Sunday, December 8, 2013

Creating Kombucha, or My Mother the SCOBY

I have your mother in the car.

This is a pretty ominous text message, and it took me a minute to register the threat.  Luckily I had no bandits to battle or ransoms to pay.  My friend Emily was driving home from her parents’ house in New Hampshire, where her dad brews kombucha tea.  She was bringing me a mother kombucha, so that I could try brewing my own.

Pictured here: all the ingredients you need.

Kombucha is a special type of fermented tea that’s grown from a “mother” culture called a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (yummy!), or SCOBY.  I hate acronyms (they always look like yelling) so I’m going to just keep calling it the mother.  When the mother is allowed to feed on tea and sugar for an extended period of time, it evolves into kombucha, a special type of tea that does something. 

But what does it do?  That question has no easy answer.  You can search and search the Internet, but information about kombucha is conflicting, and there is very little in the way of citations.  Kristen at Food Renegade is a staunch promoter of kombucha, but right off the bat she refers to its “rich anecdotal history” (emphasis mine).  Kristen also claims that the reason kombucha isn't being held up for scientific scrutiny is because it’s too easy to brew at home, and therefore not profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.

That’s certainly a compelling argument, and I do love to side with renegades, but Kristen’s listed sources are somewhat less than reputable. One of them is a weird, rambling essay written in 1993, and another is a website written entirely in Comic Sans.  A third appears to have been run one too many times through Google Translator.  Its comprehensive, but a little bit goofy.

The opposing side is no more scientific in its arguments.  The Mayo Clinic seems content to rest on its laurels for this debate, issuing a terse warning to avoid the brew altogether.  For its part, the American Cancer Society appears equally unconvinced, albeit with a bit more of an explanation.  

Meanwhile, Synergy, one of the most recognizable names in kombucha commerce, makes no claims whatsoever on its website, scientific or otherwise, choosing instead to let the product speak for itself.

Although this photo of the CEO suggests benefits include white teeth and perpetual radiance.