People either love kombucha tea or hate it, but either way, they can’t deny the brew’s healthfulness. Not to be confused with the Japanese kombucha–a light, brothy soup made from kelp–this Russian drink is a sweet tea fermented with friendly bacteria and yeast cultures. Acids in the tea give it a pleasantly sour taste that complements the otherwise sweet beverage. Plus, the busy activity of the yeast naturally carbonates the concoction, yielding a tart, full-bodied pseudo-soda with outstanding detox benefits.
“What makes kombucha unique are the acidic compounds produced during fermentation,” says Ed Kasper, a medicinal herbalist and licensed acupuncturist. The tea’s acetic acid, also found in apple-cider vinegar, gives kick to the flavor and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the beverage. But kombucha’s star salutary ingredient, glucaric acid, cleanses the body by speeding up the elimination of toxins. It does this through a series of complex interactions in the gut, but basically, glucaric acid prevents the breakdown of glucuronic acid–a compound that binds to toxins and shuttles them out the kidneys. So potent a detoxifier is glucaric acid that researchers are studying it as a possible cancer preventive.
The fermentation process also produces butyric acid and gluconic acid; together, these two agents help the body tame overgrowths of Candida yeast, which is responsible for myriad ailments such as leaky gut syndrome, thrush, and even food allergies.
Because kombucha interacts intricately with food and flora in the intestines, people taking medications should check with their doctors before drinking the tea to make sure it won’t interfere with the medicine’s activity. For most people, however, kombucha powerfully cleanses and balances the body, Russian style.
You can buy kombucha at most natural foods store or you can brew your own. Start with five sachets of your favorite tea, and steep them in 3 quarts of purified water for two to three minutes.
Will Savitri, owner of Katalyst Kombucha and kombucha brewer extraordinaire, recommends green or black tea: “The bacteria in the kombucha culture requires the caffeine, tannins, and polyphenols found in green and black tea to make beneficial nutrients at the end of fermentation, so I do not recommend using rooibos or herbal teas,” he says.
Next, toss in a cup of evaporated cane juice and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer this sweet tea to a large jar, and carefully add the kombucha colony–it usually comes in a pancake-like wrapping. (You can order cultures online at www.happyherbalist.com, www.kombucha.org or www.herbalremedies.com.) Next, cover the jar with a paper towel, and seal it with a rubber band around the neck. Set the jar aside at room temperature, and let the colonies do their magic over seven to 10 days.
Experiment with this basic recipe to see what you like. For a sweeter tea, go for a shorter fermentation time; for greater carbonation, let it sit the whole 10 days. Once the tea is brewed to your satisfaction, remove the original kombucha colony as well as the freshly formed baby colony from the surface of the tea, strain the resulting liquid, and bottle it in glass containers until you want to drink it. Afternoon tea will never be the same again.
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