When I think DIY projects, I automatically think kitchen. No, I don’t mean re-tiling the backsplash or giving the cabinets a fresh coat of paint—I’d rather leave that to the pros on HGTV. I’m talking about DIY cooking projects, foods and drinks you can just as easily make at home (relatively) instead of buying them at the grocery for a premium. Previously, I’ve taken a pass at homemade pickles and kimchi, attempted amaretto around the holidays, whipped up my own ricotta for pizzas and pasta, and recreated my favorite Girl Scout Cookie.
Typically my projects will tip more towards the indulgent side of the scale, however, a recent health kick inspired a new DIY obsession: Homemade kombucha.
It’s not a novel concept, of course. The tart fermented tea beverage has been successfully cruising the good-for-you trend wave for quite some time thanks to its myriad of health benefits (gotta love those probiotics and antioxidants and the work they do). And while there are now lots of great commercially-produced kombuchas available on the market, it’s not exactly a cheap addition to the regular shopping list. To be honest, I’d rather make my own and save the extra cash for my preferred fermented beverages: wine and beer. (Clearly I take my diets very seriously.)
So, if curious about hopping on the ‘booch bandwagon, the following guide and recipe ideas are here to act as your healthy brew guru.
- To start things off, you’re going to need to get your hands on a starter (go figure). The one used to make kombucha is called a SCOBY—aka a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast—a kind of jiggly, gelatinous disk that looks nothing like the snacks the Mystery Machine gang was so fond of. The mushroom-like culture is basically responsible for hosting the fermentation process, taking in sugar and then excreting probiotic bacteria, acids, enzymes, fructose, and a very small amount of alcohol. It’s actually a naturally-occurring byproduct of kombucha production, so if you have friends who already brew their own, you can get your hands on one that way, otherwise you can simply purchase a starter kit online. Or, if you’re going for the DIY bonus points, you can also attempt to make your own from scratch.
- Brew a gallon of sweetened tea (green, white, or black, the choice is yours). Most recipes recommend using a cup of organic granulated sugar per gallon, and anywhere from 4 to 8 teabags, depending on personal preference. Once the tea has steeped for the designated amount of time, remove the tea bags or strain the loose leaf and leave it to cool down to room temperature.
- Transfer the cooled tea to a sterile, clean glass jar (please, no metal or plastic) and mix in some already made kombucha that you’ve either store-bought or secured from a friend. Generally about a half a cup is recommended, though I’ve seen recipes with as much as 2 cups. Then add in your SCOBY.
- Cover the jar with a coffee filter or cloth secured with rubber band. Air-flow is important here, but you also want to make sure critters like those pesky little fruit flies don’t have access in to nip your ‘booch.
- Find somewhere warm (ideal brewing temp is between 75 and 85 degrees), open, and away from direct sunlight to store your brew and let the waiting game begin. Typically, the fermentation period will last between 7 to 10 days. You can let it go for longer if you’d like, the batch will simply grow more acidic as the sugar in the original mixture continues to be eaten up. I’d recommend taste-testing with a straw (under the SCOBY, of course, don’t poke through the thin) to see if you’re happy with where it’s at.
- Once you’re satisfied with the sour-to-sweet status of your kombucha, simply transfer the newly formed SCOBY (the mother can be discarded—harsh, I know) and two cups of the brew into a clean container and keep covered until you’re ready to make some more. The remainder of the finished beverage can be strained into sterile glass bottles that can be tightly sealed.
- And there you go, you now have your very own kombucha. And from this point is where the fun really starts: You can play around with different flavors, experiment with refermentation to make kombucha soda, or even use the brew as an ingredient in the kitchen. The possibilities are limitless.
Tips, Tricks, & Traps
A couple helpful pointers to keep in mind on your journey to becoming a badass ‘boocher.
Don’t screw up the SCOBY. The SCOBY is delicate. Like Goldilocks, it needs everything just right. For example, the water used to brew the initial tea and sanitize the glass vessel should be distilled, purified of any minerals or chemicals that might affect it. During the fermentation process, it’s imperative that there is regular airflow (forget storing it in a closed cupboard) and that temperature remain warm. Too cold, fermentation will slow and at the worst extreme, your SCOBY will start to grow mold; too hot and stored in the line of direct sunlight, and you also risk killing its essential microorganisms. And please, whatever you do, avoid the temptation to rinse your SCOBY. It may be slimy and alien-like in a science-experiment-gone-wrong kind of way, but you need all the microbes and living bits on there to induce fermentation.
Sugar, sugar not honey, honey. The part of your brain that’s in health mode while making kombucha may be concerned about the requisite granulated white sugar in the recipe. The thing is though, that sugar is the food source your SCOBY needs to create all the good-for-you byproducts. Raw honey or non-calorie sweeteners may sound like a more reasonable option up-front, but they will either interfere or starve the cultures in the SCOBY.
Be careful with cheesecloth. Cheesecloth may be a tempting and seemingly logical option to use as a cover for your fermenting brew, but apparently the holes in the mesh are big enough for fruit flies to get through. Gross. If you must use it, be sure to double or triple-up the layers, but probably best to stick with a coffee filter or dish towel.
Don’t flavor first. It’s great that you have a lot of ideas of how you want to flavor your homemade kombucha, just make sure you don’t jump the gun. If you add things like the typical fruit (berries in particular), herbs, spices, etc. before the first fermentation, you’re likely to contaminate the SCOBY. (Yes, it always comes back to the SCOBY.)
Adding fresh fruit is one of the most popular ways to flavor kombucha, the sweetness a no-duh partner to the tea’s intensely acidic profile. Peach, watermelon, pineapple, raspberry and lime (and really, pretty much any and all combinations of citrus and berries), you name it. This strawberry-rhubarb version gets extra points though for taking one of my all-time favorite pie fillings and re-appropriating it into something healthy. Get the recipe.
The sharp, bright spice of fresh ginger root frequently finds its way into kombucha recipes. It’s a great match with fruit like blueberry and orange, but I’m particularly partial to this aromatic spice-driven variety that adds in the exotic, slightly savory flavor of turmeric. Get the recipe.
Herbs are another go-to flavoring agent for kombucha: Basil, rosemary, thyme, the whole garden is at your disposal. Perhaps a less-expected, but equally tasty option is to use lavender, which boasts its own health benefits in addition to a pretty floral profile. Get the recipe.
Kombucha goes from a healthy anytime drink to a bonafide start-your-day-off-right breakfast option when used as the base for this creamy, fruity smoothie. Get the recipe.
Because if you’re using kombucha in your cocktail it’s not totally cheating, right? The beverage’s tart, acid-driven flavor means it could easily replace a vinegar-based shrub in any number of creative cocktails. But also take a starring role in simple, classic cocktails like the Moscow Mule, where a ginger-flavored brew replaces the typical ginger beer. Get the recipe.
With these secretly nutritious gummies you can satisfy your sweets craving without OD-ing on indulgence. Get the recipe.
Delicious over a thick piece of grilled steak or served alongside a cheeseboard, this meta-esque condiment smartly plays up kombucha’s savory side. Get the recipe.
— Head photo: Bound By Food.