Wednesday, January 18, 2012

5 Things to Know About Kombucha

It's relatively easy to make kombucha, a type of fermented tea, at home. Folk healers value kombucha for its refreshing and nutritious qualities. Brewers place a piece of the kombucha culture --- also called "the mother" or "the mushroom" --- into a glass container of room-temperature brewed tea and sugar. Using basic food safety practices and keeping the mother healthy are all part of the balancing act involved in making Kombucha.

Kombucha Culture

Kombucha has its roots in the ancient world, from China, where its alternative name is "The Tea of Immortality." It also is drunk in Japan, Russia, Poland, Germany and Denmark, according to the website Seeds of Health. What makes kombucha special is the action of the yeast and bacteria in the culture on the sugar in the tea mixture. Kombucha fermentation produces organic acids, B and C vitamins, and some proteins and enzymes.


In order to make kombucha tea, you need to acquire a piece of kombucha culture, which looks like a white, rubbery pancake. Some health food stores sell pieces of the culture, but the best way to acquire it is from someone who makes kombucha tea on a regular basis, since the process of fermentation creates a fresh culture each time. Black or green tea bags, steeped for 15 minutes in three quarts of water, are the base of the mixture, while one cup of white sugar gives the culture the fuel it needs to reproduce. It's best to cover the fermentation container with a tea towel and secure it with a rubber band so no insects can get into the mix. Kombucha takes eight to 10 days to ferment, according to The Kombucha Journal online.


If the culture doesn't grow during fermentation, or if fermentation does not take place, it could be that it isn't warm enough. The ideal temperature for making kombucha is 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Harald Tietze, delegate of the International Federation to Research and Develop Traditional Healing Methods and author of "Kombucha Teaology." Metal containers won't work for kombucha, since the acids in the tea will react with the metal and alter the taste. Occasionally, the culture becomes moldy, in which case you should discard it and begin again with a fresh culture.


Animal studies on the effects of kombucha have demonstrated that the tea has significant antioxidant and immune-boosting effects and is limited in its toxicity, according to Barrie R. Cassileth, Rockefeller Chair in Integrative Medicine at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, co-author of "Herb-Drug Interactions in Oncology." In a 2009 study published in the "Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology," G.S. Murugesan and colleagues at Bharathiar University in Tamil Nadu, India, and the Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology in Jeonju, Korea, showed that kombucha tea had liver protective and curative effects in rats suffering from carbon tetrachloride poisoning.


If the kombucha culture is not free of mold, and the container is not clean, drinking the resulting ferment can harm you, according to Cassileth. Avoid drinking kombucha if its growing conditions are unhygienic. In at least one case, people using topical applications of kombucha experienced anthrax contamination. If using a glazed ceramic container to brew kombucha, make sure it does not contain lead. Some people are sensitive or allergic to kombucha. Do not continue to drink it if you have any adverse reaction.

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