Kombucha is.... a digestive tonic. a special drink. booch juice. a cocktail mix. bubbly. fun. delicious.
We all experience it different ways.
Esoteric Russians called it "miracle mushroom."
Esoteric North Americans call it "'booch" while others name it "trendy."
Some call it disgusting...... with the floaty bits at the bottom turning some folks' off of a sip.
Some have never heard of it, and others call it a magic bullet cure-all.
So, is it all of the above, none of the above? Kombucha is simply one gorgeous fermented food that we can consume to contribute good bacteria to our intestinal tract. As you've likely heard, new research is growing showing a trend in the need for healthier bacteria, as about 80% of our immune system is in our "gut."
Truth lies somewhere in the middle, as with most things!
Google the words "kombucha is..." and you get people asking if its "healing, really good for you" and on the other end of the spectrum, asking "bad for you, is it dangerous, is kombucha poisonous...." etc. all sorts of weird and wonderful thoughts and ideas. It's interesting the conclusions we can come to based on our experience of everything and anything.
These words have been brewing (so to speak) for a long time - pretty much since my interest in this was amplified - years ago as a student of Holistic Nutrition. This whole underground world was only just emerging to me & everything was new and exciting.
The strange idea of becoming a mysterious, obscure and elitist underground brewer had me hooked.
It conjured images of delicious underground prohibition fun.
Of a secret alchemist movement - a food protest.
And a mad scientist of sorts. I was hooked before I even started.
Something forced me to continue even after failed batches of everything, and exploding bottles in the pantry at 4 AM one arid August morning. Maybe it was my successful mead batches, even the one jar that survived a whole summer in the back of a truck. But you don't just give up once you've got a science-lab-kitchen going, and especially one that provides you with a successful batch of one of the first fermented foods discovered on earth - honey mead.
There is something incredibly magical about the transformation that occurs with fermenting foods. You start with one or two ingredients, and by the simple addition of something else and some patience (read: time) and the right conditions (usually temperature!) you get something new in a week or so.
Circulation & Science
One benefit of kombucha is the circulatory rhythms that it enhances. While still in its fermenting container, one of the beneficial acids that is concocted is lactic acid. Lactic acid is very important for a brew - it keeps harmful bacteria out by creating an environment thats inhospitable to them. Then, when kombucha is in our body it acts in much the same way by increasing circulation action. This example can solidify our ideal of "you are what you eat" that if you eat 'living' foods - it makes your body more alive.
Disclaimer: I'm strictly speaking with my hippie hat on, of course (kombucha cannot raise the dead, no matter how many probiotics are in it!)
Having foods in our diet that are living with healthy bacteria + probiotics are feeding the part of our body that sends signals to our brain - our gut. There is a lot of power being housed there. When we eat fermented foods, we feed our gut, immunity and brain.
Kombucha's scienceis just every other fermented food. x+y+z+time=a. So is cooking, for that matter. In fact, fermenting foods is the same process as cooking, really. Heat + time changes the structure of the food. The science of fermentation can be easily described with all the chemistry terms your little heart could desire. It's also got a fancy science name for itself, which is zymology. Pretty bad ass, if you ask me.
I go back to thinking about when I started straining whole yogurt for cream cheese – through a clean tea towel into a glass jar – to make whey. Whey typically is (leftover from the straining) used in many other cultures for dishes but it can be used as a starter for your ferments too. Why make whey? According to Hanna Kroger in “Ageless Remedies from Mothers’ Kitchen” – “It has a lot of minerals. One tablespoon of whey in a little water will help digestion. It is a remedy that will keep your muscles young, joints moveable and ligaments elastic.” You can add it to smoothies for an extra probiotic boost.
You are What you Eat
The way the universe is in motion, circular, cyclical and pulsates can be paralleled with the way our food moves around in our bodies, the way the chemicals move, the cells are created, the disease can move around. Everything we take in to our bodies formulates the cells that make up our bodies.
Just think on that for one second. It's really incredible.
I had a realization thinking about the lactic acid that is created when brewing kombucha, and comparing this with whole yogurt, how when the whey is strained out, you drain the lactose with it, but its’ going to eventually form lactic acid in the whey – its so good for digestion – same as the lactic acid in kombucha, good for digestion, blood circulation – and getting things moving.
Its gets things moving chemically in the container it is in, and then once inside us, it gets things moving again – when that energy is transferred into our bodies. Energy transfer!
Kombucha is Art.
Liquid Art. These creations in my kitchen led to a light bulb going off in my mind. Slowly by discovering these old ways and reigniting the flame of preservation, fermentation, and other traditions our great grandmothers and ancestors used to do with food, we become engulfed in the beauty of creating something from another thing simply by the use of nature and time, our eyes are opened and we grow, evolve and learn, encompassed solely by the passion to make change.
There are a lot of simple things you can do in your own kitchen to transform ingredients into pieces of edible science-art. So how we can develop the ability to tune in to the energy that surrounds the earths’ wholesome abundance and harness that as our art? Simply by becoming aware of it. Open your eyes, write, think, think, think, dream and explore. Then create!
There's something about getting it right that very first time. Once you get the right pH, the right amount of fermentation time ... it holds the carbonation, it becomes the perfect blend of sweet, sour and fizzy.
The energy transfer from foods into our own body has always fascinated me - the power to 'put love into your food' is such a powerful thing. Love's a real thing!
What is the art about fermenting foods?
If art is a vehicle for expressions or communication, then what are we communicating when we create these foods? Using the science of fermentation combined with our environment is art. My ferments won't taste the same as someone on the other side of the street, let alone another continent. When we bring our own environment into our bodies, it feels different. Just like mom's food tastes great - restaurant or store bought food won't have that same quality.
If art is based on seeing, feeling and knowing, then food is art. Chefs know this. Have you ever watched the Food Network and just been in awe at some of the ways they present the food? I always think "its all the same in the stomach - and it all ends up as the same stuff" but the beginning and the end process doesn't matter to the chef - its all in the creation and in the risk-taking presentations.
Chefs, brew masters, all of us are artists. You are creating, you are creating an experience. Your energy transfers to the product which is something that folks can feel. Its why you are drawn to certain art and your friends' aren't - or you and your spouse can't decide on how to decorate a certain room.
It's about the feeling
If we like the way it looks and we like the way it feels -- that's a bold indication that our body knows that it is good for us.
And sometimes, its okay to just "trust" the art without needing the science. We're trusting our body and the experience.
Each Spring and Fall I do fermentation tours throughout the Okanagan where I bring this tradition back to the people and their kitchens.