So recently, i’ve gotten really into fermenting. Last week we had a Pickling workshop – which was so much fun – and I got to thinking that as a Microbiology student studying bacteria and as a garden enthusiast, I really ought to know more about fermenting. So i started with pickling many things (carrots, cucumbers, even garlic!) and lacto-fermenting cabbage to make sauerkraut.
Have you ever heard of Kombucha? It’s a fermented sweet tea that boasts many health benefits, some of which I can see being true, some of which might be a stretch. But even if the health effects are not always validated, Kombucha is delicious. It is tangy and slightly vinegary, but also has a pleasant sweetness. It is also usually carbonated, which is a product of the beneficial fermenting bacteria and yeast. If you are curious, there are a few companies popping up that are fermenting and bottling on a large scale, so see if you can find a bottle. Trust me, it will be very worth it.
So What Exactly is It?
As I mentioned, Kombucha is a fermented black or green sweet tea. It uses something called a SCOBY to ferment the pre-steeped, pre-sweetened tea into Kombucha. SCOBY is actually an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, and it does most of the work for you. SCOBY’s are sometimes referred to as kombucha mothers. It is said to contain many enzymes and probiotics that aid in digestion and help overall gastrointestinal health. Also as I mentioned before, the health benefits have not truly been validated by research, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.
So I was excited. I got everything I needed and got started. For the record, you can obtain a SCOBY by ordering one online or getting it from a kombucha brewing friend, or you can make one yourself. I went for the making one myself route, but be warned that it can go very wrong and you must be careful when attempting to do it this way. The SCOBY protects your ferment from the bad and harmful bacteria, but when it is not present, they are able to flourish. So when making a SCOBY you must constantly check for bad smells, wonky colours and anything that looks off. It is much easier to simply purchase one, but I thought there is no harm in trying! I followed this instruction from thekitchn.com (seriously that site is are awesome, check them out!)
A healthy, well established SCOBY looks like this:
Kinda gross looking, I know. But the thing they produce is so much better than that SCOBY looks that you can kinda turn a blind eye to the gelatinous, goopy mound of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that are necessary to make it.
So to make my SCOBY, I used a bottle of Kombucha I picked up at a local grocery store, 7 cups of black tea and 1 and 1/2 cup of sugar. I also needed a 2L jar to hold all of it. After letting the sweetened tea cool and adding the store-bought Kombucha, I placed a good number of layers of cheesecloth over the jar and placed an elastic band over it. It now has to sit somewhere where it won’t get jostled around and is out of direct sunlight. This will help the SCOBY grow properly (sunlight will inhibit proper growth). It has to sit for roughly 3-4 weeks until it has formed enough to be removed and ferment my first batch of Kombucha! It is important to note here that the fermented tea from my Kombucha SCOBY making will be much too vinegary for any enjoyment and will need to be thrown out after I retrieve my Kombucha mother.
I am very much looking forward to this process. I also understand that it is a delicate one that requires I be careful and always trust my senses. This is an important rule for all of fermenting – if it smells off, looks funny or tastes funny, THROW IT OUT! But those funny smells and black/green moulds are all part of the learning process. Keep your eye’s peeled for updates on my Kombucha experiment, and more on lacto-fermented all kinds of things from cabbage to garlic scapes!
~ Landon Getz, External Coordinator
P.S. Pickled Garlic Scapes are truly delicious!!