A few weeks ago we promised we’d do some more science-y food projects, and now here we are, with a bottle of homemade kombucha. How did we get here? It’s really quite simple.
What Is Kombucha?
First, for the uninitiated, kombucha is a fermented tea that tastes fizzy, spicy, and somewhat sweet. It’s full of probiotics and offers us a chance to eat a fermented food (which many of us are lacking in our daily diets). The key ingredient to kombucha is a weird, slippery, fungus-like thing called a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.
You can buy kombucha in the store, but there’s lots of variation in what you will get. Some have a very high sugar content. Some are pasteurized, which kills the live bacteria. If you want total control over what’s in your kombucha, that’s a good reason to make your own.
Start with a SCOBY
We were lucky to get our first SCOBY from our pal Vickie at Culinary Vixen. (If you don’t know someone who’s currently making kombucha, you can order a starter kit online.) Pretty soon your SCOBY will be growing and reproducing itself and soon you will probably have enough to give a friend. (Side note: When it’s brand new and just “hatched” the SCOBY is perfectly round and smooth. Once it’s aged, it becomes much more wacky-looking with stringy extensions and ragged edges.)
We’ve found good step-by-step directions at Cultures for Health and at The Kitchn. The basic plan is this: Combine hot water and sugar, then add tea and steep the mixture until it cools down to the 68- to 85-degree range. Then add your SCOBY, additional starter tea or vinegar, cover it with a tea cloth, and put it in the pantry. There it will ferment for a week or so.
At this point, remove the SCOBY (saving it to start another batch) and bottle your new batch in a glass or plastic bottle. Vickie suggests adding 100% fruit juice to the newly fermented kombucha and then letting it sit for an additional week to give it flavor. However, if you do this, don’t forget to “burp” it every few days to keep the carbonation from building up. Then once it’s finished, refrigerate it to stop the fermentation and the carbonation.
Your Own Homemade Kombucha
The result? Tasty! And sparkling! For this red batch, we started with strawberry tea and then we added pomegranate juice. (The pineapple-themed jar is from the dollar aisle at Target.) The more orange-looking batch in the photos above got its lovely golden hue from added peach juice.
If you’re new to kombucha making, you’ll probably have a bunch of questions. Check out these Kombucha Troubleshooting FAQs to help you get through that first strange, strange batch. Alternatively, if you’re a visual learner, check out this slideshow of what a healthy SCOBY should look like. Remember that a SCOBY is a cluster of bacteria and yeast, and no two are going to look alike.
Pretty soon, you’ll be brewing with the best of them – and you’ll be proud of your shelves that look more like a science lab than a pantry. Science is good, folks!