Joining the Culture Club! Keeping it simple when making water kefir & kombucha
Fermenting is all the rage right now and why not? Many of us have compromised gut health either due to genetics or stress/lifestyle and so it’s important to ingest as much good bacteria as possible from as many different sources as possible.
What is stress?
Stress is not just how something makes you feel emotionally, because, in fact, your body interprets all stress the same way. So stress could be the fact that you have to take on-going medication, it could be that you have taken lots of antibiotics in the past, it could be due to surgery, excessive exercise or extreme fitness event, it could be environmental, your diet, some kind of allergy or infection and even things like change of life – menopause, puberty and even pregnancy/childbirth etc etc.
Therefore, it’s worth remembering that diet is extremely important, but only one aspect of what it means to be healthy overall. There are many other things to be mindful of.
A while ago a friend asked me to check out her kombucha efforts. It all looked pretty fine except the recipe she’d been given and the directions she’d been told to follow seemed to have far more steps than I have ever used. I’ve been making it now for almost 20 years and pretty much, it’s never failed. But, I wouldn’t bother if it was two pages of convolution – who would? Nobody has the time.
I know milk kefir is great for you but I’m not particularly a fan. I don’t always feel like a “heavy” smoothie every day and if you don’t want the smell of baby vomit wafting from your cupboard, I do think water kefir is preferable (just my opinion). However, I felt my eyes spinning when a friend who hadn’t had much success with it, give me her account of how to make it. Again, it all seemed so complex. But yet, a deep breath and some Googling later, I discovered that it wasn’t at all difficult, it’s just that we do seem to like to complicate things!
So..here are my easy recipes for water kefir and kombucha. Try this if you haven’t already and then play around with flavours once you have it sussed!
- Always use super clean utensils – stainless steel if possible. Thoroughly clean your work surface.
- Boil just over 2 litres water for a few minutes, preferably in a stainless steel saucepan.
- Steep 3-6 tea bags – *green or black – for five minutes or so (*fruit or herbal teas can produce a nice tasting tea but the “scobie” may look bedraggled and you won’t “reproduce” a baby scobie).
- Remove tea bags and stir in just over one cup (250mls) white sugar until dissolved (white sugar works better but raw is okay, coconut sugar won’t work).
- Cool to room temp (maybe cover with a clean teacloth so no bugs, fruit fly or dust get in) and then pour into your clean, preferably sterilised jar. Big, thick jars are better and you can half this recipe for a litre jar or make two batches.
- Add your “scobie” and some starter tea from a previous batch (or some plain white vinegar if you do not think you have enough – cider vinegar won’t work)
- Cover glass jar with clean tea cloth or muslin and secure with an elastic band.
- Keep undisturbed in a warm spot for between 7-28 days depending on season/warmth and whether or not the scobie has been stored in the fridge (may take longer). When you see the “fizz” forming on the top of the liquid (see main image – note I have uncovered the jar just to show you, never brew it like this!), this is the new scobie beginning to develop so don’t disturb it. Often you can tell by the aroma too if it is done. It will take a lot longer when it’s cold though, sometimes up to six weeks.
- Ideally the scobie looks like a white pancake but it may depend on the amount / depth of the tannin in the tea used.
- When brewed, remove scobies and some tea to use as a “starter” for your next batch. Store scobies in a little tea in glass jars in the fridge preferably with plastic lids. Give them away or keep as spares in case you accidentally kill some (oooops!). This can happen when it is very cold and/or the kombucha is left in a damp, cold spot. BE VERY CAREFUL AND CHUCK OUT IMMEDIATELY IF YOU SEE MOLD OR BLACK STUFF THAT’S OBVIOUSLY NOT TANNIN ON YOUR SCOBIE. DO NOT DRINK THE TEA IF THIS HAPPENS).
- Put a preferably plastic lid on your batch of freshly brewed kombucha as this helps it to become carbonated. If you leave out of the fridge like I do, it will continue to get fizzy and become tarter as the time goes on. You might even get another baby scobie appearing on the top.
- PS – You can store your unused scobies in the fridge for quite a long time but don’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to get going if you restart.
Simple Water Kefir
As I said, I am fairly new to water kefir and played around a bit, checking out all recipes, adding eggshells and this and that until I discovered that hey, soft brown sugar works amazingly well. In fact, my original two teaspoons or so of starter culture ended up reproducing quickly and looked like it was on steroids so there I am certain there is no need for any other additions! Apparently, the kefir needs minerals in order to reproduce – but it is possible to over-mineralise your brew as well. So..I kept it simple and used pure water (I am sure tap water in most parts of the modern world would work fine – but I might boil and cool it first) and soft brown sugar.
Soft brown sugar has more minerals that raw sugar and raw sugar has more than white. So…if you were using white, perhaps you might need to add a few other bits and pieces. But this is a lot more simple and we all want it simple, right?
- Use a strong, two-litre glass jar. (Halve the recipe for a litre jar).
- Dissolve one cup (250mls) soft, brown sugar in a small amount of water. To this add more water almost to the top (approx 4/5 of the jar).
- Make sure your liquid is room temperature and add between a teaspoon to a dessert spoon of kefir culture (see image above).
- Pop a piece of muslin or a clean teacloth on the top (see image below) and then put in a dark cupboard (or somewhere away from intense UV light) for between 24-48 hours depending on the temperature. In the heat, 48 hours may make the brew taste a little bit yeasty, but when it’s cooler, 24 hours may not be enough. So this is a guide only. Perhaps begin with 48 and see how you go.
- After 24-48 hours, drain the liquid into another jar preferably through a plastic sieve. Hopefully you should have more culture than you began with!
- To your liquid, add some decent fruit juice – organic is better and I believe citrus may not work as well but by all means experiment and some fruit. The nicest flavoured one I have made so far was with organic apple and blackcurrent juice and fresh ginger.
- Pop a tight lid on the jar and put back in your cupboard for 2-4 days to carbonate. I think that wide mouthed jars are better as the teeny tiny mouthed bottles that click shut super tightly may explode…..it can be a good idea to “burp” the bottles/jars, just in case.
- Repeat and begin experimenting!
- To store your culture, make a small batch of sugary water – just over a heaped teaspoon or so in a small tub should be enough – and pop the culture in. If you are not using for a while, be sure to drain and change this sugary water every few days if possible.
Tip: As your “grains” proliferate, separate and store a batch separately so you have a back up in case you accidentally kill them…