Fantastic Fermentation: Homemade kombucha


The world of gut health and probiotics has been exploding recently with new and exciting information. We know that probiotics may help increase nutrient absorption, suppress growth of pathogens, and promote good immune health by increasing antibodies, but newer research is showing a possibility of more impressive effects: a connection between the gut and the brain. Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario conducted animal studies on mice by feeding gut bacteria from fearless mice to anxious mice. Impressively, the anxious mice became less fearful and more bold. Gut bacteria from the anxious mice was fed to the bold mice, and the bold mice became more anxious and timid. The team found a connection between the mice’s gut bacteria and parts of the brain that regulate emotion and mood. Similar effects were found in human studies when women fed probiotic-rich yogurt for several weeks had lower anxious brain activity when exposed to anxiety-provoking images. While this information is still very much preliminary, it shows the amazing effect our gut health might have on our mental health.

Fermented foods, which are wonderful sources of healthy bacteria, are still a severely underutilized health tool, but consumption is on the rise. Kombucha – a fermented tea that tastes like champagne and vinegar got married and had carbonated babies – is rich in probiotics. Sweetened tea is combined with a “mother” or SCOBY (a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) that ferments the tea and transforms it into a delicious, tangy drink full of “good” bacteria. I must admit the scoby both freaked me out and fascinated me when I first started brewing kombucha. It’s a little slimy and a lot amazing. 
Including foods like kombucha, raw sauerkraut and pickles, yogurt, miso, and kefir in your diet might help promote the immune system. Some medications such as antibiotics and birth control pills can throw the gut microflora out of whack, so including probiotic-rich foods while taking these drugs is particularly important. 

As with all fermented foods, safety is of the utmost importance. Always sanitize and thoroughly rinse any tools that will come in contact with your kombucha. Use wooden spoons instead of metal, and use glass jars instead of plastic. It’s ok if the scoby looks strange, gets lighter/darker, or grows unevenly, but if you ever see blue or green mold, throw out the batch and the scoby and start over. No risky business allowed when it comes to fermentation.

Secondary fermentations using fruit can be very fun! Simply add (clean) sliced or pureed fruit to your bottled kombucha (never to the fermenting jar with the scoby) and allow the bottles to sit at room temperature for 5-7 days. The fruit will infuse into the tea and add carbonation. Another flavor favorite of mine is ginger vanilla kombucha – add an inch of the ginger vanilla simple syrup to your bottle, let sit at room temperature for a week, and the end product will carbonate beautifully. I must admit, though, I’m a sucker for the original – that vinegary goodness does a fantastic job at waking up my taste buds in the morning.

I recommend researching kombucha pretty thoroughly before starting your own brewing venture. While it is almost always perfectly safe, it helps to be able to identify any problem signs that may arise. Cultures for Health is a great resource.

Homemade kombucha
Makes 1 gallon

Tools needed:
Large stockpot (at least 1 gallon)
Liquid measuring cup
Dry 1-cup measuring cup
Wooden spoon
1-gallon glass jar

Clean cotton cloth
Rubber band
Straws for tasting

Plastic funnel
Four 1-liter glass bottles

14 cups purified water
5 black tea bags
3 green tea bags
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups brewed kombucha
1 scoby or “mother”

  1. Sanitize all tools using hot water. If using soap, be sure to rinse everything very thoroughly. A quick rinse with white vinegar helps ensure cleanliness. 
  2. Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot. Remove from heat and add the tea bags. Cover the pot and allow the tea to steep for 30 minutes. Remove the tea bags and add the sugar, stirring well with a wooden spoon to dissolve. Allow the tea to cool completely to room temperature (this will take several hours).
  3. Pour the brewed sweet tea into a sanitized 1-gallon jar. Add the brewed kombucha to the sweet tea and drop in your scoby. Cover the jar with a clean cotton cloth and secure with a rubber band. Set the jar in a safe location out of direct sunlight for at least 7 days and up to a month. Begin tasting with a clean straw (dunk the straw below the water line and put a finger over the exposed end to suction some liquid out and keep the contents sanitized) after a week. The longer it sits, the more the bacteria will eat the sugars and the more vinegary the kombucha will taste. I generally brew mine for 7-10 days. 
  4. When the kombucha tastes good to you, remove the scoby (there will be a new baby scoby on top if you kept your jar very still!) and set it on a clean plate. Use the funnel to transfer the kombucha to clean bottles, reserving 2 cups for your next batch. At this point, your kombucha is ready to drink, or you can do a secondary fermentation by adding fresh fruit slices or pureed fruit and allowing the fruit-infused kombucha to sit another 5-7 days.
  5. Now that you’ve freed up that gallon jar again, you can brew more sweet tea, add 2 cups reserved kombucha and your scoby, and start your next batch. If you don’t want to brew more just yet, keep your scoby in a jar with 2 cups of reserved kombucha. Cover with a clean cloth and keep at room temperature. Remember that each batch of kombucha will produce a new scoby on top that you can share with friends or keep as backups in case a batch goes bad. Each scoby can be reused indefinitely, although eventually it may turn black, indicating it has died.

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