Photo: Debra Solomon
There is one thing about even the most organized pantry. Meals can get a little boring. Fight the boredom by creating fermented foods!
Fermenting changes ordinary food into something extraordinary; both in taste and nutrition. Many cultures include fermented foods as part of their daily diet. Kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kim chi, brine cured vegetables all have a place in fermented food history. Let’s take a look at some of the easy fermented foods that you can make for your pantry.
This week: Kombucha.
The History and Biology of Kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented drink that has a long history. As far as we know, kombucha began as early as 250 BC in China. It was renowned as a healthful drink that the Chinese believed to have healing powers.
In the 1800’s, kombucha was introduced into Russia, where it continued to be held as a healthful, and tasty beverage with almost unworldly claims for its benefits. Whether or not you feel that kombucha can help heal what ails you, it cannot be denied that it is a delicious and far healthier choice to drink than any soda can be.
Today, kombucha is still very popular. It can be made on a countertop, and due to its nature, has to be divided and shared regularly, making it a fun fermented food to get to know.
Kombucha is the result of a mushroom-like mat of beneficial bacteria, called a zoogleal mat, which is a symbiotic colony of bacteria (“beneficial bacteria”) and yeast (sometimes called a Mother or a SCOBY).
The mat ferments simple sugar that has been added to black tea. After a period of about 1 week, the bacteria will have used up all the sugar, resulting in a carbonated beverage that hardly resembles the taste of the original tea at all. It tastes slightly acidic, very much like apple cider vinegar, with plenty of bubbles and probiotic nutrients.
Kombucha does contain a small amount of alcohol, however, and alcohol sensitive individuals should take note of this fact.
Allowing kombucha to ferment for too long will result in a vinegar-like drink that may not be tasty by the glass. If this has happened to your kombucha, you can use this vinegar to make delicious salad dressings and just make a new batch, let it brew for a shorter time and possibly in a cooler location.
Dressing Up Your Kombucha
Once you have your basic kombucha, the fun really begins. Although many people drink kombucha as is, there are plenty of great ways to dress it up a bit.
My new favorite flavor, is to add ginger root and dried raspberries, then wait an additional day before straining and drinking. This recipe was given to me by a friend on Twitter, and it is fantastic!
Some other things that can be added to kombucha are fruit juices like apple, pear, grape or banana. Don’t forget the vegetable juices – carrot or cucumbers are both nice. Honey is a wonderful addition to kombucha and usually this is the one that kids really like.
Think of tastes that will go well with the natural tang of kombucha and you will have a hit!
Make Your Own Kombucha At Home
There are many recipes for kombucha, using the same basic ingredients. Here is the one I have been using for 8 years, with great success:
- 3 quarts of water
- 6 black tea bags
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 scoby or mushroom
- 1/2 cup of kombucha as a starter-more is fine
- 1 gallon jar
- 1 coffee filter
- 1 elastic band
- Combine the sugar and water in a large pan and cover.
- Bring to a boil
- While water is heating, wash a gallon glass jar with hot, soapy water and turn upside down to drain
- Remove boiled water from heat
- Add tea bags, cover
- Steep for 15 minutes and remove tea bags.
- Cover and let cool to room temperature
- Once cooled, pour over the scoby and starter in the glass jar
- Cover jar with coffee filter and secure with rubber band
Let sit in a warm place for 1 week. After this time, it should smell slightly vinegary and a bit like apple cider. Your kombucha will be sparkling and pleasant to taste. There should not be any sweetness left. If there is, allow it to sit for another day before tasting again.
Your kombucha scoby should be clean and mold free, with no foul odors or colors. After each batch, you will notice that your scoby has thickened into another layer, this is a new baby! Peel away this layer with clean hands and share with a friend, make two batches at once or simply compost it. I often leave them on and mine become almost an inch thick before I decide what to do with the extra. This has no effect on the final product.