3 Great Homemade Health Tonics
Get up close and personal with kombucha, kefir, and kvass.
Juicing and green smoothies boast numerous benefits, but they aren't the only choices when it comes to healthful, home-concocted drinks. Throughout centuries, multiple cultures have relied on fermented beverages (not just the boozy kind) to aid with digestion and overall wellness. Best of all, there are several that require minimal expertise and expense. For a drink-your-vitamins kick, try one of these top tonics:
Kombucha: Essentially, kombucha is simply fermented tea. Originating in Manchuria before spreading to Russia and Europe, the commercial form of the drink —products like GT's Kombucha or Kombucha Wonder Drink—now seems like a must-have beverage in yoga studios everywhere. The slightly effervescent concoction isn't just for yoginis, though; many people are discovering that kombucha supplies a gentle energy boost, and one way to keep the drink from boosting your grocery budget is to make it yourself.
There's one hitch, though: every kombucha effort requires a culture commonly called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) or a mother. This is an odd, disc-like formation that resembles a thick jellyfish. The culture is what creates the ferment, and people often get SCOBYs from other kombucha makers. But if you don't know any, there are other options, like ordering from Cultures for Health or HappyHerbalist.com.
Combining black tea, sugar, and the SCOBY will result in a fermented drink within a week to 10 days, depending on factors like room temperature. Once a batch is finished, you simply drain most of the liquid, and then put in more of a tea-plus-sugar blend. Every batch creates a new SCOBY layer, so you can divide the mother and keep multiple containers going.
Water Kefir: Much like kombucha, water kefir requires a culture, called kefir grains, to stay in continuous production. The probiotic beverage, which often gets bottled commercially in milk kefir, is equally good when only water is used. The light taste and slight sweetness make water kefir a refreshing choice, and the beneficial bacteria can aid with digestion and immunity.
Water kefir grains (which aren't true grains like wheat or rye) look like translucent rice, and are reusable indefinitely. You simply add the grains to sugar water, juice, or coconut water and culture the brew for 24 to 48 hours. Most people flavor the result with fruit juice or flavor extracts like vanilla, and then leave the beverage for a "second ferment" period, to increase the effervescence.
For those who prefer a yogurt-like drink, milk kefir grains also create a highly quaffable beverage that's high in probiotics, as well as vitamin B12.
Beet Kvass: For a fermented and probiotic-rich drink that doesn't require a culture, beet kvass is a delicious choice. The taste is slightly sour and a bit salty, but with a rich, deep beet flavor and a distinctive bright red color. Like kombucha and kefir, many people feel more energy after drinking it, and appreciate the beneficial effects on digestion.
To make kvass, you cut up unpeeled beets into medium-to-large chunks (don't grate them, or they ferment too quickly) and combine with sea salt and water. The drink is covered with cheesecloth or a dishtowel and fermented at room temperature. The length of time for the ferment varies widely depending on taste — some let it go just a couple days, while others swear by longer ferments of up to two months.
Whether embarking on kombucha, kefir, or kvass, have fun with the experimentation of the project by playing around with fermentation times and different additions like fruit juice. With a bit of effort and time, these three tonics are simple to make, cost very little, and create a stellar addition to a healthy diet.