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THE PRESERVATIONIST: KOMBUCHA, KVESS AND KEFIR

Refreshing and nutritious fermented drinks
—and how to make them at home

BY JORDAN CHAMPAGNE

drinking kefir
Photo by Margaux Gibbons

Autumn is a wonderful time to get into making fermented beverages like kombucha, the effervescent, fermented sweet tea that has swept much of the good food world. The exciting summer fruits and vegetables are winding down, and we settle into short days and want to spend more time in the kitchen. Here on the Central Coast, the weather also tends to be at its driest and sunniest, so it’s also a great time to create something that’s refreshing as well as healthful and delicious. The kind of lightly fermented drinks we’re talking about here are loaded with probiotics that support our health—and the standard American diet is largely lacking in foods containing these probiotics. The drinks are also simple and can be made in very small batches and easily tailored to your own palate. You can use fruits and vegetables and spices to flavor your fermented drinks into endless combinations.

There are many great recipes and books out there, with Sandor Ellix Katz’s recently published The Art of Fermentation being the most complete and interesting. Sandor is my hero. In his book and by his nature, he empowers you with his library of knowledge and inspires you to get started in your own kitchen right away.

I recently interviewed Sandor when he was in the middle of a four-week fermentation workshop and he had all sorts of unique fermented beverages going, including bread kvass and plum-flavored, water kefir.

When I asked him why kombucha—the most in-demand fermented beverage of our time—is so wildly popular, he said, “It is through the grassroots mechanisms of the ‘mother’ (kombucha’s ever-growing starter) needing a home. It has a built-in pyramid scheme to it. When the mother reproduces, people are trying to sell their friends on it to share their mother…it is the power of mass marketing.”

It is no coincidence that fermented foods are “cultured” foods and that culture is something that we look to share with friends and hand down generation to generation. “When fermenting food, we are taking traditional ideas and recombining them in ways to keep them current. This is how we keep these cultural legacies relevant—we recombine them and make them our own,” Sandor says.

This is so brilliant to me and really exemplifies how we morph old traditions into our modern kitchens and why that feels so good. These fermented drinks give us a chance to connect with traditions all over the world in simple ways and to nourish ourselves in a delicious way.

While kombucha is tasty, supportive of good health and a great choice for your first beverage-fermenting project, Sandor points out that there is a great, wide world of fermented beverages out there and he argues we should not neglect them just because kombucha happens to be such a favorite.

Sandor has fun with fermented beverages and shows you that you can get really creative. He jumps around from kefir (traditionally a fermented milk drink) to kvass (traditionally made from rye flower or bread) and noni (a fermented fruit drink) as if they are common knowledge, and emphasizes that each can be altered and adorned by what is available seasonally.

There are many possible ways to get the fermentation process started, including cultures and yeasts, Sandor points out. There are even organisms found on all fruit to initiate fermentation. In his book, he speaks of “rasp bubble,” a creation by a woman using raspberries, water and honey where the organisms on the raspberries are what starts the fermentation process. It can be that easy!

At the end of our conversation, Sandor and I started to celebrate how food brings people together and builds community. Every step of the way is a chance to develop relationships in growing or procuring your food, working with it in your kitchen and sharing it with others.

“Food is where people come together and if we look at it, it is where the microorganisms themselves also exist in communities,” Sandor says. There is not a single isolated organism in the complex communities and dynamic structures, and they even have defense strategies. Communities are reflected in these foods on a lot of levels.

Jordan Champagne is the co-owner and founder of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. She has a passion for preserving the local, organic harvest and loves sharing her secrets at the workshops she teaches across the region. And if you have trouble with your kombucha, she’ll serve you her own at Happy Girl’s cafe in Pacific Grove, where kombucha is always on tap.

Happy Girl Kitchen Co. • 173 Central Ave., Pacific Grove
831.373.4475 • www.happygirlkitchen.com

RECIPES

Fruit Kvass

Kombucha Tea

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At Edible Monterey Bay, our mission is to celebrate the local food cultures of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, season by season.

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