“Just drop it into the tea,” she said, handing me the wet “mushroom” in a zip-lock bag. Moments earlier she had lifted the cloth lid, scooped the bacterial disk out of its watery home (a brew of Kombucha), and poured in some liquid. It was about to embark on a three mile journey south, to carry on its reproductive ways in Greenwich Village. I transported it carefully so as not to crush the live organism or puncture the bag. I carried it as carefully as I once did my goldfish from the pet store.
My friend Juliana, a beautiful, fiery Russian, who collects her own honey and throws parties for emerging artists, has been brewing kombucha for years. I, on the other hand, can count the number of times I have ever had the drink. But anything that tastes this bad, has got to be good.
Following her instructions, I placed the mushroom, (which has nothing to do with mushrooms and looks like a pancake), in a large glass vessel and filled it with cooled-down, lightly sweetened tea. I covered it, slid it to the back of the counter and walked away – for two weeks.
When I returned, a new mushroom as thick as half an English Muffin was reclining on the surface. The original “mother” was floating about and stringy bits were all around her. A faint smell of beer (from the fermenting) was detectable. The reproductive ability of this female was daunting!
I emailed Juliana:
The mushroom is growing at a frightening pace. The new one is fatter than the original and stringy things are all over the place.
Your mushroom is doing just what it should.
Can I freeze some if I grow too many? I don’t want to stop the fun but I fear things will get out of control.
They’ll die if you freeze them. Try eating them cooked like tofu if you wish. I’ve never tried this, but you could experiment on my behalf.
(Though this growth could not continue, I could no more cook my own kombucha mushroom, than I could my own goldfish.)
And the ginger I added while it was fermenting, (which you told me not to), will this harm the mushroom?
It’s a pretty sturdy thing. Just don’t do it again.
And how long do I leave it? Is two weeks enough? I’m expecting it to add ten years to my life so I don’t want to rush it.
Drink it when it tastes good. Two weeks minimum.
And she was gone.
As you’ve gathered, kombucha is fermented tea. It originated in Russia (according to the Russians), though many Asian countries have claimed paternity. Kombucha is an acquired taste, or more specifically, an acquired taste for diluted vinegar. Once you acquire it, the reasoning goes, you’ll fall in love with it. (I’m still at the I-like-you-very-much stage.)
Why the hype
- It’s a probiotic (filled with live bacteria that is good for us). The bacteria and the yeasts in kombucha, stay alive when ingested and continue to populate your gut aiding in digestion and helping fight off sickness-causing bacteria. (As evidence of the alive-ness of the drink, leave kombucha out for several days and you will see bacteria grow on top*. Below are three store-bought kombuchas that I sat out for five days to test their bacterial potency by watching for a “film”. The one on the right appears to be the most virile. **)
- Hundreds of the nutritious compounds in the tea itself, can also get unlocked during the fermentation if the bacteria G. Obeidiens is used***.
- The high enzyme level (found in all raw foods) aids in digestion.
- It contains acids (acetic, glucuronic and gluconic for example) that help balance the pH in our gut and help with liver function. Lactic acid specifically helps eat away at the bad bacteria in our gut. In our blood, on the other hand, we want lower levels of acid, which the acids actually help promote. Foods such as sugar and refined grains, create a more acidic environment in our bodies, while foods such as kombucha and other probiotic rich foods, help lower it.
Worth the hype?
Kombucha’s not going to make up for poor diet, and it’s debatable whether it can actually “cure” any diseases, but it’s certainly a healthy drink, so if you like it, drink it. My only major objection, is the proliferation of highly sweetened versions. Some have over 20g per bottle (10g/serving, 2 servings/bottle), which kind of defeats the purpose of drinking a “cleansing” drink in the first place! It’s like eating kale as a side dish with a Big Mac.
If you’re up for it, play around with growing the bacteria at home. It’s far cheaper, more potent, and delivers an immediate family that asks nothing of you, but a warm room and a place to swim.
Your thoughts? Love it or hate it? Any brands you prefer?
*The bacterial film thickens and turns into the “mushroom” which is then used as the starter for a new batch.
** The three tested were GTs, Ciara’s and High Country. The one on the right is High Country.
***The strains of bacteria used may vary even though they produce similar probiotic benefits. L.bacterium and S. bouldardi are common, but, according to one producer, the bacteria G. Obediens is the original kombucha bacteria.
Want more detail on kombucha’s health benefits? This article has lots.
Get Posts By Email