From adopting a healthy, balanced diet and taking dietary supplements to brewing nutritious drinks full of superfoods, you can improve your gut health in many ways. Recent years have also seen fermented drinks like kombucha having a moment, with more options and alternatives springing up, and even people attempting to make their own at home.
A yellow-orange hued fermented drink made with tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria, kombucha tea is known to boost gut health owing to the presence of beneficial probiotics (healthy bacteria) in it. It is made by fermenting sweetened tea which starts off by tasting sugary and changes to a tart and effervescent flavour after a week or two of fermentation.
Drinking kombucha tea is considered beneficial in many ways. Probiotics are known to support the digestive system. They help manage diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel disease and weight loss. Since kombucha has probiotics, the association between the two suggests its benefits in improving the health of our gut. Additionally, acetic acid (present in vinegar) is also produced during the fermentation process. It is known to have antimicrobial properties that fight harmful microorganisms while suppressing the growth of undesirable bacteria and decreasing the risk of infections.
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When made with green tea, Kombucha also develops antioxidant properties that fight free radicals and reduce liver toxicity. Research says probiotic supplements could also help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, while another study in 2015 showed that kombucha helped reduce cholesterol levels in rats. These studies are suggestive of potential benefits of kombucha in reducing the risk of heart disease. And, drinking kombucha is also considered beneficial in managing type two diabetes and providing protection against cancer.
Homemade kombucha recipe and ingredients needed
Kombucha can be made at home by mixing sweetened black tea with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) and leaving it to ferment. During this process the yeast breaks down the sugar in the tea to release friendly bacteria that fortifies the gut health.
- Water (de-chlorinated by boiling and left to cool overnight)
- Caffeinated tea (like black tea)
- Sugar (cane sugar, brown sugar or regular table sugar)
- SCOBY (get it from a kombucha-making friend or buy here online; it should contain a little amount of liquid in the packet and shouldn’t be dehydrated)
- Prepared kombucha (can be homemade, saved from your or your friend’s last batch or you can buy one here)
- Brew a strong and sweet tea in a saucepan and let it cool.
- Transfer it to a jar, add the SCOBY and a small amount of the pre-made kombucha to the concoction.
- Cover the jar with a cloth or a paper towel (instead of the lid to let the mix breathe) and secure it with an elastic band.
- Leave it to ferment for about one to three weeks at room temperature. Keep it away from direct sunlight and at a place where it won’t be moved too much.
- Keep sampling a little quantity post one week and once it tastes good to you, bottle it for around five days to carbonate.
- Once you start seeing the bubbles and hear a soft popping sound upon opening the bottle, refrigerate it and consume it within two weeks.
Tried and tested kombucha and looking for more? Just like kombucha there are many classic fermented drinks that are both delectable and healthy. A wide range of kombucha-like drinks including kefir, kvass, apple cider vinegar and Rejuvelac is immensely popular currently. And if you wish to try them, we’ve scouted out a tasty mix of some easy-to-make-at-home kombucha alternatives.
Here are some of the best kombucha substitutes and their recipes
Jun is a very popular kombucha alternative that’s concocted using green tea and raw honey instead of cane sugar and black tea. Also known as ‘champagne of kombucha’, this fizzy fermented drink has a history that dates back to thousands of years with its roots in the ancient Tibetan culture. And, much like other fermented foods and drinks, it helps your gut by replenishing it with friendly bacteria.
It has a subtle, delicate and less acidic taste as compared to kombucha and is also rather fizzier than it. While kombucha gets fermented over a period of one to three weeks, Jun tea’s fermentation cycle lasts between three to seven days. Additionally, while kombucha requires to be cultured at room temperature, Jun needs to be prepared in slightly cooler conditions. Both the drinks have a very low alcohol content — kombucha has about 0.5 percent while Jun tea has up to 2 percent.
If you want to brew it at home, you need water, loose green tea leaves, raw honey, a starter liquid (pre-made Jun tea or some saved from your last batch) and Jun SCOBY (like kombucha).
- Start by brewing hot green tea in a saucepan or a kettle, strain it in a jar and allow it to cool off.
- Once done, add raw honey to the concoction and stir until it dissolves completely.
- Then, add your SCOBY and the starter liquid to the freshly-brewed tea and cover the jar with a cheesecloth or a muslin cloth.
- Place the jar in a cool (65°F to 70°F) corner where it wouldn’t be moved too much and allow it to ferment for three to five days.
- Once done, carefully scoop out your SCOBY and half a cup of the tonic to reserve for your next batch.
- You can consume Jun tea immediately if you like the taste. If you prefer a deeper flavour with more carbonation, transfer it into airtight bottles and allow it to ferment for a day or two more.
A fermented kombucha alternative drink prepared using wheat grains, oats, barley and rye, Rejuvelac is another popular kombucha alternative which was invented and promoted by famed naturopath Ann Wigmore, who’s known for introducing wheatgrass into the mainstream vernacular in the US. Rejuvelac has many notable health benefits like improving your gut health because of all the yeast and good bacteria produced during the fermentation process especially, Lactobacillus acidophilus. Being a probiotic, it also boosts immunity, reduces inflammation and supports the overall digestive system. It fulfils your body’s need for different vitamins (especially vitamin B) and a variety of digestive enzymes and minerals.
Rejuvelac is a fizzy drink that tastes a little citrusy and is best served cold. While you can drink it as it is, many people also prefer adding it to their salads, dressings and broths to enhance the dish’s flavours.
If you want to try making this healthy drink at home, you need half cup wheat berries and four cups of filtered water.
- Start by soaking the wheat berries in a jar of water for about six to eight hours hours to sprout them.
- Drain the water, tie the softened berries in a muslin cloth and leave them for a few more hours. Keep rinsing them every two to three hours until the tail appears on the grains.
- Now mix these sprouted grains with filtered water in a jar, cover it with a cloth and secure it with an elastic.
- Leave the concoction in a cool and dry place for about 24 to 48 hours until the water starts looking cloudy.
- Your Rejuvelac is now ready to be poured and sipped, and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
A tasty variant of the usual milk-based kefir, water kefir is a fermented, carbonated beverage that is made using kefir grains and sugar water. This kombucha substitute is considered to have originated in the late 1800s and is one of the easiest fermented drinks to make at home. The grain-like culture of bacteria and yeast of this drink makes it a great probiotic and healthy for the gut, while also boosting the immune system. Apart from being rich in friendly bacteria, some research also suggests that it decreases the growth of certain types of cancer cells and can aid against breast cancer, colon cancer and blood cancer.
Since water kefir is brewed sans any milk, it is a great dairy-free and vegan kombucha alternative which can also be made using coconut water for added deliciousness. Being water-based also makes it super easy to add flavours and experiment with. You can use different herbs, spices, mint leaves, a fruit juice and vanilla extract to enhance its taste.
And for brewing your own water kefir at home, you need dechlorinated water, sugar and kefir grains.
- Start by combining half cup of hot water with a quarter cup of sugar. Mix it until the sugar dissolves and allow it to cool.
- Next, add about three cups of water to a jar and add the sweetened water and kefir grains to the tonic.
- Cover the jar tightly with a muslin cloth or a fermentation cap and let the mixture sit for 24 to 48 hours.
- Strain the concoction from the grains, flavour it if you wish and enjoy!
You can also buy water kefir here.
A fermented kombucha alternative drink that satiates your need for a flavoursome sweet and tangy probiotic drink, tepache is surely a saviour. It is a mexican tonic that’s a blend of pineapple rind and peels, cinnamon (for seasoning) and brown sugar (for sweetening). The alcohol content in this beverage goes only up to two percent owing to the fermentation process. However, many people prefer mixing it with beer to make an alcoholic beverage. Best enjoyed chilled, it is a refreshing drink that’s claimed to have benefits as well.
Tepache contains probiotics (naturally produced during fermentation) which promotes digestive balance and overall health by improving nutrient absorption. A 2016 study also claims that L. plantarum (present in tepache) also helps in controlling high cholesterol in adults. Additionally, the fruit used to make tepache, pineapple in this case, is also a good source of vitamin C, calcium and potassium along with many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
To make tepache at home you need four and a half cups of water, half cup brown sugar, one fresh pineapple and one cinnamon stick.
- In a large pot, combine water, brown sugar and cinnamon together and bring the mixture to a boil while stirring frequently to ensure that the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool off.
- Now, cut the pineapple and save the core and the peels as well.
- Transfer the cool sweetened water in a jar, add the pineapple chunks, core and peels.
- Cover the jar securely with a cheesecloth or a muslin cloth and store it at room temperature in a corner for 24 to 48 hours.
- Your drink is ready when you see a white froth on top. Strain the brew and refrigerate it to serve cold.
Kvass is a traditional Russian probiotic drink made by fermenting rye bread which is usually blackish brown in colour. It has a very earthy, malty (almost beer-like) flavour from the bread, and it has an alcohol content of as low as 0.5 percent making it almost non-alcoholic.
Kvass is very popular for its probiotic benefits. From improving intestinal tract health and fortifying the gut health to boosting the immune system, this drink does it all. Additionally, it also has nutrients like B12 and manganese that are essential for the body and is also known to have antioxidant properties. Furthermore, kvass can also be made with beets which enhances the efficacy of the drink because of the multiple benefits of beetroot.
For making kvass at home you need stale rye bread, raisins, sweetener (sugar or honey), active dry yeast and water.
- Start by boiling nine litres of water in a large pot on a stove. Meanwhile, toast your bread on a high setting because the darker the colour of the bread the stronger the colour of your kvass would be.
- Once done, remove the water from the flame and add the toasted bread and a handful of raisins to the pot.
- Cover it with a lid and let it sit for at least eight hours or overnight.
- Next day, carefully remove the bread from the blend and simultaneously, mix four cups of sugar and one and a half tablespoons of yeast in a separate bowl.
- After mixing properly, add them to the water pot and stir well. Cover the pot and leave it for another six hours while stirring every two-three hours in between.
- Discard the raisins, strain the concoction in plastic bottles and refrigerate to serve chilled.
You can also buy kvass here.
Probiotic lacto-fermented lemonade
There’s nothing that a refreshing glass of lemonade can’t ease down. It’s the perfect kombucha alternative drink for a hot summer day and if you love fermented probiotic drinks then this version may be the best to savour. A lacto-fermented lemonade strikes the perfect balance between taste and health with its slightly bubbly, sweet and tangy flavour and all the benefits that probiotics are known to have on our gut and immune system. Since finding one in stores can be hard and they may also contain other additives, how about you take note of our recipe and DIY?
It’s absolutely simple and easy and requires a handful of ingredients, the most important one being whey. It is the protein-rich liquid drained off of yoghurt which is rich in probiotics. To extract whey from yoghurt, strain through several layers of a muslin cloth or cheesecloth placed on a fine mesh sieve. To brew the lemonade you need six and half cups of filtered water, half cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice, half cup sugar and half cup whey.
- Mix and stir the sugar and some hot water together until the sugar dissolves completely. Let it cool.
- When the mixture is at room temperature, add it in a glass jar or a pitcher and mix the remaining water, lemon juice and whey and add it to the previous mixture.
- Cover it tightly and let it sit in the corner of your kitchen counter for two to three days. Refrigerate it post three days and consume as per your needs. The flavour of the lemonade continues developing.
Boza is one of the most unique kombucha alternatives with all the beneficial properties of probiotics. It is a fermented malt beverage that’s made mostly with wheat, bulgur or millets but sometimes with maize, rye, oats and barley too. Most popular in Turkey, it has a subtly tangy and sweet flavour with a very low alcohol content and thick consistency which also gives it the name of fermented milkshake. It is considered to be a winter drink because of the warmth and nourishment it gives to the body.
Apart from lending the probiotic benefits, it is also a nutritious drink that contains proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates along with digestion-supporting lactic acid with antimicrobial activity.
If you want to try this traditional fermented drink at home, you need one cup cereal (preferably wheat, bulgur, millet), water, brown sugar, active dried yeast, vanilla powder and cinnamon powder.
- Wash and soak one cup of cereal overnight.
- Boil the soaked cereal with water over low-to-medium heat and then blend the mix using a hand mixer. You may strain it further to ensure no cereal crumbs remain and then allow it to cool.
- Add three-quarters of brown sugar and one teaspoon of diluted dried yeast to the mixture and stir well.
- Cover it with a lid and let it sit for 15 to 20 hours, stirring in-between occasionally.
- Add a quarter cup of brown sugar to the mixture. You may add some water if your Boza has gained a thick consistency.
- Once it has reached the desired consistency, you can refrigerate it.
- While serving, sprinkle it with ground cinnamon for added flavour.
Fermented Vegetable Juice
Enjoyed as a health tonic, fermented vegetable juice is another popular drink that kombucha lovers swear by as an alternative. Containing good bacteria and vitamins, it makes for a super healthy drink with a lot of benefits. While it is commonly made with beets, you can use any vegetable as per your preference.
A fermented vegetable juice repairs our digestive system by detoxifying and improving our nutrient-absorption capabilities. It nurtures skin health and also helps in boosting immunity while keeping our microbiome balanced and healthy. Making this beverage is rather simple and you need vegetables (such as beet, celery, garlic, ginger, cucumber, carrot or cabbage), salt, water and starter culture (optional).
- Start by prepping and chopping up the veggies and adding them in a jar or pitcher.
- Make a brine (as per two teaspoon per litre of water).
- Pour the brine and the starter culture into the jar and close the lid tightly.
- Leave it to ferment for four to five days and strain it once it gets your desired flavour.
Lacto-fermented ginger ale
Amother komcucha alternative drinks is a homemade ginger ale, a beverage that’s rich in probiotics and better than the bottled ones available in the market as they aren’t fermented and might have additives too. Ginger is known to have many health benefits, hence, making your own ginger ale can also prove beneficial especially since there won’t be artificial flavouring and preservatives.
Ginger is known to have antioxidant effects. It reduces inflammation and relieves upset stomach and nausea that’s related to stomach flu, morning sickness and severe migraines. It may also help in lowering the blood pressure thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
A lacto-fermented ginger ale can be made at home easily for which you need water, organic cane sugar, ginger root and whey or water kefir.
- Boil approximately four inches of grated ginger root with three litres of water on a high flame for about three minutes.
- Remove it from the heat, add in sugar and stir until it dissolves. Allow it to cool off.
- When it reaches room temperature, add your whey or water kefir and stir well.
- Pour the concoction into airtight jars and close them tightly with lids.
- Store them at room temperature for two to six days until the ginger ale gets fizzy. After storing the mix into bottles, leave for another day or two at room temperature and then refrigerate.
You can also buy fermented ginger-ale here.
(Main and featured mage: Bluebird provisions/Unsplash)
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur