I spent a morning last week preparing some fermented vegetables with a friend who is working to repair the compromised digestive system of her daughter. Fermented foods, which are becoming all the rage among foodies, have a legacy of healing properties. For those of you who associate sour sauerkraut with your German grandmother’s Sunday pork roast dinners, fermented foods – and beverages – demand another look.
In nutrition circles, it’s common to treat the gut as a second brain. There are more strains of bacteria – friendly and unfriendly – in your gut than there are cells in your body. And the ideal balance of those bacteria is critical to your physical and mental health.
The majority of us have compromised gut flora resulting not only from poor diet, but also from repeated use of antibiotics, contraceptives and other prescription drugs that damage the composition of these microorganisms. We’re in a toxic state, and fermented foods are natural detoxifiers. Raw yogurts, fermented vegetables and drinks like kefir and Kombucha are good first steps.
I’ve been brewing my own Kombucha for almost three years. This drink, which is resonant of a sparkling apple cider, is simply a fermented sugary tea that is transformed into a powerful probiotic through a yeast and bacteria colony (culture). In brewing, the sugars are converted into organic acids, which means they can be absorbed even by diabetics. Candida sufferers as well can find relief in drinking Kombucha because the culture does not stimulate Candida yeasts.
But the benefits of Kombucha stretch far beyond these. Kombucha supports healthy digestion, boosts your immune system, detoxifies the liver, balances body alkalinity and promotes cell integrity. None of these claims have been evaluated by bodies like the FDA – possibly because the interest in studying the healing properties of an inexpensive drink won’t yield any data that can be turned to profit by the pharmaceutical companies. Food is medicine, but in our modern culture, that’s a concept big business likes to keep quiet.
Kombucha has been around for 2,000 years, and the anecdotal evidence has shown its effect in treating cancers and arthritis. Russian and German studies from the turn of the century through the onset of the Cold War began to zero in on why Kombucha was so effective at holding back and reversing disease. It is now thought that the many nutrients it contains – B-vitamins, antioxidants and glucaric acids – on which copious research has been done, is its secret weapon.
Kombucha can be pricey, between $3 and $4 a bottle, and there are many variations and flavors. I always come back to the original and have developed a loyalty to GT’s Original Raw Kombucha when I don’t have any of my home brew. If you’ve never tried it, it’s worth exploring. If you like it and want to try your own, it’s easier than you think. A one-gallon jug will end up costing you about 50 cents.
First you need a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), which can be ordered from many reputable sources (it can run between $10 and $40) or given to you by a friend who home brews because in every batch the “mother” SCOBY produces a “baby” that can be used to brew multiple batches or pass along.
After about four batches, its best to toss the original mother, as it becomes less effective. I usually order two at a time so I can start two batches (SCOBYs can be kept in the refrigerated for a couple weeks if you’re not ready to get underway immediately).
SCOBYs always come with some “starter tea” to help your batch get going. You can also make your own “mother,” if you’re feeling very ambitious, for the price of a bottle of GT’s using these instructions (I’m planning to branch out my operation doing this next week).
After that, you need some gallon-sized glass jugs – I use sun tea jars with the spigot from the Variety Store. Then it's water, good quality raw sugar and green tea bags, and you’re set to go.
Most SCOBY sellers will send you complete instructions for brewing with a long list of Do’s and Don’ts. It’s important to pay attention to these, like making sure your jugs and hands are rinsed with white vinegar before touching the SCOBY so you don’t corrupt it. You can also find many of these instructions online through multiple sources.
It may seem intimidating at first, with so much advice, but once you’ve made your first batch, the actual process is simple and takes very little active time.
Once done, it can take anywhere from 10 to 30 days to ferment to your liking. Mine typically comes out sweeter and lighter that commercial brands, so I tinker with the sugar levels and number of tea bags to see the difference, always noting on the label what changes I made so I can compare.
I’ve often thought about teaching a Kombucha-making class. If you’re interested, shoot me an email and I’ll try to pull a group together. Its fun and easy, and the resulting “Immortal Health Elixir,” as it’s called in China, may make you a convert to fermented foods.
Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can email her at email@example.com