Kombucha and more fermentation projects to start this fall

Kombucha and more fermentation projects to start this fall

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

When quarantine began in the spring, people found themselves at home a lot more, which lead to people tackling some of those long-term projects that had been put off due to busy schedules, travel and other challenges that interrupt long-term goals and time-consuming projects. Many of those long-term projects included fermenting, whether it was growing and maintaining a sourdough starter, brewing beer, pickling veggies or—our household’s newest fermented product—kombucha.

Kombucha has become more and more popular in the last five years, with its promise of gut probiotics and being a healthy alternative to other fruity and sugary drinks. Now, you can even find recipes for using it in cocktails, as well as doubly fermented hard kombuchas ranging from three to six percent alcohol.

So, what is kombucha?

Essentially, kombucha is fermented tea. Black tea is brewed and then fed a decent helping of sugar. Then comes the “scoby” or the “mother” (the culture of bacteria and yeast) that will eat the sugar in the tea, transforming it into a fizzy fermented drink.

Now, I won’t lie. Kombucha can be a bit of an acquired taste with its sour, fermented flavor, but once you start enjoying it and all of the different flavor combinations available, it might become your new favorite beverage.

Why should you make it at home?

Like most fermenting projects you could ask the same question—you could buy delicious sourdough bread at your local bakery or try lots of different beers from a brewery or bar. While that is easier, it can be exciting to create something new and different from everyday ingredients, like when you grow a sourdough starter from only flour and water. And for kombucha, you get to create your own fizzy drink (without all the added sugar), and the flavor possibilities are truly endless. You might not be able to find what you’re craving at the store.

Kombucha is not as time-consuming as it may seem. The list of equipment is also less demanding than if you were brewing beer. There is some work on the front end to make the sugared tea mixture, but then the scoby takes over for the next few weeks until it’s time to flavor your fermented drink. The waiting then continues while the flavors take, meaning you mix the fermented tea with fruits, juices, herbs, spices, coffee or any other flavorings you want to try.

You are probably asking where you can get a scoby, the bacteria and yeast culture that will get this whole process going. One way is to use a store-bought kombucha, making use of the leftover pieces of scoby in order to build your own. Another way is to find another kombucha brewer who may have a scoby to give you (some people call a whole collection of scobies a “scoby hotel”).

A third option for those in Germany is to check out Berlin-based fermentation company called Fairment. They provide fermentation equipment, ingredients, tutorials and finished products to purchase, ranging from kombucha to yogurt and ginger beer. They also sell full kits for different projects, giving you everything you need in one package.

Of course, with any project like this, it is an experiment. Things could go awry, and you may have to start over. For us, we’ve definitely learned a lot along the way. For the first batch we brewed, our scoby grew black mold—not ideal. This was because we accidentally refrigerated the scoby, so don’t do that! When you do store the scoby, it should be at room temperature in a dark place in leftover tea from your previous batch. For our second scoby, we accidentally let it dry out, which led to another batch of mold. With scoby number three, we had learned our lessons and had more time at home, so we successfully brewed a couple of batches. Flavors ranged from ginger-orange to wild blackberry and Mirabelle plum.

There is a whole world of fermenting out there from some of the more popular items listed above to vinegars, ginger beer, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh and even some cheeses! So, if the beginning of autumn and winter mean searching for a new long-term project, consider growing your fermentation family. We’ve certainly enjoyed having the company of Scoby-Wan-Kenobi and Bready Manilow at our house.

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