Monthly Archives: May 2013

Kombucha Series Part 6 - Troubleshooting (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

This giveaway is closed.  Thanks for the entries!

Well, we have reached the end of the weekly kombucha series and I hope you all have enjoyed it. Kombucha is my favorite thing to ferment so I’ve loved writing this up for you.  Plus, I am SO EXCITED about the giveaway!  Details are at the end of this post.  You do NOT want to miss this one!

If you’re just joining me for the first time, here is what you missed:

1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar
4. Equipment
5. Make kombucha – woo woo!

Throughout the last six weeks I have gotten a few questions about what is normal SCOBY behavior, what the tea should look like or smell like, etc.  Here are a few answers to some FAQs about your ‘buch.

1. Cloudy tea and/or brown bits in kombucha – This is good!  When you initially combine your sweetened room-temperature tea, the SCOBY, and starter tea, it is all mostly clear.  Sure, it’s retained the color of the tea that you brewed, but it isn’t cloudy.  As the SCOBY gets to work and the bacteria and yeasts do their job the tea will turn cloudy.  You may also start to see brown stringy bits floating off of your SCOBY and in your tea.  This is just yeast growth and you want it in there.  Fear not!

Kombucha Closeup

(Look at the stringy bits hanging off of this SCOBY.  It’s growing yeast!  WOO!)

2. SCOBY storage – The most important thing to know about properly storing your SCOBY is that is must be kept in liquid at all times.  If it won’t be hard at work fermenting any tea for a month or two, a SCOBY needs to be stored in tea and kept wet especially if they are going to be used again in the future.  If you are taking a fermentation break or find yourself with extra SCOBYs simply keep them in a small jar covered in sweetened room temperature tea.  Cover loosely with a light cloth or handkerchief secured with a rubber band.  Store at room temperature.
SCOBYs can be refrigerated or dehydrated for longer term storage, but there is not guarantee that they’ll come back to life when you’re ready to use them again.  This is why I don’t wholly recommend refrigeration or dehydration.  It isn’t a terrible idea, but nothing is guaranteed.  To dehydrate, simply put the SCOBY on a Pyrex plate or on a piece of all-natural parchment paper and allow it to dry at 90 to 100 degrees in the oven for several hours, or until it has the same texture as gummy candy or beef jerky.  For instructions on rehydrating your SCOBY, check out this video from Cultures for Health.

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3. SCOBY looks and feel – A healthy SCOBY will be whitish/ivory colored.  Sometimes it will have brownish tea-colored stains on it (especially if you use black tea to ferment your kombucha), but it will never ever be black, red, green, or blue.  If you see any colors beyond white/ivory/beige and brown, this is most likely a sign of mold growth and the whole batch (SCOBY included) must be discarded.  Do not take chances, and please use your best judgement.  If you are in doubt at all over your SCOBY’s health, toss it and start over.
A healthy SCOBY should also feel like a handful of dense gelatin.  It’s wiggly and jiggly and feel kind of squishy in your hand.  It shouldn’t be dry at all.

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4. SCOBY size – They say size doesn’t matter, and with SCOBYs at least, that’s true.  My very first SCOBY given to me by my buddy Liz was about three or four inches across and a quarter inch thick.  She gave it to me in a little jar with a cup of starter tea.  From that wee SCOBY I brewed a gallon of kombucha and have been making batch after batch ever since.  Plus, that original mother has given birth to dozens of new SCOBYs that I’ve gifted all over the place.

5. SCOBY placement – When I started my first batch of kombucha, I dumped my SCOBY and starter tea into my gallon of sweetened room temperature tea and it promptly sunk to the bottom. I (stupidly) stuck my hand in the jar and tried to get it to float on the surface.  It didn’t work.  I had a minor freakout.  It turns out, it doesn’t matter one whit where the SCOBY is in the jar.  It will still do its job nicely.  A new SCOBY will grow on the surface of your tea (you might notice it starting to grow when you see a cloudy film start to appear.) no matter where your original mother decides to settle.

6. Metal – Kombucha, SCOBYs, and metal do not mix.  As previously mentioned in the equipment installment of this series, you should not ever ferment tea in a metal container.  Period.  Some kombucha makers say that a SCOBY should not ever ever ever come in contact with anything metal.  While I agree, I don’t happen to think that very brief encounters with metal will not hurt your brew or your SCOBY.  I brew my gallon of tea in a metal pot and I have cut sections off of SCOBYs with metal knives or kitchen shears with no ill affects yet.  Technically speaking, molecules of metal are left behind when you do these things and over time can affect fermentation.  My rule is this: Never ever ferment tea in a metal container.  Avoid using metal tools when you can. Anything that will come in prolonged contact with your SCOBY or kombucha should NOT be made of metal.  Otherwise, if you want to use a knife or kitchen scissors to snip off a bit of a SCOBY to give to a friend, just do it quickly.

7. Kombucha storage – After I flavor and bottle my ‘buch, it doesn’t tend to last very long in my house.  Honestly I haven’t ever had a bottle sitting in my refrigerator for longer than a couple of weeks.  However, as long as it is kept cold, bottled kombucha will last for a very long time.  Note, however that fermentation does not stop just because it’s in the refrigerator.  It is slowed down to an almost near halt, but not quite turned off.  Over time your kombucha will continue to ferment very slowly.  Consider this an aging process much similar to what wine goes through.  The taste of a bottle that is two weeks old will be slightly different than one that is 6 months old.  It’s up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s a matter of taste.
Also note that a little wee miniature SCOBY may start to grow on the surface of you bottled ‘buch.  That’s just further proof that the little bacteria and yeast friends in the bottle are still fermenting away.  This mini SCOBY can be strained out and discarded or even consumed if you want.  It definitely won’t hurt you.

8. How much to drink – Like any fermented product, kombucha is alive and can do a lot of wonderful things for our bodies.  However, if a little is good, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot is better.  When I first started making kombucha I was guzzling several bottles of it a day.  It tastes wonderful, plus it’s fizzy. I haven’t had a pop in YEARS so it was nice to drink something cold and fizzy!  While this might have tasted good at the time, it started to negatively affect my body.  Fermented foods are meant to be enjoyed regularly, but in small quantity.  Eight ounces of kombucha a day is plenty to keep your gut populated with beneficial bacteria.  It may be difficult to resist those wonderful little bottles of ‘buch in your fridge, but overdoing it with kombucha or any fermented food will take its toll.

Kombucha Mixed Berry

So, there you have it!  I know that there may be many more questions and concerns about your ‘buch that will crop up as you go through the process.  Please let me know!  I am always more than happy to help you troubleshoot and answer questions.  As always, leave me a comment, send me an email, drop me a line on Facebook, Tweet me, or even give me a little shout out on Instagram.  I’m never far from my technology!

NOW!! On to the giveaway!!!

Although in the last six installments of this series I have given you all the info you need to make your own kombucha, I thought I’d make it super simple and easy for one of you to get started.  My friends at Kombucha Brooklyn are going to send one lucky winner a half-gallon kombucha starter kit!

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Can I just tell you how awesome this kit is?!?!?!  It comes with a glass jar, a large tea bag (enough for one batch), enough organic cane sugar to get you started AND your very own SCOBY!!!  They even throw in a thermometer and a light cloth to cover the jar with.  You guys, this is EVERYTHING you need to get started brewing your own kombucha all in one cute box!  When I got mine in the mail, I nearly fainted from excitement.  This kit is SNAZZY!

kit

 

whats in the kit

So, here is how this is going to work.  As usual, you’ll have several chances to win.

1. Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite kombucha flavor is.
2. Facebook – 1 entry each for liking First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Facebook. (Already like us? Tell me that in your comment below!)
3. Twitter – 1 entry each for following First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Twitter. (Already follow us?  Tell me that in your comment below!)
4. Instagram – 1 entry for following First Comes Health on Instagram. (Already follow me? Tell me that in your comment below!)
5. Newsletter – 1 entry for subscribing to the First Comes Health newsletter. (Already subscribed?  Tell me that in your comment below!)

Bonus entry: Did you pre-order my book Fermented yet?  If so, forward me the order confirmation and you’ll earn another chance to win.

kokmbucha lives(It says this right on the kit’s box! I love it so much.)

I wish every single one of you could win this one because this kit is simply fantastic.  You can earn up to eight chances to win this one!!  And because the giveaway is so awesome, I’m going to give you until noon EDT on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 to enter.

Good luck to all!  One of you lucky folks is going to be super excited when this baby arrives at your house!

 

Kombucha Series Part 5 - Let's Make Kombucha!

This is the post you’ve been waiting for!  It’s time to take what we learned in the previous installments in this series and put it to good use!

If you need to catch up to speed here is where you can find the first four posts:

1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar
4. Equipment

Hopefully by this point you have assembled all the stuff you’ll need to get your first batch of kombucha going strong – SCOBY, tea, sugar, and a jar at the very least.  Once you have all you need, the procedure is actually quite simple.  The hardest part is the wait!  Kombucha making – fermentation in general! – requires patience.  If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to have your ‘buch sooner rather than later, but trust me.  This is worth the wait.

Kombucha Jars Collection2

Part 1

  • Water – Fill a large pot with enough filtered water to fill your fermentation jar almost to the top.  Leave about two or three inches of headspace (that is, empty space at the top between the tea and the very top of the jar.).  If you have a gallon jar, you’ll want a gallon of water MINUS a cup or so.  Eyeball this.  It’s not that scientific.
    By the way, I suggest filtered water because regular old tap water can contain flouride, chlorine, or other chemicals, additives, or particulates that can interfere with SCOBY growth and fermentation.  I use a water filter pitcher for my drinking water and I’m thinking of getting a really nice household sized one in the near future.  I don’t want anything in my water to negatively affect my ferments!
  • Tea –  If you are using teabags, use 6 or 8 of them.  If you are using loose tea, you’ll need about 1/3 cup of the tea leaves.  Also with loose tea you have two choices: The first is to just brew the tea by tossing the loose leaves directly into the water.  You’ll have to strain them out later before you add your SCOBY.  The second is to put the 1/3 cup of tea into a tea ball, infuser, or make a giant sachet with a coffee filter and butcher’s twine.  The choice is yours and the quality of your kombucha will not be affected by whichever path you take.  Personally, because I have many coffee filters on hand, I opt for the sachet method.
  • Sugar – You’ll need a scant cup (just a bit under a cup) of sugar for every gallon of kombucha you’re making.
  • Procedure
    1. Heat the filtered water to just shy of boiling (approximately 200 degrees).  (It’s not a big deal if it boils, but tea isn’t meant to brew in water that is at a rolling boil.)
    2. Add the tea and allow to brew for at least 5 minutes.
    3. Remove tea infuser or sachet (if using) and remove the pot from the heat.
    4. Add the scant cup of sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until completely dissolved.
    5. Leave the pot of tea on the countertop to come to room temperature. (If you used loose tea without an infuser, strain the loose leaves out of your sweetened tea after it has come to room temperature to avoid scalding yourself!)
    6. After your sweetened tea has come to room temperature (that is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP!) carefully pour it into your fermentation vessel.  Use a funnel if you are accident and spill-prone like I am.
    7. Add your SCOBY and the starter tea it is sitting in to the sweetened room temperature tea.
    8. Cover with a coffee filter or light cloth secured with a rubber band and allow to ferment at room temperature.
    9. Check on your brewing kombucha every day or so.  You should start to see a new SCOBY form on the surface of your tea.
    10. After a week or 10 days, taste test an ounce or so of your brew.  It should start to have that characteristic “fermented” tang to it.  Depending on how you prefer your kombucha to taste, it may or may not be finished at this point.  It is up to your taste buds to decide.  If you prefer a sweeter kombucha, it will require a shorter fermentation time.  If you prefer a more tart or dry kombucha, you’ll want to let it ferment a little longer.  This is up to you!  Taste test it each day or so until it suits your palate.  To give you a bit of context, in my (rather warm) home it can take 10 days to 2 weeks for my kombucha to taste the way I like it.

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When your kombucha tastes right to you, you’re finished.  Congratulations! You’ve made kombucha!  Drink up!
But please don’t stop there.  You’d be missing out on a really terrific opportunity to explore your ‘buch-making artistry if you didn’t bottle it and ferment it a second time.  Read on…

Part 2

There is really no requirement that says you MUST bottle and flavor your kombucha, but to me, this is the best part of making it.  I love it plain, but I love it even more when it’s been flavored and is fizzy.  Here’s the simple lowdown on how to turn your jar of kombucha into bottles of fizzy fruity goodness.

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  • Fruit, juice, and herbs – Gather up the stuff you want to use to flavor your kombucha.  The possibilities are nearly endless here and now that we are in the midst of springtime here in the Northern Hemisphere, you have more and more fresh options available to you at farmers’ markets and your local grocery.  Take advantage!
    If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, use frozen.  If you want to try using pre-packaged juices, go for it.
    Here are some of my favorite (and easy!) suggestions:

    • Freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice
    • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
    • Fresh or candied ginger
    • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries
    • Kiwi
    • Bottled mango or pear juice.
  • Procedure
    1. Get your flip-top bottles ready and fill each one with fruit, juice, herbs, or any flavor combination you’ve decided to try.  Try whole pieces of fruit, fruit purees, combinations of juice and fruit, herbs, etc. Use an ounce or two of flavoring agent for every 16 ounce bottle.  This does not call for super-precise measuring, but make sure you do not overload your bottles with fruit or juice.  A little will go a long way.
    2. Fill the bottles with your finished kombucha.  This is where a racking cane and/or funnel really comes in handy!
    3. Seal up the bottles and allow them to sit at room temperature for 3 to 5 more days.
    4. Refrigerate your bottles and enjoy your kombucha cold.  Be extremely cautious when opening a bottle of kombucha!  Contents are under pressure and it is not unheard of for a bottle to erupt like a volcano! Cover the bottle with a dishtowel before opening to keep from being sprayed with an entire bottle of kombucha.  Trust me on this one.

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Important Notes

  • It’s helpful to understand a bit of elementary fermentation chemistry in order to properly manage your kombucha: The bacteria and yeasts that are in your SCOBY will eat the sugar you sweetened your tea with.  One of the byproducts of this is carbon dioxide.
    While your kombucha is fermenting in the jar that’s covered with a coffee filter or light cloth, the carbon dioxide just escapes into the atmosphere.  You might see a wayward bubble here and there in your jar, but it won’t be fizzy or effervescent.
    When you bottle your kombucha with more sugar (in the form of fruit or juice), and seal the tops to the bottles, the carbon dioxide can’t escape.  It stays in the bottle which is what makes bottled kombucha fizzy.  You’ve trapped the carbon dioxide inside and when you open it, it all rushes out.  Fizz!
  • Another byproduct of kombucha fermentation is alcohol.  If you’re a regular kombucha drinker you may have noticed that you might get a wee bit of a buzz after downing an entire bottle.  (I can’t be the only one).  There is a very small amount of alcohol in kombucha.  Here are some numbers for you:
    An average batch of kombucha will contain .5 % to 1.5 % ABV (alcohol by volume) as opposed to beer or wine which can range from 2% to 19% ABV depending on the label.  You can see that it is a very tiny amount compared to actual alcoholic beverages, but it’s in there.  If you avoid alcohol for any reason it might be wise to stay away from kombucha too.  Use your best judgement!
  • Fermentation times will vary.  Because bacteria and yeast thrive in warm temperatures, they will work faster when the weather is warmer or the temperature in your kitchen is warm.  During the winter months or when our homes are cooled by air conditioning, fermentation times can be a bit longer.  This is why you taste test to determine when your kombucha is finished fermenting to your liking.

There you have it!  The very basics of kombucha making!  I am sooooo excited for you guys to start brewing your own.  Please please please keep me updated with your progress and do not hesitate to contact me with questions.  I’m always available by leaving a comment, email, dropping me a note on Facebook, tweeting me on Twitter, or even cruising on over to Instagram.

And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Fermented, A Four Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods.  There are several very unique kombucha flavorings included in the recipe sections.  Go beyond fruit and juice and incorporate vegetables, herbs, and more into your ‘buch flavorings!

Next week is the final installment!  I’ll be covering troubleshooting and FAQ, so get your questions, comments, and problems to me ASAP!  And you do not want to miss the kombucha-related giveaway I have planned.  One of you is going to win a pretty sweet gift.  Stay tuned!

Kombucha Series Part 4 - Equipment

If you missed the first three parts, check them out here:
1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar

I hope you’ve taken the time to read the first three installments in this kombucha series.  The previous posts will guide you through the preliminary steps necessary for top-quality ‘buch making.  This week’s post is focused on the necessary equipment needed to make kombucha.

To be completely honest, this post could be just a few sentences long.  Allow me to give you a list of all the necessary kombucha-making hardware:

1. A clean glass jar.

That’s all.  This is the beauty of fermentation – because it is such an old craft there isn’t a need for fancypants equipment and gadgetry.  If your great great great grandparents were making kombucha, chances are they didn’t have pH strips, racking canes, continuous brewing rigs, flip-top bottles, etc.  They just used what they had.

But, we live in 2013 and just because we don’t NEED all kinds of equipment for fermentation in general and kombucha making in specific, doesn’t mean that we can’t use some modern-day equipment to make our lives easier.  I mean, my forebearers didn’t have cars, but I’m using one today, right?  Conestoga wagons aren’t my style.

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So, below you will find a list of suggested equipment for kombucha making.  I’ll let you know which things I believe to be more useful than others (my opinions), and you can start assembling your ‘buch-making arsenal.

1. A clean glass jar – As noted above, this is probably the only piece of hardware anyone needs for kombucha making.  The size of the jar depends on how much kombucha you want to make.  For me and my household of two adults and no kids, a half gallon jar is enough for an 8-pack of flavored kombucha.  You may find that you want more or less, so adjust the size accordingly.  Just make sure the jar is food-grade glass.  Ceramic is a possibility if you know the glaze on it is food-safe (some are lead based), and metal and plastic are no-nos.  Just stick with a big glass jar and you’ll be fine.

2. Jar covering – Many jars come with lids, but don’t use them for kombucha making.  You want air to be able to get in and out of your kombucha as it ferments and closing it off with a lid just won’t do.  Instead, use a piece of cloth (clean handkerchief) or a coffee filter secured with a rubber band or string.  I do not recommend cheesecloth for this job as the holes in cheesecloth can be large enough for bugs to get in and out of your kombucha jar.  If this happens you are immediately in a throw-it-all-out-and-start-all-over-from-the-beginning scenario.  A piece of light cloth or a coffee filter are light enough to allow air to escape, but have a tight enough weave to keep any intruders at bay.

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3. Funnels – I find funnels to be one of the most useful kitchen tools whether or not I’m using them for fermentation.  I’m clumsy and sloppy so any gadget that keeps me from spilling and making a mess is alright in my book.  As far as kombucha making goes, you may find yourself pouring liquids from one vessel to another and funnels of various sizes come in handy.  I have two that are rather small that I bought in a kitchen supply store and one other that I use for large jobs that I picked up in an auto parts store because it is made for helping with an oil change.

4. Racking cane – When I first starting making kombucha I had never even heard of such a device.  Then I met Naomi of Red Star Kombucha and she told me about it.  She regularly makes enough kombucha to fill kegs, so her glass containers are 10 gallons or more.  That’s a lot of kombucha and a lot of HEAVY jars. It is dangerous to pick up a 10 gallon glass container and pour ‘buch out of it!  Instead she uses a racking cane.
A racking cane is a siphon of sorts that is also its own little pump. Simply put one end in the large kombucha filled container and the other in the empty vessel.  Pump the pump a few times to get the liquid flowing and voila!  You have kombucha flowing from your large jar into smaller containers in no time.
Racking canes are available at brewers’ supply stores and come in various sizes.  Many of them also come with a choke device to fit on the tube to stop the flow of liquid when necessary.
Honestly, when I’m bottling kombucha for a second ferment, I use my racking cane AND a funnel, (Like I said, I’m messy.) but the racking cane was a life saver for me.  I love mine and wouldn’t want to bottle an 8-pack without it.

racking cane

5. Flip-top bottles – In the next installment in this kombucha series I am going to cover putting it all together and actually making kombucha.  When you read that, you will see that kombucha is finished and potable before it is bottled.  Therefore, flip-top bottles are not at all essential equipment. However, I would be willing to bet that most kombucha you have ever had in your life has come in a bottle and it’s fizzy.  Flip-top bottles (or even jars with tight-fitting lids) are what help make it fizzy.  Straight out of your fermentation vessel, kombucha is not that fizzy.  Remember, you’ve covered it with something that allows air to escape so any effervescence that could have built up has now escaped.
For the time being, do not get mired down in the procedure of kombucha making.  That is for next week’s post.  But if you are interested in fizzy kombucha, flip-top bottles are what you want to have on hand.

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6. Mortar and pestle, food processor, blender, or mini-chopper – When it comes time to spread your creative wings and fly into the world of flavoring your kombucha, having some piece of equipment that will pulverize fruit and herbs will come in handy.  If your knife skills are up to the task, then by all means, skip these things.  I prefer my ‘buch flavored with juices and finely blended fruits.  This isn’t something I can do by hand so I let the machines do all the work for me.

7. A fine sieve – If you are anything like me, and chunky kombucha isn’t your thing, then blending fruits for ‘buch flavoring in a blender or food processor is step one in the prep, and step two is running the fruit pulp through a fine sieve.  You kombucha will be free of miniature seeds, fibers, leaves, and pulp!

8. A continuous brewing vessel – This is not at all necessary equipment for kombucha making, but it definitely falls under the category of convenience devices.  When I make kombucha, I use a half-gallon glass jar, bottle it using a racking cane and funnel, refill it with tea after that, and I’m done.  This system works for me, but the only downside is that once I bottle a batch and start another, I have to wait a few weeks before my next batch is finished.  There is some down time between when Dude and I have finished the 8 bottles and when the next batch is ready.  Like I said, this works in our household, but if you absolutely cannot live without your ‘buch from day-to-day, perhaps a continuous brewing system is what you need.
A suitable vessel for a continuous brew system is similar to what you would need in any kombucha making vessel – glass or ceramic food-grade jar.  Continuous brew vessels are typically larger (a gallon or more) and also feature a spigot near the bottom of the container.  This allows you to remove kombucha from the container without disturbing the SCOBY (which is usually found on top of the liquid).  You will regularly remove kombucha through the spigot and bottle it (or just drink it straight from the tap!), and then replace what you have removed with sweetened tea.  No need for racking canes, funnels, or waiting for the next batch to brew.

9. Various other gadgets – When you get in to bottling and flavoring kombucha, a collection of other gadgets may come in handy.  Citrus reamers, cherry pitters, strawberry hullers, ginger graters, etc.  Use these at your own discretion.  They are far from necessary!  I live in a small condo with a modest kitchen so I don’t have room for all kinds of extra stuff (or as Alton Brown would call them, unitaskers!). But I know that kitchen gadgets are popular and some of you may have these tools already in your arsenal or you just like collecting fun kitchen tools.  Power on.

A note about materials:  As mentioned in the SCOBY post, because it is a live delicate collection of beings, it is also fragile.  Harsh chemicals, cleaning agents, and certain materials are bad for kombucha making and SCOBY health.  Be sure that your vessels are all food grade glass or ceramic.  Metal and plastic have no place in kombucha making.  That is to say, anything that will come in prolonged contact with your ‘buch should not be made of metal or plastic.  Siphoning your kombucha from a jar to a bottle through a racking cane with plastic tubing or straining fruit juices through a metal sieve is perfectly fine.  But brewing a batch in a metal container or plastic jug is not.  If you are considering a kombucha continuous brew system, be sure that all of the components are food-safe and made of the proper materials – especially the spigot!

As with any hobby, kombucha making (or any kind of fermentation) can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  Have a jar?  You have enough to get started.  All other equipment is optional, but as I mentioned above, there isn’t a thing wrong with injecting a little convenience into your life.  If you are just starting out, do not buy a kitchen full of equipment!  Get the basics and grow your kombucha making operation from there.

Feel free to check out my Amazon store for a listing of equipment that I use to brew kombucha and other stuff that I find indispensable in my kitchen including all the stuff I list in this post.  (Note, that this link leads to my Amazon.com affiliate store where I will earn a small percentage of moolah for each purchase you make from it.  Just FYI.)

Stay tuned for next week’s post when we put it all together!  SCOBY + tea + sugar + equipment = KOMBUCHA!  At last!

And as usual, if you have any questions, comments, or issues you’d like me to cover in upcoming installments, leave me a comment, catch me on Facebook, send me an email, or tweet me a Tweet.

Half Marathon 2013

(Before I get into this post, just a quick reminder that I’m giving away a copy of Gather: The Art of Paleo EntertainingClick here to find out how you can earn SIX chances to win!)

If you’ve been following me and this website at all for the last couple of years, then you know that running is my Moby Dick.  I should say that running confidently and well (and fast) is what always seems to elude me.  I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I’m terrible at it, but that’s why I want to do it.  It is uncomfortable, but I have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I am Ms. Slowpoke McGhee, but I have to challenge myself to keep going.

However, one of my goals for 2013 is to become a more confident runner.  Still my expectation is low.  I’m not talking about becoming one of these folks who casually rocks out 14 miles on a workday morning.  I just want to be someone who feels good running 4 or 5 miles at a time without stress or fretting.  I want to be able to feel good about going out for 45 minutes or so and running and feel great after I’m finished.  That’s all.  I have no desire to break records, nor am I under any illusion that I will ever win anything with my running skill.  I just want to get out there and move and not have it be a major stressful event where I’m in agony before, during, and after.

Last year when I ran the half marathon portion of the Pittsburgh Marathon, I had some very difficult moments.  I went into the race not really knowing what to expect, I didn’t train properly or enough for it, and although I had a good time with it, it wasn’t exactly a shining moment of fitness for me.  I was proud of my (not-so-bragworthy) time of 2:46:33 because that was as well as I could do with what I had.  I told myself that I wasn’t going to do it again, that once was plenty and I should probably stick to shorter distances.

Then I hurt my ankle.

My doctor and physical therapist told me that I would probably be able to run again, but it would be a very very L-O-N-G time before I was back to normal – IF I could even get back to normal.  They were very candid about my ankle never being the same again.

So, here I am, NOT running, and all I can think about is how badly I want to run.  I would have dreams about it.  Just a month before I injured myself, I (kind of) swore off running.  Isn’t that the way it always goes?  You don’t want something, but the minute you are forbidden from having it, it becomes all you want.  Oh, Jill.  You’re so predictable!

September of last year rolls around and I’m finally back on my feet – running!  I ran a few 5Ks and they were really really slow.  But! I was doing it!  YAY!  Celebrate!

And then something happened.  I got swept up in the excitement of my fellow Steel City Road Runners Club members and I impulsively registered for the half marathon portion of the Pittsburgh Marathon BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE WAS DOING IT!  Is that the lamest thing you’ve ever heard?  I got all excited about the pretty significant discount I got on registration for being a member of the club and just did it. I even posted a photo of my registration on Instagram labeling it an impulse buy.  It totally was.

So, I was locked in to it.  I had mixed emotions about it after the fog of peer pressure dissipated.  Part of me was regretful.  Part of me was excited.  Part of me was dreading the training.  Part of me was excited about the challenge.  Part of me thought I acted too quickly and forgot about my ankle.  Part of me knew that my ankle was stronger each day and I’d be fine.

I immediately started training.  Casually at first, but then I kicked it up over the winter.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Pittsburgh we had a really weird winter.  It lingered.  Temperatures were unusually frigid, there was a large amount of snow and rain, and it lasted much longer into the springtime months than normal.  This made for some frustrating training runs.  I got so sick and tired of running with 4 or 5 layers of clothing.  I was sick of being cold all the time.  I was starting to really second guess my judgement and kick myself for registering.

I was lucky to have a few different sources of support, however.  My friend Kelly and I started running together and that was terrific for me.  I had someone with whom I had to keep my running dates.  A small group of Pittsburgh area CrossFitters started a half marathon training group and I ran with them a few times.  They kept me accountable each week for long runs.

By this past Sunday, I was as ready as I was going to ever be.  I had run the training miles.  It wasn’t easy because of the weather, my ankle flared up a few times, and I am just painfully slow.  But, the work was in the books.

prerace(My pre-race selfie in my bathroom mirror.  Check out that snazzy First Comes Health shirt!)

I was nervous.  I knew what to expect, but I was afraid of the pain and the fatigue.  I didn’t know how my ankle would react.  Plus I was running it all alone.  Last year Dude and I stuck together the whole time. This year, I was out there all by myself.  Not really a big deal, but when you’re already nervous and anxious, the thought of doing something like this alone seemed quite daunting.

So!  The race!  Turns out, it was FANTASTIC!  I enjoyed almost every single minute of it.  There were times when I flagged a little bit, but I kept my thoughts focused on the goal of finishing.  There were moments when I kind of lost myself a bit, but a few deep breaths and a figurative kick in my own behind was all it took.

part of my cheer posse(A few members of my cheer posse!  Kelly, Ann, and my Dude)

Like last year, miles 8 through 10 were very tough.  I just wanted it to be over.  But breaking those miles down into little sections (Just get to the corner of Carson Street and Smithfield Street! or Run as fast as you can until you reach the block where Piper’s Pub is!) made them tick by like nothing.  There were even moments when I was whizzing past people and felt like I was flying.

Jill mid half marathon high fives

(Here I am at the halfway point high-fiving my cheer posse!)

By the end I felt really good.  There were a few moments when I had to walk for 10 or 15 steps just to regain a bit of my composure and reaffirm myself, but I crossed the finish in 2:35:47.  That’s a whole 10:45 faster than last year.  That’s a whole 10:45 faster than my pre-injury time!!!

banner

I had a super secret goal of 2:30:00 or less and I didn’t tell a single person about it.  Obviously I didn’t make that, but I am really really excited and proud of how I did perform.  It may not be the most brag-worthy half marathon time, but for me, it’s everything.  I am really pumped up.

So, here are my final post-race reflections:

  • Don’t underestimate yourself – I do this all the damned time and I really need to cut it out.  Up until the moment the race started I doubted whether or not I could really do it.  But then the next thing I knew I was 5 miles in to it and I felt great.  Confidence, confidence, confidence.  Believe in yourself and trust in your own hard work.  This is what got me through the entire race.
  • I’m a real runner now – I wholeheartedly believe that no matter if you’re running your first 5K or your 20th ultra-marathon, you’re a runner. However, I just didn’t believe that for myself for some reason.  I don’t know what I thought I needed to accomplish before I could consider myself a true runner, but I just couldn’t allow myself to accept that title no matter how many races I’ve participated in.  But after this race, I feel like I’ve earned the right to really call myself a runner.
  • No more impulse buys – Sure, this one worked out for me, but I won’t get swept up in the madness again and register for any races without thinking about it first.  I don’t ever want to back down from a challenge, but there were times when I felt like I painted myself in to a corner with this race by spending the money on it before really thinking about it.
  • It is fantastic to have family and friends cheering you on – My Dude, my dad, my coaches from my CrossFit, and a whole gang of my friends were at the halfway point with signs and loud cheers for me.  I loved that!  It gave me something to look forward to and helped me shake off my nerves.  It also helped to know that another friend of mine, Ashley, was waiting between mile 9 and 10.  That’s where I really needed a high-five.  Seeing friendly and encouraging faces along the course really made my day.
  • Use visual cues to distract yourself when the going gets tough – You’ve heard it a million times (even from me!). Running is a mental sport as much as it is a physical one.  In order to overcome any self-doubting thoughts, I did everything I could to distract myself.  One of the tricks I picked up during my training was to plan to think of people or things each time you spot a predetermined object.  So, each time I saw someone wearing a running skirt, I thought of my friend Diane.  She wears them all the time!  I would see a woman in a running skirt (and I even did this with the few guys I saw in kilts) and spend then next several minutes thinking of my friend, how she would be cheering me on and encouraging me to stay strong.  I highly recommend this little technique.

final(Yay! I’m a Runner of Steel for the second time!)

So, there you have it.  2013 Pittsburgh (half) Marathon is in the books!  I’m really proud of my achievement, but I know I still have much work to do in order to keep improving.  My next running goal is to finish Pittsburgh’s Great Race 10K in late September at around 1 hour.  We’ll see.  I’m going to keep on running and I’ll keep you posted.

Giveaway! Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining

The winner of this giveaway has been chosen and notified and the contest is closed.  Thanks for participating!

Can I just say that I had the best weekend?  I did.  First of all, yesterday I completed my second half marathon!  Yippee!  I plan to give you all the details of that accomplishment in a post later this week.  Saturday was one of those days where I got many things finished around my house. A quiet day.  But Friday was something special.  Dude and I went to a local restaurant and celebrated our friends Hayley and Bill‘s latest book, Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining!

Gather

First of all, I have to offer my most hearty congratulations to my dear friends.  First, because now that I have written my own book (You know it!) I have an ENORMOUS amount of appreciation for the amount of heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears that goes into an endeavor like this.  Here’s the thing, however: I wrote my book, meaning I wrote all the text.  Beyond that, I had someone take all the photos (Bill!) and I have another person putting it together to look like a real book.  These two have not only written this masterpiece, but they took all the photos, AND put it all together in a gorgeous (not-so) little package.  If you don’t already know, that requires dedication, time, and most of all, skill. In tremendous supply.  This isn’t some weekend project.

I knew this book was going to be something special – it is created by two cooking devotees who just love real food, they’re both artists who have a special eye for beauty in all things – but I must be honest that when I finally got a copy of this book in my hands, I was blown away.  It. Is. Fabulous.

And not in that “the sizzle sells the steak” kind of way.  Sure, they could have devoted all their time to the pretty photos and skimped and cut corners on the recipes, but they didn’t.  Even if this book had line drawings instead of dozens of fantastic pictures, the recipes on their own would stand out as nothing short of masterful.

Can you tell I love this book?

Gather 2(Hey! That’s the back of my head! Did you know the New Year’s Eve party was photographed at my home?! Totally.)

I have already tagged some favorites and have put them in heavy rotation around my house.  Teriyaki Country Ribs, Braised Pork Belly, Sweet Potato Hash with Rosemary, Sauteed Japanese Eggplant with Onions and Sage.  Just a sampling of some of the favorites that have emerged so far.  But to be honest, I’ve barely dug into this book!  I anticipate it never seeing my bookshelf, and instead it will find a permanent home on my kitchen table so I can have it ready for quick reference and inspiration.

Gather 3(This photo is so beautiful! It almost looks like a painting!)

So, here’s the good news for you!  I have a spare copy to give to a lucky winner!  I don’t want anyone to be without their own copy of Gather.  Seriously.  And if you play your cards right, I might even be able to get it signed for you too.  Let’s get to the details on how you can find yourself with your very own copy…..

There will be a random drawing for the winner from the entries received.
For one entry in the drawing, comment below and tell me whether or not you like to entertain in your home.  Let me know why or why not.

To earn additional entries, join me in the following ways:
1. Like First Comes Health on Facebook
2. Follow First Comes Health on Twitter
3. Follow me on Instagram
4. Sign up to receive my newsletter

This gives you the opportunity to earn FIVE entries into the Gather giveaway drawing!!!  Comment, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, newsletter.  Do it!

And because I’m feeling generous, I’m going to give you a sixth way.  Pre-order my book Fermented from Amazon.com and email me the confirmation to score another chance.

How do you like that?  That is six whole chances to have my pull your name as the big winner.

It all starts today and ends at Friday May 10, 2013 at noon Pittsburgh time (EST).  Don’t delay!

(By the way, It’s not a secret that Hayley and Bill are my friends, but my opinions are my own and I’m always brutally honest.  For more info on my policy on reviews, check out the legal tab at the top, or click here to see where I stand.)

 

Kombucha Series Part 3 - Choosing Sugar

Are all strapped in and ready for part three in my kombucha series?  I sure hope so.

In case you missed the previous hoopla:
Part 1 focused on making your own SCOBY from scratch.
Part 2 was all about choosing the right tea for successful kombucha brewing.

If you’ve been following along so far, you are well on your way to successful home kombucha making.  Your SCOBY should be in fine shape and hopefully you have some tea on hand that will eventually be turned in to some delicious ‘buch.  Before you get started, however, there is one final element needed to get the fermentation ball rolling.

Fuel.

That SCOBY you now have is a bundle of living creatures whose very nature it is to eat and procreate.  Now, you won’t have to put on any Barry White music to encourage those little bacteria yeasts to make wee babies, but you will have to provide them with food to eat to fuel their reproductive efforts.  That is where the sugar comes in to play.

Right about now I anticipate a comment like this:  “But!!!  But!!!  But!!!! Isn’t sugar BAD for you?!?!?!”

Yes.  It isn’t called the white devil for nothing.  HOWEVER!  We’re talking fuel here.  We aren’t talking about added sugar to be consumed by the teaspoonful.  We aren’t even talking about making something that is even considered “sugary”. The bacteria and yeast need food to eat so they can proliferate and therefore ferment our tea into ‘buch.  By the time it is all said and done, there will be far less sugar in a bottle of ready-to-drink kombucha than there was when you started brewing it.  My point is, do not freak out over the use of sugar.  It’s a necessary part of the process.

barbados sugar cane

(A sugar cane field in Barbados)

The deal with sugar is this: There are almost as many kinds on the market as there are types of tea.  What to use?

Let’s first talk about what all of those sugars are, how they’re made, what their individual merits are.  Then we’ll move along to a recommendation or two.

Sugar comes from one of a few sources – sugar cane, sugar beets, a beehive (honey), leaves (stevia), various grains (corn syrup, rice sugar), and even sap from various plants (coconut sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.)  Generally speaking the raw materials are harvested, refined in some way by removing impurities, and then packaged for sale and consumption.  That is REALLY watering down the process, but for what we are covering here, the exact tedious and history-rich process is not important.

Sugars

  • White sugar – The ubiquitous white sugar is very processed sugar cane (or sometime sugar beets) that has all impurities, molasses, and excess water removed from it.  It is usually sold in five-pound bricks in any supermarket.
  • Raw sugar – Although calling raw sugar “raw” is a bit misleading, it is not as processed and manipulated as its cousin, white sugar. When sugar cane or beets are processed into table sugar, they go through several steps of refinement. The original crop is chopped, crushed, and essentially juiced of all the liquid inside. That liquid is boiled to concentrate it and the resulting product is molasses and molasses-rich raw sugar crystals. Further refinement of these crystals extracts more molasses and turns the crystals white and into the common white table sugar. The reason that raw sugar has a light brown color is because it is only partially processed and molasses has not been completely removed.
    Other names that raw sugar is sold under include turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, and the brand name Sugar in the Raw.
  • Barbados or Muscovado sugar – This is a type of sugar found very commonly in the United Kingdom and has a very high molasses content. The sugar crystals are a bit larger than one would expect from standard white table sugar, and the texture is slightly sticky. Elsewhere in the world, Barbados or Muscovado sugar is called Panela sugar or Rapadura.

  • Brown sugar – Unlike raw sugar or Barbados sugar which are indeed brown, brown sugar, the kind commonly used in baking, is not actually partially processed sugar. Instead, it is processed white sugar that has molasses added back into it to give it a brown color, sticky texture, and the ability to be packed like wet sand.
  • Cane juice – Cane juice is another name for the liquid that is yielded in the preliminary steps of sugar processing when sugar cane is mulched into small pieces. The resulting liquid can be bottled and used directly as a sweetener and is sold as cane juice.
  • Evaporated cane juice – It is exactly what it sounds like. The cane juice, which is a product of grinding up sugar cane, is heated and the water content evaporated leaving sugar crystals behind. Evaporated cane juice is often sold under the brand name, Sucanat.

There are several other types of sugars and sweeteners out there, but they are not at all recommended for kombucha making.  This list of no-nos include honey (unless pasteurized), molasses, stevia (leaves or liquid), agave nectar, coconut sugar, rice sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, or any artificial sweetener like aspartame, saccharine, xylitol, etc.

So, given the list of acceptable sugars, which one do I highly recommend?  The answer might surprise you!  Plain old, highly-processed, inexpensive white sugar.

Because it is just about pure sucrose, there is really nothing in it that will interfere with SCOBY growth and development, taint your kombucha with a molasses flavor, or discolor it in any way.  It has the right chemical compound in the right proportion that is easily accessible to the bacteria and yeast that will fuel the SCOBY’s fermentation power.

A drawback to white sugar is that it is difficult to find organic white sugar.  In the previous installment I was adamant about using organic tea to make kombucha because you just don’t know what else is on the tea leaves when they’re not organically grown and handled.  The same is true for sugar. Do you know what they put on sugarcane or sugar beet fields to keep pests at bay and to facilitate crop growth?  Me either, but it’s typically chemical laden garbage that ends up in your food and there for in your body.  Blah.  Chemicals and fertilizers and pesticides do not make good SCOBY food either.

Also, if you are avoiding GMO goods, white sugar made from GMO beets are an obvious do not use product.

So, what to do?  Truthfully, I grit my teeth and use regular white sugar anyway.  On the off day that I can find organic white sugar, I buy some and use it happily.  But most other times, I just use the conventional white sugar made from cane.

Lionel cream and sugar

(Yeah, this is a Lionel Richie cream and sugar set.  Wanna fight about it?)

A few words about how much sugar to use
In upcoming installments, I will share my kombucha recipe with you.  It will contain proportions and measurements for each ingredient.  Please do NOT skimp on the amount of sugar called for.  Remember, it is in the recipe because it is SCOBY food/fuel.  It is a very important part of the yummy chemical experiment you will be conducting in your kitchen.  I know that as a healthy eater it seems almost counter-intuitive to use heaps and heaps and cups and cups of sugar, but trust me on this one.  You will be rewarded with a healthy SCOBY and delicious fizzy kombucha.

Ok!  That’s all for this week.  Please let me know if you have any questions, problems, or concerns.  I want to hear from you!  Email me, contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.  And heck you can even find me on Instagram.  Tell me about your own kombucha experiences or what you would like to experiment with in the first place.
And don’t forget that these kombucha posts will be a weekly occurrence for a while so if you have issues, questions, or topic suggestion for future weeks, tell me in the comments or through one of my aforementioned social media outlets and I’ll do my best to address it.