I had the pleasure of speaking with Hannah Crum, the creator of Kombucha Kamp. She is the Kombucha mamma, the mother of a million bacteria around the world, and she is on a mission to help change the world one gut at a time. She has a wonderful book called “The Big Book Of Kombucha” which is very popular for Kombucha makers. Read on to learn about tips for a first-time brewer, why the probiotic count in your store-bought Kombucha doesn’t matter, how Kombucha helps improve your mood, the medicinal benefits of alcohol, and so much more!
How Did You Get the Name “Kombucha Mamma”?
I was being interviewed by a local magazine when I started blogging about it and they coined me as Kombucha mamma. It stuck and I resonant with the mother nurturing energy. We do a lot of nurturing within our trade association Kombucha Brewers International. Not only do we help everyone at the homebrewing level that is trying to reconnect with this ancient practice of fermentation, but we are also helping people that have businesses to help their people locally.
When I sit back and reflect on what we can do, I am so grateful to have this opportunity to work with an amazing community of passionate people that truly care about health. I love being able to put this energy into the world and be rewarded for it. There's nothing more humbling than when people say” I started brewing because of you” or “I started my business because I read something on your website.” It is so exciting that people resonate with the information and are leading them to live a better life.
How Did You Get Started Brewing Kombucha?
I first met Kombucha in 2003. I was visiting a friend from college in San Francisco and it was sitting there but I didn’t think much of it. I was living in Los Angeles and going into the rabbit hole of Kombucha was easy because you could find a natural scoby locally. So I tried it and it was love at first sip! Then I started brewing it at home (my husband thought it was terrible!) but the more I brewed it I ended up developing flavours that he loved.
Then I really got inspired. I did the artist’s way workshop, which talks about getting in touch with spirituality and doing creative exercises. This inspired me to teach other people to make Kombucha. That’s where Kombucha Kamp was born, in my tiny LA guest house inviting people to my home and showing them how my process works. It was a hobby that I loved and wanted to share. I truly believe that Kombucha has been using people that resonate with it as a messenger to bring this information to a bigger audience. I also believe that it’s timely…..
Kombucha has been becoming popular right now because we need it. We are in a health crisis. We are being:
Kombucha helps to detoxify the body naturally since it is made from tea. Tea is one of the oldest healing herbs on this planet. It is so good for you and that fermentation process just enhances those benefits. Kombucha is nutrition in a living form and we need this extra nutrition. Especially in the western world where we have been taken over by processed foods. We are constantly told that these recombinations of soy, wheat, and corn are what is good for you…..When in actuality they don’t provide that great of nutritional benefits. Kombucha is a great element that can be quickly integrated into your diet and lifestyle that brings such a physiological experience. I know Kombucha works because I feel it in my own body.
I grew up on processed foods. So to consume something that gives me nutrients in a living form is exciting. I used to think sauerkraut smelled like old socks) and to be honest it kind of does,) but I learned to really love those flavours and nutrients and to embrace it. Anyone that has their first sip of Kombucha and gets past the sour taste, will realize “WOAH every nerve ending just came on all at once.” How many things out there (that are legal!) can give you that experience in just one sip?
What Were You Doing Before Kombucha Kamp?
I was trying to be an actress. I had done theatre as a child and as a teenager and I studied a foreign language in college. I have a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. I love languages and communication. BUT I didn’t know what my message was until Kombucha came along! My ability to speak these languages is translating into bringing my books to a broader audience. I can connect with different people and bring this message of healing.
I completed an entire year of acting training. I was scared of people and speaking in front of them. This was a phobia my whole life. I forced myself for a year to prepare myself for a theatre production with an audience of around 300 people. It was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. -Kriben Govender
There is also this sophistication and nuance that we lose in this world of black and white. We need to embody everything that needs to happen through fermentation and in death. If we think of cancer, cancer is cells that don't die. We need death. We admire death in fall, we see the colours changing and leaves fall. We say this is so beautiful but when we come to human death we feel afraid and embarrassed….
We haven't had an opportunity to deal with it in a healthy way like our ancestors used to. Having awake and having a ritual dealing with our grief is so important. Fermentation is one of these things! It is like a pre-digestion. When you put food into your body it might be alive or dead already, but then there is an interaction with other organisms and that creates enzymatic reactions, provides nutrients, and stimulates life. Out of death comes life every time. We need to embrace these concepts because they make us stronger in the end.
What Were Your Challenges With Teaching People How To Make Kombucha?
The question we get a lot is, “Will this kill me?” Or “how do I know if there are bad bacteria?” I’m not saying that there aren't organisms that we can’t see that may have a negative impact but one of the awesome things I've learned through fermentation and reading the scientific literature is that pathogenic organisms are weak. We have two things going for us:
- “Sour Power.” These are the acids that are created with the low pH that literally cuts through the cell walls of these pathogens either right on contact or within a few hours.
- Alcohol: In the west, alcohol is a controlled substance. It is seen as dangerous but that is not at all how humans evolved on this planet. Unfortunately, when we treat it in black and white ways, we dismiss the benefits of it. We don't allow alcohol to be understood. We denature it, pasteurize it, and take away all of its nutrients then turn it into a controlled substance….
Some of the recent DNA studies are finding that the majority of our yeast is a lower alcohol-producing yeast. It is a great yeast to be in our family. The typical yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, you typically find this in beer and bread. Our bacteria is Acetobacter komagata. This bacteria comes with a lot of benefits.
Medicinal Benefits of Alcohol
Remember this, water will kill you but you need water which means everything has the potential for life and death. It is always about balance and how we are using it. When I talk about the medicinal benefits of alcohol, I'm talking about the strategy that yeast devised in order to convince human beings to cultivate it. This was the strategy….
Yeast: I’ll give you some relaxation and fun if you'll take care of me.
Humans: Sounds like a great tradeoff
When doing this, it also makes the yeast antimicrobial. So when you go to clean a wound with alcohol it is killing the microbes, when you are in a winery and the wine is sitting in the barrel the microbiomes in the wine prevent mould from growing in that barrel. Alcohol has the ability to kill off harmful bacteria.
Alcohol also thins the blood. This creates relaxation and eases stress. When you consume something that can shift your nervous system and you feel a sense of relaxation it is something that you want to keep around. We need to make these alcohols from elderberries, flowers, plants, and not just from a sugar and grain source that is pasteurized. BUT I do think there is a health benefit from unfiltered beers and biodynamic wines because yeast also contains a payoff. They contain all the B vitamins in living form.
There were many things that our ancestors could not do. They could not boil water to make tea, instead, they would place them into an alcohol tincture. Since alcohol is a solvent it draws out the nutrients of whatever you are putting into it. When you consume it in the appropriate boundaries:
-When it supposed to be consumed
-The amount it should be consumed
It has a great benefit on the body. Unfortunately with Kombucha, because of this prohibition mentality from the USA, people don’t understand that there is such a thing as healthy low alcohol. Things like:
All of these fermented drinks were not intended to intoxicate. You may get a lift from the B Vitamins though! Remember that sometimes people who are sensitive to alcohol will have an adverse reaction to these drinks. That is a reminder that not everything is for everyone. It is about trusting your gut, your body, and listening to the wisdom that your body has in its DNA.
Typical Challenges With Home Brewing?
The typical challenges are not knowing the rules. The most important rule is that if you give an organism what it needs in order to thrive, it will. That rule applies to us as well. Here is what Kombucha needs to thrive:
An appropriate temperature
Keeping it out of direct sunlight. We think of the sun as being anti-microbial since it has UV rays. If we were to place our Kombucha right in direct sunlight the concern is that the UV rays could damage those organisms. I haven't seen if that is true or not but we take the safe route. Just take it out of direct sunlight or put something over the jar so the sunlight isn't penetrating it!
- Making sure you have proper airflow
Once you have these environmental and nutrient factors together then you will be brewing terrific Kombucha!
Another challenge is that people want to make Kombucha without sugar. I know they are frustrated by the amount of sugar in their diet but you need to consider the source. What is the source and what is its purpose? The sugar in the Kombucha is there to feed the microorganisms. Remembering the reason why we are making it in the first place helps us understand these controversial ingredients that we are working with.
What Type Of Sugar Is The Best To Use?
The best sugar to use is Sucrose. This is your average table sugar. It is a molecule that comprises both glucose and fructose. The process of breaking it down into its monosaccharide components causes Kombucha to take a little bit longer to ferment than its raw honey cousin Jun. In raw honey, fructose, sucralose, and glucose all exist. It takes less time to ferment it because those organisms can immediately use those sugar sources. We tried to give our Jun sugar and we tried to give our Kombucha raw honey and they just do not like it.
You may be able to gradually influence one of the other. Organisms are flexible that is the nature of bacteria. They pick up the DNA left behind by other organisms, incorporate it within themselves and use it to do something different. I think of us as bacteria-sapiens because without bacteria we wouldn't survive.
In Kombucha, those sugars have to be broken down first by the enzymatic process before they can be accessed. That is what takes Kombucha longer to ferment. And the acids that we are looking for can take a little bit longer to form as well. This also reduces the sugar content. At the 15-30 day ferment stage is where we are seeing a beverage that is helping people who have diabetes or sugar driven ailments. If we are still on the sweeter side or we are adding in fruit juice it may not have that same sour power that we are looking for...
We are in a time where the sweet flavour is more widely desired than the sour. I am hoping that when people start making Kombucha they will see that their body actually craves the sour and bitter flavours. Those are the flavours of health. They cleanse the palate so you can take the nutrients from the food you are consuming instead of having the sugar blocking out this flavour that you are tasting.
Refined sugar is the best for fermentation. Unrefined sugar sources are great but they are rich in minerals. That causes the Kombucha to sour too quickly. We are trying to balance the sour and the sweet. Using the refined sugar is less mineral heavy which means the yeast doesn't get over-activated. So you're able to create a smoother flavour profile AND you are still getting the nutrients of the yeast. You could use unrefined sugar but you are going to have to shorten that fermentation cycle. Or learn to tolerate a more tangy beverage.
Making your own Kombucha with this process and experimenting becomes such a personal experience. Many people tell me that their homebrew tastes better than anything in store shelves. You can buy a great kit HERE to help you get started on your journey!
How Do You Change Up The Flavors?
The one I am currently drinking is blueberry, lavender, and rose. You can take all of the elements of the plant and use it in fermentation! The pattern of the pharmaceutical industry is to remove one element from the other matrix of elements and this is what leads to all of these negative side effects. If we were to go back to herbal medicine and really focus on those traditional preparations from Ayurveda, it would be more effective with fewer side effects. We need to work with the ancient knowledge that our ancestors handed down to us: that we are in harmony with the earth. The problem is you can't patent them and make billions of dollars off of people....
But to inspire my flavour ideas, I go back to nature. I go to my garden and the farmers market.. If you have any herbal knowledge you can apply that to Kombucha. Our book has 250 flavour inspirations including savoury options like bacon and mushrooms! There are a lot of ways that you can apply these flavours. The reason we learn the rules is so that we can break them later….
The rule is that we don't use any flavours in the primary fermentation. This is because we want to protect the health of our mother culture. BUT those daughters quickly grow into mothers within 1 batch. Then you can set up many experimental brews! If you don't need that one culture to reproduce then if it survives or not it won't matter as much. In my book, I talk about ginger Kombucha where we add in ginger to the primary. The true spirit of fermentation is creativity. In order to experiment you need to:
-Pay attention to your organisms
-Give them the nutrients they need
-Understand that they may not replicate and you may sacrifice the culture
How Does Kombucha Help Your Mood?
It does help but remember that there is no panacea. There is nothing that cures everything. We still need:
-My Chakras in alignment
Kombucha does have B vitamins that will give you energy! But we are all human beings and we are complex. One thing isn't going to be able to fix everything. We need to realize that our first brain is our gut. Your brain cannot function if your gut is out of order. If we look at the order of operation, your gut needs to be taken care of first! We are complex and diverse which means we need a complex and diverse range of inputs in order to help your gut health but adding in fermented foods can help a great deal.
We must understand how important our gut health is because western medicine is trying to attack it from the outside. Most illnesses are based in the gut and this depends on the food that you are eating! It makes sense that anything you absorb through your body is going to have an impact on your body. That is why we need to pay attention to:
-The things we are putting on our bodies
-The poison we are applying to our lawns
-The pesticides that we are allowing to run off into the oceans.
All of these things have an impact on us. When we start reversing this, the earth is going to heal itself just like the human body. This is not saying that there is always going to be complete healing. Sometimes an illness is there to teach us a lesson about life and sometimes that lesson ends in our death before we are fully healed. But this doesn't mean the journey wasn't worth exploring…..Bacteria are this force field surrounding your body protecting it.
Imagine if you are:
-Exposing yourself to toxic chemicals that kill your force field
Of course, you are not going to have the energy. You are going to end up on a lower vibration and your body is not going to be able to protect itself. This is where these fermented foods can help! They will power us up and give us that bacterial forcefield back. Another thing that will help your mood is safe, healthy, non-threatening human touch. Human touch is so vital because of the energy and the microbes that we share.
Human contact, eye gazing, and all of the strategies used in acting training (Meisner Technique) deeply affect how you feel and operate. There is some healing aspect to it. -Kriben Govender
How Mould and Fermentation Works
Many beginners want to know how you stop mould from forming in Kombucha. Here are the steps:
-Strong Enough Starter Liquid
-Enough Starter Liquid
Mould is a way of telling you something is not appropriate to consume. It forms on any type of food. This isn’t a magic mould that is going to kill you more than any other type of mould. It is just basic food mould. People are afraid because they don't realize that Kombucha is just food! It just has magical properties because it’s alive and full of nutrients that haven’t been processed out of it. When we see the mold that is an indicator that something in the environment is off or our ingredients aren't strong enough. If you see mould, dispose of everything. Or if your immune system is strong enough, you can take a little bit of the mould off as we do with cheese. If you want to play it safe then use your scoby hotel. This is why you have your scoby hotel in the first place. Just in case you have to get rid of a batch then you have backup cultures.
And a scoby hotel is just a jar of scobys in it. The bacteria cellulose is incredibly stable. Unlike Kefir grains which tend to break apart more easily and don't store as long. With Kombucha the cellulose is very stable so we can store it for extended periods of time. This does not mean you can completely ignore it for months on end. It does need nutrients from time to time. Place all of your extra scobys in a jar with some kombucha or sweet tea. This will work for your benefit because you will always have backups. That means when you make a batch you can drink everything in your jar knowing you can go to your hotel grab some starter and some sweet tea and everything stays fresh.
Can You Make Kombucha Without Tea?
People are worried that Kombucha has caffeine but it actually has far less caffeine than the tea you started with. You can make herbal Kombucha if you want to try it. You never know if your culture will evolve. This is why we assume that Jun is an evolution of Kombucha, it had to have time to adjust to the raw honey. You can create scobys that will ferment a wide range. You can see scobys that form in apple cider vinegar. Apples have different nutrients than tea, so the apple cider vinegar mother will have different organisms than a scoby for Kombucha. They are unique because each has been fed differently so their diversity varies. You can always experiment and that is one of the best things about fermentation!
What is Kombucha Brewers International?
I knew that I wanted to include everyone in the world so my husband and I started it in 2014. We founded it specifically for the crisis that was created in 2010 when Whole Foods took all of the Kombucha off of the shelves. They did this because of the trace amounts of alcohol that can be higher than our 0.5% ABV limit. We knew that we needed to bring people together. We had a few Kombucha challenges but we wanted to spread the word. We started by supporting the producers that were getting the bottles into consumers’ hands and introducing them to the wider audience. The best way to do this was through the association.
Kombucha drinkers know that it has a positive impact on their bodies. Kombucha is safe for almost everyone to have but you have to remember that not everyone can have every food. Some people may have compromised immune systems and cannot have Kombucha. But most people can safely! Diversity is nature. We love diversity and we love symbiosis. Those mutually beneficial relationships help to uplift every being on this planet. That is our mission. Our vehicle is kombucha and our message is microbes are magic. And that means magic is all around us at all times….. because we are completely covered in these microbes inside and out. They can help us plug into those deeper energies and mother nature. We wanted to pass along this message.
What Are Your Thoughts on the Probiotic Content of Kombucha?
Probiotic is a confusing word in the first place because it doesn't have a definition. It is defined as a live microbe that confers a benefit on the human body. By this definition, almost anything that isn't processed to death could be considered a probiotic. Kombucha doesn't have numerous organisms, it has acids! It has healthy organic acids that help the body in a different way. If you want a plethora of bacteria you can make your own Kefir, which is very beneficial as well! Kombucha isn’t about billions of organisms it's about the acids that are made later in the fermentation process. We need diversity. We don't need just one thing or one strain of bacteria. The more diversity we have the better!
Fermentation does not have to be difficult. It is a fun process that only has a few rules. You can experiment with many different flavours, trade with your friends, and improve your mood. Remember that your health stems from your gut. Diversify your intake of fermented foods and this will help that bacterial forcefield around you. Share this with a Kombucha loving friend, buy a kit HERE to take the guesswork out of it, and create a new hobby together!