Nourishing Food

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Last week Stewart grabbed a freshly bottled kombucha and said it was good even though it wasn’t carbonated. It hadn’t built up carbonation yet because I had just bottled it less than 24 hours prior. Carbonation is the result of carbon dioxide building up as a byproduct of the fermentation process and that requires three things, one of which is time. That got me thinking about tips for carbonated kombucha.

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Besides time, sugar is another critical element of carbonation. If you are bottling kombucha plain – with no added fruit, juice, or sugar – you need to bottle it while it is still sweet in order to achieve a good carbonation. I generally taste my kombucha to see if the brewing time is complete and like to bottle it just as it turns the corner for sweet to sweet and tangy. (I also have a theory on all ferments that there is a window at which these guys are the most alive and therefore the most beneficial to the body. This applies to kombucha, milk kefir, vegetables, etc. and that window is after they are fully inoculated but before they get overly tangy. But that’s just my theory.)

Even after you remove kombucha from the SCOBY it continues to ferment due to the inoculation of bacteria and yeasts. These will feed on the sugar remaining in the kombucha to create carbonation during the second, bottled, fermentation.

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The final tip I have for you is to make an effort to get a bit of the yeast dregs from the bottom of the fermentation vessel into the bottles themselves. Not everyone likes the texture of these but a little goes a long way and they pretty much sink to the bottom and go unnoticed. You can see a bit of the yeast floating in the bottom of the bottle pictured below. IMG_6883 (2)

The yeasts play an important role in creating plenty of carbon dioxide for an active, bubbly second fermentation.

So those are my tips for a crisp, bubbly plain kombucha that will cost you pennies on the dollar when compared to the store-bought counterpart. Happy brewing!

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When I am about to have a new baby I know that one of two things is going to happen to my cultures. Either I give them to a friend who is looking to start fermenting or I kill them. I’ve never seen a third option happen.

So when Joshua was nearing his arrival I gave my water kefir grains to a friend who was interested in water kefir. Just recently she gave the water kefir grains back to me, concerned they weren’t working. Sometimes cultures die, either from a lack of food and proper environment or from some seemingly unknown reason. But in order to know if your starter culture is a goner, it’s a good idea to give it a concentrated dose of its favorite things to find out if it is still kicking.

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In my experience, water kefir’s favorite things are warmth, food, and minerals. So I rinsed out a homegrown eggshell and added that along with some organic molasses to the sugar water and water kefir grains. I cultured it in a warm spot and checked it after 48 hours. The liquid began to have the slightest water kefir flavor.

I was encouraged but knew this round wasn’t a great culture so I dumped the slightly cultured sugar water and repeated the eggshell and molasses routine. This next round had that very definitive water kefir flavor while still being a bit sweet. So I bottled it up, fed the grains again, and the next batch cultured even faster. And now there is this deliciously bubbly beverage bottled up next to the kombucha and the grains seem to be thriving once more.

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The Needs of All Starter Cultures

All cultures have basic needs such as food and appropriate culturing temperature, but each one is just a bit specific. Based on my own failures and successes, these are the basic needs of the common culture starters:

  • Water Kefir – warmth, frequent feedings, minerals.
  • Kombucha – warmth, air, just the right cycle of feeding times.
  • Milk Kefir – moderate warmth, frequent feedings, a stir here and there through the culturing process.
  • Sourdough – moderate warmth, frequent feedings, aeration through vigorous stirring.
  • Yogurt – Moderate warmth (depending on whether it is mesophilic or thermophilic), lack of competition from other bacteria (i.e. raw milk or an unclean culturing vessel).
  • Fermented Vegetables – Moderate temperature (65 – 85), appropriate salt to vegetable ratio, at least 2-3 weeks of fermentation time.

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Another common problem with culture starters such as water kefir, milk kefir grains, and kombucha is not adding more sugar water or milk to the culture as the culture multiplies. As the culture multiplies, I have found it is best to keep the ratio of culture to culturing medium the same. So toss extra SCOBYs or grains to the chickens or ramp up the amount of milk or sugar water you are using so that the ratio is maintained.

If one of your cultures doesn’t seem to be working properly, address their needs through frequent feedings and proper environment to see if it is simply a matter of giving the culture what it needs. If it still doesn’t work or if anything funky begins to take hold, tossing them into the compost is a good idea.

Happy culturing!