Kombucha Revisited.

IMG_0927Since I last wrote about the strange and wonderful art of brewing kombucha I’ve switched brewing methods. I switched from container brewing to a continuous brew system. I like the continuous brew system better for a few reasons: we drink a lot of kombucha in this house, so the container brewing actually occupied more space because I needed to brew at least two jars at once; continuous brew allows you to hit all of the enzymatic sweet spots during the brewing process whereas if you let a container brew go for 30 days, you basically have vinegar; Hamling can access the kombucha on his own which encourages him to drink it more often; the process itself is much easier.

Continuous brew kombucha needs the same ratios of tea, water and sugar. So, for 64 ounces of kombucha you need 1/2 cup sugar and 4-6 bags of tea. I’ve split the tea and sugar (sucanat) into two jars so that I can use cooler water to dissolve the sugar while the tea is brewing. I do this in an effort to leave the minerals in the sucanat as undisturbed as possible, it’s really just a preference thing.

All you do is brew the sweet tea, take out the tea bags or strain your tea leaves out, allow the tea to cool and then pour it over what’s left in the continuous brew container. Easy-peasy.

To maintain the brew I take everything out to clean the glass jar about twice a year, or as needed depending on the amount of yeast that settles on the bottom. Also, the SCOBY can get adventurous and start growing in the spigot. When it blocks the spigot enough to be annoying (and I can’t get it out with just a toothpick), I’ll clean it out.

Make sure to always keep a thin cloth (like muslin, or even a coffee filter) secured over your SCOBY home to keep fruit flies and debris out. It’s important to use a cloth rather than a lid so that the SCOBY can breathe.

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How to Make Water Kefir.

Water kefir is a sweet probiotic drink that is very versatile. During the secondary ferment you can add things like a splash of vanilla extract to make a vanilla cream soda flavored drink. Toss in a quartered orange (the whole thing) with the vanilla and you’ve got something that tastes like an orange creamsicle. The preferred flavor in our house is lemon. You can do this in a number of ways, but hubby’s favorite is when I add the lemon juice after the second ferment.

I can tell you that water kefir helps me keep my mood stable. I drink a glass every day. Not only because it’s beneficial, but because it’s delicious! As an added bonus, it’s even easier than kombucha to make.

You’ll need:IMG_0660

  1. Glass jars
  2. Canning lids or other airtight lids
  3. 1/2 cup sugar per 64 oz.
  4. Trace minerals (if using white sugar)
  5. Filtered water
  6. 1/2 cup water kefir grains/crystals per 64 oz.
  7. Mesh colander
  8. Large bowl (a pour spout on the bowl makes things easier)
  9. Extra jar, water, sugar for storing the crystals when not in use

To make:

  1. Pour the sugar into the jars.
  2. Warm up a little water and cover the sugar enough for it to dissolve.
  3. Fill the jar with the rest of the water after the sugar has dissolved, leaving 2 inches at the top.
  4. Add in the kefir crystals and top off the jar with water if there’s more than an inch left after adding them.
  5. Put the lids on the jars and let them sit for 24-48 hours. The longer they ferment, the higher the probiotic content.
  6. Strain the crystals out and set them aside, returning the liquid to the original jars.
  7. Put the lids back on the jars and let this ferment for another 12-24 hours. The longer it sits, the more bubbles in the finished product. This is the time to add flavorings like juice, fruit, extracts, herbs. Whatever you fancy, really.
  8. Place the crystals into the extra jar, cover them with water and a spoon or two of sugar, stick a lid on it and put it in the refrigerator.

I use sucanat for my water kefir as well as my kombucha. The sucanat seems to have a good balance of minerals to keep the grains healthy. I’ve tried using coconut sugar and my results were rather dismal. My grains got slimy and gross (which is an indication of a mineral content that is too high) and the end result wasn’t very pleasant tasting. White sugar works well too, you’ll just need to add in trace minerals or a drop or two of solé every once in a while to keep the kefir grains happy. You need to add minerals if your kefir grains get very small.

Brewing Kombucha

IMG_0656 The hardest thing to reconcile about the whole kombucha process is the SCOBY. For me anyway. I mean, it’s a gelatinous blob that sits on top of the tea and eats the sugar for crying out loud. I once picked up a jellyfish on accident on vacation. I didn’t hold it for very long, but I can tell you -with a large degree of certainty- that kombucha SCOBYs feel exactly like a jellyfish.

They don’t look amazing either. The picture on the left is my gallon jar SCOBY home. You can see the big fat SCOBY on the bottom and a thinner one on top. Don’t they look delicious?

I will admit that I have tried a piece of dehydrated SCOBY. I dehydrated an extra 3 SCOBYs just for kicks to see if our princess dog would eat them as treats. That was a definite no-go, and curiosity got the better of me. So I took a bite. Okay, so I took 2 (or 3) bites. It wasn’t bad. Not my favorite thing in the world, but not terrible either. The texture was very similar to fruit-by-the-foot actually. I was pleasantly surprised; there was mild sweetness and hardly any of the kombucha’s characteristic vinegary tang.

Have I lost you? Because a year ago I would have lost myself.

For those of you intrepid readers who stuck around (thank you!) let me get back on track:

The brewing process of kombucha is very simple. It’s identical to brewing sweet tea. If you’re not from the south, and you’re also not sure what sweet tea is, sweet tea is basically iced tea brewed in sugar water. The total active time I spend is probably less than an hour. I split it up, so it’s hard to keep track. What usually ends up happening is I brew the sweet tea in the morning, then sometime in the late afternoon/evening (depending on if I forgot about it) I resume the process.

Things you’ll need for brewing:

  1. IMG_0657Glass jars
  2. Glass bottles
  3. Muslin cloth
  4. Canning jar rings or rubber bands
  5. Fine mesh strainer
  6. Large soup pot
  7. 4 bags of tea per 64 oz. or 1 bag of tea formulated for brewing iced tea. You can use green, black, or rooibos tea.
  8. 1/2 cup sugar per 64 oz.
  9. Filtered water
  10. Clean hands

To brew:

  1. Measure half of the total water you’ll need into the soup pot. If you’re brewing a 64 oz. batch use 32 oz. of water. I just fill my 64 oz. jar once halfway and once full (for the gallon).
  2. Bring the water to a rolling boil and turn off the heat.
  3. Add the sugar in proportion to the amount of kombucha you’re making and stir. I use 1 1/2 cups, or enough for three 64 oz. batches.
  4. Add the tea and let steep per the directions on the teabag packages. Usually no more than 5 minutes.
  5. Allow the pot of sweet tea to cool to room temperature. This is when I usually walk away and forget about it.
  6. Once the tea is cool strain your existing batch of kombucha, putting the SCOBY(s) in a glass or ceramic bowl as soon as possible. The less contact with metal the better. Save 1 cup of the kombucha per 64 oz. to give the new batch the correct acidity.
  7. Set aside the previous batch of kombucha for bottling.
  8. Fill your clean jars halfway with the sweet tea and halfway with filtered water and set a SCOBY on top. Sometimes I put two into the new batch, sometimes I discard my extras by “planting” them or just putting them down the garbage disposal.
  9. Make sure the jar lips are dry then put the muslin over the jar mouth and fasten with your canning ring or rubber band.
  10. Put the new batch of kombutcha in a moderately dark, warm place. Mine sits on top of our fridge with a wine box in front of it.
  11. Allow to ferment for 8-15 days. The longer you let it go, the more sour it will be. The amount of time you’ll need for fermentation will vary based on the climate and season.
  12. Pour the last batch of kombucha into bottles. I cut mine 50/50 with hibiscus tea at this point, but you can flavor yours however you like.
  13. Allow the bottled kombucha to brew for another 12-48 hours (optional).

 

It’s important to use organic ingredients whenever possible because the SCOBY is a living organism. It eats what you feed it, so using pesticide-laden tea or GMO sugar might not be the best idea. I use sucanat to brew both kombucha and water kefir and I find it works very well, but I know people who use organic cane sugar with great results. The practitioner who was helping me with my Live Blood Analysis said that she noticed more candida in people who brewed with white sugar vs. people who brewed with sucanat, so if you’re struggling with a candida albicans overgrowth I highly recommend using sucanat. It’s reasonably priced in the bulk section of Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.

The reason I cut my kombucha with hibiscus is threefold. First, hibiscus tea is supposed to be great for you. Second, my kombucha was getting me tipsy every day so I needed to dilute it after troubleshooting it a little. Third, doing this cuts the caffeine content.

Using a combination of teas for the sweet tea base is helpful as well. It produces a smoother flavor in the finished batch. I tried using all black tea and I wasn’t terribly pleased with the outcome. Through experimenting with all sorts of different combinations I’ve landed on a mix of green and black, and sometimes rooibos (depending on how concerned I am with caffeine) that has a nice flavor. It’s really up to your tastes what combination of teas you use.

Bonus: since I’ve started brewing kombucha, my garbage disposal hasn’t smelled rotten. I let the extra SCOBY sit in there for a while before running it and that seems to help.

It seems complicated on paper/screen, but it’s really quite simple. If it was too complicated I don’t think I’d be keeping at it because I’m pretty lazy.

Don’t have a SCOBY? No problem! You can grow one as long as you can find a raw, ubnflavored kombucha at the store. Be careful; there was an incident in 2010 where the alcohol content in some of the kombuchas went above the allowed limit. To solve this a few brands started pasteurizing their kombucha before bottling. This pretty much takes away the benefits of drinking kombucha, unless you just drink it for flavor.
So to grow a new SCOBY follow the directions above, pouring the bottle of store-bought unflavored kombucha into the sweet tea and allowing it to ferment until a thick new SCOBY forms. Then continue as normal!

Kombucha and Water Kefir.

Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.
-John Ciardi, American Poet (1916-86)

Hibiscus kombucha and lemon water kefir.

Hibiscus kombucha and lemon water kefir.

I’ve been making water kefir, and now kombucha for a little over a year. I like to refer to my kombucha SCOBYs as my jellyfish pets, which may be something you only understand if you’ve handled a SCOBY yourself. So, what is a SCOBY?

S.C.O.B.Y. stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. A SCOBY is what ferments the sweet tea into kombucha. It doesn’t look very appetizing, and is a big turn-off to a lot of people (including me) looking to brew their own kombucha at home. I got a SCOBY from a friend of mine. Had she not given me one, I probably wouldn’t have started brewing on my own. I knew that water kefir helped me a lot, so I thought kombucha might be equally as beneficial so I overcame my initial squeamishness and started brewing at home. It is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health.

There are quite a lot of claimed benefits to drinking kombucha daily if you read about it on the Googles. What sold me the most was the claim that it supports your liver function, helps with candida albicans overgrowth, and aids in repairing your gut wall. When I first started brewing kombucha I had liver stress, candida albicans overgrowth, and a high probability of leaky gut – I found this out using Live Blood Analysis(LBA), which is somewhat controversial. So I figured I’d give it a shot to see what would happen. Once I started drinking it my LBAs slowly began to show more healthy blood than not. Kombucha wasn’t the only factor in this, but it was a large player.

So, what is the official analysis of what’s in kombucha? Well, this site has a pretty good rundown. The thing you must keep in mind is that every SCOBY is slightly different depending on the kind of tea and sugar it’s eating and other environmental factors like airborne yeasts and temperatures.

Kombucha is fairly hardy, only needing to be fed every 30 days, so it’s pretty low-maintenance. Part of the draw for me was the low level of care. It’s essentially an hour of active work every 8 to 15 days depending on how long you want the fermentation to last. You can also do a continuous brew where you place your sweet tea and SCOBY in a glass drink dispenser with a spout and just add more tea as needed, or on a certain schedule. I really want to start a continuous ferment, but I haven’t found a good drink dispenser yet.

What about water kefir? Water kefir has a higher probiotic count than kombucha but this is, again, subject to some variation depending on what you feed it. Water kefir is similar to kombucha in that what ferments the sugars to create the drink is a culture of bacteria and yeast. Kefir grains are basically the SCOBY in the kefir world. The name is a little misleading because there are no grains in water kefir. You can eat the grains for a good probiotic boost (I’ve never tried that with kombucha SCOBYs, because…well…ew) in addition to drinking the water kefir.

Since I’ve started drinking kombucha and water kefir my overall health has improved. I can tell when I haven’t been drinking water kefir or, to a lesser extent, kombucha. I start getting brain fog and a little grumpy. This is probably a sign that my digestion still isn’t up to snuff, but it’s a work in progress.

Overall, these two drinks are something that I will continue doing for the health of my family. Both of them are easily flavored during a second ferment, so the possibilities are pretty much endless. This is a plus because you’ll never have to get bored of drinking the same old thing all the time.

Cultures for Health has a great rundown on the differences of water kefir and kombucha that is really interesting to read.

Next week I will post about how to brew kombucha and the following week will be water kefir. See you then!

Nourishing Hot Cocoa.

IMG_20150226_140205  We’ve been getting a lot of snow lately – not as much as an awesome friend of mine though – which means the little one has been asking to go sledding a lot. The perfect thing to warm up after sledding is hot cocoa, but I’m not a big fan of sugar especially if it’s in something our family consumes on a regular basis. I found a few recipes online for paleo hot chocolate and I tried them out, sometimes with a few tweaks. Here is my favorite:

For one cup of hot chocolate:
6 oz. milk (dairy, almond, coconut. I don’t recommend soy)
2 Tbs cocoa powder (less if using a smaller cup)
1/2 Tbs arrowroot powder (optional)
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
Stevia to taste

  1. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the milk into a saucepan.
  2. Mix the gelatin into the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk and set aside so the gelatin can dissolve while the milk is heating.
  3. Heat the milk over medium heat until it just begins to steam. Once there is a bit of steam rising from the milk add the cocoa powder and the arrowroot.
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture for a minute or so.
  5. Pour over the gelatin mixture and add stevia to taste.

I must confess that I don’t measure the gelatin, I just pour it over the top of the milk until I think there’s enough. Be careful not to add too much, it will change the flavor of your drink.

I don’t usually sweeten mine at all. Instead, I toss in a few homemade marshmallows and let them melt a bit before stirring it up.

This is delicious. The arrowroot gives it a nice creamy texture so you can leave it out if you’re making this with half-and-half or cream (which I have done before – it’s amazing!). If you’re using a non-dairy milk option I’d recommend not leaving out the arrowroot. You might be able to substitute for some other kind of starch like potato, tapioca, or non-GMO corn, but I haven’t tried that myself, so I’m not sure how that would turn out.

The gelatin is for an extra pick-me-up and it gives the hot chocolate a very pleasant fullness, much like the starch but smoother. Gelatin is a wonderful healing nutrient (can I call it that?) that I’ve also taken to adding into my hot tea. It helps me keep my energy levels up and it’s great to supplement in the winter to give you a bit of a bug-fighting boost. I also ramp up our consumption of bone broth in the winter for the same reason.

Next week I’ll write about the marshmallow recipe I use. It’s so easy that I’ve decided to make it a winter tradition to make marshmallows the first time it snows.

I hope you all are keeping warm!

Solé!

Part of my morning routine is to drink a glass of salt water solé (pronounced so-lay). Most mornings I make it warm, but sometimes I drink it cold. I started doing this in lieu of lemon water because the acidity of the lemon was wreaking havoc on my sensitive teeth to the point that simply breathing hurt my mouth. It has become an important part of my day because it gives me energy and helps me with a list of other things. Sometimes I drink it two or three times a day, depending on how much physical activity (usually in the form of toddler-lifting) I’m doing. The minerals from the salt have a myriad of benefits for health and general well-being. Here are a few things drinking sole has helped me with:

  • Better sleep quality
  • More energy throughout the day
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Menstrual cramps (this is the most dramatic benefit)

If you look online the drink itself is touted to help practically everything. I’m not sure if I’d take it that far, but I definitely believe that consuming the minerals the salt provides is important because I also believe that our food is mineral deficient thanks to our current farming system.

I should clarify that you cannot make this with table salt. In fact, you should just get rid of table salt altogether and go grab some real salt, like sea salt or Himalayan salt. Sole is made with Himalayan salt crystals which contain several minerals that are beneficial to humans. If you think about it, salt water sole is basically an unflavored sports drink you can make at home for a fraction of the cost. You could add it to some juice to give you an extra boost if you really can’t stand the taste of salt water.

I also use this as a substitute for trace minerals when I’m making water kefir, kombucha, or anything that calls for trace minerals really. I’m not 100% sure about whether it is a comparable substitute to something you’d buy at the store, but it seems to work just fine because none of my counter-top pets have died yet! I’ll look into that next week while I’m getting groceries and report back.

To make salt water sole you’ll need:IMG_20150224_101447

1 glass pint jar
1/4 cup Himalayan salt crystals
Water Plastic lid and spoon.

Put the salt crystals in the pint jar and fill with water. Put the lid on and let it sit for 24 hours. If there is no salt left at the bottom of the jar add more and let it sit overnight until you can see salt at the bottom of the jar. Your sole is now ready to use! Add 1 tablespoon to an 8 ounce glass of water and drink that. If it’s too salty for you, start with a teaspoon and work up.

It’s important to use a plastic lid because of the corrosive effects of salt water on metal. Any benefits would be negated by the presence of whatever metals leached into the water during the corrosion process. The spoon is a little less important because it won’t be it contact with the water for long periods of time, but I have read that metal deionizes the salt and that it should be avoided altogether. So, use caution with the spoon, but if you don’t have a plastic or wooden one it’s probably not a big deal since the spoon is only in contact with the water for as long as it takes to scoop some into a glass.