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Suzi Fevens, Woodville, N.S., has been making her homemade kombucha for several years and offers great tips for those just starting out.
The Dr. Kombu Brewing Co. produces kombucha by the bottle, and also supplies it to many restaurants and bars throughout the Maritimes.
Although its origins may have been lost over time, the ancient drink kombucha is believed to have originated in the East, most likely, China.
Kombucha has been popular in health circles for many years, says Suzi Fevens, of Woodville, N.S., a CanFitPro certified Healthy Eating and Weight Loss coach as well as a nutrition coach for Eat to Perform.
“With people learning more and more about gut health and the importance of consuming fermented foods in obtaining and maintaining gut health, kombucha has begun to rise in popularity,” says Fevens.
Most people have probably heard of kombucha, but when put to the test, very few people can probably explain what it is.
In short, kombucha is a naturally fermented tea drink, says Fevens, and is filled with healthy living bacteria which is wonderful for digestion. Because two-thirds of our immune system resides in our gut, kombucha is also believed to help boost our immune system.
Gut flora is something we need to replenish daily says Meegan Lovett, a holistic healer from Coldbrook, N.S.
“When adding a fermented product into your diet,” says Lovett, “you are adding cultures that are not being replenished through daily diets of processed foods, or veggies, fruit and meats or fish that are carrying pesticides and antibiotics.”
Good for gut health
This knowledge of having fermented foods in our diet is found across cultures, says Gabrielle Pope, part owner of the Dr. Kombu Brewing Company, with the core brand Sòlas Kombucha, located in New Ross, N.S. In Korea, there is kimchi; in Japan we find miso; in Russia there is kvass; Germany has sauerkraut. The list goes on and on as fermentation is one of the oldest food practices, says Pope.
In North American diets, we often forget about probiotic-rich foods, though there has been a trend in recent years that highlights fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir as valuable foods for gut health, she adds.
“In the past, probiotic supplements soared in popularity, but the great thing about the recent popularity of kombucha, kimchi, fermented vegetables, etc., is that it helped people realize you can actually use food instead of supplements with small and delicious additions to your diet,” says Pope.
That’s where kombucha comes in.
Besides being good for our gut health and overall digestion, kombucha is a strong anti-inflammatory, so it takes bloating away in the gut, explains Lovett. When our guts are right, our emotions are also balanced. It helps the body heal naturally from chronic fatigue, chronic headaches, arthritis, skin issues, and helps alkaline the body, she adds.
Linda Mackay, from Brackley, P.E.I., who has been drinking kombucha for about two years, agrees. MacKay was first introduced to the drink when her daughter suffered a cancer scare and was brought a bottle of homemade kombucha.
“Once I tried it,” says MacKay, “the thing I noticed was that when I had an upset stomach, which comes with getting older, it would go away immediately. Just like that.”
Fevens suggests starting off by introducing smaller amounts of fermented foods into your diet, then gradually building up to avoid a kill-off effect, causing feelings of unpleasantness including fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, skin rashes, excess mucus and GI problems such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation.
“Start slowly and then begin to increase your intake after a week or two,” advises Fevens. “Once you’ve got a steady stream of active probiotics going into your system, you should be able to drink as much of it as you like. It’s just at first that you need to be careful.”
Brew at home
Pope highly encourages everyone she meets who is enthusiastic about kombucha to try brewing it at home, as that’s where her enthusiasm comes from. Some people — like Fevens, Lovett and MacKay — can get an extremely industrious process going, she says.
“It really is easy and simple when you get the hang of it,” assures MacKay.
To start the homemade method, you need to start with SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), says Lovett. It looks like seal fat or the smooth, thick body of a mushroom. The pancake-shaped disk has a somewhat slimy and gelatinous feeling, describes MacKay. SCOBY grows as you ferment your tea.
To get the starter SCOBY, check with anyone who makes it regularly, as when brewing kombucha, it multiples itself and you "grow" a new SCOBY with each batch, says Fevens.
You also need the starter liquid. Whomever gives you your SCOBY should also give you some starter kombucha, at least a cup's worth, adds Fevens.
Then, make sure you have a big glass jar, never plastic, says Fevens, who uses a pickle jar and a square glass jar with a flip-top lid for her kombucha brewing.
Fevens shares her not-so-secret method for making kombucha:
Brew some strong tea, I usually boil four cups of water and steep four to six tea bags (black or green caffeinated tea) in that water for 20 minutes.
Then, remove the tea bags and add a cup of sugar and stir to dissolve. Once the tea has cooled to close to room temperature (I will sometimes add some cool water to help speed up this process), pour it into your clean glass jar then add your starter liquid and SCOBY.
Depending on how much room I have in my jar, I will often add extra water before adding my starter liquid and SCOBY. Make sure to leave a few inches of space toward the top of the bottle. Then cover the jar with cheesecloth, a napkin or paper towel, and secure with an elastic band to keep out dirt and bugs.
Let the jar sit in a cool, preferably dark place for up to two weeks – shorter in the warm weather. Once you've allowed the first fermentation, you can bottle your brew in glass jars or corked bottles (available at Ikea), remembering to save some starter liquid for your next batch, explains Fevens.
Making your own kombucha has advantages, says MacKay, as you can control the ingredients, including the amount of sugar, the kind of tea, and the flavours you add.
“I put in fresh ginger, or frozen blueberries or raspberries,” she says, allowing them to melt a bit before crushing them in a bag and adding them right into the jar.
Fevens says you can set the kombucha out for the second fermentation of three to five days, depending on the air temperature, to allow the fruit to flavour your kombucha and help it become fizzy. And then you can start it all over again, she says.
An advantage of making your own kombucha is that it is cheaper, says MacKay who notes commercial kombucha can run from $3 to $5 a pint, with home-brewed coming in at less than 50 cents a pint.
“Some people get an extremely industrious process going,” says Pope, noting that most people pick it up here and there but find difficulty keeping up with it full-time. “Others love the knowledge about kombucha but prefer the convenience and consistent flavour of a commercial product.”
And this is where companies like Dr. Kombu Brewing Co., and its Sòlas Kombucha come into play.
With their entire focus on its products, Dr. Kombu Brewing Co. can craft the flavours and aspects, such as the carbonation and sugar/acidity levels, that make the ideal kombucha to sell.
“I would never discourage anyone interested in brewing at home,” says Pope. “You will end up with some crazy results once in awhile, as do we, but you can also blow your own mind with your creations.”
As a company, especially one that has prior experience making alcohol, Pope says they find kombucha’s taste ground-breaking as a non-alcoholic option for a complex drink. They have been supplying many bars and restaurants in the Maritimes either by the bottle or on draught, including the relatively new Maritime Express Cidery in Kentville, N.S.
“We like having something on tap that is locally produced and a little healthier than pop,” says Maritime Express manager Gilbert Warren, remarking how well received it has been, so it will be something they will keep serving.
Coming next, says Pope, they plan on continuing to expand their kombucha offerings in the realm of alcohol, like they have done with Chain-Yard cider, who have made kombucha-ciders that have been very popular in the craft cider/beer industry.
Lovett says kombucha is fermented, and does contain alcohol, however it is less than 0.5 per cent, which is less than a non-alcoholic beer and is safe for children to consume.
“I have tons of clients that share the benefits of kombucha with their children,” says Lovett.
As for the taste, Lovett describes it as a very weak cider, or apple cider vinegar, and with the right flavours added, it’s very thirst quenching. She offered samples at an event a few years ago in New Minas and had 124 people sample it and only three people disliked it. She doesn’t think it’s an acquired taste at all.
Anyone interested in learning more about how to make kombucha should watch out for the monthly classes offered by Meegan Lovett Holistic Health, or classes and workshops offered by Dr. Kombu Brewing Co. through local schools and the community college.
Kombucha dos and don’ts
Suzi Fevens, a CanFitPro certified healthy eating and weight loss coach, as well as a nutrition coach for Eat to Perform, is an avid kombucha maker. She offers the following do’s and don’ts for making the home-based version of the drink.
- If you see anything that looks like it could be mould on your SCOBY, toss everything, clean thoroughly and start from scratch.
- Don't store or brew your kombucha in plastic; always use glass.
- Make sure everything is super clean before you start, just like you would when making pickles or preserves; a hot water bath when cleaning your fermenting jar is a good idea.
- Make sure any trace of antibacterial soap is totally washed away before adding your SCOBY or starter liquid to your jar or you could kill it all.
- Don't keep your fermenting jar near your trash or recycling; you don't want it picking up that bacteria.
- If you leave it to ferment too long, it will turn to vinegar. That's OK, it will still be fine for starter liquid, and some say allowing it to go to vinegar now and then will strengthen your SCOBY.
- When you grow a new SCOBY it often grows attached to the first one so you might need to peel them apart. You don't need to separate them each time you start a new brew but don't be afraid to tear them apart if you want to.
- Don't be intimidated. It sounds scary but it's really quite easy.