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Published December 10th 2010
Kombucha tea is a fermented sweetened tea that is often mixed with traditional black tea and drunk for medicinal purposes. It is said to give a natural boost to the immune system and claims have been made that it helps fight everything from arthritis to digestive disorders like gallstones to ordinary PMS.
Kombucha tea is made from the kombucha "mushroom" and can be brewed at home in a clean, sanitized glass container. Actually, kombucha is not a mushroom at all (though it often takes the likeness of one) but a culture of bacteria and yeast. When brewed over the course of seven to ten days, the yeast reacts with sugar to produce a pungent, some claim medicinal tea, as well as a new "baby" kombucha. Starter "mushrooms" can be purchased at local health food stores or here.
The history of kombucha tea can be traced back to nineteenth-century Russia, where it is called kvass. According to studies conducted by the Moscow Central Bacteriological Institute, kombucha tea, when made properly, contains a number of ingredients essential for good health, including gluconic acid (may fight infections), hyaluronic acid (may restore connective tissue), chondroitin sulfate (may support healthy cartilage), and mucoitin-sulfuric acid (may support digestion). No studies have been done by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, however, so any health claims have yet to be proven stateside. Still, some people find they like the tart taste of home-brewed kombucha tea so much that they make a batch every week or so, using the new "baby" kombucha each time.
Making the tea is easy and inexpensive, though commercially prepared kombucha is also readily available, and those new to the drink should probably give it a taste test before embarking on a home brew. Some important points to remember when brewing the tea at home: Anything that touches the kombucha should be sanitized. The tea should only be brewed in glass or enamel (not ceramic or metal) containers as those could contaminate the mixture. Metal should never touch the "mushroom." Never substitute ingredients. Also, don't smoke around your brew, as environmental stress can kill the bacteria.
Kombucha Tea Recipe
3 quarts distilled water
1 cup refined white sugar
4 tea bags (black or green)
4 ounces apple cider vinegar
1 large kombucha "mushroom"
Place the water in a glass or enamel pot over high heat. Add sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Add tea bags and let them steep for 10 minutes. Wash your hands and discard the tea bags. Pour the tea into a sterilized glass container and allow it to cool to room temperature. Add the apple cider vinegar. Place the "mushroom" smooth side up in the tea, cover the container with a clean cloth, and seal it with a rubber band. Finally, place the brew in a cool, dry, ventilated space for seven to ten days. (The Russian recipe says the health benefits reach their optimal potential on the seventh day.) Once the brew is ready, remove the "baby" kombucha with a clean wooden spoon and strain out the tea through the cloth. Store your brew in the refrigerator. It is recommended that people consume less than 3 or 4 ounces of kombucha tea each day. To make your next brew, you can replace the vinegar with 4 ounces of tea from the first batch. Salute!