One of the first posts I ever shared on Food Renegade was a method of brewing flavored kombucha called the double fermentation method. It was the only method I’d ever really known about. Eventually, I heard about alternative brewing methods, including the continuous brew method. So, I asked Hannah Crum of Kombucha Kamp to tell us all about it. What follows is an interview with Hannah.
What is Kombucha?
Fermented foods are no stranger to readers of this site, but Kombucha is a ferment that is gaining notice these days, not only as a bottled beverage but also has a home brew. Simply put, Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. Like yogurt, kefir, and sourdough, some of the mother culture and starter liquid are used to make the next batch. It is important to start brewing with a full-sized, fresh (never dehydrated or refrigerated) Kombucha culture and at least 1 cup of strong starter liquid to ensure success. Once the brewing process is complete, usually 5 to 8 days later, Kombucha is best consumed in small amounts as a tonic, 4-8 ounces at a time, 1-3 times a day.
Having experienced periods of relative popularity since the 60’s, Kombucha has exploded into the collective consciousness over the past decade as young people, families and anyone concerned with their health have begun to understand the benefits of replacing soda, coffee, energy drinks and more with natural beverages. While the origins of Kombucha remain shrouded in mystery, it has been in use for at least the last 200 years (if not 2000 years!).
Of course our readers are familiar with the benefits of consuming fermented foods, what are the benefits unique to Kombucha?
First let me say that I DO NOT rely on Kombucha for all my fermented food or probiotic needs! I love it but I’m not crazy! We all need a variety of ferments, bacteria and yeasts in our diets for a truly balanced gut.
That said, as a tea based beverage, Kombucha starts with an advantage over many other ferments. Tea is the most popular prepared beverage in the world and numerous studies have linked benefits with its consumption. Once fermented with a Kombucha culture, the polyphenols, catechins and anti-oxidants found within tea and credited for those benefits become more bio-available and therefore easier for your body to use. So to start, Kombucha has even made the tea healthier.
It’s also true that a host of trace vitamins and acids are produced via the Kombucha culture, including a variety of B vitamins. However, many believe that the real kicker is gluconic acid, a powerful detoxifier and chelator that has been shown to bind to heavy metals, convert into glucuronic acid and remove them from the body. Acting specifically as a liver detox, Kombucha helps balance the mood, and may help repair the damaging effects of alcohol and prescription drugs. However keep in mind that Kombucha is not a cure all and not everyone will experience the same benefits from consumption.
Some people find the taste of Kombucha too intense, is it for everyone?
No, Kombucha is not for everyone. That is why our motto at Kombucha Kamp is “Trust YOUR Gut!” Only you can tell if Kombucha is right for you. Many people experience immediate benefits such as a mood or energy boost. For others, benefits are felt over time.
Even if your first sip of Kombucha was an intense experience (read as sour), several regular drinkers have commented that “something” impelled them to try it again and over time they found that they had acquired the taste. With home-brewing, much more control over the flavor of the KT is possible. Those who prefer it on the sweeter side will have a shorter brewing cycle than those who prefer it on the sour side.
If you are wanting to introduce Kombucha to a newbie and suspect that they may find the acetic (vinegar) flavor to be off putting, then try diluting it in juice, water or even soda pop. Over time, as their taste for KT develops, then gradually dial back the amount of mixer. You can also add sweetener to your Kombucha just as you would to a glass of iced tea. Here are some other tips for introducing it to newbies.
How is Continuous Brew different from Batch Brew?
Batch brew is a great starting point for some Kombucha newbie’s, especially if they are not sure that homemade Kombucha is for them or if they are only wanting a few glasses of Kombucha a week. For those who really enjoy having the homebrewed booch around or have already hooked their family, Continuous Brewing streamlines the process, allowing the brewer to make a lot more Kombucha a lot more easily. Ironically, Continuous Brew is the method most akin to the ancient way of brewing Kombucha and offers several benefits to our modern way of living:
- Reduced Mold Risk – When employing the Batch Brew method, the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) moves from batch to batch of sweet tea. The CB method eliminates almost all handling of the SCOBY culture except for the occasional cleaning of the vessel, resulting in much lower contamination risk.
- Less Mess – One of my least favorite things about making Kombucha is lifting heavy jars to pour them into bottles, dealing with funnels and filters and spilled drops of Kombucha everywhere. Bottling directly from the CB container makes it is so much easier by just using the spigot to drain the perfectly brewed Kombucha into my bottles, already filled with flavoring. I will say it again: LESS MESS IS BEST!
- Deeper, Richer Brew – Though unbottled Kombucha will tend to grow more tart by taste, Kombucha works in cycles. The first cycle completes at roughly the 15 day mark. As the Kombucha continues to ferment, other healthy acids are then expressed at the 30 day mark. In a batch brew method, waiting 30 days may yield a Kombucha too tart to drink. With CB, you have all stages of the fermentation process present but the flavor is tempered by the addition of the sweet tea.
Those who are only drinking small amounts of Kombucha may prefer the batch brew method. Or if you are like me, you might do both! However, even if you are not drinking your KT so fast, the CB is a great way to store your culture until you are ready to make more.
You can always let the Kombucha in your CB turn to vinegar – there are some great uses for KT vinegar. Then, when you are ready to start again, remove some of the vinegar and add fresh sweet tea – you will have lots of delicious Kombucha in just a couple of days.
Since the vessel only needs to be cleaned every 2-4 months, CB greatly streamlines the process of brewing Kombucha making it a more desirable method for busy households.
What has been your personal experience since incorporating Kombucha into your diet over 8 years ago? Have you noticed any differences?
When I first started drinking Kombucha nearly a decade ago, I didn’t have a specific health concern. In fact, it was quite by accident that I ever heard about it. An old friend from college showed me their mysterious jars and I was instantly intrigued. From the first sip, I knew I had to make my own! Being the one who always got yelled at for drinking right out of the pickle jar, it’s not much of a surprise that I loved the tart, mouth puckering punch.
Over time, I’ve noticed improved digestion, decreased appetite, decreased tolerance for sugar and a much stronger immune system. I hardly ever get sick and when I do, it barely develops and I’m always able to get rid of it before it blows up. I’ve also lost weight and my appetite for sweets and alcohol has diminished. And I’m not the only one who has benefited!
My husband thought I was a bit crazy when I started brewing KT at home, but over the years, it grew on him and he has since lost 40lbs! It was a gradual process and he swears by his tall, icy glass of KT followed by a glass of raw milk. This combo has transformed him!
At the Kombucha Kamp facebook group & page, people often post how KT has helped them. Laura, who has struggled with Lyme disease said, “About a year and a half ago, one of the lymph node in my neck swelled (size of a very large marble) and no doctor could explain why. This as you can imagine has been rather painful. I had ultrsound done and they said it was just enlarged and might stay that way forever. I think not…three weeks on Kombucha (lots of water after) it is almost gone and I feel GREAT! I will begin brewing my own tea as soon as your continuous brew kit comes in the mail.”
Miltra offered this, “I use Ginger Kombucha as a toner-works wonders. Grab it cold from the fridge pour it on a cotton ball then a bit of moisturizer” I also use it topically and find that my skin and hair are incredibly soft and supple. While I’ve made other changes to my diet, I do think that the Kombucha has been the main contributor to this transformation.
It has also led me to include more fermented foods into my diet. I’m now making my own milk kefir, sauerkraut and beet kvass.
Thanks, Hannah, for the interview! Be sure to check out Kombucha Kamp for even more kombucha resources. And, if you have any other questions for Hannah, be sure to ask them in the comments!
If you’re interested in learning more about exactly how to make a continuous brew, check out this article by John Moody, author of Food Clubs & Co-Ops. I personally haven’t tried this method yet, but I must confess that the more I read about it, the more it seems like an excellent fit for my kombucha loving family!