Nothing, but in a similar vein to Rrejii from Regent and some other friends from the north we’d like to introduce you to the latest addition, or rather additions of Transit Antenna, the kombucha family, or at least one very far flung branch of it.
Enriching our lives with their slimy vinegaryness these not quite mushroom, not quite jellyfish, smell like a baby poop, kind of vomitus, kind of phlegmy organisms will be joining us on our travels and according to what we’ve been told, helping us alleviate that which ails us, even dirty pots and rust!
According to www.kombucha.org, kombucha has the potential to: eliminate or reduce heat rash, cut through grease thus making an excellent household cleaner, reduce or stabilize blood pressure, improve the condition of people with liver problems, clear finger fungus (whatever that is), flatten and fade old age and liver spots, help with eczema and psoriasis, ease carpal tunnel symptoms, eliminate or reduce heat rash, help older people look and feel younger, improve circulation, stop severe menstrual cramps, prevent and heal canker sores and oral irritations, prevent and help heal bladder conditions, help arthritis sufferers, remove rust (!), improve eyesight, cleanse toxins from the system, eliminate the desire for alcohol (yeah right!), return gray hair to original color, soothe burns including sunburn, prevent underarm swampyness when applied as a topical deodorant, repel insects including mosquitoes and fleas, take the sting and swelling from a bee sting, smash cold and flu symptoms, and even smooth out cellulite.
If that wasn’t unbelievable enough, a kombucha colony is also reputed by those in the know to make a great poultice. Now I don’t know much about our readers yet, but if someone strapped one of these to me in the middle of the night I think I would scream blue murder and cry all the water out of my body. Thank goodness they don’t move much save for rhythmic sloshing when you agitate their jars as the thought of a cluster of wriggling, leech-like creatures of an indefinable genus, all silently malevolent and pissing jism into my drink is enough to keep me awake for weeks!
Of course kombucha is neither malicious nor predatory; nor he nor she. It is not even an ‘it’. Kombucha is a basically a tea, albeit a sour, unpleasant tea, made from the fermentations of an ever thickening visible mass of microorganisms that vaguely resemble a mushroom or an American pancake. Though the reality of its being alive makes we self-centered humans (particularly myself) ascribe a persona to it, it is in fact a benign jelly, much like snot or some other micro-community-based bodily secretion, with the only major difference being that while its appearance of an ill making, stagnating, ne’er-do-well is obvious, the kombucha colony and its product, kombucha tea, or simply kombucha, is supposedly actually very invigorating and good for you. That said, it seems I’m not really doing the phenomena justice, and as I hate the thought of replicating some hackneyed claptrap about kombucha do’s and don’ts almost as much as I am confused by the plausibility of its reproduction, for fear of discouraging kombucha virgins or boring those who are already in the know (shudder) I am going to refer now to notes bequeathed to me by Phaedra Robinson, a lodger at Lori’s and Richard’s house (the house where our bus is parked) and the kindly provider of the beginnings of our kombucha obsession.
Kombucha Mushroom: SCOBY by Phaedra Robinson
Kombucha tea is the product of a fermentation process with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), some starter tea (or a little apple cider vinegar can be substituted to help with acidity level) and a fresh batch of tea and sugar. This naturally effervescent drink is often considered to be a health elixir, reputed to fight cancer, alkalize, recharge, and detoxify the body, assisting with digestion, metabolism, weight control, the immune system, aging and liver function. However, these properties have not been proven and there is info out there which claims that kombucha is potentially harmful to the liver or can have adverse allergic affects. It is a good idea to start drinking kombucha in small amounts; about one ounce of tea a day, accompanied by lots of water throughout the day. It should only be imbibed by those with healthy metabolisms, and probably not by anyone with yeast issues. It also contains a minuscule percentage of alcohol.
To make and transform one gallon:
Be careful not to contaminate it by always using very clean hands or non-latex gloves when handling it, and using food-grade glass containers for storage, and definitely no contact with metal.
o Use a stainless steel pot to boil one gallon of filtered water.
o Remove from heat and add one cup of sugar and about 5 (preferably organic) tea bags or similar bulk amount (the stronger the caffeine the better the kombucha will ferment, though I have read of some people using herbal tea, which undoubtedly takes much longer.)
o Steep for 20 minutes and dissolve sugar with stirring (do not caramelize over heat.) I use raw turbinado sugar and yerba mate because they are vegan and more affordable.
NOTE: Using agave will probably take longer for the kombucha, and may not truly be healthier for the end result since the kombucha organism eats the sugar as food and therefore does not leave its harmful affects. Also there has been debate over agave anyway regarding if it is truly a scam or not. But go ahead and experiment if you like.
o Let the tea cool to room temperature (or make a dense tea and dilute to one gallon with cool filtered water.)
o In a clean, wide-mouthed, glass jar, pour in the tea, at least ¼ cup of reserved starter tea or vinegar, and add the SCOBY.
NOTE: This SCOBY looks like a slimy pancake and can be white or yellowish, or even slightly pink or purple. It will grow to the size and shape of the container it is living within and produce “babies” which are layers of the colony growing. These layers can be separated and given to others to start more batches of tea. After using the original “Mother” for about 5 batches, it should be replaced with one of the babies. I compost my retired “mothers” with the speculation that the microorganisms will be good for the soil.
o The “mushroom” should float to the top but do not be alarmed if it floats at an angle or a little low at first.
o Cover the jar with a breathable cloth such as muslin and secure it with a rubber band to ensure that no flies or ants can enter and plant eggs.
o Store at 70-86 degrees Fahrenheit in a dark place or wrap the jar so that no sunlight can enter.
o Be careful of spores entering as well. If mold begins to grow then start over with a new SCOBY.
o The tea should be ready in 7-10 days and should be tart and slightly carbonated in taste.
NOTE: When Kombucha is left to ferment beyond the 7-10 day cycle I have used it as cooking or cleaning vinegar. Others use it for their pets (though my cat doesn’t like it) or for skin and hair rinses.
o Transfer the tea to glass or plastic containers with corks or plastic caps and store the “mushroom” culture in the fridge until you are ready to create a new batch. You may also add a bit of ginger or juice or something similar after its been made for variety. Yumm!
Thanks Phaedra! So kombucha is a fermented tea that is imbibed for medicinal purposes (I learned that from Wikipedia!), but what about the history? the context? Well, despite looking like, sounding like and nowadays actually being something you might come across in a Chinese horror herb hawker’s hideaway, kombucha in fact originated in Russia in the late nineteenth Century.
Flying in the face of various tall tales of pre-Russian usage in Asia it would seem, from the trifling research I have done on the subject, that kombucha came to be not because of a investigative effort by a health conscious people, but rather because Russian peasants were tired of their staple of water and stale rye bread aka Kvas or English bread drink, a fermented beverage that despite containing 1.2% alcohol is hilariously considered by Russia’s gregarious standards to be non-alcoholic.
We often think of human evolution as being concluded, but for me human evolution as we understand it doesn’t really exist at all. Its not that I am a fundamentalist Christian, far from it, I dig Darwin as much as the next lost soul, but I question how a creature that began as a bacteria and will likely end up a computer can be naive enough to ascribe the label ‘human’ to its present, fleeting form. Nevertheless, in this 250,000 year heartbeat since our species began eating prepared foods (some evidence points to 1.6 million years but 250,000 is the accepted minimum that our bodies took to adapt to their present state – don’t believe me? go here) there has been an evolution parallel to our own – that of food. Much like the dodo, many foods (and methods of food preparation) have ceased to be, not because the plant or animal they were derived from became extinct or the methods of their production became impossible, but because we (largely meaning westerners) moved on, usually from the barren clutches of necessity to greener pastures. Some food stuffs of course such as plain rice, unleavened bread and unfortunately suet will probably always be a part of our diet, not strictly because they are great, but for reasons pertaining to cultural preference. We can call these foods insect foods, not because insects eat them, but because like the insect they have been around forever and will likely remain around forever. Some foods however, our dodo foods, foods like sheep’s brains, ‘only potatoes’ and hopefully soon so called ‘fast foods’ have been or will be proved to have, well, limited shelf lives. Being then that we naturally substitute poorly nutritious and/or foul tasting foods for healthier/more nutritious yummy foods as time goes by it seems odd to me, idiot that I am, that a repugnant water logged scab and its sour effluent would not only slip through the cracks of our fastidious selections (natural or not), but gain popularity.
Ironically it seems that the key to kombucha’s success, much like tiger penis, relies not on a ratified understanding that it actually ‘works’, but simply that it might. In spite of Russia’s wealth of natural resources, the majority of its people have been and many remain unfortunately very poor. Presumably this extended period of economic strife endured by the former soviet union and its various prior incarnations made kombucha, in of itself a vile looking, smelling and tasting thing, a delicacy by default. This assumption combined with the fact that there is limited evidence supporting any purported benefits and a lack of studies being conducted, probably means that kombucha’s popularity is purely anecdotal. As such, despite our faith in it, kombucha appears to fall into the category of unsubstantiated health foods – it is certainly repulsive enough to conceivably be good for me (most good stuff tends to suck).
In conclusion the perpetuation of its very existence, even its inauguration to Transit Antenna, seems sadly, but fascinatingly to be the result of Russia’s prior inability to dig itself out of an economic hole owing to a number of contributing factors including, but not limited to Yeltsin’s corruption and mismanagement of the first eight post USSR years; poor infrastructure; poor agriculture; expansive boarders that cost a lot to patrol; constant road works necessitated by invasive climates; an aging population due to a low birth rate that is in turn aggravated by a high death and migration rate; and a short sighted investment on the part of the USSR in a now outdated vocational curriculum (sewing or something).
Its seems fitting then, as we embark on a life whose only certainty is comparative destitution – treading paths well worn by other similarly ideological, although no doubt less cynical individuals by road-testing (in our case literally) a speculative doctrine – that we should not only bring with us, but ingest on a daily basis, a potent reminder of the repercussions of gullibility and time’s privilege – evidenced by history’s penchant for turning a blind eye to failure and celebrating mediocrity – to bestow otherwise hateful things with a rosy, awe-making glow.
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