There are many ways in which a person may improve their gut health, increasing beneficial gut flora and reducing inflammation, in the home kitchen. There are lots of blogs and health pages with recipes and recommendations on this subject. And I'm not claiming any level of expertise. In the past years, however, in an effort to heal my own intestinal troubles, and boost the gut biome of my children, I've embarked on some fermentation and some broth making. Of the fermented foods and drinks I've tried, my firm favourite is Kombucha.
Kombucha is a fermented tea. The process of making it is an easy-paced and colourful affair that I have to say I enjoy very much. For a full set of easy to follow instructions click here. Essentially though, what happens is, you make a big saucepan of tea (there...it's the perfect ferment for irish people,) and put it into a glass jar with a bacterial culture known as a scoby. There it sits for seven to ten days, then you strain the fermented tea, pour it into bottles and enjoy it at your leisure. What has made it perhaps the most successful of the ferments I've tried is that it really is enjoyable. Not too sweet, with a slightly appley flavour, and carbonated, it is a very pleasant drink, even by sweet-toothed kids standards.
The process of brewing Kombucha can be staggered into manageable stages, so that the whole kitchen is not necessarily commandeered for this one task. When you initially get a scoby, it arrives with some kombucha tea in which it has survived it's journey. Scobies can last a week or more in this much tea, and every time you bottle a batch you leave a mug to go into the new brew with the scoby in order to maintain the correct PH. That means that you can, feasibly, bottle your tea one evening but leave your scoby waiting in its mug of tea till the following day or a couple of days later if you don't have time to brew a fresh pot. The thing is though, you won't wait long to brew a fresh pot because you will want to keep your supply going. Plus, brewing up a pot of tea really isn't a big job, boil some water, add tea and sugar, bring back to the boil and then let it go cold. You can let it cool overnight and add your scoby to it the next day.
Another thing that I like very much about Kombucha is that you can experiment with lots of different types of tea. With the caveat that it's a good idea to always add some black tea. So far I've tried Matcha (Slightly bitter), Pu-errh (a lovely rich colour and a more earthy flavour) and Gunpowder (A warm yellow colour with just the right amount of tang and sweetness...I'm biased, I love gunpowder). You can also do a second ferment by adding fruit to the bottles. This is the really fun part. Some fruity options are raspberies, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, lemon or orange juice. I set some strawberries this year with just this in mind, but alas, they got sizzled up in he heatwave. The same heatwave resulted in a bumper blackberry crop this year though, so as far as fruity kombucha goes, we're all set.
Lastly, there is the whole fermenting community, both local and global, very visible now in facebook groups, making it easy to find cultures of all sorts. These are available for free, passed on in good will and goodfaith by enthusiasts all around the world. A lovely example of how old fashioned co-operation is still very much alive, and, dare I say it, facillitated in this particular area by the social media we often criticise for isolating us.
I've found that the bottles you buy for canning/pickling/homebrew had very flimsy and tiresome lids. You can use recycled bottles of any sort with screw-cap lids......3 litre vodka bottles from the pub, wine bottles, olive oil bottles. And oddly, I have been finding the whole process of washing and de-labelling these to be hugely comforting. Maybe because when I was a kid my Dad used to collect bottles from the pub for use in his chemist shop, and we would all help with the process of washing these for re-use. I've also found that a ferment left sitting for 10 or 11 days is nicer and more carbonated than a seven day one. As time went by and it became the favourite ferment, and in fact the favourite drink in the house, I began brewing in 8L drinks dispensers. This yields 15L per week. a lot of people brew continuously using this method, taking out a litre a day, and replacing it with fresh tea. I find one big brew per week more manageable. When a brew has been bottled, there is the option of leaving the scobies sitting in their tea base until you are ready to brew again. Its hard to go wrong really...the Kombucha will become vinegary if left brewing too long, but unless they come in contact wih mould, the scobies are pretty indestructible. There is a caution with Kombucha that if it's stored over a period of time it becomes highly carbonated and can shatter a bottle if the lid is too tightly closed, but as of yet I haven't had any bottles sitting around..... it tends to get consumed pretty fast. As health-boosting efforts go this one comes highly recommended, and yes I'm culturing scobies to share, so give me a shout if you would like to give it a go.
Baile an tSéipéil
Co. na Gaillimhe
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