It's a surprisingly simple project anyone can try.
Though it is only the fourth day of 2018, you may be already thinking to yourself, “New Year, new me.” You might be scheming new projects to take on in the kitchen, gathering recipes you finally want to try, or cracking open that cookbook that you never got around to reading in 2017. Why not make one of those projects brewing your own fermented drinks? Fermenting anything, you might be thinking, sounds difficult, risky, and messy—but nothing could be farther from the truth. Alex Lewin, co-author of the book Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond with Raquel Guajardo, thinks that drinking kombucha is one of the best—and easiest ways—to improve your digestion and overall health—and it's easy to make, too.
“[Fremented beverages] scratches the same itch as soda,” he says, adding that something like kombucha has the same “fizzy, sweet, and sour,” flavors as, say, a Coke.
Not only that, but Lewin says brewing kombucha can help you “become friends with your kitchen, use your imagination, and tune into how your body is feeling.”
He talked with Food & Wine about the surprisingly simple process behind creating your own fermented beverages at home. Once you know what you need to do to brew, we put together a list of all the equipment you should have to make the process as simple as possible.
The process is low-risk
Lewin’s first piece of advice for would-be kombucha brewers? “Don’t be afraid. People have been doing this for a thousand years before they knew anything about sanitation or microbiology.” Lewin calls the process “dead simple,” and that if it’s not working, “you’ll know instinctively.” For instance, if something is going wrong during the brewing process, you may see green mold growing in the jar—warning you immediately to not drink it. If you don’t see those obvious outward signs, you’ll know right away that your recipe was a success. Lewin recommends Kombucha Mamma as a reliable source to buy your starter for that particular fermented drink.
Lewin recommends trying out a recipe that doesn’t require any fermenting before jumping into the more complicated beverages, which use a store-bought yogurt or apple cider vinegar as a base (his book contains a chapter called “Five-Minute Recipes” which outline this type of drink). Lewin recommends using a full-fat, organic, plain yogurt with no added sugar in those recipes. If you’re eager to make your own brew from scratch, you could start out by making a plain kombucha before experimenting with a recipe that involves extra flavors.
You probably have most of the equipment that you need
While Lewin says that an electric kettle and a digital scale are nice to have when brewing fermented drinks, all you really need is a 2-gallon cookie jar, a bag of sugar, black or green tea (preferably organic), and a way to boil water. Empty bottles of any type are also handy. Lewin calls canning funnels “indispensable,” and that a mason jar can double as a mixer if shaken vigorously. You should also have some towels on hand because fermented drinks can sometimes be sticky or bubble over.
There are a few things to avoid
Lewin is adamant that kombucha brewers should stay away from scented soaps, even those that are all-natural like Method and Mrs. Meyer's, and detergents, which can tamper with your palette. He prefers to use Dr. Bronner's soaps. If you have any fruit that is going bad, or you keep compost in your kitchen, you should move it away from the container where you are brewing your beverage, as there is a chance moldy spores can float into the fermenting liquid. You should also try to filter your water, either in a pitcher, or a filter that can be attached to the waterspout on your sink.
Some flavors go well with almost all fermented drinks
One of Lewin’s favorite recipes is for pineapple wine, which he says avoids being too sweet. He also likes combining strawberry, cayenne, and ginger in his kombucha. In fact, ginger is a flavor that goes well with almost all fermented drinks. Turmeric is another flavor that is an all-around reliable ingredient, but Lewin warns that it can overwhelming if too much is added to the beverage.
Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home, $18 on amazon.com