Frequently Asked Fridays: What is Kombucha?

Kombucha starter with scoby

One of my goals for 2014 was to start making and eating fermented foods (and drinks), and I’ve done it! I have successfully brewed my first batch of kombucha tea. It all began several weeks ago when a very generous friend of a friend offered me a scoby from one of her batches of tea. I had been wanting to brew some kombucha because of all of the health benefits, but didn’t know where to begin. I felt too intimidated to grow my own scoby, so when the opportunity came to pick one up, I jumped on the chance!

So just what is kombucha??

I’ve gotten a lot of scrunched up noses and quizzical eyebrows in response to my initial post about kombucha tea. The idea of eating fermented foods seems odd, or even dangerous. But it isn’t as foreign as it may seem… vinegar, yogurt, soy sauce, sauerkraut, wine, and sourdough bread are all made by the process of fermentation. In the case of kombucha, it is tea that has been fermented.

Kombucha Scoby

Since sipping, reading, brewing, and sipping some more, I have learned a bit about the strange and wonderful world of fermentation. The term scoby is actually an acronym for symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast. The scoby is a living organism that is made up of healthy (probiotic) bacteria and airborne yeasts. As it forms, it creates a fungal looking disc on the surface of the tea. The scoby feeds on the sugar added to the tea, consuming nearly all of it, as well of the caffeine found in the tea. In turn, it converts the tea into a healthful tonic.

What are the benefits of kombucha?

There are three notable benefits in consuming kombucha tea. The first benefit is that it produces glucuronic acid, the same acid the liver produces. In this way, kombucha aids the liver in purifying the body of foreign toxins. The second benefit is that the scoby infuses the tea with B vitamins. The third benefit is that the tea is filled with many different beneficial bacteria, which helps to strengthen and repopulate the healthy bacteria already found in the intestines.

But like most things, too much of a good thing isn’t good. Be sure to start with about a one ounce (a shot glass), and over the course of a week, increase it to about 4 ounces, two or three times a day, 10- 15 minutes before a meal.

What are the risks of kombucha?

This all sounds great, you may be thinking. But is it safe to make your own? Not only has this beverage been made and consumed for hundreds of years; there are safe-guards to ensure that kombucha is the health supporting beverage it claims to be.

When brewing kombucha, the freshly brewed tea is ‘inoculated’ with some of the already brewed kombucha. This floods the tea with beneficial bacteria, and brings the pH levels down to below 4.5 in which it is nearly impossible for bad bacteria to grow. As the tea ferments over the course of seven to 10 days, the development of beneficial acids, bacteria, and vitamins increases, and the pH levels continue to drop to between 3.5 and 2.8, a level that enables the body to maintain it’s proper pH.

However, if the tea continues to ferment, the pH levels can be too low, causing the body to become too alkaline. Strips to test the pH levels can be purchased to ensure the right balance is achieved; but using a traditional recipe and brewing within the time frame given should ensure that the tea is the right pH when consumed.

It is also worth noting that a very small amount of alcohol develops in the brewing process, often .5% or less; pregnant and breastfeeding mamas should consider abstaining, just to be on the safe side. For more information of safe brewing and consumption, check out this great site.

What should I do to brew successfully?

There are several factors to keep in mind when brewing kombucha to ensure that the scoby remains healthy and viable, and that the tea remains free of any contaminants. Keep the scoby, and the fermenting tea covered at all times. If mould grows on the scoby, throw out the entire batch, scoby and all, and start fresh. There is no way to salvage it! (Sad, but true!) Make sure that the tea has cooled to room temperature before placing the scoby and kombucha into the freshly brewed tea. Make sure that the ratio of tea to kombucha is at least 10 parts to 1 part. (The kombucha should make up 10% of the new brew.)

Ensure that the jar, measuring cups, wooden spoons, and hands are very clean. Do not use anything but wooden spoons or your hands to touch the scoby. Keep the fermenting kombucha out of direct sunlight, away from smoke, and away fat particles in the air. Keep the brewing kombucha between 75-85 degrees farenheit, or 24-30 degrees Celcius.  All of the above, if not followed, can damage the scoby and make it weak, and possibly unable to fight off any bad bacteria that attempt to grow. If these safe-guards are followed, the kombucha that is brewed should be a delicious, healthful beverage that your whole family can enjoy!

Now get brewing! And be sure to share the scoby love with those around you!!


FYI, I am not a health professional, and I am basing this information on my reading and personal experience. I cannot guarantee that the health benefits outweigh the risks for each individual; nor can I guarantee that the kombucha each individual brews following the above protocol can ensure that the tea will not become contaminated. If you have any concerns, please research this topic yourself  before brewing and consuming kombucha tea.



5 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Fridays: What is Kombucha?

  1. Needless to say, I am very keen to try this recipe myself. I have already put the word out to my children in Toronto that they are to find me a mushroom. Thanks for a very useful and timely post, with a lot of explanations I was looking for.

    • Thanks for your kind words Hilda! I am a novice when it comes to fermenting, but I have done a bit of reading, and have found some great sites.
      We are really enjoying our kombucha, and I am looking forward to trying more ferments as well! Your lacto-fermented hummus is definitely on the list!
      Best wishes in finding a scoby. There are some great Facebook groups that might even be able to help in the hunt.

  2. Pingback: Grow. Cook. Eat. Share. Turns One! | Grow. Cook. Eat. Share.

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