Kombuchas have been finding avid fans in India recently, for good reason too! They’re the perfect replacement for our fizzy drinks. But what are they? Kombuchas are fermented teas. This sweet-sour drink has an added benefit of not being loaded with sugar and is really good for your gut too!
The amazing thing about kombuchas is that the sugar content gradually decreases as the sugar is what catalyzes the fermentation process. We went Live with Honey Islam, the founder of Mountain Bee Kombucha to learn more. These are excerpts from our Instagram Live session.
Kombuchas are fermented teas. What do you mean by tea? How are kombuchas made?
It is not our typical milk tea. Don’t confuse fermented tea with dried fermented tea leaves. First, tea leaves are brewed in water with sugar. You could use any kind of tea leaves while making a kombucha, from black teas to oolong teas. Then, the brewed tea is allowed to cool down to room temperature. Add a scoby mat to it and secure the top with a cloth and some twine. Allow the liquid to ferment.
You mentioned scoby. Can you explain what that is?
The fermentation of a kombucha is done using a scoby, which is a group of very specific bacteria and yeast strains. It’s a thick rubbery disk that helps to aid the fermentation process. It is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.
How long does it have to ferment?
It takes anywhere between a week or ten days. You can start tasting in between to find a taste that you like. Because the flavour changes as the tea keeps fermenting. The longer you allow it to ferment, the more sour it’ll become. When you find a taste that you like, you can stop the fermentation by transferring the liquid into a glass bottle with a lid. Store it in the fridge, and that’ll slow down the fermentation. You can enjoy the same taste thereafter!
What does it taste like? What should someone who hasn’t tried it before, expect?
Keep an open mind when you’re trying it for the first time. Because it is an acquired taste. Things that you can expect from a kombucha is that it is going to be sour and not too sweet. I would recommend people to try the unflavoured classic kombucha because that’s when you get the actual taste. You can also expect an apple flavour because of the acetic acid present.
I noticed that you have many flavours available. How do you choose them?
You can go in infinite directions when it comes to creating flavours. Fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers and herbs are all things that you can experiment with. We have tea based kombuchas, fresh fruit flavours as well as flower and spice at Mountain Bee.
Fermented flowers and spices really sound interesting! Can you tell us a little bit about the benefits of fermented food?
Fermented foods help to diversify your gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a universe of bacteria, yeasts and pathogens that live in our stomach. These microorganisms help to control your digestion. When you eat fermented foods, you increase the availability of these organisms. It is also a source of food for the existing bacteria.
What was your first experience with a Kombucha?
Food has always been a passion of mine. This led me to be a volunteer for an arts festival in Goa back in 2016. I attended a workshop about fermented foods and travelled back to Bangalore with a culture. I was a little hesitant to use it because I wasn’t sure if it had spoiled or not. And couldn't bring myself to start the process, so I discarded it. It took a trip to the US a year later for me to get back to kombuchas.
I started tasting different local brands of kombuchas and instantly fell in love with it. A chance encounter with Annie-Marie Bonneau, a zero waste chef, led me to attending her workshop on fermentation. It was during this workshop that I had a taste of my very first home brewed kombucha. It got me thinking that I should try brewing on my own too. I asked her if she could share some of her ferment culture and she happily agreed. I started brewing my own Kombucha right after!
Besides kombucha, I’m sure you’ve tried your hand at other types of fermented foods. Tell us more about that!
Culturing food is something that I really enjoy. I like to do kombucha based vinegars. I make almond ricottas with kombucha cultures and a variety of sauerkraut. Making sauerkraut is really simple since you don’t need a live culture for it. All you need are vegetables and salt. I also make a lot of sourdough. Kimchi too!
Wow! That’s amazing. You conduct workshops too right?
Yes! I do two kinds of workshops. One is about lacto fermentation, where you can learn about fermentation and fermentation techniques. If you're looking to get started on fermentation without a starter culture, lacto fermentation is a great way to start. The other one is a kombucha masterclass where you get to learn the ins and outs of kombuchas. We also have a YouTube presence. So if anyone wants to get started, you can check out our videos!
If you want to learn more about fermented foods or if you’ve been wanting to give kombuchas a try, Mountain Bee Kombucha is for you!
-Curated by Aishwarya Muralidhar