Kombucha is also known under other names: Japanese or Indonesian tea fungus, fungus japonicus, teekwass, teakvass, combucha and tschambucco, kargasok tea, kwassan, Manchurian fungus or mushroom, spumonto, as well as the misnomers champagne of life, and chai from the sea.
Kombucha originated in Northern China or Manchuria thousands of years ago and later spread to Russia and from there in the middle of 20th century to Germany and Europe, and later to the rest of the world. Kombucha was called a drink of immortality.
During Stalin rules before WWII, scientists were sent to investigate cases of unusual health among certain populations. There were villages in Ural Mountains where environmental pollution was very high due to lead mines, however people did not have cancer and were not dying from toxic metals poisoning in their bodies. The scientists could not find any explanation except this unusual drink being brewed in every household by the village people. After tests they found that Kombucha contains gluconic acid which binds with heavy metals and expels them from human bodies, keeping us healthy and cancer free. Kombucha also helps digestion, provides good bacteria, lowers high blood pressure and helps with arthritis To brew kombucha you need to have a starter called SCOBY mushroom which is a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria, and is used to ferment tea with sugar for about a week or two, to produce an effervescent semi-sweet and tart drink. The white jelly-like mushroom grows on the top of the liquid every time you brew kombucha which is called a baby to distinguish it from the mother culture. Next time the mushroom can be split into two separate jars and you double the brewing quantity every time or give the mushroom away. There are also claims that it helps to cancer patients – Ronald Reagan drank 1 litre of kombucha when he had cancer and was following the natural cancer protocol treatment.
Kombucha is an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea, sometimes referred to as a “mushroom” or “mother”, the kombucha culture is called SCOBY – a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. A kombucha culture may contain one or more of the yeasts: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii, Zygosaccharomyces bailii (source Wikipedia). Alcohol production by the yeasts contributes to the production of acetic acid by the bacteria. Most airborne moulds and bacterial spores do not survive in the acidic and mild alcoholic environment of kombucha. As a result, kombucha is relatively easy to maintain as a culture outside of sterile conditions. The bacteria and yeasts in kombucha may also produce antimicrobial defence molecules. Normally, kombucha contains less than 0.5% ethanol (alcohol), which classifies it as a nonalcoholic beverage.
Most scientists agree that Kombucha is NOT a mushroom, it is a lichen, and a combination of bacteria and yeasts. The important thing is that a culture can be inexpensively grown at home to make a pleasant tasting tea which when consumed in sufficient quantities, on a regular basis, has a wide range of health benefits.
Kombucha – Recipe:
Most recipes for American users are for 1 gallon which is 3.8 litres, I will keep this proportion for easy comparison as well as provide proportions for 1 litre for easy reference. Of course if you do not have a large 1 gallon glass jar, you will need to split your brewing tea into few smaller jars. If you have one starter pack which contains one SCOBY mushroom and 100ml of kombucha liquid, then you need to make smaller quantity first time, I recommend no more than 1 litre.
Ingredients for 1 gallon:
1 gallon boiled water,
4 begs of tea (or 2 tablespoons of tea),
1 cup of sugar,
Ingredients for 1 litre:
1 litre boiled water,
1 tea beg,
4 tablespoons of sugar,
Instructions how to make kombucha tea:
1- Boil half of the water and brew tea in a large glass jar or tea pot (2 litres or use two smaller jars), this recipe uses half of boiled water and half of cold water added later.
2- Add 1 cup of sugar for 1 gallon recipe, mix to dissolve sugar.
3- Cool down, add the second half of cold water to fill the jar up to 3/4 of its size,
4- Add SCOBY mushroom starter and the kombucha liquid into the jar with tea. Do not put SCOBY into a hot tea – you will kill the bacteria and yeast. The mother mushroom may sit on the top of the liquid or float in the middle.
5- Cover with papertowel or linen cloth, place in a cupboard (do not leave in the light on the top of the kitchen bench) and leave undisturbed until ready (5 to 7 days depending on temperature, in cooler climates may even take about 14 days).
6- A new baby mushroom will form on the top of the liquid which you use to make a second jar of kombucha when making the next batch.
If you have a lot of kombucha liquid with your starter, say a cup, you can split your mushroom in half and put them into two jars with 250ml of kombucha liquid each. However, if you have only 100-200ml of kombucha liquid, you can only make one lot as the solution will not be strong to make double brew.
For the second and the next brew – you will have the original mother and now a baby mushroom as well, you can make two separate jars of kombucha. Every next time you will double your brew as you will have a new mushroom.
Brewing container – the best is a large glass jar, or few smaller glass jars if you do not have a big one (one way to get a large glass jar is to buy a large jar of pickles, like gherkins, eat them and use the jar later for kombucha brewing). You can use a stainless steel saucepan to make your hot tea before you put your starter in, but you can not use it to leave it for days to brew kombucha as it will interact with the metal. Another option is a ceramic jar or bowl, but you need to make sure that the ceramic does not include lead in the coating, which may be impossible as all of them are now made in China and how do you know what is in the coating? Therefore, I only recommend glass. Plastic grade food containers are used by some, but I would not. Now and than we hear after years of using plastic that new test show that they leak the chemicals into food, specially something as acidic as Kombucha may act with the chemicals. I personally do not recommend any plastic containers.
Continuous brewing containers – are ceramic and in the information they say that they do not contain lead, which may be the case. You do not really need this specially made continuous container for continuous brewing, as they are expensive. I use a similar method with my large glass jars by not removing the mushroom from the container. I pour out all the liquid to bottles, brew the hot tea in a separate container like a stainless steel saucepan, add sugar and leave it to cool down, when cool pour it into the kombucha brewing jar with the mushroom in it at the bottom, and add some kombucha liquid from previous brew (the best top part which I poured out first) on the top, mix, cover and put into a cupboard. This way you do not need the special ceramic containers with the tap for continuous brewing method, you can do it simply in any jar.
Sugar – you can use any sugar but the less refined and unbleached is the best, otherwise you introduce chemicals like bromine and chlorine bleach which are toxic, into the liquid. White sugar is specially not recommended as it is bleached. I use raw sugar or palm sugar, you can also use other unrefined types. Honey should not be used as a sweetener as it is antibacterial and kills good bacteria in kombucha. Kombucha should never be fermented with any artificial sweeteners or stevia.
Spoon – can be stainless steel or plastic as you only using it for few seconds to mix the liquid, so it does not make really big difference. Do not use aluminium or metal which has rust on it.
Strainer –if you use loose tea instead of tea bags you will need to strain tea before putting it into brewing jar. I also strain kombucha liquid if it has too many brown yeast strings floating in it, it cleans it from too much yeast for the next brew. I use plastic as metal strainers get rusty after a while, again the same as the spoon, you only use it for such a short time and with cool liquid (high temperatures may cause plastic to leak chemicals) that it has no effect on it. If using metal strainers, try to find a stainless steel one of a higher metal grade, otherwise they get rusted very quickly. You can also use a linen tea towel as a strainer.
Tea – there are so many different types of teas to choose from, each will bring it’s own flavour and health benefits to your kombucha. The final brew will also vary with the strength of the tea you make and how long you let it brew. Use organic tea if possible without chemicals used as fertilisers for growing and anti-fungus spraying for storing. If using tea bags – use unbleached tea bags. Some teas have less caffeine in them than others, so may research the brands. Do not use any flavoured teas, like Earl Gray, lemon, strawberry (tea should not contain essential oils or artificial flavourings or sweetners as this may kill the kombucha culture), or herbal teas like camomile or peppermint. Most people use black tea, but green or white tea is better as they contain the least processing of all teas. You do not need to make tea solution very strong, all it needs is the minerals in tea and purines to maintain a healthy kombucha culture.
Caffeine in tea – getting rid of the caffeine which is present in all teas, black green and white. If you are concerned about the amount of caffeine in your tea or in your kombucha you can get rid of much of it by pre-steeping the tea. Caffeine is highly soluble, so usually 80% of the tea’s caffeine content is released from the leaf within the first 20 to 30 seconds of steeping. You can have virtually caffeine-free tea, without sacrificing much flavour, by discarding the water after the first 30 to 60 seconds of steeping and adding fresh hot water to the now-decaffeinated leaf. This will not affect the flavonoid and antioxidants content of the tea. Flavonoids develop over a period of minutes. Steeping the tea for five minutes or more will allow the flavonoids to develop.
Water – use water without fluoride or chlorine – reverse osmosis filter is good, other filters do not remove fluoride. Chlorine will evaporate from water if you leave the container open for few minutes. If you do not have reverse osmosis, you need to buy natural spring or mineral water (make sure fluor is not added to it – it should be written on the label. Do not buy purified water as this is a filtered water but will still contain fluoride. Do not use distilled water as it does not have any minerals.
Detox – Kombucha proponents recommend that kombucha detoxifies the body gives energy, there was however little research done and published. Of the Russian research done during communistic times, non of them were available to the western scientists. Russians used kombucha to treat patients in hospitals and recommend it for many diseases like cancer, arthritis and it improve immune system.
It was claimed that kombucha contains glucuronic acid which is a compound used by the liver for detoxification. The claim that glucuronic acid is present in kombucha is based on the tests that glucuronic acid conjugates (glucuronic acid waste chemicals) are increased in the urine after consumption. Therefore some chemical analysis of kombucha tea suggested glucuronic acid was the main ingredient, and researchers hypothesized that the extra glucuronic acid would assist the liver by supplying more of the substance during detoxification. These early analyses were not supported however by new more reliable methods. More recent and thorough analysis of many variety of commercial and homebrew versions of kombucha found no evidence of glucuronic acid. Instead, the active component is most likely glucaric acid. This compound, also known as D-glucaro-1,4-lactone, helps eliminate the glucuronic acid conjugates produced by the liver. When these conjugates are excreted, normal gut bacteria can break them up using a bacterial form of the enzyme beta-glucuronidase. Glucaric acid is an inhibitor of this bacterial enzyme, so the waste stored in the glucuronic acid conjugates is properly eliminated the first time, rather than being reabsorbed and detoxified over and over. Thus, glucaric acid probably makes the liver more efficient (source Wikipedia).
Glucaric acid is commonly found in fruits and vegetables, and is being explored independently as a cancer-preventive agent. Under chemotherapy, the bacterial enzyme beta-glucuronidase can interfere with proper disposal of a chemotherapeutic agent, and antibiotics against gut bacteria can prevent toxicity of some chemotherapy drugs, supporting the idea that glucaric acid is an active component of kombucha. The non-orthodox cancer treatments recommend kombucha as an alternative treatment.
Other health claims may involve the acidity of kombucha drink, which similarly to lemon juice, makes your stomach alkaline, influencing the production of stomach acids or modifying the communities of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract.
SCOBY – the texture of the mother culture SCOBY depends on the symbiotic coexistence between bacteria and yeast. Sometimes the yeast can take over and produce dark coloured bumpy mushroom with brown spots. The yeast and spots are not mould, they just an out of balance culture with overgrown yeast. If there are too many stringy brown bits floating in kombucha, strain the liquid which you bottle to drink and which you use as a starter for the next batch. Also wash the SCOBY under filtered water to remove the yeast strings hanging of it. If there are brown spots in the SCOBY mushroom, you can also cut them out with a knife to remove them. This will clean your starter mushroom and liquid from too much yeast and your next brew should be back in balance with bacteria. The colour of SCOBY will be darker if you use black tea rather than green or white, as black tea has more tannins. The colour makes no difference and either white or light brown makes perfectly good kombucha. Some sellers of kombucha starters market their kombucha mushroom cultures based on their size, charging more for larger cultures. The size of a mushroom culture does not really matter as it takes its shape from the container in which it is brewed. Regardless of SCOBY’s size, the smaller ones will ferment a new batch of kombucha tea just as well as larger ones. The thickness of SCOBY depends on the balanced interactions of bacteria and yeast during the fermentation process. Some will produce very thin mushroom, others a thicker one. The thickness also depends on the length of the fermentation, if you keep it for a longer time when your tea becomes sour, the mushroom will have longer time to grow. The thickness of the mushroom does not really matter much as long as it is formed. If the mother culture floats on the top of the newly brewed tea, the baby mushroom will stick to the mother and make a top layer which may look like one mushroom. To separate them you can pill the baby off the mother and place it in another jar to brew. If the mother culture floats in the middle of the jar, the baby will be formed on the top and it will look thinner than when it is stuck on the top of the mother culture. The desired thickness of new baby culture should be about half a centimetre, that indicates a good healthy balanced brew.
Mould contamination – take care when brewing and storing kombucha to have clean environment, proper temperature, ventilation, and low PH. Your kombucha will be most exposed to mould contamiantion during the first couple of days as the large amount of sugar changes and PH of the liquid. When the sugar is reduced during fermentation process, the environment become more acidic which prevents mould from forming on the top of SCOBY. The ventilation is also important, that’s why do not close the jar with a lid, instead cover it with papertowel or a cheese cloth fabric secured with a rubber band. All fermentation processed need air to breathe and this also prevents mould forming. If a culture becomes contaminated, it will most likely be a common mould spots which are often green, blue, or black in colour. Often new brewers will mistake the brownish root strings on the underside of the culture as a mould contamination when they hang underneath it, which they are not. The brown and white strings floating in the liquid are needed to form a new baby mushroom, that’s why you should not mix the kombucha tea as it disturbs in its formation. If mould does grow on the surface of the kombucha mushroom, you need to throw it out both culture and tea and start again with a fresh kombucha culture. Sometimes you may try to wash the mould off if it is not too much of it, and immerse the SCOBY totally in the acidic liquid of previously fermented kombucha, which will kill any mould in it. After that treatment, you may use the SCOBY again with a clean liquid as a starter.
Alkaline PH environment – kombucha becomes very acidic (approximately pH 3.0 when finished), however it has an alkaline effect when digested, similar to lemon juice. Therefore, it is recommended to drink kombucha first thing in the morning before breakfast to have an alkaline effect on your digestive system. Acidic conditions are favourable for the growth of kombucha culture, and inhibit the growth of moulds and bacteria. The PH of the kombucha batch should be between 2.5 and 4.6. A pH of less than 2.5 makes the drink too acidic for normal human consumption, while a pH greater than 4.6 increases the risk of contamination. As an acidic liquid, it should be fermented and stored only in glass containers, or lead-free china, glazed earthenware, raw wooden bowls, and stainless steel. Do not use non-food-grade plastic containers as they can leach unwanted and potentially toxic materials. I do not use any plastic containers anyway, as they all are produced from chemicals and I would not trust what the manufacturers put into them.
Kombucha fermentation process – after 7-14 days of fermentation, the liquid is drained and bottled for consumption. Some liquid is retained for the subsequent batch to keep the pH low to prevent contamination by mould and bacteria. This process can be repeated indefinitely. In each batch, the “mother” culture will produce a “baby”, which can be directly handled, separated like two pancakes, and moved to another container. The yeast will continue to survive in the bottled liquid. A secondary fermentation may be done by adding fruit juice or dry fruit to the bottles and leaving it in the cupboard (in room temperature for further fermentation) for about a week to produce more carbonation. As the carbon dioxide builds up in bottles, do not close the lids tightly as they can explode.
Kombucha vinegar – If left to ferment for weeks or months, kombucha will become more acidic like a vinegar flavoured cider. The kombucha cider can be used in salads like any other cider, or taken by tablespoon a day as a drink with water to alkalise your digestive tract. At any point the kombucha can be tapped or have tea added. Liquid from the previous batch will preserve some of the culture.
Kombucha other usage – the SCOBY eventually losses its propagation abilities and does not ferment tea well, therefore the mother should be discarded after approximately 4 brewing times and replaced with a new baby. Of course disposing of it into a rubbish bin is not an appropriate thing to do, so people found all sort of different usage for their old SCOBY’s. Here are few of the ideas:
- If you have any farm animals like horse or a goat, feed them with SCOBY’s, opinions are that animals get shiny coats.
- Use SCOBY if you have arthritis pain as a compress on your joints or muscles, it takes the pain away.
- Put it on cuts or abrasions as a natural bandaid, SCOBY disinfects the wound with its antibacterial acetic ingredients, it also covers the skin with a thin layer preventing other bacteria from air to infect the wound. It helps bind the skin by regenerating new cellular construction.
- Some people eat SCOBY’s by cutting them into salads or mixing in a blander and serving with fruit. SCOBY is of course eatable, it is only a matter of taste.
- Make sourdough bread with kombucha vinegar mixed half with water, and leave to ferment for 10-20 hours, it will raise the flour the same as sourdough starter – go to my Sourdough Bread page to get the recipe.
- Use instead of conditioner to rinse hair with kombucha vinegar.
- Add kombucha vinegar to your bath water for a refreshing bath, soak your feet in water with added kombucha vinegar to kill fungus on your skin and toe nails.
- Put whole SCOBY’s on your face as a face mask.
- Bland SCOBY’s in a blender and use as a face mask or tonic. It smooths the wrinkles, alkalise your skin, help with acne, and close those open big pores. It heals from the outside as well as the inside. For older people, use it on your hands to smooth the skin and to bleach brown spots, your skin will feel elastic and fresh.
People today acquire a lot of toxins through their lifetime. They have mercury in their body from teeth fillings, aluminium in our system from cooking in aluminium sauspens and lead in our bodies from breathing cars exhaust fumes. Drug residues from a whole host of antibiotics, lots of artificial preservatives used in extending the shelf-life or micro-waveable food, fast foods and foods that won’t spoil. No wonder so many people are feeling unwell and have a host of allergies, malfunctioning systems, and lack energy. Once you remove the toxins from your body, you will improve your health.
Drinking Kombucha as part of a daily routine seems to cleanse and slowly pull these toxins out of our body. Three 4 ounce glasses a day, spread out over morning, afternoon and bedtime is a good start. Dring water and kombucha, cut back on coffee and tea, all sort of soft drinks. Consume about a quart a day spread over the day. I have heard of people that drink a gallon a day. Usually there is not an instant change although an increase in energy is fairly quick. One day, however, you’ll realize that a previous condition had slipped silently away and wasn’t a bother anymore. People with medical problems notice changes more quickly than people in good health. People who drink Kombucha, simply put, seem to be a lot healthier than those that don’t.