Tag Archives: fermentation

1000 views, and SCOBY goes global!

13 Sep

Yesterday, Brooklyn Alewife reached a milestone:  this blog has been viewed 1,000 times.  That might happen to some people in a few days or in one day, I don’t know.  For me it took a few months, and the number feels significant.

Meanwhile, my SCOBY has become a world traveller.  The first great adventure for SCOBY mother of kombucha was a few years ago:  my friend Monica brought her to Argentina.  I believe there are still pieces of this mother haunting Buenos Aires, even though Monica has since returned to NYC.  Last week was a big one, though.  Congratulations to Annie who adopted a Jun SCOBY which I shipped to Iceland, and Naz, who flew a kombucha mother from New York to Turkey.  In honor of milestones and worldly cultures, I offer you a picture of my current batches.  These were both taken on September 10– what with travelling I let them go pretty long, so they are both on the vinegary side.  It’s interesting to see the two ferments next to each other:  you can really see the difference in the brews.  Note how I started them both on the same day.  The scummy looking stuff hanging off the kombucha SCOBY is yeast strands.  That Jun mother sure did take over the jar, just as she seems to be planning to take over the world!Image:


Yogis drinking: Goji Beer

2 Aug

The yogi who drinks goji beer:  if you were questioning whether or not I am a certified hippie, you may have found your answer in this post…. anyway, the following youtube is a homage, if you can call it that, to yogis and goji berries.  The drink I’ve made is nearly identical to my cherry soda recipe.

Combine in a glass jar:

4 c water

1 generous handful of goji berries

1/4 c sucanot or rapadura. 

1/4c tibicos (water kefir) grains

Mix. Cover your jar with a towel so the culture can breathe, but so flies can’t get in.  Let it sit for about two days, stirring a couple times a day if you think of it.   Warmer temps will make it ferment faster.  The brew will bubble vigorously when you stir.  When you suspect it is ready, maybe even after day 1, taste it.  If it’s too sweet, let it go longer.  If it tastes good to you, bottle it in an airtight bottle.  Leave the bottle at room temperature for a day or so: less if it’s really hot in your fermentation place, like it is in my kitchen!  Bottling will allow the brew to build up bubbles.

Goji beer consumer

Goji Beer fanatic.  Feel the fizz!

If too many bubbles build, you will have a big explosion when you open it, and you will lose most of your brew, not to mention creating a grand mess in your kitchen.  At the talk I went to on Tuesday, Sandor Katz had a great suggestion:  if you bottle it in plastic, you can tell when the brew is ready because the bottle will be firm.  My only qualm is that the paranoid health fanatic in me likes to err away from plastics:  especially when I’m working with reactive fermentations.  Kefir will do a number on metal, so why wouldn’t there be plastic chemicals leaking into my drink…?  The plastic bottling is a good call to start with if you feel unsure how long to let the bottles sit, and certainly if you start to make larger batches, you could put a little bit into a plastic bottle and the rest into glass.

Beer?  So, is it alcoholic?

It can be alcoholic.  I’ve made some unexpectedly boozy kefirs lately.  According to Katz (Yeah, him again.  Keep in mind that talk was just two days ago.), if you let it ferment without exposure to air, like once you’ve bottled the stuff, then it will go into an anaerobic fermentation, which creates alcohol.  If the culture can breathe a lot, it should be less alcoholic.  Based on his premise, perhaps stirring more could help create a less boozy brew.  I’ve been pretty lazy about stirring.  I have a feeling that the high heats in my un-airconditioned apartment cause a more rapid fermentation process which might also lend to the alcoholic content of my stuff lately: I’ve only been bottling it for an afternoon and, whew!   I can feel the fizz.

More Root Beer: an improvement on a theme.

19 Jul

A while ago, I posted a recipe for root beer that contains licorice and sassafras.  This one is decent and nice if you want to keep your ingredients to a minimum, but I was a little unhappy with the licorice overpowering the brew.  Here is my new improved recipe, which calls on a third herb:  sarsaparilla.

Simmer for 20 minutes:

4 c of water

2T dried sassafras root

1t dried licorice root 

2 t dried sarsaparilla root

Let this mixture steep and cool off for about 20 minutes more, then strain it into a 2 quart or slightly larger jar.  Add:

1/3 c evaporated cane syrup (sucanot or rapadura) 

1/3 c maple syrup

4 more cups water

Test the temp.  You should be able to touch the water comfortably– if it’s too hot you will kill your tibicos!  Traditionally they talk about the brew being blood warm or milk-warm.  Add:

1/2 c water kefir grains

Cover your jar with a towel to allow air to come in and flies to stay out.  Leave it out of the way for 2 days, stirring occasionally if you remember.  After two days, taste the brew to make sure it’s fermented enough to your liking.  If you want, leave it another day.  When it tastes ready, bottle it.  Leave the sealed bottles out at room temperature for a day or so, then drink or store in the fridge.  Don’t leave them at room temp too long or they will explode with fizz when you open them!


Kombucha tips: Is it good, or do I throw it?

10 Jul

A very moldy SCOBY (I didn’t grow this).  Credits to http://www.kombuchakamp.com

There have been many times over the years in my kombucha making process where I’ve come across a weird looking SCOBY.  Many variations occur within the normal growth process.  The main question is:  is it mold?  Holes in your SCOBY are not mold.   Air pockets are also normal and healthy.  In searching for a good illustration of what’s good and bad, I came across this website:


They had some tips in there that I hadn’t heard of before.  So this is a great read if you are having any kind of compromises in your kombucha growing.   That being said, I’ve found that most of the time, it’s pretty hard to mess up.

Root Beer, and how many times can you say “Sassafras”

4 May

Probably my favorite thing to make with water kefir, so far, is root beer.  It’s a simple twist on the basic kefir recipe ( see my “Tibicos!” post): it’s just made with an herbal tea instead of just plain water.  This recipe is adapted from Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast.  She uses birch syrup in her recipe.  I imagine birch syrup to have some kind of wintergreen-like taste to it, like when you scratch the bark of a black birch and smell the sap of it.  Unfortunately, birch syrup is impossible to come by on the East Coast as far as I’ve seen,  and it’s very expensive to order from Alaska.  I use maple instead.

The licorice taste tends to overpower the sassafras in the following recipe, so most recently I tried omitting the licorice and using  3 T sassafras.  The resulting sassafras beer is much less sweet, more tangy and bitter.  Also quite satisfying.  You might play with your own herbal ratio.  Also, check out latest root beer recipe, using sarsaparilla.

Simmer for 20 minutes:

4 c of water

2T dried sassafras root

1T dried licorice root.

Let this mixture cool to a “blood warm” temperature.  You should be able to touch the water comfortably– if it’s too hot you will kill your tibicos!  Strain out the herbs, put the tea you just made into a 2 quart jar, then add

1/3 c evaporated cane syrup (sucanot or rapadura) 

1/3 c maple syrup

4 cups water

1/2 c water kefir grains

Cover your jar with a towel to allow air to come in and flies to stay out.  Leave it out of the way for 2 days, stirring occasionally if you remember.  After two days, taste the brew to make sure it’s fermented enough to your liking.  If you want, leave it another day.  When it seems ready, bottle it.  Leave the sealed bottles out at room temperature for a day or so, then drink, or store in the fridge.  Don’t leave them at room temp too long or they will explode with fizz when you open them!

About Sassafras:

Sassafras is a common woodland deciduous shrub.  It grew all over in Rhode Island, where I grew up, and it’s very easy to distinguish by it’s leaves with three fingers.  I used to love to pick a leaf and smell it while on my daily hikes in the woods when I was a kid.  The sap of the leaves has a fresh, tangy smell that apparently acts as a natural insect repellent to protect the plant.

Today I looked it up in Medicinal And Other Uses of North American Plants by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown.  The book looks at herbalism as sited throughout history.  According to this source, sassafras also goes by the names:  saxafras, saloop, ague tree, cinnamon-wood, and smelling tree.  It was use by the Iroquois as a tonic– as a blood purifier, to heal venereal diseases, for rheumatism, after childbirth, and as a diuretic. It’s also considered a particularly good herb to use for purification in the spring.

Leaves of the sassafras. I pilfered this picture from sassafrasgrove.com

Despite all this wonderfulness, you won’t see sassafras in the ingredient list of any root beer you buy.  It was banned from root beers and teas in 1960.  Why?  One component in the oil of the sassafras plant is safrole.  There was a cancer study done, and when as much as .5 to 1 percent of their food was safrole, rats developed liver cancer.  (Never mind that safrole is also present in cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg).  Safrole is chemically related to myristicine and asaraone and is suspected of being hallucinogenic in large doses.  Wikipedia has an interesting write up on the stuff.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safrole.  I imagine it might not be a great idea to drink sassafras essential oil or isolated safrole, but it’s interesting how a study on an isolated substance has come to demonize this one whole food that contains it.  It’s also interesting how a lab study curbed the popularity of sassafras, but we can still sell and eat Sweet and Low to our hearts’ content, so long as there is a label warning us that it could cause cancer.

In spite of the sassafras ban, it is still possible to buy the dried root at herbal stores.  I don’t know why that’s ok and putting it in a tea bag is not, but I won’t complain.  In Manhattan you can get it at Flower Power on East 9th street, Integral Yoga Natural Apothecary on West 13 st, and Dual Specialty store on 1st ave in the East Village.  I’m sure there are other places, too.

Kombucha 101

25 Apr

 Kombucha was my first fermentation experiment, and I have already spread my love of making it to many other folks already.  Whenever I give away a new SCOBY, I offer this set of directions for people.

  1. Get a jar that holds ¾ gallons to 1 gallon of water.  You might obtain a free one at your local health food store—their discarded olive or pickle jars will do the trick.  You can purchase one for about $10 at a kitchen supply store.
  2. Brew the tea.  Pour boiling hot water over 4-5 black tea bags or the equivalent of loose tea.  Organic is better because anything added to the tea leaves to kill pests can also kill your culture.  Add 1c sugar.  Plain, cheap, white sugar.  Let it sit until the temperature is comfortable to the touch—usually I let it sit overnight.  If it’s too hot, you’ll cook your mother—she is alive!
  3. Strain out the tea leaves.  Put your SCOBY mother (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) on the top of the culture.  She might float down to the middle of the jar.  That’s okay.  Add ¼ to ½ cups (I just throw in a good sized “glurp”) of starter kombucha liquid.  This could either be from your last batch or from some plain flavored live active cultures kombucha from the store.
  4. Cover it securely with a towel.   You want it to be able to breathe, but you also don’t want bugs to get in.
  5. Leave it in an out-of-way place, out of direct sunlight for 1-2 weeks.  After 1 week, taste it.  If it’s too sweet for your liking, then it’s not done.  Put it back and let it keep going.  If it’s too sour, you let it go too long.  It’s still okay, just not as pleasant.   Batches will ferment faster in warmer temperatures.
  6. When the batch is done, you will notice that a new SCOBY has formed at the top of your kombucha.  Now you have two mothers.  You can save one as a back up, give it away, compost it, or look for other options:  if you look online, you’ll find people who have developed recipes for SCOBY (eeeewwww).  I’ve also heard of people drying them and turning them into fabric.
  7. You can leave your finished kombucha in a big jar, or you can bottle it.  Bottling the kombucha will help it to build up more bubbles, because you are not constantly opening and closing the same container and the pressure can build a little.  If you are bottling, this is also a good time to flavor it.  A few pieces of chopped ginger will make an extra fizzy one.  I like to use a few dollups of frozen juice concentrate, or if you ever see Jamaican woodroot tonic, that’s delicious in it.    Edible aloe vera can make an interesting addition to your kombucha cocktail as well.
  8. Make another batch!  If you wait in between, you can store your SCOBY in a little bit of kombucha liquid in the refrigerator.   She will lie dormant until you are ready to rock.

P.S.  It’s a pretty no-fail recipe, but sometimes things can happen. If you see mold growing on your mother THROW IT OUT!  If flies invade, throw it out.  But, if there are little brown strands hanging off the bottom of your mother, or if the mother has air bubbles in her, it’s okay!

Variation:   Jun.   If you think that Kombucha is mysterious, check out Jun.  I’ve looked online and nobody agrees as to what it is.  That being said, I got my culture from a friend, and the instructions are identical to that of Kombucha, only you use green tea and honey instead of black tea and sugar.  It’s got a lighter taste to it and a little more sediment.  Be extra careful sealing up the top:  I’ve had more problems with fly infestation in my Jun!


Healthy Kombucha  SCOBY growing on top of the batch.

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