What is Kombucha?
Benefits of Drinking Kombucha
Kombucha and fructose
Kombucha and caffeine
How much to drink?
History of Kombucha
Get a Kombucha Starter (Outside Australia)
Buy a Kombucha Starter (Australia only)
Instructions for starters from Grow Youthful
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a delicious healing and detoxifying drink that you can make yourself. Its cost is insignificant, as it is made from only a little tea and sugar. It has a reputation for healing hundreds of different ailments, and is renowned as an anti-ageing treatment and secret to retaining youthful looks. It is an effective chelator that removes heavy metals and a wide range of other toxins from your body. People who drink it seem to be healthier and younger-looking than the rest of the population.
Kombucha drinkers around the world are so enthusiastic that there are literally hundreds of blogs and websites swapping information and experiences. I will show you how to make kombucha, and how to get the best use out of this magnificent home remedy.
Kombucha is a tonic, complete therapy and preventative medicine. You can drink it, applying it topically as a compress, add it to your bath, and make it into a cream that heals leg ulcers and fungal nail infections. I sometimes use it in cultured food recipes as a starter. You can use it with animals, and in the garden.
The 'mushroom' or 'scoby' (symbiotic culture of binary yeasts) is a jelly-like membrane that floats in a nutrient solution of tea and sugar exposed to oxygen. At the right temperature, it constantly grows. When you make a brew, it first spreads over the surface of the tea and then it thickens. It reproduces by a process of cylindrical binary fission, unlike other yeasts that reproduce with spores. The membrane is a symbiosis of yeast cells and different bacteria. The principle yeast is the tropical schizo saccharomycoses pombe. Others varyingly include saccharomyces ludwigii, torula and apiculatis types, pichia fermentans and mycoderma. The principle bacteria include bacterium xylinum, bacterium gluconicum, acetobacter ketogenum, acetobacteria xylinium, brown xylinioides and acetobacteria pasteurianum. There is some dispute as to what the mushroom is. Some microbiologists have argued that it is not a fungus, but a lichen. Others disagree, saying lichen is a symbiosis of algae and fungus and requires light to build chlorophyll by photosynthesis, a typical feature of algae. However, it flourishes in the dark because it contains no algae components.
The culture transforms the tea into enzymes, vitamins and organic acids. The fermented mixture contains 0.5-1% alcohol, acetic acid, gluconic acid, glycuronic acid, L-lactic acid, carbonic acid, caprylic acid, citric acid, oxalic acid, usnic acid, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 and C, folic acid, amino acids, and other substances with antibiotic, antiseptic and detoxifying characteristics.
Benefits of Drinking Kombucha
Most people feel better after a month of daily use, some much sooner. The first improvement is usually increased energy, and better skin colour. Some serious disease conditions may take years to heal, depending on the person and other factors. I have read literally hundreds of enthusiastic emails from several kombucha email lists. People with difficult long-term illnesses such as arthritis, rheumatism, eczema, acne, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, digestive disorders, hypertension (high blood pressure), poor circulation, high cholesterol/triglycerides and cancer have found help with kombucha.
Stamina, energy. Kombucha is an excellent preventative and maintenance tonic, increasing your energy level. It will increase your stamina, and reduce muscle pain and fatigue. Some athletes requiring long endurance use it.
Pro-biotic. Kombucha encourages the growth of beneficial bifida bacteria in your intestines, particularly those that produce lactic acid. Bifida are sometimes found in live yoghurt. Kombucha produces two organic acids, lactic acid and acetic acid, which accelerate this pro-biotic effect. Lactic acid is essential for healthy digestive action, and for energy production by the liver. Acetic acid is an antiseptic and inhibitor of pathogenic bacteria.
If you suffer from candida albicans, you may be inclined to avoid kombucha because it contains yeasts. However, the dominant schizo saccharomycoses is a yeast that does not have spores and is therefore not in the family of candida, so it is antagonistic to the troublesome candida yeast that infects so many people. Candida sufferers have often found relief in taking Kombucha - just make sure that all the sugar is fermented and it does not taste at all sweet. Gluconic acid strengthens the walls of the gut in order to combat yeast infections such as candida.
Blood. Kombucha has blood thinning qualities. If you prick your finger and bleed too freely, you may be drinking too much. You should reduce or stop drinking it a week before surgery. Similarly, if you suffer from heavy periods, stop taking it a week beforehand.
Skin. Kombucha improves your skin elasticity, tone and colour. It acts as a humectant (moisturiser). People report a reduction of wrinkles, scarring, freckles, brown age spots and rashes. It has been used to treat psoriasis, eczema, acne, tropical ulcers, rashes, boils, warts, and many fungal infections like athletes foot / tinea (using creamed culture on the skin, dabbed on skin, or drinking the tea). It thickens your hair and helps with grey hair and balding. Kombucha speeds nail and hair growth.
Detoxifier. Glycuronic acid (GA) binds toxins in your liver, and makes them water-soluble. Your kidneys then eliminate these toxins in your urine. People starting to drink kombucha show traces of environmental toxins such as lead and mercury in their urine. Kombucha is an effective remedy for heavy metal poisoning. It is one of the few agents that can cope with the poisonous products of the petroleum industry, including plastics, herbicides, pesticides and resins. (1) It binds to phenols in the liver which are then eliminated. Your intestines or urinary system cannot reabsorb toxins bound by GA. GA is also a building block for connective tissue, cartilage, stomach lining, vitreous humour of the eye and heparin.
Another by-product of GA is glucosamine, used in the structures associated with cartilage, collagen and the fluids that lubricate the joints. Collagen reduces wrinkles, while arthritis sufferers have their deficient cartilage and joint fluids replenished.
Antibiotic. The antibiotic properties, primarily from the usnic acid, only develop after the 7th or 8th day. They also require a brewing temperature above 23C. The acetic acid bacteria produced are strongly antagonistic to streptococci, diplococci, flexner and shigella. (2)
Acidity Balance. Your metabolism depends on an acid-alkaline balance that constantly responds to the food that you eat, the air you breathe, and to your emotional state. Your body has a remarkable balancing system that maintains different organs at the pH level each requires for optimum health. Toxins make both cells and organs more acid. Your body gets rid of toxic acids by several means. Breathing makes your blood more alkaline - that is why deep breathing is so therapeutic. Your liver is a toxin filter. Another is by flushing - one of Kombucha's roles is to flush out acidic toxins. (1)
Mental. Kombucha combats depression. When a kombucha mailing group sent out a questionnaire to its members, 81% of over 400 respondents reported a 'feeling of wellbeing.' Usually, they noticed this improvement within the first couple of weeks after beginning to drink Kombucha Tea. Those that had been drinking it for years still reported this benefit.
If drunk immediately before retiring, kombucha helps some people go to sleep, and keeps others awake. It would seem logical that a tart, low sugar brew would be best for insomnia. Many people who drink Kombucha have reported vivid dreams.
Kombucha and fructose
Sucrose (table sugar) consists of a glucose and a fructose molecule linked together. The bacteria and yeasts in kombucha prefer to feed on glucose rather than fructose. (1) They convert the glucose into glucuronic acid and a variety of other acids, all with anti-bacterial and other beneficial properties. They convert fructose into acetic acid (vinegar).
Because of this preference for glucose, most of the glucose is used up quickly. The sugar that remains in your kombucha is mostly fructose. In a strong and vinegary kombucha most of the fructose is also consumed.
Unlike most other sugars, fructose can only be metabolised in your body through your liver. You should limit the amount of fructose that you consume, especially if your liver is not as healthy as it could be. This means avoiding fruit juice, large quantities of sweet fruit, and of course most processed and restaurant foods which all have large quantities of sugar / HFCS added.
Small quantities of tart kombucha are of course still highly beneficial. But I suggest that you should not normally drink more than one glass of kombucha every day, especially sweet short-fermented brews.
This suggests that you can substitute glucose powder for sucrose in the kombucha recipe. I made a brew in which a quarter of the sugar was substituted with glucose, and it seemed to work OK. It is important that the pH of your brew is strongly acidic or moulds will take hold, so you do need some fructose in the brew to produce the vinegar. It seems that nobody has yet tested this important question. If anyone has further information or laboratory results, I would be most grateful if you would contact me.
Kombucha and caffeine
The kombucha culture does not break down the caffeine in the tea. If you want a low-caffeine kombucha, then make it with decaffeinated tea, green tea or other low-caffeine teas like oolong or kukicha (twig tea). They all work well - I make mine with Gunpowder green tea.
Similarly, kombucha does not break down the oxalic acid in the tea. This is yet another reason to use green tea, which has only 10-20% as much oxalic acid as black tea.
How much kombucha to drink?
I suggest you should not drink large quantities of sweet kombucha just because it's delicious and you are thirsty. Try to brew it long enough that most of the sugar is fermented, but not so long that it becomes too vinegar.
When and how much to drink varies with different people; pay attention to the effect on your body. Many people drink kombucha in the morning, before breakfast.
Kombucha is a powerful detoxifier. When you start using it, drink a small amount, and drink more water during the day. Perhaps start with 50 or 100 ml, and watch for any effects. A few people notice gas, stomach-ache, nausea, fatigue, pimples, rashes, diarrhoea, or a headache. These effects are temporary, normal, and the result of beneficial bacteria repopulating your gut, and the dislodging of toxins into your bloodstream. Additional water helps excrete these toxins through your liver and kidneys as quickly as possible. People with disease or severe toxic conditions may experience a healing crisis if they drink too much too soon.
I would suggest drinking a maximum of half a litre (2 cups) per day as a preventative. If you drink more for a specific ailment, then cut back later. Large quantities of kombucha can be quite hard on your liver over several years or in high doses. Give it a break for a month or two each year. After several years of drinking it, take an even longer break.
As a cancer treatment, and in treating specific ailments, kombucha has been used in quantities up to 2 litres per day, for up to 6 weeks. Only drink this sort of quantity under supervision. You can increase from your normal dose at the onset of an infection, or during stress, illness, or exposure to environmental toxins or radiation.
Children can drink Kombucha, in quantities adjusted for age or weight. It can also be diluted with water.
Do not drink Kombucha before or during pregnancy, because of the alcohol it contains (up to 1%).
Diabetics should drink the tea when longer fermented, so that most of the sugar has been converted. However, making the tea with insufficient sugar (less than 50 grams per litre) will reduce many of its beneficial characteristics.
You can make a Kombucha brew with sugar, tea and a culture (a symbiosis of bacteria and yeasts). Its taste can range from something similar to champagne (complete with a head of foam), a refreshing light wine through to strong apple cider vinegar, depending on the fermentation time, the amount of sugar and type of tea that you use in the brew. The older, tart tea is more acidic and has a higher level of healing properties than a young, mild and slightly sweet brew.
You need not be too concerned about using sugar in the recipe. In a strong, tart tea, brewed over 10-14 days, only 3% of the sugar remains. 97% of the sugar is consumed and converted by the culture.
Kombucha is easy to make. First, you need a 'starter' in the form of a pancake-like 'mushroom', and some live kombucha tea. You can get a kombucha starter from a friend already brewing Kombucha, or buy one if you live outside Australia or your live in Australia.
To make 1 litre of kombucha you need:
- 1 litre (2.1 US pints or 1.76 UK pints) of water (aired tap water, filtered water, hard water, spring water, mineral-rich water). Your brew needs the trace minerals found in most water. Do NOT use distilled water, reverse osmosis (RO) water, or alkaline ionised water.
- 60-90 grams (2.1-3.2 oz) of sugar (raw or white).
- 3-5 grams of tea leaves (1 heaped teaspoon). You can use ordinary black tea, oolong or green tea. I prefer green tea because it has anti-carcinogenic properties, is beneficial to the heart and blood circulation and is particularly nutritious. Green tea also gives a slightly milder flavour to the brew.
- A saucer-sized piece of kombucha scoby/mushroom from a previous brew.
- 50-100 ml (2-5 tablespoons) of kombucha liquid from a previous brew (less required if it is strongly acidic).
Boil the water and the sugar. Add the tea, and leave it to sit for at least ten minutes before removing the tea leaves or bags. I usually leave them in until it is completely cool. When your tea is at room temperature, you can pour it into your brewing bowl and add the mushroom and the starter.
It is important that it has cooled completely - if it is above 35C, you can kill the starter.
Cover it with a clean fine cloth that lets it breathe. Put it in a quiet place out of sunlight, where it will remain at a stable temperature between 23C and 30C.
Use a bowl made from glass, china, enamel or glazed terracotta. Metal, lead crystal and cheap plastic are unacceptable. Kombucha reacts strongly with any metal, and can take up toxins from some plastics. The bowl should have a wide top for good breathing.
The starter scoby/mushroom usually sinks. Within a few days, a clear or translucent thin skin will start to form on the top of the liquid, and it will smell fermented. The brewing time depends on the temperature, and your taste requirements. After 6-12 days, the new mushroom culture will be a centimetre thick, and grey, cream or peach-coloured.
Before you bottle your brew, remove the mushroom culture that has formed on the top, and keep a saucer-sized piece for your next brew. Also keep some of the brew as a starter. Stir up the sediment that has formed in the bottom of the bowl, and then bottle it in glass bottles, tightly capped. The sediment contains yeasts that make it fizzy. It needs a day or two after bottling to build up enough pressure to make a fizz. I put it in the fridge for a few hours before serving, otherwise the froth overflows when you open it.
Making Kombucha has almost as many variables as does making wine. The longer it is left, the sourer the tea will become. You can use a variety of teas, and generally, the finest teas make the best brew.
Normal kitchen hygiene is OK - your equipment does not need to be sterile.
Do not add other ingredients to the brew. Thousands of enthusiastic brewers have experimented over the years, and keep coming back to the basic ingredients of sugar, water and tea. Do not add vitamins, preservatives, other yeasts, mushrooms, artificial sweeteners, oxygen drops, fresh or dried fruit, coffee or anything outside the basic guidelines. There are a few herbs that won't kill your brew - such as elderflower, raspberry, nettle, rosehip and hibiscus, which add delicious flavours and other characteristics to the brew, including the medicinal benefits of the herb. Elderflower in particular adds a high level of fizz and sparkle to the drink, and imparts a 'dry Muscat' flavour. However, Earl Grey tea, and many other herbs with aromatic oils can kill your kombucha. (Earl Grey is made with bergamot citrus oil). I suggest you do not experiment with herbs until you have completed several brews, and are familiar with the variables in a 'normal' brew. Ensure you keep a backup, in case your brew dies.
I usually use a portion of green tea when making a herbal kombucha. If you buy herbs to make your brew, it is much more expensive to make - generally, you need to use six times more herbs (by weight) than the tea you are replacing.
Mould can form on the culture if the brew is not acidic enough - usually because insufficient starter was used. It can also form because of poor hygiene or cigarette smoke. If there is any mould on your culture throw it away and do not risk drinking it.
Other factors which can spoil a culture are sunlight, contact with metal, cigarette smoke, insufficient air, or water with no minerals in it (distilled or reverse osmosis filtered). A dead culture will darken and sink to the bottom.
Bad brew. Kombucha can become infected with a variety of other microorganisms, depending on the environment and conditions under which it is brewed. The acidity of kombucha will normally protect against harmful microorganisms, but if you suffer any negative symptoms when drinking it there is a small possibility that your brew has been infected. When infected, it will smell or taste unpleasant.
History of Kombucha
The earliest record of Kombucha seems to have been in 414 B.C. in Korea. It showed up in China in 221 B.C. during the Tsin Dynasty, and soon found its way into Japan, Russia and India. In Russia, it became established as an effective folk medicine in many rural communities. After World War II, Russian researchers were looking at why cancer appeared to be on the increase in their country. They found that two particular areas of the country stood out like neon signs because they were almost cancer-free. The people in these areas also lived longer, regardless of the fact that alcohol and tobacco consumption was higher there. They reported that the men of the region used to drink large quantities of Kombucha before their drinking bouts. This was the first modern scientific evidence that kombucha is indeed an immune system booster and body detoxifier. In the 1950's it re-surfaced when Soviet doctors discovered whole communities that had apparently been protected from dangerous environmental pollution by kombucha. Kombucha became popular in Japan after World War I. Visitors to areas where the tea has been consumed for generations are surprised to see that the women are virtually unwrinkled, with few other visible signs of ageing. Samurai warriors used to keep cultures in field flasks, regularly topping them up with fresh tea and sugar. The tea is again widely used in Japan. Today, at least six million people around the world brew kombucha, and several times that number drink it.
1. Bhattacharya S., Gachhui R., Sil P.C.
Hepatoprotective properties of kombucha tea against TBHP-induced oxidative stress via suppression of mitochondria dependent
Pathophysiology. 2011 Jun;18(3):221-34.
2. C.J. Greenwalt, R.A. Ledford, and K.H. Steinkraus. Determination and characterization of the anti-microbial activity of the fermented tea Kombucha. 2010. Department of Food Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.