All About Kombucha
You’ve no doubt heard about the drink kombucha, even if you haven’t tried it. The ancient beverage is arguably one of the hottest health trends here in Australia and around the world. In fact, sales of the carbonated drink are booming and have increased by 700% in the last two years.
Kombucha is no longer the sole domain of hipster cafes and healthy-living enthusiasts. Pop down to your local supermarket or petrol station and you’ll more than likely find a variety of fizzy, flavoured Kombucha bottles lining the shelves.
While Nerada does not produce a kombucha, we’ve long been an advocate. In fact, in the 1990s we used to endorse kombucha starter kits at our Atherton Tablelands visitor centre!
In a nutshell, Kombucha is fermented tea made up of bacteria, yeast, sugar and water. The taste is best described as effervescent with a tart, vinegary flavour. A vinegary, sour apple cider, if you will.
It might not sound that delicious to the uninitiated, but for many people it’s the alleged health benefits that are most appealing. Kombucha is relatively low in sugar and, among other claims, is a potential source of probiotics which can aid gut health. However, the jury is still out on this fashionable ferment and whether all the health claims actually stack up.
We decided to find out more about this tea-based drink.
What exactly is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea made by adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (scoby) to a solution of tea and sugar. During the fermentation, the bacteria and yeast on the scoby, ferment the tea and sugar to make a sour-tasting, fizzy beverage.
It’s sometimes referred to as ‘mushroom-tea’ because during the brewing process the bacteria and yeast grow into a mass that resembles a mushroom cap.
Kombucha can be brewed at home or store-bought in a variety of flavours including Orange & Ginger, Raspberry Lemonade or Turmeric.
What is the history of Kombucha?
Kombucha has a long history although its exact origin is unclear. It is thought to have been first used in ancient China around 220 B.C. for its healing properties and was known as the ‘Tea of Immortality’. Its name is reportedly derived from a Korean physician named Dr. Kombu, who brought the fermented tea to Japan to help treat Emperor Inkyo.
Eventually the drink spread to Europe in the early 20th century, most notably in Russia and Eastern Europe. Interestingly, in Russia it was seen as a home-brewed alternative to carbonated soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi not obtainable in Russia until the 1980s.
While consumption of the drink waned during World War 2, it regained popularity after a 1960s study in Switzerland reported its health benefits to be similar to yoghurt. Home brewing the drink became common among alternative health communities in the 80s and 90s and the first Kombucha brand, GT’s Kombucha, was established in 1995. GT’s was started by a 15-year-old boy who began bottling his own brew after seeing the positive effects he believed the drink had on his Mum who was suffering breast cancer.
Today Kombucha is a multimillion-dollar commercial enterprise. Its popularity seems only to be increasing, both for consumption of the commercial flavoured bottles and among those who brew their own ‘booch’ at home.
How do you make it?
Kombucha is made from a black tea or green tea base and can easily be made at home – you’ll need a pot of tea, sugar and most importantly, a starter culture or scoby.
- 3 litres water
- 4 – 5 Nerada black tea or Nerada green tea bags or Nerada loose-leaf tea – enough to make a strong flavour
- 1 cup white or raw sugar
- 1 kombucha scoby (see below)
- 1 cup kombucha liquid from a previous batch
- Boil water. Add the sugar and water to a large saucepan and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.
- Remove from the heat, then add the tea bags or tea to the sugar water to steep.
- Remove the tea bags, or completely strain the loose leave tea leaves, and allow the solution to cool to room temperature.
- Pour into a large, sterilised glass jar, then add starter tea from a previous batch. Then add an active kombucha.
- Cover the jar with a tight-weave tea towel and secure with string or a rubber band.
- Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed in a warm, dry place (ideally 24 – 32 degrees Celsius) out of direct sunlight. Leave for a minimum of 7 – 10 days. NB. The longer the kombucha ferments, the less sweet and more vinegary.
- During this time, it will grow a baby scoby on the top of the liquid. It will also develop a sour, tart flavour as the scoby consumes the sugar.
- When the sour flavour is well developed, strain the kombucha liquid from the scoby using a coffee filter or sieve.
- Keep the scoby along with one cup of the liquid for a subsequent batch.
- The finished kombucha can be flavoured and bottled or enjoyed plain. Try orange and ginger or strawberry ginger.
Where can I get scoby?
You can buy a scoby from many health food retail stores or online. You can also ask a friend who regularly brews their own kombucha if you can have a portion of their scoby (known as a baby) once it has doubled in size.
Is it good for you?
There have been many reported beneficial effects of Kombucha – having been touted as a “magical health elixir” for centuries. Claims have been made that it can help treat everything from high blood pressure to diabetes and cancer, however most of these claims are scientifically unfounded.
Kombucha is also reported to be rich in probiotics or good gut bacteria (like those in yoghurt), which can help boost immunity and overall health.
Regardless of the claimed health benefits, if you enjoy the taste, there’s no doubt this fashionable ferment is a great low-sugar substitute for soft drink or alcohol. Give it a try with a pot of Nerada Tea!