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Does Kombucha Need Oxygen? (Fermentation 101)

Does Kombucha Need Oxygen? (Fermentation 101)
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Out of all the trends and changing subjects in the world, there are very few that are as volatile as the trends in food and diet. Food fads and diets will come out of seemingly nowhere, and will often disappear back into thoughtlessness just as abruptly.

There are times when these diets and products will end up sticking around and becoming standard diets that people take on, such as the paleo diet, but what about with drinks?

The same thing can easily happen with drinks as well. There are countless shakes of protein and other ingredients that will pop into popularity with no notice or warning, while other times the people who enjoy a certain drink may bring that drink into fame on their own.

Just as with foods, there are times when these drinks stick around, as they can have a wonderful impact on your body. A good example of this is Kombucha.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha, at its core, is simply fermented tea. It begins as any other tea would, with the tea leaves steeping, and from there, people will begin to ferment that tea to create Kombucha.

Typically, people will handle this process with black or green teas, and rarely with any other type of tea, as the flavor may become unpredictable.

While it might seem to be a recent drink, the truth is that kombucha has been around for at least a few centuries, although its exact origins are unknown. There are some historians who believe that kombucha may have even been around for the past few millennia, although this is nearly impossible to prove or disprove.

It is believed that kombucha also originated around the area of Manchuria, which is a region in China.

What is known, however, is that this drink has been reported to be consumed throughout Russia since the early 1900s, and has spread through Europe since then, making it at least a century old for certain.

Kombucha is made through a double-fermentation process, which can end up taking about a total of five weeks or more depending on how thorough people choose to be with it.

This process will leave it as tea, but with additional vitamins, amino acids, and other nutrients that have been heavily associated with health benefits. Kombucha, by its nature of fermentation, will have a very mild alcohol presence in it, usually equaling no more than half a percent, but it is still something to be aware of.

The fermentation process itself begins with the symbiotic culture of both bacteria and yeast that is needed to kickstart everything. The shortened name for this is a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria (and) Yeast.

SCOBYs are also used in the production of kimchi. The SCOBY is placed in a sweetened brew of either green or black tea to begin the kombucha fermentation.

This process can take anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on how thorough you want to be about fermenting and what you want out of your kombucha drink.

The kombucha will typically ferment at a room-temperature level, but during the more extreme seasons, it may be moved to a different area of the house to try and achieve a stable temperature so that it can ferment properly.

After those one to three weeks of initial fermentation has passed, people will typically bottle the kombucha for about one to two additional weeks. This will contain all of the released CO2 from the fermentation and encourage carbonation in the drink, giving it one of its characteristic tastes.

It will usually remain in the fridge during this process so that you can slow down the fermentation and carbonization.

During this process, you might begin to worry about how you should store the kombucha, and if you need to give it access to oxygen.

After all, if the kombucha needs to have an opening for oxygen, wouldn’t that invite unwelcome bacteria and fungi into the drink, rendering it less of a health drink and more of a health hazard?

The Complex Fermentation of Kombucha

Unfortunately, it is not as simple to provide a blanket answer to whether or not kombucha needs oxygen.

As mentioned earlier, kombucha requires a double fermentation process, once with the SCOBY and then once again after it has been bottled. One stage of the fermentation requires oxygen, while the other phase does not.

That means that in some ways, kombucha doesn’t need oxygen to become what it is supposed to be, but at the same time, if you really want your kombucha to be perfect, you may need it.

Going back to the first brewing process, if you know anything about brewing beers, you will notice that it is remarkably similar. You place yeast and some form of bacteria or other living organism that produces the effects that you want, and as that organism grows, it changes the nature of the liquid it is in.

This means that this first stage of fermentation with the SCOBY is anaerobic.

Anaerobic fermentation, literally meaning fermentation without oxygen, is exactly what it sounds like. With this type of fermentation, the sugar is what the bacteria and fungi focus on as fuel, using that sugar to create the energy needed to change the molecules in the drink.

So long as you add the necessary amount of sugar to your kombucha, you won’t need to worry about the oxygen content of it for a while.

Interestingly enough, it is this anaerobic process that produces the minimal alcohol content that is found in kombucha. Because the fermentation is anaerobic, the byproduct is not going to be the same as standard fermentation.

Instead, it will produce ethanol, which is the same type of alcohol in beers and wines, as a waste product.

Luckily, as long as you are following the fermentation process properly, this amount is so miniscule that you will not be able to notice it or feel it in your body.

Here comes the complicated part: the second part of kombucha’s fermentation process. Once the one to three weeks have passed with the first round of fermentation, you typically place the kombucha into the fridge for the second round of fermentation.

This form of fermentation is aerobic, literally meaning that it requires oxygen to get the job done. This process is rather unique, as most types of fermentation do not rely on oxygen in this way.

This is also why it is important to place the kombucha in the fridge while you do this. Because oxygen is used rather rapidly with this fermentation, if it is not in the proper environment, the alcohol content of your kombucha may change to more unacceptable levels.

Additionally, this fermentation process is the same reason why wine will turn into vinegar if you do not seal it right. By storing the kombucha in the fridge during the second round of fermentation, you will be able to slow the progress of that fermentation so that with some patience, you will have a drink that you can enjoy.

Many people find that the benefits of kombucha are well worth the effort that it takes to create this interesting drink.

As long as you are willing to be patient with the fermentation process, it can even become a fun and educational experience for you and your family to watch the kombucha ferment into the wonderful health drink that people all around the world have been appreciating for hundreds of years.

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