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Kombucha: The fermented food that’s full of benefits

With health and beauty benefits that boost body, mind, energy levels and skin, kombucha is the superfood currently on many a superfoodie’s lips. Here’s why

When it comes to the world of wellness, the gut and its role in boosting all round health has become a topic of much discussion in recent times. Home to countless bacteria, good and bad, imbalances in levels have been linked to not only poor digestion, but bloating and inflammation too. With studies also revealing its efficacy in helping improve anxiety, depression and stress, it appears that the incentive to ‘go with your gut’ is growing greater than ever.

In terms of feeding your gut from the outside in, fermented foods are touted as a useful, inexpensive and effective first port of call for increasing your probiotic strength. One which has gained particular popularity for its energising and digestion boosting properties as of late? Kombucha.

Kombucha or ‘booch’ as it’s sometimes called, had garnered a reputation as the go-to on-the-go health drink for upping your beneficial bacteria – but what is it exactly? “Kombucha is a sugar sweetened fermented green or black tea that is produced by a SCOBY, aka a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast,” explains nutritional therapist and GTG Expert Eve Kalinik. “It is this SCOBY that floats on the top of the tea and allows it to ferment. This is called the ‘mother’ starter and with each batch, the bacteria will continue to multiply and grow.”

Its main benefits? “Like any other fermented food, kombucha provides a readily available source of beneficial bacteria that is particularly supportive for the gut. They help to improve digestion, the immune system and neurological health. And, it is the biodiversity from these microbes that supports general health overall which in turn, includes the way we look from the outside too.”

How does kombucha differ though from other fermented foods on the block, such as raw sauerkraut, kefir and miso? “Kombucha probably stands out from the crowd because of the recent years of marketing and hype that has made it much more mainstream,” says Eve, “But I think also it’s because lots of people genuinely enjoy the taste.”

What are the best ways to drink it?

Refreshing and hydrating, kombucha drinks are best served chilled in order to have them at their most enjoyable. “Having it as you would a cup of tea or a beverage throughout the day is a nice way to enjoy kombucha,” recommends Eve. “You really want to go for the unpasteurised versions that are bursting with probiotics and enzymes, otherwise these benefits are killed off in the heat treatment process. If you are immune compromised, then there may be a reason to go cautiously, but the likelihood of ingesting any pathogenic bacteria is pretty slim so I would say that it’s usually okay for most people.”

What are the best store-bought kombucha drinks?

The additional benefit of kombucha is that it can be bought in-store or made at home, to suit both convenience and budgetary constraints in equal measure. “I love JARR Kombucha, £6.50,” says Eve. Others that also carry our seals of approval? Profusion Kombucha in turmeric, ginger and lemon, £2.99 (available at Wholefoods) is great for a zesty pick-me-up, as is Karma Kombucha peppermint, £3.25, for added refreshment and Ucha Kombucha raw sparkling tea in pomegranate, £1.79 (available at Wholefoods) for a sharp and subtly fruity alternative.

What are the best ways to make kombucha at home?

If you happen to have a little extra time on your hands, you can cook up your own batch from the comfort of your own kitchen. “You don’t need any state of the art equipment, nor to be some mad scientist to make this at home,” says Eve. “It is actually rather simple. However, you do need to get a decent SCOBY to start,” she cautions. In terms of its unpasteurised nature, Eve believes that this isn’t necessarily something that should warrant too much worry. “Unpasteurisation allows you to take in the beneficial microorganisms and also the vitamins that these bacteria produce,” she says. “We really have to remember that bacteria outnumber us 10:1, so we need to embrace these living organisms rather than kill them off. We often eat unpasteurised cheese but never really think about the ‘risks’ and kombucha is much the same.”

Yoga teacher and bestselling cookbook author Julie Montagu counts herself a fan of this kind of preparation and, having chosen a Mortier Pilon Kombucha Brewing Jar, £44, as one of her Christmas wishlist picks, we were keen to pick her brain on her method of choice too. “I prefer to brew my kombucha at home slowly using a two-step fermentation process,” she says. “This first step requires you to make a SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and this can take between one and four weeks. The fermentation process then takes between five and ten days. It is much easier and quicker to buy a SCOBY, or to get one from someone you know who already makes their own kombucha,” she recommends.

Any tried and tested provisos for making your batch the best it can be? “It’s essential that you don’t use metal or plastic with any of these processes and that all of your equipment is super clean!” she advises. “If you see any mould growing anywhere at any point, then you must throw away the whole batch and start again.”

Want to customise your kombucha? Adding some extra flavourings can also help adapt it to best suit your tastebuds and culinary concerns. “The majority of recipes for kombucha online seem to call for white sugar to be used. However, this is something I like to swap out for an unrefined variety,” suggests Julie. “Coconut palm sugar, agave or molasses are my usual choices and I sometimes like to flavour my kombucha with dried fruit – I find it best to add a small amount right before the second fermentation process starts.”

A lengthier process yes, but one which Julie believes is worth the extra time and reduced expense: “I love how many incredible health benefits there are to drinking it considering there’s relatively few ingredients!” she says. “The process of making this tea is arguably long but you’re mostly just leaving it to do its own thing – so it’s minimal effort to make also.” The benefits she’s experienced first-hand have gone beyond health too, having seen a difference complexion-wise too. “The high content of vitamins C and E in kombucha mean that it’s great for your skin. When drunk regularly, it can help to keep your skin hydrated and improve the appearance of wrinkles.”

Can kombucha make you drunk?

The recent kombucha buzz has seen its alcohol content come into the spotlight, with some reports suggesting that its buzz is both metaphorical and literal. “There is little alcohol in most kombucha. By nature of the fermentation process, it is one of the by products,” explains Eve. If its levels are of concern, there are a couple of easy ways to reduce the effects. “You can minimise this by lowering the fermentation time or opening the vessel that you are using so that the aerobic bacteria metabolise the alcohol into vinegar,” recommends Eve. “Generally though this isn’t something to be concerned about,” she reassures us.

How else can you use kombucha?

According to holistic health coach and functional nutrition practitioner Hayley Barisa Ryczek, incorporating fermented foods into your daily diet can be easier and tastier than many people think – a point demonstrated appetisingly in her book, Fermented Foods at Every Meal. Jam-packed with cooking inspiration, here are just two of the ways to get your kombucha creative juices flowing.

Lemon Rosemary white bean dip

Yield: 2 cups (475 ml)

1 can (15 ounces, or 425 g) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons (28 ml) kombucha
Juice of ½ of a lemon
1 tablespoon (15 ml)
olive oil
1 small clove of garlic
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground
black pepper
2 pinches of fresh rosemary needles, plus more for garnish

“Snacks can be healthful! This standard white bean dip is improved with the added flavor of lemon and rosemary, and a probiotic addition from kombucha,” she says. “It is best served with crunchy fresh vegetables or even as a spread on a sandwich.”

“Place the cannellini beans, kombucha, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary in a food processor. Pulse until creamy for about 2 to 3 minutes. Top with more fresh rosemary, if desired.”

Chicken satay with cilantro and almond butter sauce

Yield: 4 servings

For the sauce:
½ of a bunch fresh cilantro
1 inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove of garlic
¼ cup (65 g) almond butter
2 tablespoons (28 ml) kombucha
2 tablespoons (28 ml) coconut aminos
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon raw honey
sea salt, to taste

For the skewers:
1 pound (455 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
2 tablespoons (28 g) butter or ghee, melted
sea salt and ground
black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons (40 g)
raw honey

Soak four 10-inch (25.5 cm) wooden skewers in water for 10 minutes (to prevent burning). Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C, or gas mark 8).

Make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the cilantro, ginger, garlic, almond butter, kombucha, coconut aminos, lime juice, and honey, and process until smooth and creamy. Season with salt.

Make the skewers: Put the chicken pieces in a bowl or shallow dish. Pour one-third of the sauce over the chicken and toss to coat thoroughly. (Reserve the rest of the cilantro and almond butter sauce for serving.) Place the soaked skewers through the chicken pieces and arrange in a baking dish.

Drizzle the chicken skewers with the melted butter and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the chicken starts to brown and is cooked almost all the way through.

Remove from the oven and turn the skewers, coating them with any juices in the pan. Drizzle the honey over each skewer. Put back in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes more until the chicken is cooked all the way through. Watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn.

Serve immediately with the reserved cilantro and almond butter sauce.

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