036: Hannah Crum on Getting Started With Homemade Kombucha

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Getting Started with Homemade Kombucha
Wellness Mama » Episode » 036: Hannah Crum on Getting Started With Homemade Kombucha
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The Wellness Mama Podcast
036: Hannah Crum on Getting Started With Homemade Kombucha

I really enjoyed this podcast episode because I got to chat with one of my dear friends, Hannah Crum. Even though I’ve been making Kombucha and Kefir for years, I learned some new tips and tricks for better brewing (and some really cool ideas of ways to use Kombucha!)

Why Homemade Kombucha?

Hannah runs Kombucha Kamp, where she provides information, tutorials and kombucha-brewing equipment. Known as the “Kombucha Mama,” Hannah is largely considered one of the country’s foremost experts in kombucha brewing and fermentation.

If you are already a ‘bucha fan like I am, check out this episode for some new ideas. If you are just starting out with Kombucha, this interview will be a great starting point.

In this Episode, we Talk About

  • Why Kombucha is so beneficial
  • The difference between it and Kefir or Kvass
  • How to brew it
  • The difference between batch brewing and continous brewing
  • The benefits of homemade kombucha vs. purchasing store bough
  • If you really have to use black tea and white sugar
  • If Kombucha is safe during pregnancy or not (the answer may surprise you)
  • If there is a concern about the fluoride content in Kombucha
  • Is it safe to drink or does it harm your enamel
  • Unusual uses for Kombucha
  • Hannah’s best tips for getting started brewing

Resources We Mention

Are you a ‘bucha drinker? What is your favorite flavor?

Thanks for Listening!

Thank you so much for joining me this week. Please leave any comments or feedback in the comments section below.

[toggle title=”Read Transcript”]
Katie: Hi, and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. Today, I actually have several interesting facts of the day for you because I couldn’t choose just one. They’re all about bacteria and its unusual role in our lives. Human breast milk contains sugars that are actually intended to feed the intestinal bacteria of the baby rather than the baby itself, which is one of the many reasons that we are just learning to understand breast milk. Other ways that bacteria are used in helpful ways, to treat bladder cancer. One of the lesser-known methods of treatment as practiced by doctors is to inject weakened bovine tuberculosis bacteria into the urethra. The subsequent immune reaction destroys the cancer cells. This treatment has been shown to be more effective than chemotherapy.

Other ways that bacteria is helpful? Ear wax has antimicrobial properties that reduce the viability of bacteria and fungus in the human ear, which I’ve always thought interesting because I’ve noticed, whenever I use Q-tips too much and clean my ears too much, I would often get an ear infection when I was younger. And finally, millions of people don’t actually need to use deodorant, especially people of East Asian descent, because they have a gene called ABCC11 that stops them from producing sweat that attracts body odor causing bacteria. And ironically, these are people with dry earwax who typically have this particular gene. So as you may have guessed, we’re going to be talking a lot about bacteria today because today’s guest is Hannah of kombuchakamp.com.

Hannah started teaching others how to brew kombucha in 2004. And as demand for her classes and her SCOBYs grew, Kombucha Kamp was born. She is now a master brewer, a bacterial farmer, and considered one of the country’s foremost experts on kombucha. Her videos and tutorials have been viewed by hundreds of thousands, and Hannah has been featured on T.V. shows for her kombucha. She also installs large-scale kombucha setups into restaurants and other big venues. She and her husband, Alex, are working on a 400-plus-page book about everything kombucha, and that will be available next year. Hannah also speaks multiple languages, has traveled to over a dozen countries, and is a dear friend of mine.

Before we jump in though, I wanted to quickly tell you about the generous sponsor of this podcast, a company that I personally support and whose products I use daily. Vital Proteins offers patched arrays and really high-quality collagen and gelatin powders. If you aren’t familiar with the benefits of collagen and gelatin, they are excellent for skin health, digestive health, and so much more. And I’ve been using one or both of these for years to keep my skin healthy and smooth, to speed recovery after childbirth, to help improve my own gut health, and as part of the protocol that we use to reverse my son’s dairy allergy, and so much more. And their sponsorship makes it possible for me to keep doing this podcast each week and having it edited and everything else. And I would highly recommend that you go check them out at wellnessmama.com/go/gelatin. Now, without further ado, let’s jump right into the interview. Hannah, welcome. Thank you for being here.

Hannah: Thanks, Katie. So excited to talk kombucha with another kombucha lover like yourself.

Katie: Me too. Let’s jump right in. So, obviously, I think someone would pretty much have to be living in a cave to have missed how popular kombucha is anymore. I even can find it in our small town in the grocery store, which is awesome. But for anyone who somehow missed this dramatic rise in popularity of kombucha, can you explain what kombucha is and why it’s beneficial?

Hannah: Absolutely. So we all know what yogurt is, right? It’s milk that’s been cultured with a culture’s different strains of bacteria to create a different type of product. And kombucha is the same type of thing, except instead of culturing milk, we’re culturing tea. So we add a starter culture to it, which we call a SCOBY. That’s an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. So the benefit to kombucha is that it not only contains all of the healthy elements present in the yeast, but then you also have beneficial bacteria that create healthy acids that support proper liver functioning, detoxification, and just really helps people feel good, which is what we hear the most from people who drink kombucha.

Katie: Awesome. And maybe can you give us a little bit of a backstory. You run a company called Kombucha Kamp, and you guys actually produce a lot of kombucha SCOBYs and kombucha supplies for people. Can you explain that a little bit?

Hannah: Absolutely. So Kombucha Kamp, Kamp with a K, started when I was inspired in a class to teach others how to make kombucha. That was back in 2004 before kombucha was nearly as popular as it is now. And my husband, at that time, was like, “You’re crazy. It’s so easy, tea and sugar.” But, you know, we’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of fermenting foods at home. And so the SCOBY, well, it’s a wonderful organism. Looks kind of weird. It’s kind of like having a pet in your house, and you’re like, “Oh, no, I’m gonna mess this up, or I don’t know what to do.” So really, Kombucha Kamp started as a way to educate people on how easy and safe it is to make cultures at home. Not make cultures, but make kombucha at home and other fermented foods. So that started as a workshop in my home.

In 2007, I started a blog, again, just to put quality information about kombucha out there. You know, if you go to some websites, they’ll try to scare you and like, “Oh, it’s dangerous. Don’t make this at home.” You know, it’s no more dangerous than any other food that you’re making at home. So if you prepare chicken and you don’t prepare it correctly, yeah, you could give your family Salmonella and that wouldn’t be cool. But just like anything we prepare at home, provided we’re following our normal sanitation practices, it’s gonna be very safe and easy to do. So then, after I had the blog going up for a while, people kept asking, “Hey, do you have a culture? Do you have this?” And it became very clear from people’s requests that there was also a need for not only quality information, but quality supplies. And that’s when I became a bacteria farmer.

So, Alex and I, he’s my partner. We’ve been, you know, farming bacteria for many years now and we ship quality cultures all over the world. We’ve also invented several products to help support the brewing hobby. So we have our heaters that we use to maintain the appropriate temperature for kombucha. We’ve got a really neat one that just came out that’s gotta thermostat on it, so you can literally just tap in the temperature you want it to stay at and it’ll do that. And they’re not only good for kombucha. They’re great for your other ferments that need to be kept warm. So if you’re making dough or yogurt or kefir, all of these can be helped along with their appropriate temperature with that unit. So, suffice to say we are all about kombucha. We really love it. And we love educating people about how terrific and easy it is to make it at home. I know you make it. Have you found it to be fairly easy?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I kind of had the same experience. It seemed a little bit daunting when I first started just because there is this kind of strange-looking thing on my counter that smelled a little weird at first and I was afraid I was gonna kill it. But really, now it’s just like a once-a-week easy process. And actually, now we’re on a continuous batch ferment. So it’s really not any work at all. I can just drain out what we need an add more tea and it’s very simple. But you mentioned other fermented products as well. So how does kombucha differ from like kefir-kefir? However, there’s a debate there, or things like kvass. Do they have different benefits at different cultures? Or what’s the difference and what’s similar?

Hannah: Absolutely. So kombucha is an acetic acid ferment. And you might know that term from your vinegar bottle. Kombucha is very similar to vinegar. And, in fact, we could think of it kind of like a mild tea vinegar. Most vinegars are gonna come in at 4% to 7%, and that’s diluted down to that ratio. Kombucha is naturally around a 1%. So it’s a lot easier to drink kombucha than vinegar. But all of the benefits that come with vinegar, you can also imagine are there with kombucha. In terms of kefir-kefir, tomato-tomato, or kvass, those are what we call lacto-ferments, and they tend to have lactobacillus as a more dominant bacteria. Although while that’s true in milk kefir, water kefir actually has other types of organisms that are dominant, as the cultures are not actually related. They’re two different cultures, but they both have this kind of similar look to them in terms of their grains. But suffice to say, kvass too is also a lacto-ferment where the bacteria from the beets is what’s creating the fermentation process if we’re doing beet kvass or a fruit kvass that’s coming off of the fruit peel.

So, the benefits are different in that kombucha’s acetic acid nature also leads to the creation of other healthy acids, gluconic, glucuronic, hyaluronic. All of these acids serve a very specific benefit in the body, to different parts of the body. One of the main benefits is that it helps the liver to maintain proper functioning. And then, of course, we’re fermenting tea. So, all of the benefits known to tea are also maximized, in fact, enhanced through that fermentation process. Whereas with our kefirs, you know, with the milk kefir, we’re enhancing the qualities of the milk. We’re making it easier for us to digest. We’re allowing that calcium and magnesium present in there to be easier to absorb. With the beet kvass, there’s all the heart-healthy aspects of beets that we’re making even more bioavailable through that fermentation process. So, we never say just drink one ferment. Drink all the ferments. You wanna have a huge variety of fermented foods in your diet. So, for instance, we have yogurt, sauerkraut with most meals. In addition to kombucha, we also drink kefir and jun. I love making beet kvass. It’s one of my favorite. I get that little pink mustache. You know, your gut has over 500 types of organisms potentially in there. You don’t know which ones you need to make you feel great. And that’s why trusting your gut or listening to the ferments that make your body feel good is so important to incorporate on a regular basis.

Katie: Yeah, I absolutely agree. And it’s so fun to really experiment with all the different ones as well and to make them in your own kitchen. So can you kind of walk us through the process? I know now, having done it, that brewing kombucha really is a simple process. But can you walk us through the steps of that for someone who may be new and is a little maybe apprehensive of how to brew it?

Hannah: Absolutely. And I’m sure you’ll include a link to our DIY guide and recipe page. So you don’t have to take notes here, people. You can go grab that information there. But basically, we’re brewing a pot of sweet tea. So we brew a pot of tea. And here’s the thing. We’re not even using the same amount of tea per cup as we were if we were just drinking by the cup. What I mean by that is, you know, you typically have one tea bag to six to eight ounces of water. With kombucha, we’re using four to six tea bags. And, of course, you can increase or decrease per your taste preference. But basically, four to sixty bags for an entire gallon of kombucha.

So, part of why I mentioned that here is because some people have concerns about caffeine and things like that. We’re already using less tea than we normally would if we were drinking it by the cup, and then, some of the caffeine is used in that fermentation process. Okay, now I just sidetracked there to caffeine, but let me get back to the process. So we make tea. We add one cup of sugar, which sounds like a lot of sugar. And if you were to taste this sweet tea just on its own, you’d be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so sweet.” The sugar is not for you. The sugar is for the organisms. And you can tell that because after you allow the kombucha to then sit there for a week or 10 days, depending on your brewing conditions, it has a sweet-sour flavor where most of what people taste first is sour, but I often find there’s like a little sweet undertone. It’s like it’s both things at once in a properly made kombucha. It has that great balance between the sweet and the sour. And that’s it. So we put our culture in. We put our one cup of liquid. We cover it with a cloth cover. We give it some kind words, some communion with it so to speak or at least, that’s what I like to do.

And then we just leave it alone for 7 to 14 days, again, depending on your taste preference and brewing conditions. We come back. There’s a new SCOBY on top. The mother is underneath. You know, it can float. It can be on the bottom of the jar. It can be on its side. It doesn’t really matter where the mother lives. The new layer is always gonna grow across the top. So once you’ve discovered the new layers there and you taste it and it has the flavor you like, you’re ready to just start the whole process over again.

Katie: Awesome. So I mentioned that I’ve experimented with both of the brewing methods, the batch method and the continuous method. Can you kind of break down the pros and cons of each one and how they’re different?

Hannah: Absolutely. So, a lot of people start with batch because they’re just kind of getting the hang of the fermentation process. They’re making sure, “Hey, do I really like this? Is this a habit I’m gonna keep?” And once they kind of figure out that, yes, that is the case, then continuous brew really streamlines the whole process. So in a batch brew we have, you know, in our gallon, we have 90% sweet tea, 10% starter liquid and culture. And that takes, again, our 7 to 14 days at our ideal temps, which are 75 to 85, with 78 to 80 being our sweet spot. In continuous, we’re doing it in a larger vessel. So, typically, there’s our two and a half gallons or larger. So we make our sweet tea just like we would in our normal process. You do need to scale the number of cultures and starter liquids so that your batch doesn’t go to mold. Part of how kombucha protects itself is it acidifies quickly. So it has a very low pH, and it’s that low pH that prevents other organisms like mold from colonizing with the brew.

Now, it is gonna take a little bit longer for that first batch to be ready. It might take two to three weeks. But once that first batch is ready, instead of draining the entire vessel, we’re only removing about 25% or in the case of a two and a half gallon vessel, half a gallon. Once we remove that half a gallon, and you do it right through the spigot. So you don’t need any funnels. You’re not lifting any jars. It just makes it a lot easier. You decant right from the spigot into your bottle. Then you top off with the half a gallon of sweet tea. Now, I still make my top off tea in one-gallon batches. I’ll use half on the CB and then I’ll stick the other half in the fridge because now we’ve left 75% already fermented kombucha in there. It only takes a couple of days for that sweet tea to turn into the kombucha you love.

And what are the benefits of that? So what does it matter? The kombucha creates the healthy acids I mentioned before. They peak at the 15-day mark and again, at the 30-day mark. Now, if we did a gallon of kombucha for 15 days, that might be okay. But if we did it for 30, for most people’s taste preferences, they just would not like the flavor of it. And so you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot so to speak in that you’re creating a product that’s really healthy, but that you don’t really care for. So when we do it in the continuous, because we leave so much of that kombucha fermenting in there all the time, it allows that to create those healthy acids, but then we’re tempering the flavor with that sweet tea. Moreover, if we go on vacation or we just need to take a break, you leave everything alone in the vessel, it’s in a pH protected environment. It acts kind of like just a SCOBY hotel. Then, when you return and are ready to start your kombucha again, you simply drain some out. If it’s very sour, you might drain an entire gallon out or half the vessel, and then you top off with your sweet tea. Now you’re back to your kombucha in just a couple of days. You don’t have to wait a whole 7 to 14 days for a new batch to be ready.

Katie: Yeah, that’s a great benefit. It definitely is so simple. And you guys have some great options for continuous brew as well. And I’d love to talk about even more the benefits of why you should brew it at home because it’s very widely available now. You can buy kombucha. I even seen it at gas stations. In fact, I recently spent about $5 for 16 ounces of it while I was traveling. So, obviously, there’s a good cost-benefit if you make it at home. But what are some other benefits of brewing your own kombucha versus just buying it at the store?

Hannah: Well, it’s similar to the commercial yogurts. You know, whenever you’re scaling a fermentation product, something that people traditionally made in their homes, on their counters, those cultures are really best suited for those small batches because that’s how they evolve. So whenever you try to scale something to a larger commercial production, you may have to adjust the way in which you ferment it in order to accommodate those larger qualities. And sometimes what that means is there’s only a couple of strains present as opposed to the full panoply of strains that you’ll find in a kombucha. We’ve done some testing on ours. And, you know, they may be present in very trace amounts, but we literally have over 30 different types of bacteria that we found in our kombucha and 10 or 15 types of yeast. Again, they might be present in very small amounts, but when you think about what it is we’re feeding. I know we think we’re feeding this big huge giant human. In fact, we’re feeding the bacteria that live in our gut, so those trace amounts provided there in a living form, that those organisms have evolved to recognize and utilize.

Who knows what other benefits they’re providing for us? You know, science hasn’t even named all of the bacteria that are potentially present in our gut, let alone in our fermented foods. So there’s so much that we still don’t know in that regard. So you’re getting a much more diverse beverage when you make it at home. Moreover, it’s adapting to your environment. I mean, I personally think it also adapts on a certain level to your needs based on the energy that you are giving it through your fermentation process. So that’s one of the benefits, is you get that more diverse range of cultures present. Plus, making it at home, like you already said, it’s so much less expensive. And this is why kombucha costs a lot of money. It’s not to say, “Oh, they’re just overcharging you or this or that.” It takes time to ferment a beverage, to control for quality, make sure it tastes good, get the carbonation in there, versus a soda where you just, you know, two seconds with a flavored extract chemical and some carbonated water. That takes nothing, right? There’s no time involved in that kind of a process. And so you can have those types of beverages for a lot less money than something that really requires craft artisanship and things like that.

Katie: Awesome, yeah. So when it comes to kombucha brew, I’ve seen sources that say that you only can use black tea and you should only ever use white sugar. And I’ve had a lot of people that kind of resist that because a lot of people are very anti-white sugar or they prefer other types of tea. So what’s your opinion on this? Do you think you can use other types of tea? Or what have you found works best?

Hannah: Absolutely. You know, kombucha is traditionally a black-tea white-sugar ferment. For whatever reason, that’s how the culture evolved back in the annals of time. Of course, if we assume that the culture is thousands of years old, sugar is 5,000 years old, although it hasn’t always been available in a granular form. So, certainly, other types of sweeteners may have been used with the oldest kombucha. But in terms of our experience through the 20th and 21st centuries, black tea and white sugar was the standard. And if you’re new to kombucha, you might try that recipe and see how you like the flavor. However, we know that kombucha can also work with a huge variety of teas and sugar sources. So experimentation is a lot of fun. And it’s one of the other reasons to make kombucha at home, is because you get to tweak all of those variables to create totally unique flavor profiles and health benefits that you might not get from just a commercial brand.

So sugar is always our first go-to, but you can use things like molasses, pasteurized honey, maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar. Now, some of those sugars that have a higher mineral content, like your molasses or your coconut sugar or even agave, they have a higher fructose content and that can sour more quickly. So whenever we’re doing experiments, when we’re tweaking our teas or tweaking our sugars, we do want to taste frequently and use a culture from our SCOBY hotel, use a backup. Don’t use your original mother because in case you don’t like it or the culture has an issue, you can just toss everything and you still have good cultures in your hotel. And then, you can even use things that aren’t tea in the primary fermentation. Again, we recommend you do that with a spare SCOBY. So yerba mate, rooibos. You know, yerba mate has caffeine. Rooibos does not. Other herbs are really great to use with it as well. Hibiscus and ginger and some of these other things can also be incorporated into a primary ferment, again, provided we’re using that extra just be so. You know, we’ve done a variety of different experiments. We’ve brewed it with coffee. We’ve brewed it with coconut water. We brewed it with, you know, juice. So you can get really creative with the fermentation once you kind of get the basics under control.

Katie: I agree. And actually, I’ve got it on my list. I’ve experimented with the coffee one and I have a recipe for coffee kombucha that I’ll be posting soon. But you mentioned the flavor options. And a way that I’ve always flavored it is with the secondary ferment. So can you explain what that is and how someone can use a secondary ferment to get both the carbonation and the flavor in kombucha that they want?

Hannah: Absolutely. So carbonation is CO2. It is a natural byproduct of all fermentation processes, and you can even get carbonated milk kefir. But the CO2 are the bubbles, and people are hardwired to seek out CO2. I believe it’s because it all comes from the yeast. And the yeast represent nutrition in a viable form. It has all of the B vitamins. So we’re kind of hardwired to look for carbonation. That’s part of what’s so insidious about the sodas, is that they have the appearance of a fermented beverage, but they don’t deliver any of the health benefits that you’re looking for. So the secondary ferment is where we can create a lot of carbonation in the bottle because what we’re doing is we’re pouring the kombucha into the bottle. We’re making sure some of the yeast strands get in there. Those are the little brown flecks that you might see floating on the bottom of the jar. And then we add sugar in the form of fruit or ginger, something like that. Now, when we cap the bottle nice and tight, that CO2 stays in the liquid and it doesn’t evaporate out.

And so, people who like a really fizzy kombucha, this is an easy way to not only get a unique flavor into your kombucha, but also to create more of that fizz that people really love. So fruit is a great thing to use, and usually, a little bit goes a long way. So start with small amounts and then increase from there based on your taste preference. Also, if you puree fruit or use juice, the surface area is smaller than if you’re using pieces of fruit. So you can typically use less if you have a more concentrated flavor. And you might want to just for safety sake because sometimes, it can be very carbonated. And sometimes it’ll be flat. But just being aware that sometimes if you leave your bottles out, you may wanna put them in a box or just someplace where should something explode, at least the explosion is contained.

One way we can prevent that is by burping on a regular basis. But if you over burp your bottles, you let all of the CO2 out. So it’s really finding that balance. And everyone’s kombucha works differently. So the longer you work with your kombucha, the more in tune you will be with its patterns and how it behaves, especially as the climate changes. You know, in summer, of course, when it’s warmer, yeast likes warmer temperatures, you may build more carbonation than in the winter. When it’s much cooler, you may not find as much carbonation present in your bottles. You know, you just kind of ebb and flow with the seasons when you’re making a product at home like this.

Katie: Are there any things that should not be used in a secondary ferment? I’ve never had good luck with pineapple, for instance. Maybe it’s just what I’m doing, but are there things that are typically not as good to use?

Hannah: That’s a great question. It’s not that things aren’t good to use. I find that most anything can be used to flavor kombucha. However, when you’re using things that have a lot of essential oils like cloves or, you know, really intense spices, you may want to just dial back on the amount you’re using because the kombucha, because it’s a vinegar-type ferment, just like we put herbs in vinegar to extract and create nutrition, the same thing happens in the kombucha. It will extract all of the good stuff out of whatever you’re putting in there. And so if what you’re putting in there has an intense flavor, you might just back it off. But we do bacon kombucha. We do cucumber-mint kombucha, beet kombucha. You know, you can make them savory. You can make them sweet. So, there’s a lot of different options available to people.

Katie: Awesome. Is there a good standard rule of thumb about how much kombucha a person should consume daily, or it does really depend on the person? And maybe how much do you drink each day?

Hannah: Great question. Let me ask you this. Do you ever think to yourself, “What happens if I eat too much yogurt?” Right? This is the thing about kombucha. Again, it’s because people aren’t familiar and they’ve heard too many, you know, scary stories about it. But really, it’s a food just like any other. It’s a healthy food just like any other healthy food. So if your body desires that healthy food and says, “Hey, give me some kombucha,” do it. If your body then ends up in the toilet for two hours because you’re having an experience as a result of consuming that food, then you might wanna cut back on how much you’re consuming. Our basic advice to people who are new to kombucha is start with four ounces or eight ounces. So that’s half a cup to a cup, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This allows you to feel how the kombucha is working in your body.

Personally, for me, what I experience is I’ll start sipping it, it feels really good, and then I’ll experience just this like relaxation of all my organs from the inside as a result of drinking the kombucha. And that feels really great. You know, some people drink it at night and sleep with no problem. Other people find they’re more sensitive to it and they can’t drink it at night. You know, how much and when to drink your kombucha will really depend on you. And here’s the other thing. It’s a tonic. So it’s best consumed in small frequent quantities versus huge massive doses at a time, so to speak. And I drink kombucha. Most of the days, I have about 16 ounces, but some days I don’t have any at all. And other days, I’ll have 32 ounces. So it just kind of varies depending on what’s happening. You know, sometimes I go a period of time without it and then my body starts going like “Ah-ah-ah.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to have the kombucha.” So your body will tell you very clearly if you’re overdoing it or not doing it enough.

Now that said, I do wanna mention that people who have compromised immune systems, may wanna start very slowly because part of what kombucha does is it helps support healthy liver functioning and it will start to pull toxins from the body. And when that happens, people might experience what’s called a herxheimer reaction. And this type of reaction happens, oftentimes, whenever you start any kind of healing protocol where the act of removing the toxins from the body creates a reaction in the body that feels as if you’re experiencing that illness all over again. So we see this a lot with Candida sufferers who drink kombucha. First, if you have Candida or diabetes, you wanna make sure you’re fermenting it until it’s very sour. Normally, a person would do a one-week ferment in a one gallon. You’re gonna wanna do a two-week, just to make sure you’re getting more of the sugar out. And if you’re wondering how much sugar is in there, just taste it. Your tongue will tell you.

So starting with really sour kombucha, now what happens is kombucha creates certain healthy acids that are Candida side, so Phenethyl alcohol, Caprylic acid. These are things that naturally occur in kombucha that help to get rid of Candida. However, when you first start drinking it, the Candida is like, “Hey, I don’t wanna die. Don’t kill me.” And so it fights back. And so your body has a reaction as if you’re going through a flare-up. But usually, it takes, you know, anywhere…everybody’s body is different. But it usually takes around two weeks or so for your body to fully transition away from having those kinds of reactions. In fact, Len Porzio, who coined the term SCOBY back in the 90s, was drinking it for that benefit. And you can read a little article about him on our on our blog if you’re curious.

Katie: Yeah. I’ll make sure to link to that because I have read that one. A question I get all the time is if it’s safe to drink kombucha during pregnancy. And I know, as you mentioned, kombucha is just a food, but there are also foods that women do avoid when they’re pregnant. So personally, I’ve always felt comfortable drinking kombucha when I was pregnant because I was drinking it before I was pregnant. But what’s your take on kombucha during pregnancy?

Hannah: Again, it’s trust your gut. Nobody knows their body like themselves and nobody experiences your body in the way that you do. So, for instance, I had a friend who really loved kombucha. She drank it all the time. She got pregnant, couldn’t stand the smell of it. Well, there’s your body giving you a really important signal, “Hey, don’t drink that right now. That’s not what I need.” I’ve had other women tell me they drink kombucha all through their pregnancies. And when they were breastfeeding, they felt it helped to improve the milk flow that was occurring. So again, it’s a personal choice. It’s based on how your body gives you feedback about it. And they might be that at one point in your pregnancy, it’s not good for you to drink and then at another point, you’re craving it. It’s again, it’s not an absolute one way or the other. It really does come back to listening to your own biofeedback and trusting that look, we’ve got a million plus years of evolution encoded into our DNA. And our bodies are actually an incredibly sensitive biofeedback, not machine but organism. And so if we take the time to tune in and listen to the signals that’s giving us, that is gonna be a really terrific guide for knowing, “Is this something that’s good for me or not?”

Katie: That’s a good rule of thumb, for sure.

Hannah: And same with kids. Do your children drink kombucha?

Katie: Yeah, they do. They like it a lot.

Hannah: And did you wait until they were a certain age or did you give it to them right away? What was your philosophy on that?

Katie: So my take was like I didn’t want it to be necessarily their first food because I felt like they really craved more proteins when they were first experimenting with food. But once they were trying a variety of foods, I would let them experiment with it and drink out of my cup because they were always curious to try whatever I was drinking or eating. And then if they liked it, I would let them have small amounts. And if not, I would just let them try again in a few months and not really push it on them. But I did find they actually liked it even the more vinegary kombucha because sometimes I would let it go too long and it would get really strong. And they even liked that at a young age. I feel like maybe young kids have a good taste receptor for that sometimes, and we don’t really let them develop it very well.

Hannah: I absolutely agree with you because, in fact, most of the healing foods have a bitter or a sour quality to them. And really, those are the foods that help support healthy functioning. It’s an anomaly in history as a result of this processed foods revolution that’s occurred, that we can so over consume sugar. And again, we have a tendency to go black and white, “Oh, well, then all sugar is bad.” It’s not that all sugar is bad. It’s like, what form is it in? Where are you consuming the sugar? Is the sugar doing what you need it to do, which is satisfying those receptors or it’s balancing out the savory? You know, in cooking, we use like a pinch of sugar here or dash of vinegar there. All of that helps to round out the flavors and give our bodies what they’re looking for. So it is funny because when we sample our kombucha to different people, the adults will e like, “Oh, no, the kids won’t like it.” I’m like, “Ah, I think they’re gonna like it better than you because they just haven’t been exposed to the same number of years of sodas and whatnot, that their palate hasn’t been totally shifted over.” So I agree with you. I think there is an instinctual desire from kids to have that type of a beverage. So I think for moms, it makes a great inexpensive way to have a variety of flavors available to you for just pennies a glass.

Katie: Yeah, definitely. I agree. Another issue that I hear a lot of people have a concern with kombucha really goes back to the tea, not the kombucha. But that there is some naturally occurring fluoride that comes from the soil that’s found in a lot of different varieties of tea. Have you seen anything on this, or do you have an opinion one way or the other on that?

Hannah: Absolutely. So like with every vitamin or nutrient or mineral, there’s a naturally occurring form and then there’s a chemically created form. And if we look at the chemical drawing of each of those molecules, they’re going to have a different shape. And part of how our body has evolved to recognize good for us versus what’s a foreign body is, “Does it fit into the shapes that we’ve evolved to recognize?” And so, there is naturally occurring fluoride in tea and it varies based on, you know, the growing conditions of the tea. So choosing an organic tea is gonna be a good choice, not because of the fluoride quantity per se, but because they’re going to be using different types of pesticides that won’t add additional fluoride to it.

So really, the risk of fluoride poisoning comes from people who over consume tea. And that’s just straight tea by itself. And, you know, that’s like someone who’s drinking gallons of tea every day. And we would never recommend anyone to drink gallons of kombucha a day. And, in fact, our body needs a certain amount of fluoride. But the fluoride you find in tea is calcium fluoride versus what we find in our water supply is sodium fluoride or fluorosilicic acid. And so these kind of chemicalized versions of fluoride are the ones that have a really adverse effect on our bodies over time. And that’s why many countries around the world don’t add it to their water supply. The benefits haven’t been found to match up with what they say they have. And, in fact, most dentists recognize now that just topical use of fluoride rather than ingesting it through your water supply is more than sufficient to prevent cavities.

So that being said, our cultures are grown in water that is fluoride-free. So we very much care about in terms of our process. So when we cultivate all of our cultures, we use water that is fluoride-free because there’s no point in adding extra stuff in there.

Katie: That’s a good rule of thumb, and I definitely agree with the difference with the naturally occurring versus the none. And from what I’ve read, if you’re using an organic tea that’s from a good source and you know where your tea came from, that it’s really not that much of an issue, especially because, like you said, you’re using less concentrated tea in kombucha than you would even by drinking it. So it’s really minimal there. But on the oral health note, I’ve also heard people claim that kombucha isn’t safe because it’s too acidic and it can hurt your tooth enamel. And I’m curious your take on that.

Hannah: Well, everybody is different, right? Some people produce more saliva, which naturally protects their teeth better than other people who don’t have those same genetic characteristics. So it can be not beneficial for some people. And if you notice that your teeth are sensitive, again, you might just wanna increase the amount of water you’re drinking there, dilute the kombucha a little bit so the pH isn’t as intense. Whereas most people find they have no issue with it at all. There’s no, you know, “Across the board, it always does this,” in terms of how the kombucha works with your body. But typically, that happens with people’s mouths when they’re maybe imbalanced or they don’t have the pH of their bodies a little bit different. So again, it’s listening to your body and making a determination based on how your body is reacting. And then, as you continue through your healing journey, right? Nobody heals overnight. It always takes a period of time. Revisit it if it’s something that calls to you and just see how is it affecting me now. We can get worried about X, Y, and Z, but really, it’s paying attention to how it’s behaving in your own individual organism. That’s the most important.

Katie: Yeah, that’s always a good rule of thumb. So to switch gears a little bit, we’ve had this conversation before, but I’d love us to have it again for the sake of people who are listening. What are some unusual uses for kombucha? Most people think of it as just a drink, but you were sharing some really unusual and fun ways that you and your husband use it. Can you share those?

Hannah: Absolutely. And, you know, our book which is coming out February 2016, is going to have loads of recipes on some of the things you can do. We’re gonna have almost 300 flavoring ideas. We have 50 cocktail recipes. But some of the really neat things that we’ve been working on include SCOBY fruit leather. So did you know you could eat your mother? It’s true. The cultures will build up over time. And you’ll have like…If you just keep all of them, your whole countertop will be covered in jars and SCOBYs and some people feel bad getting rid of them. You know, you can compost them, which is really great for the soil, putting healthy bacteria in there. Also, plants that love a more acidic pH really thrive from the addition of a little bit of kombucha. Again, you wanna follow normal fertilization, which is like about a 10% solution if you’re using it in the garden.

But you can also eat it. So what we do is we take our old mothers, we put them in a blender to puree into a fluff, and then we’ll add about the same amount, an equal amount of fruit. We pureed all that until it’s this light fluffy kind of funky stuff, and then you just lay it out onto a dehydrator tray. At a low temperature, we do it under 110 degrees for 24 to 36 hours. And the resulting, it literally just tastes like fruit leather. You would have no idea that there’s even any SCOBY in it. But the benefit to consuming bacterial cellulose is that it goes through the body and it sweeps out. It’s indigestible. So you don’t actually absorb it, but it acts like a broom and it will sweep out any kind of imbalances in your gut. It also helps to sweep out excess sugar and hormones as a result of that. So if you look up insoluble fiber, you’ll see some of those benefits, and kombucha has that.

Now, kombucha can also be given to chickens, horses, dogs, cats. I mean, anything that has an instinct, for the most part, really gravitates towards kombucha. You don’t have to teach them to eat it. They’ll just eat the cultures. Another use is some people have been drying them out and creating clothing. So, for instance, there was a TED talk by Suzanne Lee where she was growing huge sheets of culture, dehydrating it, sewing it together. And it’s a delicate leather. It’s one because kombucha holds over a hundred times its weight in liquid. You wanna be careful you don’t wear the jacket outside in the rain or it might get too heavy and fall off of you.

But there is some potential future uses for this if we can find a way to cure the SCOBY in a way. In this way, we’d be making a biodegradable leather substitute. Some people have made drum head or coin purses out of it. And another use that I think we might see in the future is kombucha, there’s been several studies that show how it will remove environmental toxins as well. So for instance, we’ve just had an oil spill in Santa Barbara. I can imagine a day when we’re taking massive amounts of SCOBY and putting it in there to help soak up some of those toxins. You know, maybe that’s my imagination, but I think that we will find other means of utilizing it for that benefit.

Katie: Very cool. What about kombucha on the skin or the hair? Because I think you even mentioned some cool ways to use it that way as well.

Hannah: Absolutely. So kombucha not only detoxes by consuming it internally, it will also detox externally. So folks who suffer from eczema or really dry skin or if you have a burn, you can apply either a SCOBY. Some people will save little pieces to use as bandages, or you can take that puree and instead of putting fruit in it, you can add some vitamin E or some other kind of, you know, skin soothing properties to it. You plop it on your skin and it’s gonna be all kind of look weird and be high. You just put a layer on there. But then, what will happen is as it dries, it will literally soak into the skin and become…You’ll be able to peel it off like it’s skin on your own body. So I use that on my hands. And if you put it on one hand and leave the other hand alone, when you go back to touch the hand that had the SCOBY, it is so soft. So part of its benefits is it softens the skin. It helps to detox topically through the skin. And then also, because it’s not soap, there’s no soap scum. We do actually have a kombucha soap that’s made with the cultures and the tea that you can use on your skin. I think, actually, you really like it. Don’t you, Katie?

Katie: I do. It’s great soap, yeah.

Hannah: And then my husband makes hair tonic. So basically, we’ll take really old kombucha. So let’s say you have some kombucha that went to vinegar and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t wanna throw this away, but I don’t wanna drink it.” Let it keep aging, add some herbs that are good for your hair. We have a whole post on the blog about which herbs are good to use with that. You keep it in the shower, and then you just put a little bit on your hair. It’s not as intense as the apple cider vinegar. So some people out there who are doing the no-poo, if you find that it’s a little too intense with the apple cider, use the kombucha vinegar instead. It’s much milder. It leaves your hair really soft. It helps to degrease. But then it doesn’t strip as much, so your hair doesn’t feel all like straw when you’re done with it.

Katie: Yeah, that’s brilliant. I’ve been substituting it in a lot of my beauty recipes with where I would put normally vinegar. And so that’s actually another post that’s coming soon. It is using kombucha in like a face mask with healing clays and herbs and stuff, because it has enough acid to help with the mask, but it’s very gentle on the skin.

Hannah: It is. And, in fact, there’s some beauty products now that have been featuring kombucha. So you can buy. I think Andalou has a face wash that has it, some other brands have shampoo. And then we do see, it’s not technically from the kombucha culture, but it’s the same bacteria, is used to create sheets in Korea, in Asia. And you buy it just like a pre-packed sheet. It’s got the eye holes and everything cut out. You just lay it on your face and that helps to fill in the fine lines and wrinkles, it saturates the skin, it moisturizes. It also, because of that mild acid, helps to slough away dead skin, but doesn’t leave you with the same kind of chemical burn that you might experience from other products.

Katie: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I feel like there’s kind of an endless number of uses, and I can’t wait till your book comes out because I’m sure a lot of them will be in there.

Hannah: Absolutely.

Katie: Can you give us a quick teaser about the book? Obviously, I can’t link to it yet because it’s not out. But can you just give us a preview?

Hannah: Sure. So it’s 400 pages, all about kombucha. It’s the first book of its kind that’s this comprehensive. We’ve got the how-tos of batch brewing, continuous brew, carbonation, flavoring, like I said, almost 300 flavoring suggestions, just ideas to get you going. We’ve got 50 cocktail recipes. This book also covers the history and the research that’s been conducted on kombucha. You know, there’s a lot of people out there who say, “Oh, there’s no research.” In fact, that’s not true. This product has been researched by scientists all over the world for the last 150 years. So we go in-depth to looking at that progression of how our knowledge of kombucha has evolved over time. And then also the historical perspective. Where did it come from? What are some of the legends and myths about it? And then we also do dispel some of the old wives tales that have come with kombucha along the way so that people kind of dispel some of the fear around working with it.

Katie: Awesome. We’ll have to have maybe you and Alex both on for a round two when it gets closer to a book time. But for now, what would be your best advice for someone who’s just starting out with kombucha?

Hannah: Quality ingredients, quality culture, all of that is going to lead to brewing success. Can you grow a SCOBY? Sure. Is it going to be…? You know, just like if you try to use a commercial yogurt to start a yogurt, it might work for a batch or two, but it will probably fail again because it lacks that diversity or oftentimes does. I’m not speaking about every kombucha. But starting with a quality culture. Not one that’s dehydrated, one that’s fully hydrated. You’ll have a batch of kombucha ready in seven days. Moreover, at least, I can speak to Kombucha Kamp, we offer a huge amount of customer support. So, whether you get your SCOBY from us or not, our website has a wealth of information. And then everyone is welcome to drop us an email anytime to customer service at kombuchakamp.com and we’re happy to help educate you about the process. So if you’ve got questions, we’re there to help support you.

And then, we also have the other cultures. So we’ve got the milk kefir, the water kefir, and the jun, which I know we didn’t talk too much about. That’s a raw honey green tea ferment. So for those of you avoiding sugar with a good raw honey source, you might check out the jun. It’s got a little bit of a lighter flavor, more floral. But quality supplies, quality information. And then don’t give up. Patience and don’t give up because that’s hardest part is for people, is waiting for it to be ready and then feeling like if it doesn’t turn out perfect the first time, giving up. Don’t give up. Just keep trying. Kombucha is very forgiving.

Katie: Awesome. And I will be sure to link to all those resources you mentioned. But where can people find you online just so they can find more information?

Hannah: Sure. It’s kombuchakamp.com. And then from there, you can also find our store by clicking on the shop basket or the store button. And then you can see all of the different products we have available. I mentioned the ferment friend. We also have t-shirts and stickers coming out soon. So, lots of really fun stuff that not only supports the habit but also tells everyone else how much you love your kombucha and fermentation.

Katie: Awesome. Hannah, thank you so much. You are a wealth of knowledge, and I have really enjoyed this interview and I’m sure that everyone else will do.

Hannah: Thank you, Katie, really enjoyed talking with you about it.

Katie: And thank you for listening to the Wellness Mama Podcast. If you enjoyed this podcast or any of the past episodes, I would really appreciate it if you would take just a minute to go to iTunes and give it a review and a rating. This is how other people are able to find the podcast, and I would really appreciate your two minutes of time to do that. Also, if you would like to get my “Seven Simple Steps for Healthier Families Guide” plus my “Quick Start Guide” and a free week of meal plans, head on over to wellnessmama.com and you could enter your email and get it right away.

And also, another huge thank you to our generous sponsor, Vital Proteins, Gelatin and Collagen Powder. They offer pasture, healthy grass-fed gelatin and collagen. And basically, if you don’t understand the forms, gelatin is the one that will gel in liquids. So that’s great for making jello and marshmallows and anything you need to thicken. And collagen will easily mix into any kind of food or drink. So if you don’t want something that thicken and you wanna just be able to sneak gelatin and the benefits of gelatin and collagen into your food and drinks, then collagen peptides are the way to go. And gelatin is one of my favorite daily supplements in some form or another. I’m so amazed at all the benefits it has. It’s known to support skin, hair, and nail growth, and be good for joints and help joint recovery. It can help tighten loose skin. Like for me, the kinds you get after having five babies. It can improve digestion because it’s great for the gut. Some people say it has helped for cellulite. It’s a great source of dietary collagen. It’s a decent source of protein. And it’s composed of the amino acids glycine and proline, which many people don’t get enough of in today’s diet.

So if you wanna check it out, you can go to wellnessmama.com/go/gelatin, and you can get a 10% off discount at that link. And if you’ve never used gelatin, there are some awesome ways you can use it. I use it in homemade marshmallows and smoothies, in teas, to make jello. I even use it as a hair treatment to thicken my hair, to make homemade children’s vitamins that are chewable, in my shampoo to make my hair thicker, and then on my face as a mask to help reduce wrinkles. And there’s just so many great uses for it. So if you’ve never checked it out, I would definitely encourage you to hop on over to wellnessmama.com/go/gelatin and check it out. And, as always, thank you so much for listening and have a healthy week.

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Thanks to Our Sponsors

Thanks to Vital Proteins for sponsoring this episode of the Wellness Mama podcast. I use gelatin and collagen powder daily in cooking, baking, smoothies, hot drinks and as a supplement. Collagen helps reduce wrinkles and improve skin health, so this may be the reason that I often hear “You look too young to have five kids!” If you’ve never tried gelatin or collagen, I definitely recommend checking our Vital Proteins! Use the code VPWM10 to get a 10% discount off your order!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


16 responses to “036: Hannah Crum on Getting Started With Homemade Kombucha”

  1. Shawna Avatar

    Does the fermenting kombucha HAVE to be in a dark place? I am just starting a continuous ferment in the pretty new 2 gallon jar I bought, and I want to show it off! The spot I have in mind is in my outdoor room, in the shade, but the light is bright.

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      It should be ok as long as it’s not in direct sunlight or in too warm of a place. If the area it’s in is too cold it will take a long time to ferment, but if its too warm it can spoil.

  2. Gina B Avatar

    Hi Katie!
    I just started doing the kombucha. So fun and delicious! My son loooves the stuff. Curious how much daily is okay for kids? He gets all jazzed up about the stuff because it’s fizzy and sour which he apparently likes lol. Just making sure his excitement isn’t caffeine related…?

      1. Gina B Avatar

        Well, like most five year olds-the novelty of it has worn off on my son. He’s not as jazzed anymore, but still likes a cup with lunch.
        Thanks Katie:).

  3. Rene Avatar

    Hi Katie
    I have been given a mother brew. I have just made my tea brew. The mother brew has a thick scoby on the bottom and thin one on the top. I use the top scoby for my tea right? so what do I do with the thicker one. So new to this. Thank you.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Hey Rene – you can reuse the large SCOBY and give the “baby” away or use it to make another batch. Both are still good for use 🙂

  4. Jennifer Avatar

    Hi Katie! What did you do to reverse your sons dairy allergy? My oldest daughter has been allergic to dairy since birth. She also has a ton of other food allergies and I’m sure it’s a gut issue and an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in her gut. I would love to hear the story about your son and his dairy allergy and how you reversed it. I would love to be able to do that for my daughter as she loves ice cream, cheese, and other things that she has such a hard time with not getting to eat it.

  5. Kellie Avatar

    There is another wonderful group on Facebook called Kombucha Brew Crew. I am new (again) at brewing and find their conversations and members very helpful and supportive. Between comments from the Wellness Mama readers, Kombucha Kamp and the Brew Crew I believe the readers/brewers here will find the resources they are seeking.

    Thank you, Wellness Mama, for the wonderful array of information you provide your readers. Much appreciated!

  6. Samantha Avatar

    I’ve been brewing my own kombucha for couple months now and am getting a hang of it. HOWEVER, there are still hiccups here and there, and I can’t find anything online to my questions.

    First question: I have five glass containers brewing kombucha. Is it okay to place them right next to each other? I know that you’re not supposed to place other cultured/fermenting foods close to kombucha.

    Second question: Couple weeks ago, I started two new batches of kombucha in different containers. The recipes are the same, the only difference is that one of them is using a new/fresh scoby. This particular batch with the new scoby is having a hard time forming a new scoby and it’s not fermenting like the other batch. I eventually switched out the scoby and put a more activated one in there, and it seems like it’s still struggling to ferment like the other one. Should I be concerned or should I just leave it in there and let it take longer to ferment?

  7. Jody Avatar

    I love Kombucha. I’m new to it but have been making it for a few months. My favorite flavor is ginger (for 2nd ferment) but I like blueberry too! I just put a few frozen blueberries in my bottles for a second ferment. Sometimes I add ginger in too because I think it makes the boocha fizzier.

  8. Cindy Rivera Avatar
    Cindy Rivera

    This is my 3 day of fermenting and there’s is little white spots on top of my scoby. Is that ok? How can I tell if it’s bad or not?

    Thank you

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