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Friday, February 8, 2013

Kombucha and Gengis Khan

Kombucha Tea and Gengis Khan

My Introduction to Kombucha

I was wrong. I thought Kombucha was a variation of the Kefir strain: a sort of a  gentler, more palatable version of the mighty Kefir (see my blog: My Fear of Kefir). Turns out that Kombucha preceded Kefir by about a thousand years. 

More than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese relied on the health benefits of Kombucha Tea, and they called it the “immortal health elixir.”  There is a story of a Korean physician named Kombu healing the emperor of Japan though this medicinal tea, which propelled its immense popularity in Japan. The biggest contributor to the spread of the Kombucha was a fellow by the name of Gengis Khan. It was carried in skin flasks by his armies who drank the sour drink for immunity and strength. Yup. Nothing like a drink of immortality before you invade a foreign territory. 
Kombucha Tea is made from the fermentation of a mixture of sweetened tea and a SCOBY, which is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.

Jaggary, a beautiful, mineral laden form of sugar cane

Oolong tea is the traditional tea and will give beautiful, white scobies.

My favorite tea base is made from equal parts of black tea, green tea and oolong tea. I have brewed successfully in hibiscus tea, tulsi tea, rooibos tea, white tea, and red reishi.  I have discovered a molasses tasting sweet version with Jaggary and tulsi tea (Holy Basil). On the other hand, I have killed some cultures with overly strong ginger, chai, ginseng and dan shen teas.


I purposely over brew the three teas separately in alkaline water overnight. I always use alkaline water set at a pH of 10.6, which is ideal for pulling the minerals from the tea.  The minerals are an essential food for the bacteria. I have used different sugars and prefer Jaggary, the raw sugarcane cubes from India.  It is unpasteurized and unprocessed, retaining the minerals from the sugar cane , which adds to the overall happiness of the culture.

Benefit: Detoxification
Through the growth of  beneficial commensal gut bacteria , as well as providing enzymes and yeast to the digestive tract, Kombucha tea can help detoxify your body. It increases pancreatic enzymes, improves protein digestion and assists the liver.  It contains glucoronic acid which is a potent detoxifier.  A properly fermented culture should not be too overly acidic (it should not taste like vinegar). Taking the slightly acidic Kombucha assists in digestion if taken at the beginning of a meal.

Photo of Acetobacter bacteria

Benefit: Digestion
Kombucha has been shown to contain several strains of beneficial bacteria including Bacterium gluconicum, Bacterium xylinum, Acetobacter xylinum, Acetobacter xylinoides and Acetobacter ketogenum. The health of the colon is aided by the yeast strains  Saccharomycodes ludwigii, Saccharomycodes apiculatus, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Zygosaccharomyes and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It also contains Vitamin B12 , Niacinamide, Nicotinic acid, Pantothenic acid, Riboflavin and  Thiamine.

Benefit: Cancer Defense
Kombucha tea’s detoxifying properties and its high content of glucoronic acid can aid in the prevention of cancer. Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his autobiography that his stomach cancer was cured by regular consumption of Kombucha tea. After President Ronald Reagan came to know about the author’s claim, he decided to use Kombucha tea to prevent his cancer from spreading. 

Benefit: Lowers Inflammation
Kombucha tea contains high amounts of glucosamine which enhances the production of hyaluronic acid, an acid that can help preserve cartilage structure and reduce arthritic pain. HA attracts up to one thousand times its weight in water and will increase lubrication and flexibility of joints.

Benefit: Supports the Immune System
By improving the gut flora , Kombucha increases base immunity by decreasing the amount of toxins entering the body. The gut permeability is preserved and protein digestion is improved, diminishing protein putrefaction which can lead to dysbiosis and bowel inflammation. It contains the important Sacharomyce bouiilardi strain which is beneficial for irritable bowel disease. 

A healthy gut is the key to improved immunity and has far-reaching benefits for overall health, including hormone health. It will manifest as improved resistance to disease, improved digestion and increased energy levels.

How to Make Happy Kombucha

1.       Prepare a strong tea by brewing your choice of green tea, oolong tea or black tea. Avoid herbal teas and spicy teas (chai) as the culture can be killed by the spices.
2.       Allow the tea to cool to room temperature and add one cup of sugar per litre.  The ratio of sugar to tea is 1:2. Do not worry about all the sugar: it will be consumed by the bacteria and yeast and will not be present when the ferment is finished.
3.       From the tea that you were given, pour out half to drink over the next ten days. The dose is four tablespoonfuls a day.
4.       Replace the tea that you have poured out with the sugared cold tea.
5.       Place a breathable fabric over the jar such as cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
6.       Place the culture in a warm, dark place. Do not disturb for at least 7 days. The ideal temperature range is 21 to 29 degrees Centigrade. The wrong bacteria will grow if the temperature drops below 16 degrees. Do not make Kombucha if you can not regulate the temperature: your culture will sour and harmful bacteria will have harmful effects.
7.       After 7 days, inspect the culture daily. It is normal for a culture “mushroom” to form on top of the liquid. If you smell a little bit of vinegary smell, then it is ready to harvest. If you smell a bit of sweetness, it is not ready to harvest. The time it takes to harvest will depend on the temperature in your house. The warmer it is, the faster it will ferment.
8.       If it is ready to harvest (smells or tastes slightly acidic, but NOT vinegary), then pour out half and repeat the process from step 3.

A happy scoby is firm, white and clear
9.       Over time, the “mushroom” will get to the size of a hamburger patty and will start forming layers. Once you have several layers, you can start a new culture by peeling and separating the layers. If you are starting a brand new culture, make sure you include at least two inches of the old liquid, as well as the mushroom. 

Happy, Healthy Scobies

1 A happy, healthy SCOBY is white to yellow-beige, but never black. It may have dark spots which is from the yeast, but it should be even coloured, firm and smooth. It should look luminous and glowing. If your SCOBY is sickly looking, discard it and start from scratch from a secondary ferment and allow it to grow a new SCOBY. Check your temperature and acidity regularly.

A healthy culture fizzes when you shake the bottle. Once in a while, shake the culture to check. It should also have small bubbles visible at the top of the culture. The more fizz, the happier the culture is. 

Tell us how your Kombucha experience goes.

May You Have Many Years of Happy fermenting!!