Vivacious and invigorating, kombucha is fast becoming Britain’s new favourite cuppa tea for both its refreshing, tangy taste and its reputed health benefits. One of the many fermented foods to emerge over the past few years, kombucha seems to be making a lasting impression. But beyond drinking it, what else can you do kombucha? Rachel de Thample, a keen kombucha-brewer herself, reckons it’s a magical culinary ingredient in its own right. She give us the lowdown on how cook with kombucha.
Kombucha: an ancient gut-friendly fermented tea. Photography: Natalé Towell
The exact origins of kombucha are unknown, although Manchuria is commonly cited as a likely place of origin. Some texts date the first brews back to more than 2,000 years ago. The Russians were sipping kombucha as early as 1900 and it is said to have travelled to Europe from there.
It is said that kombucha was discovered as a happy accident. A strong cup of sweetened tea was forgotten and upon discovering it several weeks later, a culture had formed on the top and the tea beneath was delicious and effervescent.
How do you make kombucha?
Find the full step-by-step guide to making kombucha here.
Quite simply, by fermenting tea. There’s a magic ingredient that transforms an ordinary brew into kombucha. It’s called S.C.O.B.Y (pictured) an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It looks like a cross between a cider vinegar mother and a mushroom. Sometimes it’s referred to as a ‘tea fungus’! It’s not and don’t let that put you off. Housed within this tea-fermenting kick-starter is a host of probiotic bacteria which are good for your gut, and the magical fermentation process it inspires gives the drink it’s refreshing sparkle.
To help give kombucha bubbles, a second fermentation is normally set in motion by bottling the brewed batch of fermented tea with fruit or other flavours and a small amount of additional sugar which is then consumed by the cultured and turned into carbon dioxide. In sealed bottles, this carbonation cannot escape and thus gives the drink a delicious sparkle.
Is kombucha good for you?
Fermented foods such as yoghurts, sauerkraut and kefir all contain live microorganisms. As kombucha is the product of fermentation, a number of probiotic bacteria are produced. At specific concentrations, probiotic bacteria can help to balance the gut microbiome in humans and improve digestion. As with all foods, it’s always wise to start consuming slowly and see how you get on with kombucha. Below are some fun ways to experiment with the drink beyond just sipping it straight.
How to cook with kombucha
Almost all dishes, on the full spectrum from savoury to sweet, mains to drinks, need a hint of acidity to really bring them life. So if you think of kombucha as a slightly sweet and sparkly vinegar with lovely tea undertones, plus added flavours (think ginger kombucha, passion fruit and jasmine) then you’ve got a pretty exciting ingredient to play with in the kitchen.
Ferment cashews in passionfruit kombucha for a creamy, vegan cheesecake.
Add the fermented aspect and there’s even more scope for culinary creativity. You can use kombucha to ferment nuts for a plant-based cheesecake. This passionfruit cheesecake recipe is incredible: soak cashews in passionfruit-flavoured kombucha, then whiz them up with coconut oil, coconut milk and maple syrup for a creamy cheesecake filling with incredible depth of flavour.
Shake kombucha with olive oil for an amazing tea-zingy salad dressing.
Aside from adding kombucha to cocktails for flavour and fizz or using it like a vinegar for making a batch of quick pickles, I also like shaking kombucha with olive oil for an amazing tea-zingy salad dressing. With the view that kombucha is effectively a tea vinegar, you can use it much the same way you would a champagne or apple cider vinegar.
I love whipping up a kombucha dressing using JARR’s Passion Fruit Kombucha but you can use any flavour you like, tailoring it to the salad you wish to dress. It’s delicious with a salad of raw celeriac matchsticks, winter salad leaves and toasted pecan or macadamia nuts. It’s also lovely tossed with noodles and stir-fry veg.
Wild Fizz’s Ginger Turmeric Kombucha is wonderful in this Sticky Kombucha Pork Noodle Soup.
Kombucha offers the perfect finish to a hearty winter soup as it gives it that final umami kick and the perfect balancing sour note. Wild Fizz’s Ginger Turmeric Kombucha is wonderful in this Sticky Kombucha Pork Noodle Soup. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan you can swap the pork loin for thin slices of celeriac.
Make your daily staples from scratch, from yoghurt to butter, kombucha to vinegar, with our step-by-step DIY Pantry series.