Do-it-yourself Kombucha

Kombucha, the energy drink made from fermenting sugary tea, has been gaining a following in Ashland over the past few years, mainly by word of mouth.

The Ashland Food Co-op sells five brands of commercial kombucha and a fresh version at their caf&

233; made by a co-op employee. The store regularly runs out of the fresh variety, and they have increased shelf space to keep pace with the 200 bottles the store sells daily, Assistant Manager Tyler Barron said.

Although kombucha seems to be flying off the shelves, there are some people who would prefer to brew their own rather than stomach the $3 a bottle for the commercial variety.

Josh Hersk is one of those people. He caught the trend almost five years ago, and now he sells his Living Tea Kombucha at the co-op in addition to making his own personal brews.

For Hersk's basic homemade version, all that is required is three quarts of water, a cup of sugar, five or six tea bags and a "mother" kombucha culture, purchased from the Internet or borrowed from a friend. Once the tea has steeped and cooled, he pours it into a gallon jug along with the mother strain, covers it with a towel and lets it sit for a week or two to ferment.

"You make it, put it on a shelf, watch it and taste it periodically," Hersk said.

After each batch, a second culture, called the "baby," is produced, providing a constant supply of the yeast and bacteria needed to produce kombucha.

It seems simple, but Hersk said neglect can cause problems.

Once, when he went out of town, he let the culture grow too big, resulting in a very vinegary drink.

"You could have made a salad dressing out of it," he said.

Hersk's friend Arika gave up on her kombucha after it was infested with fruit flies, and he said extreme heat or exposure to metal can also kill kombucha.

Justin Wismar, another kombucha devotee, used to make his own too, but when he lost all of his cultures to mold, he decided it wasn't worth the trouble.

"I think the stuff I buy is tastier than the stuff I've made," he said. But he still recommends "crafty people and do-it-yourselfers" give homemade kombucha a try.

The FDA has not approved the health claims made by commercial kombucha bottlers and has issued warnings about the safety of homemade brews in the past.

Hersk said he is not worried about the safety of the kombucha in his own kitchen and cannot remember being sick since he began drinking kombucha every day.

"I work full time and have been starting this business. I think it gives me a lot of energy. I think it's a really healthy drink," he said.

He does take precautions to always wash his hands or wear gloves when working with kombucha, and he insists that flavorings only be added after the fermentation process is complete.

Back at the co-op, Barron said, "Anytime you make anything at home you have the potential for bacteria that's not supposed to be there." And as with most food, if it's black or blue, it shouldn't be used.

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