Kombucha: Probiotics for Preppers without Dairy Animals
You might need to take probiotics if a course of antibiotics kills off the “friendly” bacteria in your intestinal tract. Most people know about probiotics available in yogurts with live cultures, but the prerequisite there is milk. If you’re a prepper who doesn’t have a dairy animal in your preps, are vegan, or are lactose-intolerant, you can’t or won’t be able to resupply your gut with yogurt. If that’s you, kombucha is your answer.
As a complete aside, did you know that you can grow tea here in the U.S.? Since you need it for kombucha, that’s an important consideration.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is an ancient sour, bubbly, fermented tea with chunky strings of bacteria in it. It’s got probiotics for sure, and a whole host of other health benefit claims that may or may not be true. You can buy it in stores or you can make it at home.
Funky and tart, I love the taste of it and feel like it helps me stay healthy. My family brews it at home because we’re fairly stringent in our food preparation and, of course, we’re frugal.
However, there are some medical concerns, so don’t just skip down to the instructions on brewing your own kombucha.
Some Background on Kombucha
Also called the “mushroom tea” and the “Manchurian tea”, kombucha is a fermented drink featuring a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria that forms into a floating pancake. The nytimes.com article starts by describing one such 20 pound pancake, although we’ve never left one to grow that large.
Kombucha is an ancient drink, although it became the rage in the health food circles as a new product back around 2003. It originated in China some 2,000 years ago, making its way from there to Japan, Russia, and India, and then to the rest of the world. It’s now been adopted by major American beverage makers like Coca-cola and is readily available at a premium in most large grocery stores.
Of course, this site is for preppers and sole proprietorship entrepreneurs, so I’m not about to go deeper into where it’s available. It used to be that the only way you could get this purportedly wonder-beverage was by brewing it at home, and that’s exactly how my wife does it – and how I suggest you do it too. Since it’s an acquired taste, you might want to pick up a commercial variety to try it before you go about buying the supplies you’ll need for home brewing, but by no means should you start filling the pockets of the mega-corporations for stuff you can easily make at home.
Kombucha is Not for Everyone
There’s a ton of reputed health benefits that have not been confirmed by the medical establishment. While I do list these below, along with some of the warnings from medically-oriented websites, please keep in mind that I am not a doctor and don’t have any medical training. These observations and instructions are based on my experience and the research I’ve done for this article, but as always you should proceed with caution and consult a physician if you have any concerns. In short, “kombucha is not recommended to prevent or cure any disease” and so on.
Even if, like me, you’re not overly concerned about modern medicine’s opinion, kombucha might still not be for you. It’s got a sour vinegar taste and distinctly funky odor. If you don’t prepare it correctly, you could accidentally create something quite harmful instead of healthful, so if you’re not going to bother to do it right, you might want to just buy commercial kombucha preparations.
The Health Claims Of & Good Stuff In Kombucha
It’s been claimed that kombucha fights cholesterol, improves digestion and liver function, lessens hair loss, and mitigates cancer, although the official medical establishment does not endorse those claims. Kombucha is popular as a detox drink and it’s definitely got probiotics (which have more specific health benefits, more on that below). The bodyecology.com article adds in a sense of enhanced well-being, energy, weight loss, anti-microbial action against bacteria like E. Coli, and possibly anti-fungal properties.
- If you make your kombucha using black or green tea, which is typical, it’s also got the B vitamins and antioxidants found in those teas.
- The active.com article also lists vitamin C, polyphenols (a type of antioxidant), vital amino acids, and organic acids as health-giving parts of kombucha.
- Finished kombucha also has a very low amount of ethanol per Wikipedia, although not enough to classify it as alcoholic (normally).
- Two large reviews, taken together, suggest that probiotics reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 60%.
- Probiotic therapy might help Chrohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and urogenital health.
- Probiotics are generally considered safe, but there’s a theoretical risk for people with low immune function.
There’s been reports of serious issues like liver damage and metabolic acidosis from copious consumption of kombucha, which is inline with the high acidic content it has. Some people are also allergic or may become nauseous. The nytimes.com article cites a doctor who advises that pregnant women, old people, children, and folks with compromised immune systems should also not consume kombucha. The mayoclinic.com article by a doctor flat-out advises against drinking kombucha, by the way. The FDA report cited by msnbc.msn.com states:
Drinking this tea in quantities typically consumed (about 4 ounces daily) may not cause adverse effects in healthy persons; however, the potential health risks are unknown for those with preexisting health problems or those who drink excessive quantities of the tea.
Probiotics: The Good Stuff in Yogurt, Kefir, and Kombucha
Probiotics are intestinal bacteria; there’s over 400 types in the normal human’s digestive tract. Per webmd.com, most people use probiotics for gas, diarrhea, and cramping caused by antibiotics. This is because antibiotics can kill off the good bacteria in your gut, so you may need to replenish them for proper digestive function. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide article notes that probiotics help keep pathogens in check, aid nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune system function.
- Diarrhea, especially after antibiotics
- Vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Bladder cancer recurrence
- Ezcema in children
- Colds & flu
How to Brew Kombucha at Home
Most of the ill-health reports of kombucha regard home-brewed tea, so you need to avoid contamination of your kombucha as much as possible. If you keep your work area, implements, and the containers clean, then the acid in the mixture should destroy unwanted strains of bacteria. The most likely contaminant is common mold, which is usually green, brown, or black. If you see mold or the usual pancake does not form, your kombucha is ruined – you need to toss it out and start again. Per the recipe on thekitchn.com, too, note that a cheesy or rotten odor also indicates it’s time to start fresh.
Per wikipedia, the pH of kombucha should be between 2.5 and 4.6 – higher than 4.6 and molds or unwanted bacteria won’t be inhibited. So, you may want to test the pH at the start and end of brewing to be sure that this condition was maintained. Adding some distilled vinegar can help increase the acidity of your mixture, if it’s too low. However, since you normally add in some of your previous batch into your new batches, that’s usually not necessary. You can use pH strips or a pH meter to test the acidity of your brew.
- Brew your base tea.
Brew up a large batch of black tea, green tea, or white tea. Other teas like Earl Gray will probably have oils that will harm your kombucha, and herbal teas probably won’t have as many health benefits.
- Add sugar.
Sweeten the tea by adding one cup of sugar per gallon of tea. The sugar is necessary for the desired kombucha bacteria to grow. You can use brown sugar, molasses, cane sugar, or pasteurized honey (although honey won’t work as well). The foodrenegade.com recipe notes that honey and agave nectar did not work for the author and the video from CulturesforHealth at the bottom of this article notes that white sugar is much better than the other choices because of its effect on the pH balance.
- Let cool.
It may take a couple of hours for your tea to cool completely.
- Put into your brewing container.
Put your sweetened tea into a large glass jar or similar container. The mayoclinic.com article warns that ceramic containers might be inadvisable because the acid in the brew could leach lead from the glaze.
- Add in your starter.
You need to add some kombucha pancakes from a previous batch or that you obtain.
- These “mushrooms” (also called “scobies” from the bio-acronym SCOBY) come with a bit of juice; add in the juice and then carefully place the pancake on top of your tea. If you don’t have a lot of tea and the pH isn’t right, you may need to add in some distilled vinegar.
- If you need to obtain a kombucha pancake for the first time and none of your friends or family have one, check the end of this post for a list of possible online vendors you might consider.
- The active.com article also says you can grow one at home just using a raw kombucha drink from a health store; I haven’t tried that and foodrenegade.com has an article about the failure you will probably find with that approach.
Cover it with a breathable cloth (I use cheesecloth). Air is needed for the bacteria to grow; you can’t seal it tight. You might want to rubber-band it to the lid to seal it as well as possible.
- Let it sit.
Move it someplace without a lot of light. Wait at least 5 days, although for a stronger fermentation you might want to wait for up to 14 days. It also depends on your temperature; the colder it is the longer the fermentation process will take.
- Sift out the “mother” starter and new “baby”, if one formed.
Take out the starter you put in during step 5. A new pancake may have formed on the top; if so separate this “baby” from the “mother”. You need to store these away with some of the fermented tea (10-25% of your total yield), both to keep them alive and for addition to your new batch. Depending on your temperature, you may want to put the patty or patties into the refrigerator – but you don’t want them to sit for too long without starting them on a new batch. If you got a “baby” pancake and are only going to use one, just use that one and discard or give away the “mother”.
- Optionally, add in fruit juice.
If you’re the sensitive type, add in some fruit juice for a better flavor at this point. I’ve never done this because I enjoy the flavor of kombucha. If you do this, put a lid on your jar and put it away for another 48 hours after adding the juice.
If you would prefer visuals of this process or other recipes, there’s quite a good selection on instructables.com and a video below. If you start having trouble with your kombucha brewing, kombucha_balance on users.bestweb.net has some troubleshooting tips.
How to Make Kombucha Tea – CulturesforHealth
References & Further Reading
- Trendy fizzy drink is mushrooming – msnbc.msn.com
- A Strange Brew May Be a Good Thing – nytimes.com
- What is kombucha tea? Does it have any health benefits? – mayoclinic.com
- Kombucha: A Probiotic for Athletes – active.com
- Kombucha: What It Is and Its Health Benefits … and Health Drawbacks – bodyecology.com
- Kombucha: A Healthy Probiotic Rich Vegan Drink – cleancuisineandmore.com
- Crazy About Kombucha – robbwolf.com
- How to Brew Kombucha — Double Fermentation Method – foodrenegade.com
- Kombucha – instructables.com
- How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home – thekitchn.com
- Health benefits of taking probiotics – health.harvard.edu
- Probiotics – Topic Overview – webmd.com
- Probiotics – medicinenet.com
- Is it important to include probiotics and prebiotics in a healthy diet? – mayoclinic.com
- Probiotics’ Benefits May Be More Than a Gut Feeling – online.wsj.com
- Probiotics – nccam.nih.gov
- Kombucha – wikipedia.org
Please note that I am not recommending any of these stores and that you should competitively shop around and check the reputations of any online vendors before you buy. My family obtained our starting culture from a friend, I’ve never ordered kombucha kits from any of these companies.
- Kombucha Starter Kits on Amazon
- Resources on foodrenegade.com
- Flavored Kombucha Brooklyn Kit
- KombuchaKamp: Trust Your Gut
and you must link back if you use it elsewhere.