first popped up in the West in health foods stores and holistic medicine shops. Now you can find it at many restaurants and grocery stores, and even in the fridges of your culinary academy classmates. Health nuts love the supposed benefits and flavors while not-so-healthy folks dig the effervescent bubbles that reach all the way to your gut. But what exactly is in this hard-to-pronounce beverage?

What is kombucha
According to Food Renegade, kombucha has been in existence for over 2,000 years. It’s touted benefits include fighting arthritis, combating cancer and even decreasing the drinker’s chance of developing  degenerative diseases. The bubbly liquid is a sweet tea that has been fermented by yeast and bacteria called a SCOBY or mushroom. Little research has been done on the alleged health benefits of kombucha because it can be made at home by anyone, so no pharmaceutical company or research facility has bothered to prove or disprove the supposed effects .

You can make your own
You don’t need a degree in fermentation science to create kombucha. In fact, culinary academy students can do it themselves. If you know someone who makes kombucha, you can take a part of their SCOBY and use it to create your own batch. If not, order one online or even grow your own. According to The Kitchn, SCOBY is an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. To grow a SCOBY you can start one from a bottle of already made kombucha. Look for one that is raw, and has some floating bits at the bottom. This will be the start of your own kombucha mushroom. To begin, combine sweet tea and a cup of unflavored, unpasteurized kombucha from the store. Make your favorite sweet tea and pour it into a jar to cool. Pour the pre-existing kombucha on top, making sure the little floaties (or baby SCOBY) make it into your new batch. Cover the jar with cheese cloth and wrap a rubber band around the top. You’ll need to place it in a dark place or cover the brew entirely so the SCOBY will continue to ferment. Wait a few weeks and you’ll see bubbles turn into thin, wispy strands. This means the kombucha is working!

The fun part of this process, besides waiting for the SCOBY to grow, is choosing your flavor. Commercial kombucha comes in many varieties, from fruit versions like blood orange and strawberry, to herbs like rosemary and ginger. Once your SCOBY has grown to a decent size (about four weeks if kept out of sunlight) you can take a sip of the tea. If it is not too bitter you can bottle and infuse it. If it doesn’t taste good, let it continue fermenting and check back every few days. To add flavors, you can drop in a few berries and let the mix sit for a day or two, or bottle the kombucha and add the new ingredients to the individual bottles. This depends on whether or not you want a clean bottle of “booch” or one with floating bits in it.

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