Kvass and Kombucha

Kvass and Kombucha

Rather than drinking water, I’ve been aiming to have most of my drinks as something fermented and/or more nourishing.  Apparently two of the most immune-boosting drinks are Beet Kvass, which is apparently a household item in Russia, stored in the fridge for medicinal purposes and an excellent replacement for vitamin supplements; and Kombucha, another Russian drink which is a powerful immune booster and detoxifier.  Check out the Traditional Foods link in my side bar for more information about the health value of these drinks.  Many people have reported dramatic improvement from illnesses just from drinking one of these drinks and changing nothing else in their diet.

Since Kombucha and Kvass became a regular part of my diet, I’ve been serving it to friends, and these days I am asked regularly for the recipes for both.

Beet Kvass

Get a four litre vessel – I use one with a lid but if yours doesn’t have one you could probably cover it with a cloth to keep out insects.

Add 2 teaspoons of celtic sea salt.  Other recipes for this drink call for more salt but this is what works for me.

Peel and dice 4-5 large organic beetroots, or more smaller ones.  Add to the vessel.

Add 1/4 cup of starter culture.  For this you could use a previous batch of kvass, or some whey.  To make whey, buy some yoghurt, line a cup with a tea towel, spoon in some yoghurt, and then lift the tea towel a bit so that the whey can drip through.

Now fill the vessel to the top with water, ideally filtered.  Let sit at room temperature for 48 hours, then strain and store liquid in the fridge.

At this stage you can refill the vessel with water for another, weaker batch of kvass.  I usually add water until it’s half to two-thirds full, as it comes out stronger this way.  Again, leave it for 48 hours then strain and put the liquid in the fridge.  Chuck out the beets.

Mine tastes like a very diluted beetroot juice with some lemon added, and sometimes it’s a little fizzy.  Sometimes it’s beautifully sweet.  Each batch is different in flavour, probably depending on the quality of the beets.  Drink half to one glass, morning and night.  I drink much more than this, and when I go out I half fill a water bottle with kvass then top up with water.

Kombucha Tea

To make Kombucha you need about a cup to a cup and a half of a previous batch of Kombucha.  Kombucha develops a rubbery scoby, also referred to as a “mother” or a “mushroom”, which is really a colony of beneficial bacteria.  This is generally used to start the next batch, although you don’t actually need it – the liquid is more important.

Make up a litre of tea solution: put 2-3 organic black teabags and 1/4 cup unbleached organic white sugar into a litre of boiling water, and allow to steep until warm enough to comfortably leave your finger in it for ten seconds, or until it’s cool.  (The kombucha may work with other teas and other sweeteners, but it is with black tea and white sugar that you get the highest amount of the beneficial acids.)

Put at least a cup of kombucha tea and the scoby into a vessel (can be a plastic bucket, can be a glass jar – whatever), and feed it with the litre of tea solution.  Cover it with a clean cloth or paper kitchen towel and secure with a rubber band.  You want the kombucha to breathe but not get dirty.

Put your vessel in a warm place.  Kombucha cultures are most active between 22-30 degrees celsius.  Below 16 degrees or above 30, the cultures begin to die off.

Wait 7-10 days for the cultures to digest the sugar and tea, and turn it into a very beneficial acid.  Taste it from time to time – gradually the tea taste disappears and a sour flavour is introduced.  Ideally you would drink it as sour as you can while still enjoying it – this way more of the sugar has been digested.  The more starter liquid you had, the less time you need to wait, as there will be more of the beneficial organisms waiting to pounce on the sugar and tea and digest them.

At this point, you can drink and enjoy, and reserve a cup for the next batch.  However, if you want to drink kombucha regularly, it’s worth starting a continuous batch.

The idea with a continuous batch is that you have a large vessel full of kombucha, and each time you draw off some of the liquid to drink, you replace it with the same quantity of tea solution.  There should be plenty of organisms waiting to digest the relatively small amount of tea, so after 24 hours or so, it should be fully digested, and you can then draw off your next batch.  If you have four litres of kombucha, you should be able to harvest a cup per day.

Work out how many cups of kombucha you’ll need daily, including some to serve to guests and for other family members, then multiply that by 4 to determine how many litres you need in your vessel.

Your vessel can be a simple plastic bucket, or a large glass jar.  While some people used glazed ceramic vessels I have read about some issues with the kombucha corroding the glaze – do an internet search before going with this option.  While it might seem ideal to include a tap in your vessel, I have found the scoby just ends up blocking it, and it’s easier to scoop out liquid from the top of the vessel using a cup or small jug.

Now that you have 1.25 litres of kombucha, feed it with two more litres of the tea solution to build it up.  When it tastes right, feed it with another two litres – and so on, until you have the desired quantity in your vessel.  Each time you feed it, give it a stir to distribute the new tea and sugar evenly.

While you can harvest a cup of kombucha each day, and feed it with just that quantity of tea, I prefer to do it in bulk every few days.  I have a 2 litre bottle which I fill with kombucha, ready for my family to drink.  I then make up two litres of the tea solution, and feed it to my kombucha right after harvesting.

Troubleshooting:

– for me one of the trickiest things has been getting the temperature right.  As it’s winter and our house has no central heating or special warm spot, I keep my vessel propped up on two blocks of wood, and each night I slip a hot water bottle between the blocks of wood.  The heat rises into the vessel and keeps my kombucha at a good temperature.  I’ve noticed the more liquid I have in there, the more stable the temperature.  When I feed it, I make sure the tea solution is still nice and warm so it gives it a bit of a temperature lift too.  I keep the whole thing wrapped in a quilt.  You can buy electric heating pads, or build a warming cupboard if you prefer.  My friends have all found natural warm spots in their homes, such as on top of the coffee machine.

– a couple of my early batches of kombucha developed mould on the top.  If that happens you are supposed to chuck out the whole batch, as apparently you can get sick years later from errant mould spores in your system.  Unfortunately I drank mine and it tasted fine, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see.  Anyway, I resolved the mould problem by moving my kombucha to a different part of the house.  I also used a paper kitchen towel instead of my tea towel which may have had mould spores in it.  You could iron your cloth to kill any residual bacteria.

– be careful with how much kombucha you drink at first, or feed to friends.  Some people experience intense detox symptoms at first as their body cleanses the system.  Some people are allergic to kombucha.  If this happens, drink beet kvass for six months and then try again.  Start with half a glass a day and give your body time to adjust before slowly increasing the amount if desired.

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