Of all the ways I’ve been venturing into new and personally uncharted dietary territory, this one has, by far, been the most difficult to explain. Here’s a sample conversation:
Hey, Katy — what’s in that jar?
Oh, that? It’s kombucha.
What did you call me?
Never heard of it.
It’s a fermented tea.
What’s that thing floating in it?
That’s the scoby.
It’s kind of like a mushroom.
That’s a weird-looking mushroom. So… you’re drinking mushroom juice?
Hmmm. Had any hallucinations?
Not yet, but here’s hoping.
Actually, no — I don’t hope for hallucinations, nor do I expect to ever have any. This drink is one that has been around for a couple thousand years in various cultures, recorded especially in Russian history. It is, quite simply, brewed sweetened tea that is fermented with a scoby, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast — not a true mushroom at all, but called so because of its appearance. The drink has a broad anecdotal and scientific history of being an all-around beneficial drink: it is full of B-vitamins, anti-oxidants, and glucaric acids. A detoxifying drink, it is also high in glucosamines, and gives a probiotic boost to your immune system.
Most articles I read about the drink admit that there is little Western scientific study to back up its claims: there’s just not a lot of money out there to fund studies determining the effectiveness of a drink that can be made at home for about $1 a gallon. But I have yet to read an account of someone who drinks it regularly who does not sing its praises. Since I’m a probiotic junkie, and since I looked up one morning and figured I needed just one more jar of fermenting foodstuff on my kitchen counter, I gave it a whirl.
I ordered my scoby online, but you can get one for free if you know someone who makes their own kombucha (the culture will make a baby scoby… though this is not as creepy as it sounds). I’ve read accounts, too, of people growing their own from a store-bought bottle (they are sold at most health food stores), but figured it was easiest to drop the $12 on a mail-order sure-thing. Once you get your little guy (I’m not sure why it’s a male pronoun in my head, especially since it’s referred to as the “mother”) in the mail, you need to make your first batch pretty quickly. So don’t order it unless you’re ready to roll. Other than the k-shroom, you’ll need some quart or larger glass jars, some organic tea, sugar, and time to wait.
When I made my first batch, I made one quart. After it fermented for 7 days, I took a bit from that batch and made a gallon. I’m not in a good groove yet; ideally I will always have kombucha fermenting at various stages, and will always have some that’s ready to drink. You can find good directions of how to do it here and here; but if you start looking around, you’ll find there are infinite variations on the process — I just follow the directions that came with my culture.
I’ve been drinking it daily for about a week now — and am really enjoying it — it’s like a slightly sweet, slightly sour tea with a bit of fizz and flavor of fermentation. Some people feel lightheaded when they drink it at first; I didn’t really, but I have felt a small burst of energy. I think it will take long-term drinking for me to really tell if it makes a difference in how I feel. As a person with cancerous and arthritic genes lurking at my every corner, I’m mostly interested in how kombucha can help prevent those degenerative diseases, rather than how it might make me feel on a daily basis.
My almost-four-year old, now seen as the dietary adventurer in our family since he absolutely LOVES my liver paté (and is the only one who eats it), has sipped a bit here and there, and likes it. I think he likes it because he says it “smells like beer.” You would think that if I could get the preschooler to drink it, I could get my husband on the bandwagon, too. But, no. So far, he’s still way back, hovering at the crevasse of lacto-fermented grains. I’m working on a rope bridge to get him across.
So, is this it? Is this, reader, where I lose you?