From kombucha to kefir to kvass, it would appear the world has gone mad for fermented drinks. But why? What are they? And are they really worth the fuss?
Let’s start over. Fermented drinks aren’t a new thing by any standard. Humans all over the world have been fermenting food and drink for centuries. Beer, cider and wine are perhaps the most popular, containing yeast cells that metabolise with the natural sugars in grain or fruit to produce alcohol. This crazy, live process is fermentation.
But there are other types of fermented drinks, too, and they’re not all alcoholic. Fermentation basically happens when micro-organisms convert carbs or sugars into either alcohol or acid. Yeast creates alcohol – as with beer, wine and cider – while bacteria creates lactic acid.
Traditional ginger beer, for example, is exactly that. Made by combining a starter culture of lactic acid bacteria with sugared water and fresh ginger, the natural bacteria turns the sugar into lactic acid to create this old-fashioned fizzy favourite. Then there’s kefir and kombucha, both made with a ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’ (also known by its acronym: SCOBY) to create the effervescent, slightly fizzy drinks that everyone seems to be talking about. In fact, if you add the right bacterias and yeasts to a few basic ingredients, and leave it at the right temperature for any length of time, you’ll find your concoction transforming itself into a naturally fizzy – hopefully delicious – fermented drink.
SCOBY anyone? Image thanks to Wild Fizz Kombucha
But why do people love fermented drinks?
Well, drinks that are fermented are of beneficial ‘live’ organisms that ferment and transform basic ingredients into something that’s not only full of flavour and a tasty alternative to sugary fizzy drinks, but that’s full of ‘good’ bacteria that works wonders for our gut health. They help with our digestion and enable our bodies to absorb the vitamins and minerals present in what we eat.
So will a regular dose of kombucha improve our digestion? Supposedly so, but note that all these different drinks contain different strains of helpful bacteria, so it’s well worth your while to mix it up a bit. Here’s a round-up of the most popular fermented drinks out there.
Wild Fizz Kombucha, brewed and bottled in Tottenham
Kombucha is cold fermented tea, which you can make by adding a SCOBY to sweet tea. The SCOBY is a rubbery, gelatinous, odd-looking thing that floats on the surface of the tea while it ferments. Left like that, the SCOBY acts as a cosy home for all sorts of good bacterias and yeasts, and seals off the fermenting tea to protect it from any bad bacteria in the air. Crazy stuff! Kombucha is tangy, naturally fizzy and packed with helpful enzymes and antioxidants. With a bit of time, it’s simple enough to make yourself, or check out Wild Fizz Kombucha with their range of wild lavender and jasmine fermented flavours.
Bio-tiful Dairy’s award-winning fermented milk aka Kefir, made in Wiltshire
Similar to yoghurt, this fermented milk drink is tart, with a sour taste and a slight fizz. It’s made with something called kefir grains, which aren’t actually grains at all but little gelatinous beads that contain a mixture of bacteria and yeasts. To make it, soak the kefir grains in whole milk at room temperature for at least a day. The bacteria and yeast converts the natural sugars in the milk into lactic acid, turning it into the tangy milk drink, known and loved across eastern Europe and Turkey. Strain the milk and reuse the grains to make more kefir. Naturally high in protein and calcium and full of essential vitamins (including B12 and B2), kefir is stuffed with billions of gut-friendly bacteria. Make it yourself or try Bio-tiful Dairy’s silky smooth version.
A similar idea to kefir milk, this is made by soaking water kefir grains in sugared water. It creates a bubbly drink that’s sweet, with a slightly fermented flavour. How good it tastes is up for debate, but flavour it with tea, fruit, juice or even herbs, and you’ll have yourself a pretty tasty, fizzy drink. Make it at home super easily.
Made from rye bread, kvass was once considered Russia’s most popular drink. Indeed, kvass has been drunk in eastern Europe since the Middle Ages! To make it, toasted rye bread is soaked in water overnight. The water is strained and sugar, honey and a natural ferment (you could use a sourdough starter or fermented vegetable brine) is stirred in. You can also flavour it with berries, dried fruit and spices. Left to ferment, kvass transforms into a tangy, sour fizz, with a similar taste to beer. Beet kvass is also increasingly popular with an earthy tang, which sometimes swaps out bread altogether.
What are the benefits?
Fermenting drinks – whether you’re experimenting at home or buying them in – can be a wonderful way to improve your gut health. But if nothing else they’re a fun and exciting way to add new flavours to your palette. Give these a go!
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