Fermenting Series Week 1 – Kombucha Tea

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What do you think of when you read “fermented food”? Beer? Food that tastes off or fizzy when it shouldn’t be?

 

Fermenting food is an age-old practice used to preserve food when there were no fridges, freezers or ways to keep produce throughout seasons. In the early days (pre-1950s or so), getting milk from the cow and having it sour over a week or more was normal. Making sauerkraut from the crops of cabbage with salt was as normal as us now opening a box and putting its contents in the oven. Maybe they knew or maybe they didn’t, but the benefits of fermented food far outweigh those of food that’s pasteurized or cooked. Here are a few that I know of:

  • Starts the digestion process, as in breaking down lactose in the case of kefir and yogurt.
  • Creates billions of beneficial bacteria that, when eaten, positively impact digestive and immune health.
  • Maintains enzymes of food, which gives the pancreas a well-earned break. For instance, sourdough bread is easier to digest than bread made with just yeast.
  • Increases vitamin content, as in fermented dairy products. They offer higher levels of B vitamins.
  • Preserves food for longer. Fermented cabbage becomes sauerkraut, milk ferments to kefir, yogurt or cheese and cucumbers and other vegetables become pickles that keep longer than fresh.
  • It’s cheap! Fermenting food takes a bit of time, but honestly not much. Once you have the key fermenting tools, they don’t need replacing as they replenish themselves.

With all of the above, why aren’t we fermenting more? I think it’s time. It’s more convenient to go to the store and buy everything. The art of fermenting is slightly underground and my hope is that with this blog series, you’ll be able to dabble here and there, teach the kids what’s its all about and bring fermenting back to commonplace.

Your First Ferment – Kombucha Tea

Let’s start with tea. Fermented tea turns into Kombucha Tea. You might have seen this rather expensive bottle of fizzy drink in the chiller cabinet recently. There are more brands bottling it now, but as with all ferments, it’s super fun and easy to make at home.

You do need a starter kit for what’s called a SCOBY or symbiotic culture (or colony) of bacteria and yeast, starter tea, organic tea bags and sugar. Now, I’m not one to add sugar to anything so it was strange the first time I made this. The sugar is food or fuel for the SCOBY to grow and ferment the tea, so it’s virtually all gone by the time it’s done. I used organic black tea for my first batch, but have been assured that most tea can be used, except ones with natural oils in them. As well as a SCOBY, half a cup of starter tea, you’ll need:

2 organic tea bags
1/4 cup sugar
1 quart water

In a saucepan, bring one quart of water to the boil. Turn off heat and add in teabags and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon (not metal) and let sit until it cools. Transfer to a glass jar or bowl and add in SCOBY and previous Kombucha tea that it comes with.

Cover the jar or bowl with a tea towel or cheesecloth. I used a bowl, so I taped an X across the bowl so my cloth wouldn’t end up in my tea. Store somewhere warm (I put mine in my laundry room where the furnace is) for seven to 10 days. It might look like it’s going mouldy to start, but just leave it. It will grow another SCOBY during its fermentation stage. After seven days, have a small taste and see how it is. You can leave it longer – I left mine for 14 days.

Save up some jars, wine bottles and corks or old beer bottles with a flip top (like Grolsch). Remove the SCOBY, store in another jar with 1/2 cup tea (now becomes the starter tea for the next batch) and refrigerate for next time. Pour the rest into jars or bottles, leaving about 7cm from the top to allow for fermentation. Add in ginger slices and/or a splash of juice at this point, if you like. Put back to the warm place for three to four days to let it fizz. Then store in a fridge or cold cellar. Beware of the lid popping off when you first try it. There will be pressure from the last stage of fermenting.

If you’ve never tried it before, start with a bit and build up. It’s like taking probiotics for the first time, you might experience some gas.

Will you give it a go?

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