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DIY Fermentation – Kombucha Made Easy!

I was introduced to Kombucha quite a few years ago by my friend Eva, with the disclaimer that I had to try this drink but some people think it tastes disgusting.  It was the weirdest thing I’d ever drank—somewhere between an effervescent apple cider and what I imagine beer tastes like—and I absolutely loved it.  (Note, this was before GT’s operation exploded and all the batches started to taste like vineagar.) It wasn’t long before I figured out how to brew my own at home.

Kombucha radically changes your lifestyle.

I think I saw this guy at Whole Foods.

What is Kombucha? It’s a fermented tea drink.  The fermentation is carried out by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts, which form a jellyfish-looking pancake (the mother) that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a mushroom.  Though it’s a fermented drink, it has the negligible alcoholic potency of orange juice.   It has been hyped as a thousand-year-old, cure-all, Eastern wonder drink, adopted by yuppies as a drink of choice (second to Vitamin Water, of course), but apparently written history of Kombucha only dates back a couple hundred years. It generally sells for $2.50 – $4.00 a bottle (~2.5 cups) at your local and chain health-food stores. Ah, the comodification of wellness.

Why drink Kombucha? Kombucha is alive!  As with many other “pro-biotic,” unpasteurized fermented foods, the bacteria in Kombucha continue to live in your gut once ingested, aiding in digestion and keeping harmful bacteria and yeasts in check! Though Kombucha is acidic, it alkalizes your body, which is purportedly good against stiff or painful joints, blurred vision, bad skin, and other ailments. Other benefits are associated with the organic acids, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and live enzymes present. Anti-oxidants fight off “free radicals” in our blood, combating cancer and heart disease. Top that off with some anti-biotic and anti-viral qualities, and that covers most of the health claims. On top of that, it simply makes you feel good and healthy with the energy of a well-functioning body (as opposed that of a flood of simple sugars).

Why brew your own? I think whenever possible it is preferable to produce your own foods. 1) It reduces exploitation of resources involved in production, transportation, storage, and retail; 2) it reduces dependence; 3) it’s fun; 4) you have more control over how you want it to taste; and 5) it’s comparitively way cheap. Any of these on its own is reason enough.

GT's Kombucha

How do I make it? There are plenty of recipes online for brewing Kombucha, but what they depend on is a “mother”—a starter culture that you can order for like $30. What I figured out is that you can grow your own mother from the live cultures present in a store-bought bottle of Kombucha.

What you’ll need:

  • A bottle of store-bought Kombucha. Preferably “original”/unflavored.
  • Refined white sugar. (though organic sugar works alright as well.)
  • Green or black tea. (plain, as other ingredients can throw off the delicate balance. The type of tea will have an effect on the flavor, so experiment as you get more comfortable.)
  • Filtered water.
  • A large glass jar or jug. (I’ve used one-gallon apple juice jugs or large pickle jars. Plastics and some ceramic glazes contain dangerous chemicals and elements that the brewing process will leach, so it’s best to avoid these.)
  • A cloth that will securely cover the opening to the jar or jug, blocking bugs and mold spores but letting air through.
  • Glass containers to “bottle” the kombucha in. Must have lids.

Please note that it is advised to cleanly in this process — chemicals and pathogens can throw off the balance of the culture. Wash your hands. Don’t touch any surface you don’t need to. Soap residues are also bad, so rinse everything really well.

  1. Bring 3 quarts of water to near a boil. As it cools, add six bags of tea and dissolve a cup of sugar into the water. Let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes. Wait for it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Kombucha brewing in one gallon apple juice jug Pour both the store-bought kombucha and the sweet tea you just made into the large glass jar or jug. Cover it up with the cloth and secure the perimeter with a rubber band or something so no flies can crawl in.
  3. Let it sit for about a week. Try not to disturb it too much. If it’s cold it will take longer, up to two weeks. You should notice a jelly-fish-like layer forming floating on top. It’s ready when it tastes right—which is something you’ll develop a taste for. It’ll taste gross for a while and then one day it’ll taste vaguely like apply juice and you’ll know.
  4. Pour all but a cup of the kombucha into your glass containers. This is the “second fermentation,” an anaerobic fermentation stage. This is where I like to cut up some ginger and toss it into the bottles with the kombucha. Experiment! Let the bottles sit out for a couple days sealed. Without access to air the fermentation changes and the kombucha will start to become effervescent (if it was not already).
  5. Use that leftover cup of kombucha and the mother you grew as the starter for your next batch (replacing the store-bought kombucha in step 2.)

Recipe: Vegan Pesto

Recipe for vegan pesto

Recipe for vegan pesto

Pesto. It’s healthy. It’s raw. We’re going to make it vegan. It’s really easy – I’ve been making it a lot lately. All you need is food processor. You don’t need to be exact with any of the ingredients – it’s very forgiving. Don’t worry, it’ll be delicious.


  • 2 packed cups of fresh basil (which happens to be the amount batches of fresh basil are sold in at grocery stores and farmer’s markets here)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup grape seed oil (if you don’t have any, just put more olive oil)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3-6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • salt to taste
  • (optional) El Tapatio or cayenne pepper to taste

If you can’t handle a little spice, lay off the hot sauce, pepper, and don’t put too much garlic.

  1. Put all the ingredients into the food processor, and puree.

That’s it. Goes well with a pound of pasta.

When World Economies Go Haywire

We are in the midst of the beginning of a world financial crisis that’s been a long time coming. Will the financial leviathan come up with a quick patch? Who knows. I sure don’t.

One thing that is a definite possibility is instability in food prices. They might skyrocket.

Look out for early warning signs. Last summer we were hearing that the price of wheat had increased 10-fold, but it wasn’t until months and months later that pasta at Trader Joe’s increased from 60 some cents a pound to 99. Chances are that news will travel up the supply chain faster than the price increases themselves will. Use that to your advantage, and buy the (non-perishable) food at the reasonable price while you can and know it won’t last.

Also, and this is pretty obvious — start growing some of your own food. I wish I had more experience in this area, but so far all I have is some seeds in the ground. Find out what will grow in your area, and at this time of year. Here in California there’s something to be grown year-round.

Increasing food prices are hitting poorer nations pretty hard right now.

Food Processor

Just about a month ago, I picked up a food processor for a little over $10 at a thrift store downtown. I looked it up online and it’s one of those infomercial ones that claims to be able to turn concrete into dust (but has a number of reviews saying it can’t handle certain food items). It’s had a safety recall and they stopped making them. Mine smells like burning sometimes, but for the most part, it does the job.

The original reason for acquiring the machine was for making a raw, sprouted nut+seed cheese using rejuvelac to ferment it. I consider that experiment a failure, because it tasted mostly awful. Perhaps I should have followed the recipe more closely.

Next, my housemate, Vince, made a delicious raw, vegan, keylime pie out of pureed avocados, lime, and maple syrup — I believe — with a graham cracker crust. It was absolutely delicious. I’ll have to get the recipe from him, make one myself, and post the recipe with pictures.

I’ve been using the food processor to chop up seaweed to put into soups and stir-fries. Seaweeds are high in nutrients. I’ve also been grinding up flax seeds for the same purpose.

Then it occurred to me that those expensive raw nut+fruit bars and cookies sold at health food stores would be really really easy to emulate with a food processor — So I grabbed a handful of raw cashews, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds, and made it into a powder. Then I threw in some prunes and raisins until it started to thicken up, added a little maple syrup, and some cinnamon and allspice. The result — fast, delicious, and healthy! From the moment the idea came to me, it was only a couple minutes before the whole thing was completely ready. A larabar is probably costing you about $13.34/lb. With bulk ingredients that you choose from bulk bins, you can sculpt your own flavors for significantly less. I’m going to keep experimenting and come back with some recipes.

Myth: Cooking with Olive Oil Causes Cancer

A friend of mine was recently over at my house while I was preparing some veggies for the grill. “What kind of oil do you use to cook with?” he asked, “olive oil? cooking olive oil makes it carcinogenic.” He then proceeded to suggest that canola oil is the way to go. Hmm…

It seemed strange that what is usually touted as the healthiest of all the cooking oils, with all its antioxidants, should turn out to be the one that will give you cancer if you cook with it. So I did some looking around on the web, to see what kind of study this came from, to see if perhaps something was being misconstrued.

Turns out there’s no study to find. The one and only source of the myth: Sheryl Crow, and specifically breast cancer prevention advice she attributes to her nutritionist.

To the contrary, I found numerous cited studies that claim the opposite.
A diet high in monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) is correlated to lower incidences of cancers. In the Mediterranean, where due to extensive use of olive oil in “cooking and as a salad oil” fat intake is higher than in the states, incidence of breast cancer is 50% lower than here in the states (NY Times).

One thing to avoid though, is reaching the “smoke point,” which is probably between 340-375 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s not an oil to use for deep frying, which probably isn’t what the health-conscious cooker is doing in the first place. Sweating and sautéing with olive oil should be fine though. Keep in mind though, that high heat and prolonged heat can degrade the nutritional value of many of the foods you eat.

Many types of oils are extracted from seeds through the use of chemical solvents and heat. Also, the mechanical process of extracting the oils itself can create a tremendous amount of heat. The resulting oils are obviously not as good quality, as the heat degrades the flavor and nutritional value of the oil. I recommend organic, “extra virgin” olive oil. “Virgin” means the oil was produced by the use of physical means without chemical treatment or solvents. Extra-virgin olive oils are cold pressed, meaning that they never exceeded 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit during the mechanical extraction process, ensuring a full flavor and intact nutritional content. And “organic” ensures that your oil is not contaminated by pesticides and other contaminants of modern conventional farming, in addition to being better for the environment.

Boiled Peanuts

I went over to Jamie’s tonight, where he had a bag of raw peanuts from a farmer’s market. I usually buy raw nuts instead of roasted nuts, so I thought to myself, I must have had raw peanuts before. But nope! After trying them, it was quite evident this was something new. In their raw form, peanuts don’t do quite as convincing a job masquerading as a nut as the roasted legume does. They’re soft and have a plantier taste (bitter) and texture (fibrous).

So what do people do with fresh raw peanuts? Boil them. According to Wikipedia, “boiled peanuts have four times the antioxidants of raw or roasted peanuts” — drawing antioxidants from the shell. Apparently boiled peanuts are pretty common fair in the south and other areas where peanuts are common. Here in California, it’s unheard of.

The boiled peanut had a strangely familiar taste I couldn’t place. But Jamie could — it’s mashed potatoes! I found myself wanting to mash, salt and butter (read: Earth Balance) these guys. Though I didn’t, I couldn’t stop eating them. I eat peanuts all the time — what a surprise to discover them in a whole new light.

Strange Eating Habits

I never thought of myself as having a strange diet. I’ve always thought of my diet as delicious, healthy, and cost-efficient. But I’ve recently realized that I’m starting to hear it all the time, “you’ve got strange eating habits” — from house-mates, from strangers.

My band recently went on tour. In that three week span I drank a bottle of olive oil, and ate through a number of bags of prunes and peanuts, and a big bag of flax-plus pumpkin seed granola. To me, it made perfect sense. Long hours in a van, time obligations, no kitchen, infrequent/unpredictable access to health-food stores, low budget. It was a relatively cheap way to get calories, anti-oxidants, fiber, some protein. I got a couple comments. But I felt great.

Through the years I’ve been steadily seceding from the American diet. I started with mammals and birds, completely eliminating them from my diet. Then gradually dairy, then eggs, then sea animals (the last meat over four years ago). The factory farming of animals and animal products, in addition to being horrendous for all the torture and objectification the animals are subjected to, is also devastating to the environment, society, and one’s health. I don’t want to eat foods that aren’t organic, for many of the same reasons. I quickly lost interest in sweets and caffeinated foods, which in the long term don’t make a person feel good. I find myself less and less interested in eating processed foods. (Why should anything I eat have been boiled in hydrochloric acid or other chemical solvents?) I never eat MSG, and am trying to cut out foods high in free glutamic acid. I even find myself uninterested in incorporating typical “fillers” like wheat, corn, and rice into my meals. My diet shift was originally inspired in part by reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and by a few inspiring vegan friends. That was six years ago, and since then it’s kind of snowballed.

Heart disease and cancer are the big killers today. There’s little doubt in my mind that the American diet–with all its unhealthy fats, chemicals, hormones, synthetics, contamination or sterility, filler, processing, excesses and deficiencies–is largely responsible for that epidemic and so many other health and social issues. Why participate in it? You only live once — why not spend it eating some good, quality food?

So I’m no expert on health, the physics/science of food, cooking, or anything really. But I do enjoy trying to figure out what’s bull-shit and what’s not. And I do love good, natural foods.

Some things I plan to write about soon:

  • free glutamic acid
  • coconut oil (yum!)
  • my flax-seaweed concoction that’s been finding its way into everything I cook
  • ingredients labeling bullshit
  • How to: Brew Kombucha
  • How to: make sauerkraut
  • and of course, cooking recipes!