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.

In the End…

I had a ton of ideas for what to write about this week. Time ran away from me and I didn’t have time to really sit down and write something that wasn’t rushed. Recipe posts are pretty easy, but I don’t have any pictures to accompany them yet, so that’s out. I was going to write about Hamlette’s birth, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.

I was productive though. I made an art for a good friend of mine, who is also Hamlette’s god-mother, to celebrate her birthday and the book she just published:

I learned that those La Croix sparkling waters make excellent mixers for kombucha. It works really well if your kombucha has fermented a bit too long: you can’t taste the sourness at all!

I also learned that going on a picnic is an excellent way to spend an afternoon thanks to my best friend. I will be going on more picnics this summer for sure!

My awesome mother-in-law took measurements of our front lawn in preparation for terracing. I’ll be happy to have a front-yard garden. I’m busy researching landscaping ideas for edibles as well as what kind of bricks to use and ideas for where the yard meets the driveway. Our driveway is sloped with the yard right now, so it will be an interesting problem to fix. I’ll figure something out, though.

It’s supposed to snow a lot this weekend, so I guess I’ll get time to work on it while I’m stuck inside.

Do you have anything big planned for the summer?

Breakfast.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so they say. I find this is especially true when I’m pregnant. One thing about breakfast is that you can’t skip it. Even if you wait until lunch time, you are still breaking your fast when you eat whatever it is you decide to eat. Breakfast is the first meal of the day, regardless of time.

There’s a lot of advice about what is best to eat for breakfast. Out of all of it there seems to be at least one consensus: protein is important.

Having a sugar-laden breakfast cereal is a bad idea -even if it’s organic- because the processing techniques used to produce the cereals render them pretty much nutritionally deficient. Not to mention that most cereals ignore proper grain preparation (although I’m starting to see sprouted cereals in the grocery store, which makes me happy). Making your own is a good option, but it’s usually labor intensive unless you’re making granola. Homemade granola is really easy and super delicious, but should be considered a treat because there’s no way to soak or ferment the oats, that I’ve found anyway.

I’m not going to lie, I miss cereal. I do eat it occasionally and it’s one of the things that hubby really loves, so I try to keep some for him to snack on. What I really miss is cream of wheat. I love cream of wheat so much, but I can’t eat it any more. I’m on a quest to find a gluten-free substitute but I haven’t been successful (and I probably won’t be, but I can dream). Hot cereals are easier to fudge because you can ferment them and, if the grains are large enough, rinse them before cooking. This is how I prepare oats and I honestly think they taste better that way.

So here are some suggestions for breakfast:

Fried eggs and…
…sautéed squash. This is one of my very favorite breakfasts! I love a mix of zucchini and yellow squash, sometimes with onions. This is great with fried or poached eggs. One thing to note is that both zucchini and yellow crookneck are genetically engineered (virus resistant) if that’s something you prefer to avoid.
…potatoes. Whether you like country potatoes or hash browns be sure to blanch the potatoes first to prevent the production of acrylamide….bacon! This is a classic, but bacon is so expensive that we don’t enjoy it very often.

Scrambled eggs with bone broth and raw milk cheese mixed in. I add a dash of bone broth to the eggs before I cook them and toss in some cubed cheese when I put the egg mixture in the pan. Super delicious. Top them with some homemade green chili and you’re set!

Sourdough pancakes/waffles. These recipes are fantastic and very filling. I use einkorn flour for mine, but you can use any kind of wheat. I do have to add an egg to mine while I’m pregnant for the extra protein though.

Sourdough English muffin egg sandwiches. The recipe for the muffins is on the same page as the pancakes/waffles.

Banana muffins with cream cheese. Recipe to come.

Fermented oats with coconut oil, gelatin and cream. Maple syrup makes them extra tasty as well as adding some soaked almonds (or other nuts) on top. To ferment the oats, stick the desired amount in a glass jar and cover with water. Make sure the water is at least 1.5 inches above the oats. Cover with a cloth and wait about a week. You’ll know they’re ready when little bubbles start to form in the oats. I give mine a head start with either water kefir or kombucha (about a 50/50 mix with water). Rinse the oats and cook as normal, less 1/2 cup of water.

Yogurt with soaked nuts/seeds/ whatever you like.

 

So there you have it. I try to cycle through these, but I’m not terribly creative, so we end up eating the same things a lot.

Icelandic Yogurt.

IMG_0665Icelandic yogurt, otherwise known as Skyr, is amazing. I stumbled upon it at target more than a year ago. I was a hungry mama (and I was still getting really cranky when I got hungry then) so we stopped at Target and I ran in while hubby stayed in the car with the sleeping baby. I found the yogurt section and the Siggi’s was on sale so I picked up a blueberry one. Oh. My. Gosh. It was like eating ice cream, only thicker and creamier.IMG_20150602_092457

If you’re familiar with the Siggi’s brand, it’s expensive even when it’s on sale. I thought about it and I decided that someone on the internet must know how to make Icelandic Skyr and I found a recipe. I was pretty excited, except that it called for rennet (Skyr is technically cheese) and I had no idea where to get rennet. My awesome friend gave me a small bottle she had and wasn’t using and I promptly bought a half gallon of milk to try my luck at making Skyr. I was successful, so I made it for months because it’s so amazing. And then I stopped for some reason or other, I don’t remember why.

IMG_20150603_094933Recently my amazing sister-in-law went on a road-trip to visit the same friend that gave me the rennet. She asked me to pick up her raw milk while they were gone. Hubby and I aren’t big milk drinkers and neither of us really likes raw milk (no matter how hard I try to like it, I just can’t drink it) so I made yogurt out of half of it twice. The first batch was a direct-set (single use) yogurt starter I got from Cultures for Health. I didn’t have a yogurt maker, so the first attempt failed horribly. The second attempt turned into yogurt but it wasn’t raw because the whole half gallon had gotten left out overnight so I heated it just in case. My cheese thermometer wasn’t calibrated correctly so I actually ended up boiling the milk on accident. This yogurt tasted like I had started with sour milk (probably because I had) so I’m using it for baking. It made a phenomenal gluten free french yogurt cake that tasted exactly like lemon pound cake.IMG_20150603_095211

Anyway, I made the second batch into Skyr. I have tried with raw milk before and I had zero success with only heating the milk to 110°F so I had to heat it to the full 190°F which is a bit disappointing but it still tastes better than starting with pasteurized milk.

Icelandic Cream Skyr

You’ll need:
Stainless steel pot with a lid
Metal spoon
A reliable thermometer
Beach towelIMG_20150603_095328
Muslin or cheesecloth
A strainer
Two empty bowls
Half gallon whole milk
3-4 drops rennet
2 tablespoons Siggi’s yogurt
Pint heavy cream
Hand mixer, stand mixer or spoon

To make the Skyr:

  1. Pour the milk into your pot and heat it slowly to 190°F-195°F stirring occasionally without scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent scalding.IMG_0662
  2. Allow the milk to cool to 110°F and stir in the Siggi’s and rennet.
  3. Put the lid on the pot, wrap it up in a towel (helps maintain a warm temperature) and stick it in a warm place for 12-16 hours. I put mine in the oven.
  4. Remove the pot from the towel. The milk should have turned solid and there should be some whey on top (yellowish liquid). If this hasn’t happened something went wrong. You might try leaving it a little longer just in case.
  5. Place your muslin or cheesecloth over your strainer placed on top of an empty bowl.
  6. Cut squares into the yogurt and slowly pour everything into the muslin/cheesecloth.
  7. Fold the muslin/cheesecloth over the top and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator. Leave it to drain for 8-12 hours depending on the consistency you’d like and how much you like the flavor of whey.
  8. Transfer the yogurt from the muslin/cheesecloth into an empty bowl and store the whey in the refrigerator in a  sealed container. It will last up to 6 months.IMG_0663
  9. Whip in the whipping cream with a hand mixer or stand mixer until you get a good consistency. Keep in mind that the yogurt will settle and kind of thicken in the fridge, so make it a little less thick than you normally like your yogurt. You can also use a regular spoon to stir in the cream, but I like the way the yogurt gets fluffy when I whip it.

This yogurt is good without anything in it, but adding a touch of maple syrup makes it even better. The possibilities are endless! Plain yogurt is like a blank canvas.

 

Probiotic Deviled Eggs.

deviled.eggs.blog It’s getting to be barbeque season and, for some reason, I associate barbeques with deviled eggs. These are my go-to appetizer to bring to any function and I make a batch every time we host. The secret to awesome deviled eggs is mayonnaise. You can’t make stellar eggs without good quality mayo, it’s just not possible. I make my own mayo using an awesome recipe by my friend Melissa at Dyno-Mom. I make the second recipe in that post and it is always amazing!

I usually hate mayonnaise, so when I tell you that homemade mayo is the best, I’m not joking around. Not only is it delicious, but the fermented mayo is good for your gut bugs too, which is an added bonus.

The things next to the eggs in the above picture are bacon-beef meatballs which deserve their own post. I was a little stunned to discover that the only picture I have of deviled eggs is from our little one’s first birthday party. I make them so often I just assumed there would be a larger selection, but there ya go. So pardon the quality.

Deviled EggsIMG_0653

6 hard-cooked eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon vinegar
Paprika for garnish

  1. Peel your eggs and cut them in half, putting the yolks into a large bowl.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except for the paprika and mix well. You can use a fork or a hand mixer.
  3. Pipe or spoon the filling into the egg halves. Sprinkle paprika on top and serve.

If you need to make this ahead (I usually do) just do the first two steps, cover the bowl -or choose a mixing bowl that has its own lid- and stick it in the fridge. Load the egg halves onto the deviled egg plate and cover them tightly with plastic wrap. I’ve tried tossing them into a bowl before and I ended up with misshapen eggs at party time, which was no fun.

A variation you can do with these is use horseradish mustard, or any other flavor mustard, instead of dijon or yellow.

These are always a hit. This recipe is, by far, my favorite recipe for deviled eggs. But it doesn’t work without the mayo.

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!