You might have seen kombucha-crazed kids parodied about town and rolled your eyes with the masses. Fair enough. It’s kind of boundary-pushing stuff. But I’ll try to ground it for us. Kombucha is a slightly fizzy, fermented ‘iced tea’ made by adding a SCOBY (short for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’) to a batch of brewed tea. This spongy, mushroomy thing propels the drink (by eating sugar – yes, sugar!!) to become an ‘alive’ gut-healing beverage. The stuff is brimful of probiotics and is a standout for digestive health.
A fizzy-drink addict? Loved a sugar-laced iced tea in your past life? Let me introduce you to The ’Bucha.
- ¼ cup rice malt syrup, or sugar if you prefer
- 2 organic black tea bags (many say non-organic tea just doesn’t work as well)
- ½ cup kombucha (from a previous batch or store-bought)
- 1 SCOBY (see Note)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Fermenting time: 7-14 days
Sterilise a broad-mouthed glass or ceramic bowl or jug with boiling water. (It needs a wide opening to allow plenty of contact with oxygen.) Combine the rice malt syrup or sugar in a saucepan with 1 litre of water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags, cover and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags and pour the liquid into the sterilised container. Leave it to cool to around body temperature. Or cooler. (This is important, Hot tea will kill the mother.)
Add the kombucha and then gently place the SCOBY on top (it may sink, but this is okay). Cover with a clean tea towel or muslin and leave to sit for 7–10 days (a week will be plenty in warm weather and/or if you use sugar). The temperature needs to be around 24–30°C.
At the end of 7–10 days, a ‘baby’ SCOBY will have formed on top of the ‘mother’. Remove both SCOBYs, placing them in a glass container. Pour a little of the kombucha liquid onto the SCOBYs, then pour the rest into a 1 litre swing-top bottle (one with a hinged lid and rubber stopper), or a plastic soft-drink bottle, and refrigerate, ensuring you leave a 2–3 cm space at the top.
To make it fizzier: Get a little more fizz going by adding a dash of extra rice malt syrup or a little chopped fruit and securing the lid. Leave the bottle out at room temperature for an additional 2–4 days. The live yeast and bacteria will continue to consume the residual sugar from both the fi rst fermentation, plus the extra dash you’ve just added. In the absence of oxygen (now that the whole thing is lidded), carbon dioxide is produced (and trapped), thus building up the fi zz. (If you like a ’bucha with fizz, you may wish to use sugar instead of rice malt syrup in the fermenting stage. It fi zzes faster.)
• SCOBYs can’t be manufactured as such but are spawned from a ‘mother’ when one makes a batch of brew. Regular kombucha makers are always happy to give away a baby SCOBY. Check out sarahwilson.com for details on finding one online.
For strawberry and vanilla kombucha, place 3 cups plain kombucha (made as above), 6-8 fresh or frozen strawberries and 1 vanilla pod (or ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract) in a large jar with a tight seal or a 1-litre swing-top bottle and let it sit at room temperature for 3–4 days. You can choose to strain the strawberries and vanilla pod out after 2 days and rebottle, if you like. Use the leftover fermented strawberries with yoghurt for dessert or breakfast.
For chai kombucha, place place 3 cups plain kombucha (made as above), 5 cloves or cadamom pods, I cinnamon stick, broken up, a 3 cm knob of ginger or tumeric, cut into matchsticks and 1 star anise in a large jar with a tight seal or a 1-litre swing-top bottle and let it sit at room temperature for 3–4 days. You can choose to strain the spices out after 2 days and rebottle, though I don't as I prefer the mixture to become stronger with time.
Recipe and image from I Quit Sugar: Simplicious by Sarah Wilson (Macmillan Australia, RRP $39.99). Read our article about kombucha here.