09 December 2010


Preludes, Disclaimers, Caveats, and Notes:
THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS - everything below is my own opinion, feel free to follow or ignore it as you please - either way at your own risk ;-) Any information that appears more "fact" than "opinion" can likely be confirmed through the Wikipedia article below, which appears quite comprehensive, (though that may not be where I actually obtained the information). If you have any questions, please put them in the posts section (unless you'd like to keep it private for some reason) - that way everyone can see your question and the two-cents I'll eventually deposit in response.

Also feel free to email me at josh DOT reich AT gmail DOT com, I'll be happy to send you a dropbox invite w/ many alternate recipes, handouts and articles. Also if you are in the Columbia area and would like to drop by, I'm happy to provide starter.

What is it?

Kombucha is a beverage brewed using sweet tea and a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast - often referred to affectionately by it's acronym, SCOOBY, or called a mother (as in mother of kombucha), or mushroom (just a nickname, no mushroom in there). A scooby looks like a flat pancake of whitish material. It's actually a colony of lots of unicellular organisms that work together - when given an encouraging environment - to transform sugary tea into kombucha (same way yogurt starter makes more yogurt, sourdough starter makes bread, etc.)

The particular little guys living in kombucha are:
- lactobacilli (they make sugar into lactic acid)
- yeast (they make sugar into alcohol and CO2)
- acetobacter (they make alcohol into vinegar)
and can convert 108 glucose molecules per hour into cellulose! Cellulose is the same stuff that plants use to build their cell walls, although no one is quite sure why acetobacter make it (so far as I know).
- possibly some other guys - there's a bunch I don't know about kombucha :-)

How to make some of your own:
- Josh's Very Simple Instructions:

1 Fill a pot w/ water
2 Add white sugar (1-2 cups per gallon)
3 Bring to boil
4 Add plain black tea (3-6 bags), steep 15 min.
5 Remove tea, allow to cool while covered, at some point transfer to wide-mouthed glass jar
6. When bathwater warm or cooler, pour in Scooby and starter liquid (at least a cups per gallon is a good idea)
7. Cover jar with cloth and secure w/ rubber band
8. Put in a non-sunny, clean, and warm place, wait.

- Instructables has lots of good video demos
- Anise's Kombucha Recipe

There are lots of conflicting claims about the healthfulness about kombucha. So far as I can tell it seems to me like it might be helpful to you, so long as you are hygenic when preparing it (only use utensils and hands cleaned with warm soapy water (make sure no soap residue is sticking to anything though!) and pay attention to your nose, mouth, and body and use a non-reactive container - glass is best, definitely nothing that might leach metal. After all our bodies have evolved/been designed to detect when something is off. Unfortunately, our industrial food culture has discouraged, if not actively interfered with, the natural development our built-in defense mechanisms, so you may have to give your body time to relearn these innate skills - slow and steady wins the race! When in doubt / if you are worried, smell the object of your consideration for a bit, see if your body is interested in trying it. If so taste a bit. Seems okay? Eat a little, wait some time and see there seem to be any ill effects.

Truthfully, I think you are many orders of magnitude more likely to encounter food illness when eating food from your local restaurant (you don't want to see what happens in that kitchen) or your industrially produced food/food-like products at the super market (you really, really don't want to know about that) than the stuff you, your friends, or your local food producer make for yourselves. See the Misc. section for a couple more thoughts on that.

The sources below offer some "food for thought". In general, I deem articles w/o references significantly less reliable. The Mayo clinic and Wikipedia offer two different conclusion that are based on at least some scientific evidence. The link labeled "pure propaganda" is precisely that in my opinion. Of course, reputable sources citing reasonable sources can differ (as above). When evaluating these, I assess their arguments with my own common sense, and will often check the primary sources they cite. In this case, I find Wikipedia's take more persuasive than the Mayo clinic's - despite the fact that I trust the Mayo clinic in general more than Wikipedia. The link below these gives you an original copy of the CDC report providing one of the bases for the Mayo clinic's recommendation. Finally, you'll find a link to an in-depth Time's article discussing the various opinions held about kombucha.

- Mayo Clinic
- Wikipedia
- Pure Propaganda
- CDC Findings
- Both sides - "Magic Mushroom or Toxic Fad"

There's always some nonsense or hysteria floating around. Apparently the current fear is that people might become terribly drunk on commercial kombucha that has been sitting on the shelf for many months. I personally think we've got better things to worry about - like making sure our food is safe to eat, instead of worrying about whether it might in the off chance make a couple of folks ever so slightly buzzed.