Fermenting: How to make Kombucha and Kefir
I came across Kombucha and Kefir through friends. When they described what they were making and and how they were using it I was fascinated. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast (lovely pro-biotics.) This is what both Kombucha (kom-boosh-a) and Kefir (keh-fear) are made with, though different types with different ingredients. I was intrigued, science experiments, food products, knowledge and creativity all in one go, excellent. It doesnt get more interesting than that for me (except maybe using the SCOBY from Kombucha to make into shoes and clothes! more on that later.)
Some my Kombucha brewing in jars (you can see the SCOBY)
Some of my Kefir ready to use
Kombucha is expensive as an organic healthfood drink. I have to also point out that success rates using the bought ones as a starter tea are low. It seems there isnt enough of the good stuff in what you can buy. More reason to make it. It starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of a SCOBY that is very close cousins to the mother used to make vinegar. The scoby bacteria and yeast eat most of the sugar in the tea, transforming the tea into a fizzy, refreshing healthy beverage full of probiotics with low sugar. Lets take a moment to imagine carbonated sodas..
The cool stuff that floats on top, it’s rubbery and slightly spongy, brown stringy bits hang from it. My 12 y old boy thinks its weird and fascinating. So do I. It would seem the bacteria and yeast form this jelly-like layer of cellulose at the top of the kombucha to protect the fermenting tea from the air and help maintain a very specific environment inside the jar and shield it from unfriendly bacteria. It has been around for a very long time -before our modern disinfectants and anti-bacterials 😉 If the SCOBY is healthy then the Kombucha will be. It is a living thing and changes are normal and will usually reflect changes of the environment (your kitchen) It will smell nasty and cheesy rather than vinegary if something has gone wrong. If you see signs of mold, throw it all away and start from scratch. If the scoby becomes black, or develops green or black mold, it is has become infected or is past its life span and will also need to be thown away. Look after your magical weird and friendly SCOBY and it will look after you. Make your tea carefully and peel off the bottom (or oldest) layer every few batches. You could give it to a friend to start their own along with enough brew for a starter tea. Failing that you can purchase them online, be sure to validate their quality. You can also make your own starter tea using cider/unpasteurised white vinegar. Starter tea is acidic and keeps out the unfriendly bacterias during early brewing.
Im going to start you off with a small amount because I assume you only have one or two SCOBYs from a friend and a couple of jars. Most online recipes have double this. Dont use antibac to wash your hands 😉
- You need around 3 pints of water and boil this for 5 mins to purify it
- Add 3/4 tea bags (or a tablespoon of loose tea)
- Stir in 100g sugar til dissolved and leave it to cool (you can try green or oolong too, but avoid flavoured. Earl grey is said to be difficult as it has a higher oil content.)
- Wait until room temperature before adding the SCOBY and prepare your jar as you would for a preserve (in the oven on a low setting for 10 mins is fine.)
- Add to your jar when cool then add the starter tea or vinegar (should make up around 10%)
- Slide the SCOBY onto to the top (do not wear gloves) cover with cheesecloth or paper towels and secure with an elastic band. It needs to be breathable but able to keep out fruit flies.
I now have a ‘Kombucha cupboard’ The scoby multiplies with every use and you keep a continous cycle going.
- Place somewhere warm and preferably dark (certainly not in direct sunlight or a draught) and where it wont be knocked. for around a week to 10 days check on it occasionally, you should see the SCOBY growing and the stringy bits forming. It may be positioned anywhere in the jar. You can taste it once it smells vinegary, if the SCOBY has formed use it now if you like it or leave it til it has a more appealing flavour.
When it is ready to bottle you can prepare your tea for the next batch and have it ready for your SCOBY Which will have made you a baby, so now you have 2! Remember to save your starter tea’s from this batch before bottling. Bottling creates carbonation, and adds the fizz. Be aware of the lids you choose if you carbonate, I use the swing top bottles.To carbonate bottle up to the top and leave on the work top for 2-3 days then refigerate before use. You can flavour kombucha with freshly squeezed fruit juice or pieces of fruit/herbs in the bottle or you could add flavouring ingredients and leave with the cheesecloth cover for a day or two, then strain and bottle so it has no bits. It tastes better cold and this stops carbonation (and fermentation if you go on holiday)
This is an Oolong tea brew that is carbonating with orange
If you ever forget a batch and leave it brewing too long it is still useful (dont believe the wiki how on this and throw it away!) It makes kombucha vinegar which can be used in home made hair and beauty products, cleaning products, salad dressings and marinades 🙂
Almost forgot. This is really cool. Remember one scoby will make whatever size batch you require. You could make a bathtub full and it will make a bath sized scoby! If you dried that out what could you do with it? well this lady made a bit of an interesting breakthrough in the textile industry with shoes and a skirt! 😀 http://blog.ted.com/2014/02/05/the-skirt-and-shoe-made-from-kombucha/ Are you getting ideas for patchwork scoby’s? or you could just compost them.
You’ll be pleased to know this is a bit easier. You will need a friend to donate a little with some grains in, the Kefir grains are the SCOBY. Milk Kefir (you can get water kefir too) is a lot like the expensive yogurt drinks you can buy but they are a lot more expensive and less effective. Kefir also has the added beneficial yeast as well as beneficial bacteria. It also reduces the lactose content of the milk by quite a bit. Add the grains to your prepared jar and add your milk to the jar, you could experiment with how much to use, the grains will grow and multiply over time. Then leave the jar in a warm spot in the kitchen until it thicken, typically a day or two.
The flavour changes over time and becomes more tart and thick when it begins to seperate into curds and whey, at this point or just before you should stir the jar again and strain the grains to use again. The liquid is your lovely creamy, tart, probiotic drink. You can make it into fruit smoothies or even leave the kefir to a point where you can make cheese my straining through a cheesecloth and pressing. My grains are still multiplying but when I have enough I want to have a go at this! You could flavour kefir cheese too with fruit or herbs. Store unused grains in the fridge or pass on to friends 😉 You can also eat them or compost them.
Kefir can be used just about anywhere that buttermilk, yoghurt or cream cheese may be used. Other great ways to use kefir are:
- In smoothies
- To tenderize meat instead of yoghurt
- Served with fruit
- In a cold soup
- In an ice cream recipe
- Poured over cereal
- Used instead of yoghurt to make
- In a healthy milkshake recipe
- As a leavening agent
- In place of buttermilk in baking
- As a starter for a sourdough recipe
- To make a herbed cream cheese, or a fruit-flavoured cream cheese
- To ferment grains or flours
- To help dephytinize grains, cereals, nuts and seeds
- In a salad dressing
- In a pasta sauce
I have to link to this mans blog and Kefir crusade. It has anything and everything else you might want to know about kefir 🙂 http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html