This page is dedicated to both Kombucha and homemade vinegar. Here I share my personal views [as per usual] regarding the art of preparing kombucha, some of which may not be commonly accepted among kombucha enthusiast or fanatics. Personally, I feel there's a need to extent on some limitations put in place, regarding the preparation of the fascinating kombucha beverage. Or, at least I forward questions for further debate. This includes the use of preparing kombucha with non cane sugar, such as honey, barely or rice malt extract and unrefined cane sugar [sucrose]. I also explain the use of incorporating milk kefir-grains [or water kefir-grains] cultured with the traditional sweetened tea, to prepare a unique kombucha variant, which I refer to as Kefiran-cha. Included here are a few links where a more common following regarding current, more commonly accepted kombucha knowledge is shared on the internet. For individuals who like me, are at ease thinking out side the circle, should find the following information of good practice importance.
|KOMBU-CHA: Kombu= Japanese name for an edible species of seaweed. Cha= Japanese for tea = Seaweed-tea. Note that seaweed has nothing to do with this culture or its ferment ... this is a misnomer. The name most likely came about because of the similarity that the pellicle of Kombucha shares with the appearance and texture of Kombu seaweed.|
The Acetic Acid Bacteria of Vinegar and Kombucha and SCOBY
The genus group of acetic acid [vinegar] bacteria, Acetobacter specifically Acetobacter aceti which is also found in milk kefir-grains [but not in water kefir-grains], is also in part responsible for propagating another fascinating mother-culture, known as mother of vinegar [MOV].Mother of vinegar is an ancient name referring to the cellulose film or pellicle, which forms on the surface as a byproduct of fermentation for preparing vinegar. This also shares *similarity with another natural mother-culture used for preparing Kombucha. The pellicle which forms as a similar film on the surface of Kombucha, is commonly referred to as a SCOBY [Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast] among kombucha enthusiasts.
Vinegar is one of the easiest culture-products that can be prepared at home. It can be prepared from wine-- resulting in wine vinegar, or e.g., apple juice to produce apple cider vinegar. Vinegar can also be prepared from fresh, non alcoholic juices such as fresh fruit or vegetable juice, including cereal grains [maltgar] or honey [honeygar]. Bee pollen vinegar [pollengar] is another possibility. My recipe for pollengar uses 1 part bee pollen, 2 parts honey with 3 parts water. I add about 5% by volume of either kombucha tea, or a non-pasteurized vinegar as an inoculant [to seed]. Left to stand for a few months in a vented container, produces a wonderful, light amber Pollengar, having a delicate light flavour, which is not overly acidic.
Traditional vinegar is commonly produced by inoculating [seeding] either fresh fruit juice e.g., apple juice, with the addition of a small amount of non-pasteurized vinegar [also classified as a mother-of vinegar or mother-culture, for it is active]. Alternatively, wine may be stored in a container with a cloth placed over the mouth of the vessel to let in air while keeping out dust and insects. Left for 3 to 6 months to ferment at room temperature, produces natural vinegar. It is not that important to place the ingredients in a covered but vented container [left at room temperature], so that the liquid or juice receives ample amount of oxygen throughout fermentation.
I produce wonderful vinegar in sealed containers, and which produce no pellicle what so ever. This is probably the outcome of a lack oxygen. Commonly the acetic acid producing organisms are aerobic, and need ample amount of freely available oxygen to do their job converting alcohol into vinegar. The addition of a small amount of non-pasteurized vinegar, say 5% by volume, hastens the culture-process ensuring a satisfactory vinegar is produced. However, in most cases this is not essential, for wine will turn to vinegar if aired over a period of time. Although with some wines, mostly high alcoholic reds, the wine must be diluted with water for it to become vinegar. This is because the high alcohol content retards or halts the growth of the acetic acid organisms, which are essential in the conversion of alcohol to vinegar. But there is an exception, and that is the makings of Balsamic vinegar [see below]
After some weeks, a film should form on the surface of the brew if enough air is let in-- that is mother of vinegar [MOV]. Undisturbed, the film will remain afloat in the forming vinegar. However, the film will sink in the liquid if the container is agitated even slightly. If this occurs, within time a new pellicle should form, replacing the previous submerged colony. The new pellicle will again form floating on the surface of the vinegar or kombucha, where there is amble amount of freely available oxygen. This process may occur many times over, doing so when ever any colony, or pellicle sinks in the brew. However, if the pellicle remains afloat, it simply grows thicker and thicker until all the glucose is solution is used up.
This mother-cultured apple juice for apple cider vinegar is quite easy to prepare at home, with basic raw ingredients. Any MOV that forms, should have a clean sour odour. No mold should be found on the surface! Any brown patches or web-like tentacles as seen in the photo, are due to yeast colonies and lees and possible coagulated tannins or colloidal substances found in the juice. These are regarded as safe.
This batch was prepared from scratch from freshly pressed apple juice. Fresh apples juice was inoculated with the addition of about 5% non-pasteurized vinegar. A cloth placed over the mouth of the container keeps out dust and insects. The container is stored in a dark cupboard for 3 - 6 months. When the vinegar acquires a sour taste without any fizz, it's ready for use. 1/2 the volume of cider vinegar is siphoned into a bottle ready for consumption and the brewing container is replenished with freshly pressed apple juice, and left to ferment as before. This ongoing process may be performed on an indefinite basis, producing a constant supply of wonderful homemade apple cider vinegar.
Preparing Wine Vinegar
To prepare wine vinegar, simply substitute red or white wine or a mixture, for the fresh juice in the method explained above. Strong alcoholic wine may need to be diluted with water by about 3 : 1 wine to water. Otherwise the high alcohol content amy kill off the essential vinegar producing organisms. Also please read this precaution for important information for ensuring producing good vinegar or kombucha.
To this day, my parents and I have a large wooden barrel, with a spigot [tap] inserted at the bottom of the barrel. This is used to culture home-made wine vinegar on an ongoing basis. Our home-made vinegar has the most wonderful rich flavour, with a real body-punch... and I mean body with a punch! Amounts of vinegar is siphons off as required for home use. My father often dilutes the vinegar with fresh spring water, to improve flavour and reduce acidity. Every so often, more red wine is added to the brew, to replenish the volume of vinegar previously removed from the container. This is ideal for making use of that cheap, nasty wine... LOL [Laugh Out Loud].
Each year we have excess fruit from our fruit trees, which I make into vinegar. This included oranges, peaches, feijoa [pineapple guava], grapes, pink guava, and crab apple, including banana. I'll juice the fresh juicy fruit by pressing. With banana, these are dried and then soaked in water to extract the sweet juice without any pulp. The juices are blended by adding to an existing batch of vinegar, or, I create a new batch from scratch.
Excess water kefir makes wonderful vinegar also. In most cases there's no need to add any vinegar to seed the brew-- just letting it stand in a container with a cloth placed over the mouth to let in air, will do the trick. Within 2 months or so--- water-kefir vinegar!
Balsamic vinegar of Modena Italy, is a unique vinegar product. Freshly squeezed grape-juice is cooked to reduce the volume by approximately one third; until the must acquires the consistency of a thin syrup [grape juice concentrate]. Where my parents originate in a small village among the provence of Benevento near Naples, Italy, this must is referred to as vino cotto [cooked wine]. However, this is another one of those misnomers, for such a must is not prepared by cooking wine, but by cooking fresh grape juice.
In Modena, the must is stored in inoculated wooden barrels, which previously had wine-vinegar prepared in the barrel in the usual manner, under aerobic [requires freely available oxygen] fermentation. The emptied barrels are filled with freshly cooked grape must, and then plugged airtight. Secondary fermentation takes place over many years under anaerobic [without freely available oxygen] conditions, which makes Balsamic vinegar quite unique to conventional vinegar, which requires aerobic fermentation [In fact, much of the commercial white vinegar is mass produce by bubbling oxygen through ethanol alcohol, to produce pretty well instant vinegar].
The working and aging process for producing Balsamic vinegar is quite extensive. Storing and aging Balsamic vinegar, transferring periodically to barrels of a variety of different wood-types, and aging for 25-100 years is common practice in Modena. During this period up to 80% of the original volume is lost due to evaporation, so the barrels are frequently topped up with new must on a yearly basis. This extensive process is mostly why high quality traditional Balsamic vinegar of Modena demands a high price.
*Although Kombucha tea is cultured with a dedicated, but similar culture to the MOV, I believe if MOV is spontaneously propagated at home, and incorporated over ongoing consecutive batches in a traditional kombucha recipe and fermentation process, after a long enough period of time, the culture-brew could develop so it may contain similar properties to the traditional Kombucha varian. It will likely be unique to the particular environment that it is prepared under. I feel that the media holds great importance and that a local mother-culture prepared from scratch, is possibly ideal for the individual in the particular area or environment where the culture is being prepared, from scratch. Although I'm certain stating this may send shivers down the culture-spine of a Kombucha-fanatics or purists. That is their challenge, and not mine:) However, I so compassion for such compromised individuals.
Kombucha mother-culture known as SCOBY with 1/2 to 1 cup fresh Kombucha tea [from previous batch].
8 cups tea [either Green tea, conventional black tea, Japanese bancha tea, or any mixture]. Prepare tea with 6 heaped tsp of loose tea leaf or 6 tea bags [loose tea is best].
1/2 cup sugar [instead try 2 Tbs each of honey and liquid malt extract or dry malt powder (maltose)... Oh yes you can]
10 to 12-cup clean glass container [non crystal glassware, for crystal glassware contains lead].
Piece of pre-ironed sterile cloth to cover the fermenting vessel with an elastic rubber band or string to secure the cloth.
Pour 8 cups tea in glass jar.
Dissolve preferred sweetener in the tea and let cool to room temperature.
Add Kombucha SCOBY +kombucha tea, or just some kombucha tea from previous batch.
Place a clean cloth over the mouth of the container and secure with an elastic band or tie in place with string.
Ferment at room temperature for 7 - 10 days, depending on temperature [best temp is about 22C]
Strain Kombucha [tea].
**Repeat the process for the next batch.
** As a buffer and as an inoculum, include about 5% to 10% of previous brew with the freshly prepared sweetened tea solution. This ensures a good kombucha is prepared on an ongoing basis.
You may need to experiment with length of fermentation. It is best to use a heating pad placed under the brewing jar if the temperature is below 18C. The finished Kombucha tea should have a sweet/sour taste with a slight to moderate effervescent sparkle. If still too sweet and flat, let ferment for a few days longer.
A new SCOBY is propagating, seen as a clear opaque film on the surface of the pure raw-honey brew [right]. The mixed malt and raw-honey-brew [left], is only a 48 hour brew; hence the initial cloudiness and no SCOBY. The raw-honey brew is at day 7.
I gently rock the kombucha jar once daily, in an attempt to wet the surface of the SCOBY. Keeping the surface of the SCOBY wet as it forms, inhibits mold growth on the surface of the SCOBY. The submerged thick SCOBY, has areas that are brown in colour. This colouring is mostly due to coagulation of colloidal suspensions found in a malt and raw-honey and tea media. These include yeast colonies, which such coagulants adhere to.
A clean pre-ironed white cloth is placed over the mouth of the jar during fermentation. The cloth was removed just prior taking the photo. The reason there's no yeast-lees or finnings settled at the bottom of the honey-brew, is due to decanting the brew one day prior taking the photo. I've been able to successfully culture non-cane-sugar kombucha's for some years, initially using traditional Kombucha mother-culture [SCOBY]. Such non cane sugar brews are quite refreshing.
I have developed another interesting variant of kombucha, and this is with the addition of kefiran included in a traditional kombucha recipe, and which for obvious reason I've named, Kefiran-cha. Kefiran is a unique, health-promoting soluble gel-polysaccharide of milk kefir-grains, and when incorporated in a kombucha recipe, the finished brew has a smooth mouth feel. In fact, the brew is quite refreshing, with the added beneficial properties of kefiran. The SCOBY that forms on the surface of the brew can grow quite thick in just a few days, with a slightly different texture to that of traditional SCOBY without added kefiran. Kefiran can be derived from kefir grains to prepare Kefiran-cha, in two ways:
1] By blending 2-Tbs of milk kefir-grains with 1-cup of cold or boiling hot water. Using boiling hot water to blend kefir grains in a food processor ensures that the brew will not contain the microflora component of the milk kefir-grains, so that only the organisms of traditional kombucha are responsible for the fermentation process. However, I have found that even with the use of cold water to blend kefir grains, produces a similar end culture-product to when using hot water treated kefir grains [heat treated to sterilize].
2] By fasting about 3-Tbs of pre-rinsed milk kefir-grains in 1 cup of cold water for 24 hours, followed by straining. The clear slippery solution strained from water-fasted milk kefir grains, is what I refer to as kefiraride, and the slime-factor of kefiraride is due to the polysaccharide, kefiran, explained above.
In the recipe for kombucha explained above, add 1-cup of kefiraride, or, 2-Tbs of milk kefir-grains blended with 1 cup of hot or cold water. Cover container with clean cloth or paper napkin and secure with elastic rubber band or tie in place with string. Place container in a dark spot and let stand for 7 to 12 days at room temperature.
Not very common, but if any unusual contamination such as mold-growth is found growing on the surface of the mother-culture, one should discard the vinegar or Kombucha, and start or obtain a new culture. Some species of fungi or molds, especially of the Aspergillus species, have been known to propagate on MOV and SCOBY cultures. These molds usually have green coloured spores, while some strains may produce black spores. Some varieties of fungi produce aflatoxins and mycotoxins, which one should completely avoid in their brew! Liver cancer is linked with hepatic disease such as hepatitis, and the consumption of aflatoxins.
Never culture either Kombucha or vinegar with a contaminated Kombucha SCOBY or MOV. Instead, inoculate the fresh media with about 10% of a previous non contaminated brew. In other words, an active-brew [non-pasteurized] may also be classified as a mother-culture and used as such. A new SCOBY or MOV colony will begin to propagate within days [in the case for Kombucha] or within a few weeks when culturing vinegar. But PLEASE, do not attempt this process by inoculating fresh ingredients with a previously contaminated brew! It's best to inoculate with a previously saved brew, which had no evidence of mold propagating on the SCOBY or MOV itself.
Never culture vinegar or kombucha near a compost or rubbish bin. If a compost bin is near by, mold spores may contaminate the mother-culture. This is especially in the case where acid-fruits, potatoes or their skins are spoiling.
A clean cloth should be placed on the mouth of any brewing vessel and kept there at all times. I recommend using a tightly woven piece of pre-washed, then hot-ironed cotton or linen cloth, doubled over to form two layers in thickens. This is placed over the mouth of the vessel, and secured with an elastic rubber band.
It appears that there are a few reported cases of toxicity in the past, due to consuming contaminated Kombucha. I'm not aware of the complete circumstances of these few cases, or if, in fact, these were accurately proven to be caused by drinking a contaminated kombucha tea? Or whether or not it was due to drinking too much Kombucha over a period of time? What ever the case may be, it may be fair to suggest that the knowledge I share here WITH you, should possibly help prevent further or future cases.
TIP for PREVENTING MOLD-GROWTH ON SURFACE OF SCOBY OR MOV
I've never found any mold-growth on the surface of any of my SCOBYs, or, MOV. I culture Kombucha and vinegar in close vicinity to where I prepare, and ripen kefir-cheeses. Some cheese are prepared with molds such as Pennecillum roguenforti and Pennecillum candidum [used to inoculate varieties of blue, brie or camembert pure kefir cheeses, and are quite safe]. I've observed that gently rocking the kombucha once daily, is an effective preventative measure, to ensure that mold does not propagate on the surface of a SCOBY or MOV.
Rocking forces some of the tea solution [or vinegar] to wash over the surface of the SCOBY or MOV. Performing this once daily, maintains the surface of a SCOBY or MOV wet at all time, which is the main factor in the prevention of mold-growth. A SCOBY that may become submerged due to a heavy rocking action, will force the brew to form a new SCOBY within a few days. This action also provides soluble oxygen for the specific aerobic bacteria [oxygen lovers], Gluconacetobacter xylinum, which synthesize cellulose from glucose in the presence of oxygen is responsible for the pellicle. Cellulose is what the opaque pellicles or SCOBY and MOV are composed of.
Here I share correspondence between myself and the late Rob Williams who took over maintaining the web site The Kombucha Center after the original late creator Colleen Allen, passed on. The original email began with Rob, who contacted me to dispute my work here on this page, that kombucha should not be classified as vinegar and visa versa, for he found that this web page was declaring that these are the same thing. However, I have never nor do I state this as was alleged by the kind late Rob. I simply state my point of view of the possibility that a kombucha may be spontaneously produced from a non-existing kombucha as a starter, if the right ingredients and conditions are satisfied. After all, even Rob in his email below agrees that the original kombucha most likely came about, only because of mans intervention in the process.
If kombucha was a product of man influencing the ferment at some point, then I can not see why it can not be repeated. Rob and I ended up having a reasonable debate on the topic nonetheless, even if Rob did miss the point, especially where I asked if there was ever any long lasting research to see if kombucha could be produced with MOV. If you take note, his reply was not to the point in question instead Rob stated that there has been lots and lots of research on both vinegar and kombucha [as separate items]. However, that was not what I asked him.
I hope you find our correspondence of interest. BTW, Rob's first email to me, ended with him stating that he did not want to see good intention mislead folks. I concluded that the reason for his initial contact was due to other kombucha enthusiasts making contact with Rob to disclose my work here, and most probably whom ever it was/were, have/had a fanatical outlook and do not see the point for what it is. Fanaticism does that to people, it's an evil demon that has taken hold in many a good soul to disposition their lives. These demons intend to blind I so that even the obvious is distorted.
From: Bob Williams
To: Dominic N Anfiteatro
Subject: Re: Kombucha
Date: Thursday, May 10, 2001 12:47 PM
[Dom] Do you know if this yeast can actually be forced to form spores as some yeasts do under certain conditions e.g., lack of nitrogen or other factors such as raising temperature?
[Rob] It is my understanding that if the conditions go outside its survival range, it either goes dormant or dies. In no case can it form spores.
What I am trying to point out also is that a local culture food/medicine is probably best for one than something which is produced or derived from a different country. but in some circumstances this rule may not be applicable or it may not be adaptable e.g. in the case of kefir and now that I understand more about kombucha, KT also.
If I understand you, I agree. Kombucha has the ability to mutate to fit the needs of the person making the ferments. Handling the colonies leaves personal bacteria on the colony and hence in the ferment. Kombucha will either incorporate the 'good' bacteria or produce an anti-bacteria to fight the bad ones. The effect is that the kombucha ferment mutates to help the specific health of the person preparing it. I think this is why kombucha can apparently help so many diverse health conditions. I am not at all sure that kombucha is not a direct gift from God since it can not survive without direct help from man. :o)
At 12:47 PM 05/01/2001, Dom wrote:
Has any research been carried out on the new colonies after say 24 months of brewing Kombucha, where the mother of vinegar was initially used as a starter?
Not to my knowledge. It is illogical to try to start a kombucha culture beginning with a mother of vinegar culture. I do understand what you're suggesting.
What I am asking here is, has their been any research to reveal the microflora make up of "new" colonies that form? Not the initial mother of vinegar colony that was used as the initial starter culture. Were these new colonies comparable to the microflora make up of the traditional kombucha colony?
There have been many many lab tests on the contents of vinegar and of kombucha. There is always one yeast present in kombucha that has absolutely no way to get into a vinegar culture except by adding it directly. It is a SPORELESS yeast, that means it can not be airborne since there is no airborne component.
Do you know if this yeast can actually be forced to form spoors as some yeasts do under certain conditions e.g. lack of nitrogen or other factors such as raising temp?
Here is a quote of a partial text posted on my web site under "Research".
"In trying to "define" Kombucha, we know that all strains have both gluconic acid and acetic acid and fructose. We know that it requires at least two microorganisms, a yeast and a bacteria. Acetobacter xylinum is in all of the ferments we've looked at, but the yeast vary. The Bacillus are a new twist that we found by totally ignoring conventional wisdom and isolating organisms just for the sake of isolating organisms (i.e.: without any regard for whether or not they would affect the ferment). At any rate, whether or not a ferment contains one or both ketos, or the diketo, or itaconnic, or propionic, or lactic, or any of the many other metabolites, is strain AND ferment dependent.
If it contains gluconic acid and acetic acid with fructose, it's Kombucha."
In Roussin's "Analyses of Kombucha Ferments," he reports "The typical isolations of microorganisms found in the Kombucha samples we examined are:
Zygosaccharomyes (still considered by some to be a subgenus of Saccharomyces)
Dominic, vinegar is acetic acid and does not contain these components. In the U.S. vinegar is made laboratory style; by adding together the chemicals necessary to create acetic acid. The result is pure acetic acid diluted with distilled water to 5% for sale in the markets. It is always marked as "Distilled Vinegar". . . real truth in labeling, right?
Yes I understand how commercial vinegar is produces e.g., bubbling O2 through ethanol produces instant acetic acid. However, I am not stating that the two are the same thing. My view is that there is a possibility that kombucha can be prepared from scratch. As an initial starter to get the process going, I feel that an amount of unpasteurized vinegar brewed in the same ingredients as kombucha, which we both know is sweetened tea, may well produce a very similar product to kombucha, but over a long period of time, with regular cycling of fresh ingredients as with making regular kombucha.
What I am trying to point out also is that a local culture, food or herbal medicine is probably better for an individual than one that is produced or derived from a different country. However, in some circumstances this rule may not be applicable or adaptable e.g., in the case with kefir where kefir grains are the essential mother culture as apposed to Kombucha, where the SCOBY is a byproduct of fermentation, and not THE essential starter for kombucha. BTW do you know how the initial kombucha colony was initially cultured?
No, no one does. The kombucha ferment can be traced back over 2000 years. Whether the first ferment was an accident or some clever bio-engineering is not known. It seems far out that the sporeless yeast would just happen to find suitable symbiotic bacteria and other yeasts and a food source all at the same time without some human help from somewhere.
The wonders of nature!
Although I have been making vinegar now for quite some time (I actually grew up with homemade vinegar) but kombucha has only been part of my life for about 10 years. I have made parallel cultures where I have cultured green tea, black tea sugar and water with both the traditional kombucha colony and my own vinegar. They both seem to produce a similar taste and properties that I could only judge with my mouth, nose, eyes and the effect it gave on my organism. It was with these simple senses that I made my conclusion that vinegar could be used to make kombucha. I own a microscope to observe more in-depth, and with gram staining I concluded that the two ferments shared so much similarity that I could not tell them apart. However, I must disclose the fact that the experiment with vinegar brewed in a sweetened tea was sustained over a 2 year period. Taking regular observations and running regular simple analysis with direct microscopy over that period, I found that as time went on, the vinegar culture became closer and closer to traditional kombucha. This lead me to conclude that over much time and media/culture condition dependant, and with 7 day culture cycles, vinegar will produce a beverage too similar to kombucha to be ignored or omitted as a possibility that under the right conditions, kombucha can be spontaneously produced.
This makes interesting learning.
Definitely agree in the latter! :o)) I'm sorry this answer was delayed. I was out of town for several days. My net access was a laptop with a VERY slow modem. All I managed to do was keep my kombucha list mail current.
Home of the Kombucha FAQ Compiled by the late Colleen Allen later maintained by the late Bob Williams, now maintained by Beverly Ferguson
Analyses of Kombucha Ferments: Report On Growers By Michael R. Roussin
The Kombucha Journal in 24 languages by Günther W. Frank
The Vinegar Institute explaining uses and tips for vinegar, you may well be amazed by the versatility of vinegar!
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Edited May 12, 2014
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