It’s Winter, and pomegranates are back in season. In my opinion, pomegranate juice is one of the best possible fruit juices to add to your kombucha – with our without a secondary fermentation. The recipe below is simple, but if you are just getting started with making kombucha and feel like you need more help, the Reddit kombucha thread is a great place to start: lots of helpful folks and plenty of pictures to help keep you on track. There are also a half dozen books on amazon.com if that’s more your style.
There are clear benefits to making your own kombucha. Most importantly, you can get exactly the flavor you want and control the sweet/tart balance with a bit of practice. Second, in addition to being better suited to your pallet, you’re going to save some money. It’s an easy process. If you can brew tea and have a little patience to wait for the final product, you can make kombucha!
Chlorine-free water, 1 gallon + 1 cup to rinse the tea. Note: Chlorine will disrupt the fermentation process. Boiling water does not eliminate chloramine, which many water districts now use in addition to chlorine, so either use store-bought purified water, or a filtering system that you are confident will eliminate all chlorine.
Cane Sugar, 1 cup. Substitute any natural sweetener you prefer, e.g., honey, brown sugar, agave, etc., as long as it contains sugar to fuel the fermentation process.
Black tea, 2-3 tablespoons
Living (unpasteurized) kombucha or a kombucha starter culture otherwise known as a SCOBY: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, 1 1/2 – 2 cups or enough to lower the pH of your tea to pH 4.5 or below.
Pomegranate Juice, 2 – 8 cups. If you prefer, use a different juice.
- A 1 gallon or larger, glass or plastic fermenting vessel
- A clean paper towel or large coffee filter that fits over the mouth of your fermenting vessel and a rubber band to secure it.
- Swing top fermenting bottles (optional) for making sparkling kombucha
To make the kombucha – Primary Fermentation
- Clean and thoroughly rinse your fermenting vessel and the counter top where you will be working. Do not use antibacterial soap, as this can have a negative effect on fermentation.
- Place the tea in your fermenting vessel.
- Bring the water to a boil and pour one cup of water over the tea. Swirl it around and then pour this water off.
- Pour one gallon of hot water over the tea and let it steep for 1 hour.
- Strain the tea using a fine mesh strainer and pour it back into your fermenting vessel.
- Stir in the sugar until it is completely dissolved.
- Cover with the paper towel or coffee filter, secure this with a rubber band, and let tea cool to room temperature.
- Pour the kombucha or kombucha starter into the fermenting vessel. Use enough so that the pH of the liquid is 4.5 or below. This will help prevent the growth of any unwanted microorganisms. It is safer to ere on this side of more acidity if you are unsure. For reference lemon juice has a pH of 2 – 3, and apple juice has a pH 3.3 -4. You can also us a pH meter or test strips if availavle.
- Make sure that you let the tea cool before adding your starter, as temperatures above 95 degrees will begin to kill the bacteria needed to ferment the tea into kombucha. If you have used up all of your starter and the pH is too high, you can add filtered lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to lower the pH as needed.
- Re-cover the vessel, replacing the paper towel or coffee filter if it has become wet or dirty, and seal with the rubber band.
- Place your vessel in a somewhere out of direct sunlight for a week. Ideally put it in a location that allows you to draw off a sample without moving the vessel. Moving the vessel can disturb fermentation. The cooler the ambient temperature the longer the fermentation process will take. In time, a pellicle (whitish/yellowish film up to a quarter inch thick) will form over the top of the kombucha. This is a, primarily, cellulose byproduct of the fermentation process and is harmless. If you see any colorful or furry looking mold growing on the pellicle or surface of the kombucha, this can be harmful, so throw the batch out and start over. In most cases this is the result of contamination or an overly high pH of the starting mixture. If you are not sure, this is where reddit.com/r/Kombucha can be a big help.
- After one week taste the kombucha. The longer it ferments the more tart it will become. Depending upon the ambient temperature, how active your starter culture is, and how tart you prefer your kombucha, the fermentation will normally take one to four weeks. After the first week taste every two or three days until you are happy with the flavor. Always use a clean well-rinsed utensil to take a sample, and replace the cover with a new one if it becomes wet or dirty. Reseal with the rubber band.
- When the kombucha has fermented to your liking strain the liquid into a clean container. You can discard the pellicle. You can use the liquid to start your next batch of kombucha. Refrigerate to retard the fermentation process. Your kombucha will continue to ferment in the refrigerator, and become more acidic but this will happen noticeably slower at refrigerated temperatures.
- At this point you can drink your kombucha as is. For un-carbonated pomegranate kombucha, add pomegranate juice to the kombucha to taste, and enjoy. For sparkling (carbonated) pomegranate kombucha see the next section.
Carbonation – Secondary Fermentation
Carbonation is the result of CO2 gas becoming trapped in the liquid. CO2 is a byproduct of kombucha fermentation; however, up until now, you have been letting this CO2 escape through a permeable cover – the paper towel. To carbonate kombucha, all you need to do is let it ferment further in a sealed container and optionally add juice, the sugar of which will help to fuel continuing fermentation. In this case, we’re adding fresh pomegranate juice.
- Add 2 to 8 cups of fresh pomegranate to your strained kombucha to taste; however keep the pH of the kombucha, fruit juice mixture at pH 4.5 or below to help prevent the growth of any unwanted microorganisms.
- Decant the kombucha/juice mixture into clean swing-top bottles designed for fermenting. These will generally safely hold the pressure that will be created by the continuing fermentation. Bottles not specifically made for fermentation will sometimes burst. This is a safety hazard, and will create a big mess. Fermenting bottles can be found at your local home brewing store, at one of the many home brewing suppliers online, or on amazon.com.
- Store the bottles at room temperature out of direct sunlight. To be on the safe side, put them in a plastic bin or cardboard box that will help contain the broken glass and liquid resulting from a broken or burst bottle.
- After two days check the bottles for the presence of small bubbles. This is the first sign that your kombucha is on its way to being carbonated. If you see these bubbles, then slowly and carefully open the bottle and pour off a sample to test. If it’s carbonated to your liking, transfer the bottles to your refrigerator. If not check back every day or two until you are happy with the result. The secondary fermentation will generally take between two days and a week depending up on temperature and how active the cultures in your kombucha are, and how much fruit juice you have added. The more you have diluted the kombucha the longer the secondary fermentation will take.
- Store bottles for up to about three weeks, or until you’re no longer happy with the flavor. The kombucha will continue to ferment and become more tart over time.
- It’s possible that a small pellicle will form in an individual bottle over time or that yeast will settle to the bottom of the bottle. These are both harmless and can be strained out using a fine mesh strainer before serving.
To make fresh pomegranate juice
Fresh pomegranate juice is an entirely different experience from the shelf-stable (un-refrigerated) juice commonly sold in supermarkets. I highly recommend using fresh juice if you can find it or make it; however, shelf-stable juice will work for this recipe. If you want to make it from February through August, shelf-stable juice will be your only option pomegranates are out of season during these months.
To make fresh pomegranate juice, remove the seeds from your pomegranates and run them through a screw-type juicer, a food mill with a fine disc, or a juice or cider press. I have seen people juice pomegranates with a citrus juicer, though the yield seems to be somewhat lower. You can also run the seeds through a blender and then strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer, though this oxidizes the juice more and degrades the flavor, in my opinion. The easiest way to seed a pomegranate is to cut around the circumference into the skin without cutting the seeds, twist the two halves apart, and then fan out each half slightly. Then over a large bowl, whack the back of each piece with a soup or small serving spoon. Do this over a bowl.