October 7, 2018

Home-brewed Kombucha

I have a thing for fermentation projects.

This all started when I was reading a "nutrition" book (which shall remain nameless for the same reasons why nutrition is in quotations) at 15 years old - the only worthwhile takeaway I left with was that homemade sauerkraut is simple and inexpensive to make - and sauerkraut is full of good-for-you probiotics. Win-win.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of fermented foods, here are a few articles to get you started:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition: The History and Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter: Discover the Digestive Benefits of Fermented Foods
Harvard Health Publishing: Fermented foods can add depth to your diet
If you remember, I began experimenting with sourdough bread last winter. I shared my preliminary lessons learned here, along with a little introduction to Gustavo (may he rest in peace - Dad threw him out, despite my labelled jar, when he was cleaning the fridge...Spring break started off well). I haven't had the heart to start a Gustavo II given the maintenance and work that a starter and sourdough bread entail.

I'm happy to announce that my latest experimentation, kombucha, has been nothing but successful. A SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is much less finicky than a starter and the entire process, from growing my SCOBY (affectionately known as Diego) to brewing kombucha bi-monthly, is so hands-off that I'm able to bottle my own kombucha here at school, amidst the stress and all (yup, Diego survived the drive up!). The cherry on top is that while Cornell Dining sells kombucha for $4-5 per bottle (it'll run you $2 ish-5 at the grocery store), the ingredients to make it at home don't cost all that much: water, sugar, black tea, and 1 bottle of unflavored kombucha to start your SCOBY with. You can go very far with $10. Home run for the thrifty ones.

Bottom: raspberry-lime puree, Top: whole raspberries with lime juice

I've followed TheKitchn's guides to a T since I began, so I'll simply link them below for your reference. What you might find helpful is a run-down of what my brews have been like:

Early July 2018: started growing my SCOBY (Diego)
1st week of August: Diego was about 1/4" thick and ready for my first brew.
10 days later: the first batch of kombucha reached my right balance of acidity-sweetness. I bottled the kombucha into 6 bottles (save your store-bought glass bottles!). I played with two flavors (peach-ginger and raspberry-lime) and two flavoring techniques (whole chunks of fruit/lime juice and pureed fruit/juice). I brewed the next batch to start fermenting immediately.
3 days later: the bottled kombucha seemed carbonated enough for me, so I stuck the bottles in the refrigerator to slow the carbonation down. Cold kombucha tastes better, anyways.
7 days later: the second batch of tea was ready and Diego gave birth to another SCOBY layer. Diego II. I made apple pie-flavored SCOBY gummies (they were supposed to be candy per this recipe, but they ended up chewy and gummy-like) and didn't die eating it!

Lately, I've been pushing the fermentation time to 12-14 days because my bottled kombucha sits at room temperature for about 5-7 days. The carbonation process has been taking longer, and it might be because I'm simplifying my flavors to pure ginger (my favorite). I chop up 1" chunks of ginger and stick them whole into each bottle. My brewing process is even easier, but the trade-off is a slower process. The sugars from the whole and pureed fruits in my initial batch hastened the carbonation (bacteria feed on the sugars and produce CO2 gas).

One more tip for those of you who are brewing and aren't getting enough carbonation - fill your bottles to nearly the top (leave no more than 2-3 centimeters between the top of the liquid to the cap). The anaerobic (deoxygenated) environment hastens bacterial activity and growth - more bubbles sooner!

Enjoy my first little video filmed with Jose (my new 35mm!):

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