sco(o)by dooby doo: the benefits of kombucha

You keep hearing about this weird drink, right?  You've probably overheard conversations like "Where'd you get your mother from?" and "I have a scoby hotel right now!" You've probably also heard that fermented foods such as kefir and kimchi are excellent for your digestive health.  So, what the heck is all the fuss about, and why should we care?

Despite it's recent resurgence in the west, kombucha originated in China and has actually been around for thousands of years. Brewed from sweetened tea fermented by a colony of bacteria and yeast (known as the 'scoby', or 'mother'), it boasts many health benefits.  This is because the fermenting process builds friendly bacteria in the gut, which helps to fight off the growth of harmful yeasts and bacteria.  A healthy gut hosts over 100 trillion friendly bacteria which aid in the digestion and absorption of food and maintains a healthy immune system.  An unhealthy gut is overrun with the bad guys and is likely to present with digestive issues such as constipation or IBS, skin problems such as psoriasis or eczema, as well as joint problems.  Altered behaviour patterns and brain function are also signs of an unhealthy gut.  Plenty of factors contribute to unhealthy gut bacteria, such as: antibiotics, over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, chlorine in our tap water, alcohol, cigarettes, junk food and stress.  (to read more about this, see my previous post on brain and gut health.)

I know it seems counter-intuitive: it's been drilled into us that yeast and bacteria are bad for us.  However, yeast and bacteria are only harmful to us when they are imbalanced.  There is such a thing as 'commensal' (or friendly) yeast, an example off which is candida.  Candida is friendly in the sense that it lives in all of us in small amounts and aids with digestion; however, when it is overproduced, it can cause major problems. Consuming combative yeasts, such as nutritional yeast, is a great way to prevent an overgrowth of candida. So, given that kombucha is fermented with a bacteria and yeast colony, we want to be sure that we are consuming kombucha that has been brewed from a culture that is candida free, to ensure that we are benefiting from the combative qualities, rather than contributing to an overproduction of the less friendly yeasts and bacteria.  There are some brands that will explicitly say on their labels "candida free", so these are the brands to look for. Of course, the safest way is to brew your own. And, here's how you do it!

You'll need:

1. a litre of filtered water
2. four organic black (or green) tea bags (any black or green tea is fine to use, just be careful not to use tea that has any spices in it, as the oils will cause the kombucha to go rancid)
3. a cup of sugar (I use coconut sugar)
4. a scoby (see notes below!)
5. 1/2 a cup of kombucha from a previous batch (don't worry it's your first batch, the scoby will come in a bit of liquid and you can use that)
6. 1L mason jar for the fermenting process
7. a dishcloth and a rubber band
8. 1L airtight glass vessel to store your brewed kombucha in.

A couple of notes about the scoby.  I was lucky enough to get one from a friend. You can purchase a scoby from O5Tea on West 4th in Vancouver, an
d they're also a great resource if you have questions about brewing your kombucha.  The scoby is probably the grossest ugliest thing you'll ever lay your eyes on - it kind of looks like a giant mushroom/jellyfish.  It's the culture that makes all the magic though, so you'll get over it in no time : )

* Boil the litre of water in a large pot.  Once boiling, dissolve your cup of sugar.
* Turn the heat off, and put in your tea bags.  Brew the tea until it's cool and remove the tea bags.
* Put your scoby in your 1L mason jar adding the 1/2 cup of liquid from a previous batch, and then pour the brewed tea in.
* Cover it with a dish cloth and secure with a rubber band.  Place on counter in a cool dry place and try not to move it around.  Let it sit for 7-10 days.  You'll know it's ready by the slightly sour taste and small amount of fizz.  You'll also see that your scoby has started to grow a little mini scoby on top of it.  Congratulations, you now have your first resident of your scoby hotel!  You can either save it and use it to make subsequent batches, or spread the friendly bacteria love and give it to a friend.
* Carefully pour the liquid into your 1L airtight glass vessel, making sure you reserve a 1/2 a cup of the liquid for your next batch.  Take your scoby out and put it in a glass vessel with a bit of liquid in it as well and put it back in the fridge.  If you want to infuse your kombucha with any flavours (elderberry, ginger, rosemary), now is the time to do it.
* At this point you can either put the kombucha in the fridge and start consuming it, or keep the kombucha out of the fridge in the airtight vessel and let it sit another 7 days or so which will create more carbonation.

So, drink up and reap the benefits of better digestive health and a stronger immune system!  Suddenly that ugly scoby isn't looking so bad, is it?  If you've never drank komucha before, I recommend starting off with small amounts and working your way up.

never judge a drink by its scoby,