Kombucha and Kefir Creatures

The whole time I’ve been on the AIP I’ve been making kefir with a batch of spongy little kefir grains. It’s totally bizarre that these little tiny living things turn milk or other liquids into this totally other kind of drink. And it’s so easy: you just add the grains to the milk, leave it for twenty-four hours, strain it, and put the grains to store in some water in the fridge. Raw, non-homogenized milk makes the best kefir. Apparently it is unknown where the first grains came from or how they materialized, except that they come from Russia. Kefir grains only come from other kefir grains!(!!) They’ve tried to create them other ways and actually can’t.

The best kefir I ever had came from a little dairy shop below my apartment in Moscow, their products (I think) came from some sort of dairy collective. In addition to fabulous milk, kefir, and butter, they had Russian baked milk, called ryazhenka, which is browned and cultured with buttermilk and insanely delicious, and the most amazing thick cottage cheese cake with blueberries in it…

My kefir grains

I’ve also started making kombucha, which is, if anything, even weirder. The kombucha mushroom, or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast–it’s similar to the mother in vinegar), sits in a jar with tea and sugar and eats up the caffeine and the sugar, to make a yummy fizzy drink that’s supposed to be good for you. Sarah Ballantyne in The Paleo Approach raves about fermented drinks for reasons that seemed very compelling as I read them. Mainly it’s probiotics, enzymes, and B vitamins.

Kombucha is also ridiculously easy to make. You just brew seven cups of tea (four teabags), add half a cup of sugar (white cane sugar is supposed to be what the SCOBY likes best, it eats it all so you don’t have to), a cup of your last batch of kombucha, drop in your mushroom, and, like the kefir, let it sit. This you leave for more like two weeks, or to taste really. Less time will make a sweeter brew; the longer you wait the more like vinegar it will taste. The SCOBY will happily nom up all that sugar and caffeine (I’ve mostly used white tea for lower caffeine, the final product is supposed to have about one quarter of the original caffeine content) and grow itself a friend. At this point you will need a human friend to give the second SCOBY to, or your mushroom will just keep morphing and multiplying like something out of Star Trek. Not sure what I’m going to do at this point with this/these mushroom(s)/creature(s).

My kombucha monster

I was thinking when I originally bought the SCOBY (you can just order one from Amazon and it arrives in its own little pouch of starter) that I could make herbal kombucha, but the weird thing is these critters are actually evolved to want, specifically, caffeine from tea and sugar. I really don’t understand how this can be, and the internet is not helping me to understand. Did the ancient Chinese create this amalgamation of yeast and bacteria in their sweet tea? Was there so much sweet swampy water in the tea plantations that it just sort of bloomed there all by itself? Nobody knows! How do you decide, before you know about kefir or kombucha, when some weird spongy grains or big mushrooming jellyfish appears in your beverage to just drink it anyway?!?

The kombucha monster looked like this when I bought it…

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