Did you know that 9 out of 10 cells in your body are not technically human, but bacteria?
If you’re overweight, fatigued, or sick, it’s time to take a look at your microbiome. On this week’s show, you’ll learn how to upgrade your gut health with living foods.
Hannah Crum, the Kombucha Momma, is on a mission to “change the world one gut at a time.”
On this show with Hannah, you’re about to learn:
- Why NASA took kombucha into space
- How much kombucha you should drink
- How to make your own kombucha at home
- Why we crave carbonated drinks
- And much more…
FROM RAMEN TO SCOBY: HOW HANNAH CRUM BECAME THE KOMBUCHA MAMA
Abel: Hannah Crum is the Kombucha Mamma and founder of Kombucha Kamp. Hannah, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thanks for having me, Abel. I’m real excited to be here.
Abel: We actually connected about 5 years ago, when I had one of my very first blog posts on fatburningman.com. I think it was well before the podcast, and I was talking about kombucha. That was the first time I was experimenting with it as a running recovery drink.
When I came back from my run, I would want something that was nourishing and tasty, but obviously there are big problems with Gatorade and sports drinks.
I linked to your blog, Kombucha Kamp way back then, and it’s such a pleasure to see that you’ve done so well. Your book is excellent. You have great recipes from kombucha itself, to condiments, to sourdough starters, and stuff like that. I can’t wait to dig in.
Why don’t we start with one of your first experiences with kombucha. I understand from reading your book that the first time you tried GT’s Gingerade, angels started singing.
Isn’t that everybody’s experience when they try kombucha for the first time?
I was introduced to the word “kombucha” and the concept when I was visiting a friend from college. I’m from the Midwest originally. He’d moved to San Francisco; I was in LA. We came up to visit, and he gave me this great tour around his apartment unit, and all these really groovy things that I’d never really considered. I was still very much on the standard American diet, coming out of college, eating all my ramen and cereals and whatnot.
He introduced me to some really different and new things. One of them happened to be kombucha.
In this room on a table, there was a box. In the box, there were these jars and all this floaty stuff, and he goes, “That’s the kombucha.”
Never heard of it, had no idea what it was, and we didn’t even taste it. But it was intriguing, to say the least. When I got back to LA, of course Whole Foods had this everywhere. This was back in the early 2000s.
I grabbed that bottle of Gingerade; I didn’t even wait to get to the checkout line. I just opened it up right there, and had my first sip. And it really was a divine experience, especially in retrospect, seeing how far it’s taken me.
I really love that tangy flavor. The first time you try kombucha, you might get that little kombucha face, like “What did you just give me?”
But I was the girl sneaking the pickle juice out of the pickle jar. My mom would yell at me for that: “It’s so salty!” Probably my body needed the salt. I was just craving it.
Abel: Right. I used to do that all the time, just take swigs of brine from the fridge.
Exactly. It’s so good. For me, I love that flavor. It really resonated. And I think the aliveness of the drink, which, even when people give you that funny face, that’s what brings them back around.
Abel: Yeah – something is happening in your mouth that you’re not quite used to, especially if you haven’t had kombucha before. And cheers to you: we got some kombucha right here. This one is in honor of you, Hannah. It’s the GT’s Gingerade, which is one of my favorites, too.
But not all of the kombuchas out there are so beginner-friendly. I think that is one. GT’s does a great job. You can find them in a lot of health food stores these days. Didn’t use to be that way, but it’s encouraging. I’ve seen some kombucha in gas stations!
Big-box stores, Target. It’s really exciting to see how the industry has grown. And when I first got into it, being in LA of course, we were lucky. We had access to these beverages. But you go outside of big cities and places like that, there’s no kombucha at all. Nobody knows what you’re talking about. And right now, the industry is just on a tear.
In 2014, my husband and I—Alex, who I co-wrote the book with and co-founded kombuchakamp.com with—we founded Kombucha Brewers International, the trade association. And I don’t know if you remember—it was a little more than five years ago—but in 2010, Whole Foods took all the kombucha off the shelves. They blamed it on Lindsay Lohan!
Bunch of drama. But we realized that our industry was growing, and was going to come into some challenges. And so we stepped up, we volunteered, and now we have Kombucha Brewers International, with 140 members around the world. It’s just a real testament to how popular this stuff is becoming. And what’s really great is all the people who are like, “I remember that stuff from the eighties or the nineties,” or “My Grandma, back in the old country, drank that stuff.” The stuff’s been around for a long time—it’s just in this commercial form now. It’s really starting to take off, which is exciting to see.
AbeI: Right. But the flavors are different, right? You try some of them, and it’s very vinegary if they don’t use any flavoring agents. Or especially the ginger can cut right through that and make it taste much more refreshing. And if you’re trying it for the first time, it will be unique, but not quite as unique as the homebrewed stuff that has nothing added to it to shore up the flavor.
We’ve brewed our own kombucha, which is its own adventure, and we’ll get into that in just a second.
When I was on the ABC TV show with Kurt, he’d never heard of or tried kombucha in his life, but of course had sodas and sports drinks. And the look on his face when he tried kombucha for the first time, it wasn’t like puckering up the way that someone who would take a swig of vinegar would do it. It was much more like, “Woo!”
Effervescent, excited, and this is new, this is fun. It didn’t take right away. But over the course of the next few weeks, he started to really enjoy kombucha and also the fermented coconut drinks as well, which are traditional drinks I’ve tried in other countries (but they taste different there).
What’s the difference between kombucha that tastes like soda, and the ones that are much more vinegar-forward, that might be more like a home brew?
Everyone can personalize the flavor based on their taste preference. And that’s due to the fact that it is a tea vinegar, essentially. But where most vinegars are diluted to 5 percent, 6 percent, 8 percent acid solution, kombucha’s really half a percent to a percent. That’s what we call an easy drinking vinegar.
Because our palates are so over-sugarfied, with the addition of all these sugars and chemical sugars and whatnot to our food supply, a lot of people find that vinegar flavor a little too intense.
To help bridge folks from sodas into a healthier option, some of the brands have opted to go with lighter flavors; they choose fruitier flavors to try to help ease folks into the category. Because once the body starts gaining that nutritional living form, it really craves it. And once you get used to the flavor of kombucha, your palate tends to then shift to enjoy the more and more sour flavors. Because, as you already know, Abel, sour and bitter are really the flavors of digestion and health. These are the flavors that your body needs and that we recognize as being good for us in terms of digestion, and making sure that we’re processing our food correctly.
Abel: You feel kombucha is jump-starting something. And, full disclosure, I’ve used kombucha as a very effective hangover cure on more than one occasion. And that was originally actually one of the reasons that it was kicked off the shelves way back a few years ago, because kombucha can have a trace amount of alcohol in it.
It can, absolutely. But here’s the interesting thing: Humans have been consuming these traditionally fermented drinks that do contain trace amounts of alcohol, that may be above that 0.5 percent limit, but they’re not intoxicating. They’re not inebriating, and they’re not intended to inebriate. And who ever sat down and tried to kill a six-pack of kombucha? You’ll probably end up in the bathroom before you can even get partway through that.
Abel: Yeah, don’t try to crush a six pack of kombucha, by the way!
Exactly. But this alcohol is our original medicine. This was what we put our herbs into, when we couldn’t just steep them like a tisane or a tea. We put them into alcohol, and that vinegar nature, and the trace amounts of alcohol would extract all that nutrition and then pass it on to you in the final product.
Also, alcohol has a very specific effect on the body. It relaxes the system, and we all know that stress is what leads to disease, whether it’s stress from a terrible diet, stress from not exercising, things like that. Stress is really that root cause.
When you have something that goes to that root cause, but doesn’t create that intoxicating effect, it just makes you feel good, and people really enjoy that. And I think it’s reuniting people with this ancient wisdom, with this ancient technology of these fermented drinks that’s really contributing to this feeling of wellness.
And it’s a great replacement for Gatorade, a great replacement for sodas. Because now, instead of consuming a product that might taste good—not to me, but to some other folks—it isn’t delivering any of the nutritional impact that consuming liquid refreshment is supposed to do.
Abel: And kombucha does give you a very unique boost. I’ll still drink beer every once in awhile, but I used to drink it more often. It’s like the typical thing where you kick back at the end of the day, you have a beer. It’s much better, I’ve found, to have a bit of kombucha instead. It can also be a nice digestive tonic before eating, or even after eating, where you just sip a little bit.
I try to get a little bit of something fermented a few times a day, and kombucha is a wonderful way to work ferments into your habits. And of course you don’t have to go through the aftereffects of drinking something like a soda, or a beer, or whatnot. You’re in fact nourishing your body when you enjoy kombucha.
Exactly, right. And in terms of the alcohol, you’re hitting some other really vital aspects of kombucha. Part of kombucha’s gift to the human body is it creates these great healthy organic acids that support healthy liver function. And the liver is our filter. It’s where we process alcohol, caffeine, prescription drugs. Anything that’s trying to get into the bloodstream, it’s got to go through the liver first, and it filters all that stuff out.
Now imagine if that filter gets overloaded because there’s toxins in our food, we’re over-consuming whatever it is that’s causing our bodies to feel out of balance, and that’s all gunked up and gross; now you start consuming something that gradually, gently gets rid of that gunk.
Just that image—I think of a clean filter, running. Just, you feel so much better. And it really does have that opposite effect. I’ve noticed my own alcohol cravings have reduced greatly. Sure, I like to have a cocktail here or there, but I do this thing I call “sneakybooch.” I’ll bring in my own kombucha with me. I order my cocktail, and halfway through the cocktail, I top it off with my kombucha.
Abel: Kombucha-rita, I like that.
Totally. And there are twenty-four recipes in the book if you want to make yours at home. But I double the life of my cocktail. I cut my alcohol bill in half. And like you’re saying, I don’t feel terrible later on. And maybe I can have a second one when I’m pacing it out like that, as opposed to just one, because that’s what makes my body feel good.
Abel: But it’s not just us humans who are benefiting from it. A lot of us don’t realize that nine out of ten cells in and on our bodies are technically not human at all, they’re all bacteria. So in a lot of cases, the way you feel, the way your body’s working, is really driven by the bacteria itself.
Science is starting to get a hold of that recently, and bringing traditional fermented foods into the mainstream. But home fermenters out there have known the value of our microbiomes for a very long time. What are the implications? What does that mean, if we’re nine-tenths not human?
I think that implication is huge. Really, what kombucha has helped me do is view the world through a bacterial lens. And when you start to look at the world that way, it’s not just our bodies inside and out that are covered in bacteria, but every single surface.
The smell of the rain? Caused by bacteria. How plants uptake nutrition? Also bacteria. And so when you see the beauty of that, and you realize there are way more “good bacteria” than bad bacteria, it helps you understand that this germ warfare we’ve been waging is really detrimental to ourselves.
The FDA just recently banned triclosan, or just came out and said, those antibacterial soaps are not effective, and in fact they may be creating a negative effect. I think what it shows us is that there’s a diverse world of bacteria that we don’t even understand or know.
This is a whole universe that we are entering into when we go into the microbiome. And some of the interesting things they found in this research is that, it’s really a lack of diversity that weakens our organism, that weakens our system. And of course, we’ve removed many people from living in dirt huts, and I’m not saying we all should go back to that—but we don’t garden as much, we’re not engaged with our world as much, and we aren’t consuming these fermented foods on a daily basis.
We didn’t have refrigerators until two hundred years ago, so everybody had to engage in some form of fermentation or preservation in order to have enough food supply throughout the year. We’ve lost all of the health benefits that come from consuming those products, and so it makes sense why our bodies feel tired and depleted, and why we feel so energized and excited when we’re reunited with them again.
Abel: Another interesting thing you mentioned in your book: you started eating the typical junk, the ramen, the processed food, and what have you. But once you started experimenting with kombucha and fermented foods, you noticed that the typical processed foods started to taste more and more like chemicals. What happened?
It’s true. When your body starts to reclaim that nutrition in a living form, it wants more of it. It’s like, “My gosh, finally, can we be done with these years of toxic stuff that we’ve been consuming?” Not realizing, we grew up at a time—you and I are of a similar generation—when there wasn’t a consciousness that these foods were necessarily bad for us.
We read the labels, they say “low-fat,” they say “healthy,” they say “no sugar.” Whatever, it’s good for you. And we didn’t realize that these were things that were actually causing this crazy autoimmune epidemic that we see, and all of these metabolic diseases.
There were certain things that my body instinctively rejected. I don’t know, how about you? I couldn’t drink skim milk. My body was like, “No way. This is terrible. This is impostor milk. I’m not having any of it.” I couldn’t do diet sodas.
Abel: I haven’t had skim milk in so long. I can’t even remember the last time, but it’s been many years. Coming up on a decade.
Why would you drink that?
And of course now we’re realizing fat is so vital. And of course it tastes delicious, and that’s why the whole milk always tasted better. Or like diet sodas, for me at least, that chemical-ness of the saccharin or whatever, I couldn’t do it. I know a lot of people ended up doing it, but…
With little hints along the way, my body was giving me information that I needed to listen to. But I still ate I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. I still had that because that was supposedly the healthier stuff, even though I really loved eating butter.
Then when I started realizing, “I wonder if there’s other ways I can get different nutrients, or different foods,” and of course being in California, I was able to experiment with vegetarianism, with raw food. And funnily enough, it was in 2010 when this withdrawal was happening that we visited a kombucha producer in Fresno, Organic Pastures, who also happens to be one of the two raw milk dairies in California.
It was through visiting them to talk about their kombucha production that we learned all about raw milk. They introduced us to traditional foods, Weston Price Foundation, things like that. And that just shifted the course of my food journey. And I’m a German girl, Midwestern, meat and potatoes; now we could come back and eat the meat and potatoes, and feel good about that.
Now I try to balance how many potatoes I’m eating. I’m conscious of my carbs and my starches, but it was so refreshing to realize, “My gosh, these foods of my ancestors, these foods that I instinctually crave aren’t necessarily bad for me, especially when I’m sourcing it grass-fed.
I have to say, grass-fed was weird-tasting when I first started it, but now the corn-fed tastes weird to me. You don’t make these changes all at once or overnight; they gradually happen, and it’s a process of exploration.
Look at your DNA. Millions, billions of years of information encoded within every single cell. And when you start to listen to the biofeedback, which I think is something kombucha really helps with, people who drink it, you can feel how it’s working in your system. And then you start to apply that process to, “Okay, now I’m having bread. Now I’m having this other food here. Now I’m having that drink there. How is this making my organism feel?”
You start to suss out, you tease out which things you should be letting go of, and which things you should be consuming more of. And it’s not like, “And this is the way it is forever.” We very much have that dogmatic personality here in the United States, where like, “What are the rules? And now it’s like this forever.”
You’re allowed to be in exploration, and you evolve into enjoying pâté, you evolve into eating fermented soy beans. I still haven’t totally gotten into the natto, but I try it.
Abel: You’ve got to ease into stuff like that. You said in your book too, and I love this: “One good decision leads to the next.” And you find that with food as well, especially when you’re retraining your palate.
If you’re trying to go from Diet Coke to kombucha, it’s going to be a hard shift. But once you do that, it will be a little bit easier next time you try something. Maybe one of your friends made a homemade kimchi or sauerkraut. You try it, and maybe it’s not as weird as you otherwise would have thought it was if you’d just been eating cafeteria food or fast food, processed food, that sort of thing.
But one of the things I love about all this is the exploration, like you said. You start to have fun with kombucha. Then you try all the different flavors there, and the different kinds of teas you can have and the infusions, and start adding it to cocktails.
Then it makes it a lot easier for you to pay attention to the things that are similar when you eat a fermented vegetable, and you’re like, “Wow, it tastes a little bit similar.” It felt like you have more of a direct line of communication with your gut.
They call the gut the second brain. And once again, science is catching up to ancient knowledge, but it feels like you’re eating something alive or drinking something alive, and you are. But your body seems to recognize that instinctively, doesn’t it?
All living beings need living things in order to thrive. The sunshine is a living nutrient that we need to absorb through our skin. Consuming bacteria-rich foods is another way to get that living element into our body. Plants convert that sunlight to make their living nutrient. Everything requires life in order to live.
When I think we start to get into that, and we figure out what makes sense for ourselves, that’s really powerful stuff. Then, when your thirst outgrows your budget, because now you’re enjoying these things and you’re like, “But I’m spending all this money at the grocery store,” that’s when you come looking for us at Kombucha Kamp.
And I never thought I’d be putting “bacteria farmer” on my resume as a job description, but that is essentially what we do. We empower people through information and knowledge. That’s what’s behind the book and the impetus to put that out in the world. And then we also give people quality cultures, quality supplies, so they feel empowered to do this stuff at home.
You share a similar philosophy—nobody can change your life for you. You have to take the steps. People can show you a process; they can give you tips and ideas. But if you don’t show up and make those changes yourself, no change can ever happen. We want to give you the best opportunity to succeed at this, and that’s guided our business model from the beginning.
Abel: If you just want to try it, it’s just grab a bottle of kombucha next time you see one. It might be $3, $4, maybe even $5 or something like that for your first bottle, which sounds expensive, but only compared to soda. If you compare that to a beer or wine or something like that, it’s not expensive at all.
And in fact, when you first have kombucha, usually you don’t want to drink the whole bottle. You just take a little bit, or share it with friends or something. I very much encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it out there to go for it.
But if you’re really strapped for cash, it’s even more fun to make your own kombucha at home.
A few years ago, Alyson and I started experimenting with making kombucha, and we made a few batches that came out great.
There was one particular batch where two terrible things happened, though. One got fruit flies after a couple of weeks (which ruins it). And the other one got mold. We were bummed out. But by the end of all of our experimentation, we had a SCOBY that was massive. It was talking to us by the end of it. So how do people get started at home if they are interested in making their own fermented beverages?
Go to kombuchakamp.com and look for our recipe for making kombucha at home. We’ve got a free e-book. We give you all the information that makes it easy.
And then you want to source a quality culture, that could be from a trusted friend. Make sure you’re getting at least one cup of starter liquid, and a good-size SCOBY per gallon, and good instructions. And if you don’t have a friend or a trusted source who’s doing it, then you can always call us up. That number goes right to my cell phone, and I’m always happy to help answer questions or place orders by phone.
Because you’re going to get a lifetime supply, that little bit of investment is going to yield a lot more than just that initial cost. And I think we tend to focus on the bottom line, because our culture really focuses on it, and we’ve lost the sense of quality over quantity. Because that’s what drives consumerism.
But when we start to shift that focus back to quality, we see that what we’re doing in reality is investing into a process that’s going to support our health and is going to pay in dividends that aren’t even financially accounted for. It’s how you feel in the end that really works. And that’s a great way to start. And once you get started, then you go down the rabbit hole.
The book is four hundred pages. Even people who read it all through in one sitting, it’s one of those books that you come back to again and again.
And this happened to me. When I was first reading, there was… Günther Frank, he was a German guy, he wrote a book, and that was popular for a long time. I would read his book, and I would go and I’d make my kombucha, and then I’d come back and I’d read it again.
And I was like, “My gosh, these things make so much more sense to me now that I’ve been engaging in the process.” And again, it’s that biofeedback. We’re trained to look for the pill or the instant answer, but when we engage in that process of exchange of feedback, we really feel so much richer in that experience. It becomes really fun, and it’s a lot less expensive.
Because once you’re buying tea and sugar, that’s an inexpensive cost. And I know some people out there are thinking, “Oh no, sugar. Sugar’s bad.” And one of the things we always say is, “Consider the source. Is this sugar coming from chemicalized sugar? Is it coming from a highly processed corn product? Is it sugar from fruit?
And what is the sugar for?” In the case of kombucha, the sugar isn’t even for you – it’s for bacteria. It’s a teaspoon of sugar that helps the medicine go down, unless you like drinking vinegar.
But for the most part, it’s feeding the yeast, which the creates the CO2, which creates that trace amount of ethanol, that then gets converted by the bacteria into those healthy, organic acids.
That’s where that symbiotic nature comes in. The yeast create the food source for the bacteria. But the bacteria do also consume aspects of the sugar as well. That gluconic and glucuronic acids that are formed by that process, that comes from glucose, which is part of that sucrose molecule. Sucrose is fructose and glucose together. When the yeast starts breaking that apart, both of them feed on those different aspects, and create what makes kombucha taste so delicious and make it so good for you.
Abel: It’s like your own alchemy experiment. If we use the beer analogy once again, there’s a huge difference between swilling a bunch of beer, drinking a bunch of Bud Light, and brewing your own beer at home. There’s artistry in home-brewing. There’s so much learning that happens. And I think more than anything else, you get this massive respect for the environment and yourself, for nature.
You start to see that you’re growing tea. You’re growing a colony, an ecosystem, a tiny little world. And there are things that are alive in it that taste delicious, or that turn into a horrible mold, or a fruit fly experiment in some cases. But that is its own fun, too, isn’t it? You feel like you accomplished something when you screw it up, and then you fix it again. You have to start over.
And it’s craft. And look how popular craft has become. We as human beings crave diversity, but we also crave sophistication. We love to talk about our single-estate coffees, or our single-malt scotches, or insert any one of those here. And remember your first sip of coffee or your first sip of scotch, it was also one of those take-you-back moments. But as you cultivated the flavor for it and the appreciation for it…
And I think what you’re talking about too, when you do the process, there’s an appreciation for why this product costs $3, $5, way more than soda. When you’re just mixing a syrup with a carbonated water, and it takes all of 10 seconds, 20 seconds to create, there’s not much artistry or whatever that goes into that.
And the reality is, the sodas are imitation fermented drinks. We’re hardwired to seek that carbonation because those bubbles indicated to us that yeast was present, and yeast contains all the B vitamins in living form. We have an instinctual craving for carbonation.
And I think that’s why some people can’t tolerate added carbonation, because it just isn’t in that natural form. And they add acids. Unfortunately, the acids deplete the body of nutrition. The acids in fermented drinks replenish that.
And then you also have that little bit of sweetness. That’s there because that’s what makes it palatable, and makes it enjoyable. We grew apple trees in the United States not because we wanted apple pies or apple juice; we wanted apple cider. And by the end of the week, after you juiced it, that’s what you had.
Again, this is just part of the normal human experience, to enjoy these things. And then, like you’re saying, it’s so exciting that the science now is really starting to demonstrate why it is our ancestors loved, cultivated, shared, passed down, and guarded this wisdom and knowledge. It’s exciting to see it come into its highlight right now, because I think we really need it.
We’re at a crisis point in this country, and a lot of people are hurting. A lot of people don’t feel good out there, and there’s not a lot of answers, really. The big answer is we’re being poisoned in various different ways. It’s exciting to see people taking a stand against the different ways in which that is happening. But this is something that you can do for yourself, really simply, with not a lot of financial investment. And it really does start that whole process of getting you back on track.
Abel: Yeah. And I love watching kids try it for the first time, too. The looks on their faces are priceless, but it’s programming your brain for tastes later in life. The sooner you could try things like kombucha, sauerkraut, fermented foods, the more quickly you become human again; and you stop eating the human equivalent of rat chow that we’ve been fed out of the processed food system for so long. You start to wake up again, and you realize that there’s so much more to it. You should be eating foods that are truly alive. And a lot of the books on that have been underground cult hits for a long time, like Wild Fermentation.
I remember raiding my mom’s library. She is an herbalist and a holistic nurse practitioner, and she had all those hippie-dippie books. And when I first saw it, I’m like, “Yeah, whatever, kombucha sounds like a weird word.” But the more that you try it out, you take those risks, and especially start making some of this stuff at home, you start to realize that there’s so much value in it. And you feel so much better.
Also, there are a lot of different excuses that you can come up with for reasons not to have it. It’s too expensive, if you choose to buy it from the store, or it takes too long at home. That’s not true, by the way. When you start making these huge batches at home, you can make it for just pennies on the dollar. It’s really cheap, and relatively easy to get the hang of it. And then you even can become your own little SCOBY dealer. You can even give out pieces of SCOBY to all your friends, and get them hooked on it.
You can eat them, and you can give them to the chickens.
And kids do love kombucha; they really do. I think it’s because they haven’t had as much exposure to all the sugary drinks, and so their palates are ready for it. What’s interesting and visibly noticeable is how our lack of nutrition is manifested in children, in facial structure, in these things.
But what’s also exciting about it is how the research has shown how quickly we can recover our nutrition, when we go back to those really nutrient-dense foods. Post–World War II, it became a status symbol to have your dinner in a tray, and you didn’t have to make it yourself. More than just switching out those foods, we’ve also lost that tradition of self-sufficiency, of being able to do things for ourselves.
And we become victims to, “Can I just press a few buttons on a microwave? And that’s the extent of my ability to cook.” Again, it’s so exciting to see this resurgence in not just craft in the kitchen, but people wanting to be self-sufficient in so many different ways.
I’m hopeful that we get to this renaissance point, where we have guilds, and people are making crafted items, and you don’t buy ten shirts a year, but you have one. And then you mend it. And it’s beautiful, and amazing, and it’s great-quality product. But we’ll see where the new world takes us. It’s just exciting to see lots of people everywhere waking up to this stuff again, and coming back into alignment with this.
Like you were saying with the beer, the difference between a Coors and something you make at home is really appreciating that process, but also consuming it in that fresh state. So many of our foods, in order for them to be transported long distances, or to make it onto the shelf, or to stay on the shelf long enough, have to be treated or pasteurized, or something like that. And that just really depletes the life-giving aspect of it.
And I often wonder about how humans consumed this stuff in ancient times—none of it was ever pasteurized, and how does that difference play out in your body in how it receives it? I feel like there’s a biofeedback loop that ends up not being connected, because you don’t get the nutritional kick you’re looking for. I think sometimes we over-consume different foods or different beverages because we’re not getting what it is our DNA says we’re supposed to get from it.
KOMBUCHA AND CAFFEINE
Abel: Now let me ask you about the caffeine content of various kombuchas. While it’s fermenting, how does that alter the caffeine content? What does it look like when someone’s actually drinking kombucha versus drinking just regular tea?
Definitely. First of all, normally, when we have a cup of tea, we have one tea bag to 6 to 8 ounces of water. When we make kombucha, we do four to six tea bags per gallon. Normally that would be sixteen tea bags to a gallon. So we’re reducing that quantity already by about 75 percent. You’re minimizing caffeine right there. And then, just like caffeine stimulates our nervous system, it stimulates the yeast. And so part of it gets metabolized in that fermentation process. More often than not, what people are experiencing is improved digestion.
Imagine that post-Thanksgiving meal, with all that food in there. Now you include some fermented cranberry sauce, some sauerkraut, and some kombucha, and you’re back up off the couch in no time.
And then the other part of it is those B vitamins, which give our body additional energy. Now, everybody is different, and that’s what our “trust your gut” philosophy is all about. It’s about listening to the feedback your body is giving you.
If you’re drinking a kombucha from the store, and you’re finding, “I’m really sensitive to the caffeine,” you can make experimental batches with different herbs and tisanes. And we’re starting to see some of those come on the market. Like hibiscus kombucha is one that isn’t going to have caffeine present in it, but will still have all the other great stuff. And that’s what’s exciting about kombucha, is that the SCOBY is a technology that’s incredibly flexible, and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here. We haven’t seen long bottle aging. We’ve got all these different herbs and tisanes. People are doing yerba mate kombuchas, and “insert herb here” kombuchas. We’re going to have a lot of fun with this. Coffee kombucha.
Abel: Right, I had some coffee kombucha recently. It’s really good when it comes out right. Some listening might remember this, but I spoke a few months ago at Penn State. And the person who invited me there, she was a listener of the show, and her name’s Tammy. And she’s wonderful. She has a microbiology lab.
And when she got into this hippie-dippie stuff, and started listening to all these things about natural health, biohacking, as a microbiologist, she was like, “What’s this fermentation stuff?” And when we went to her lab, she probably laid out twelve or fifteen different things. Various ferments, from coffee kombucha, to cranberry kombucha, to various yoghurts and raw dairy that was fermented, and raw cheeses. And we just had this whole smorgasbord.
And we were lit up after we ate and drank all that stuff; you can really feel it. And it was so much fun to see someone embrace it so much, and also help teach other people, including the students in her class, how easy it is just to set something up, and then let it go, and let it grow. And then a few weeks later, it’s ready to be delicious in your mouth.
Who doesn’t love delicious in your mouth?
But this is the work that we’re all doing, and that’s what changing the world one gut at a time is about. Sure, I speak Mandarin, Chinese, and Spanish—little fun fact there—but I’m not going to be able to connect with all seven billion people on this planet in my lifetime. The more we teach other people about this and why it’s good for them and teach them the process, then they go and they teach someone else. Changing the world is about how each of us is empowered to go out and do that. It’s exciting to see the microbiologists who are excited about this, all the people from the Human Microbiome Project. There’s a huge flood of exciting information that’s really coming to light, and I just want to emphasize diversity.
It’s not about just having kombucha, or just having your probiotic drink from the store; you want to also get that sauerkraut. You want to get that yoghurt, and all those other different types of fermented foods into your body, because no one is ever going to provide all the nutrition you need. You probably know from your studies of human diets and things that humans evolved to consume small amounts of many different things, and that was to prevent toxicity. Because who knew, if you over-consumed something, what kind of effect it would have on you. What happens when you get rid of all those chemicals off your tongue is that you can taste things again. Now, having some bitters here or some sour there or sweet up here and salty there, all of that really has its own language, and you can really enjoy food again.
SCOBY ON YOUR FACE & OTHER CRAZY USES FOR FERMENTS
Abel: What are some of your favorite ferments? Because there are so many in your book that I’ve never seen before.
We really love eating the SCOBY—that’s the SCOBY fruit leather. Highly recommend. Maybe in a blender.
Abel: That’s an advanced move right there…
That’s an old bad joke.
Abel: I’ll have to try that.
You mix it with the fruit, and then you dehydrate it at low temperature. It’s really good; you wouldn’t even know it’s not regular fruit leather. Some of the other fun things: make the mask and the cream.
I’ll even lay a SCOBY on my face. It won’t suck out your brains, I promise. It’s fun. And what’s really great for folks who have eczema or extreme inflammation, they’ll go ahead and they’ll put that in a blender, or they’ll apply that topically, and it really helps to calm that from the external side as well.
Or even sometimes I’ll burn myself, I accidentally grab a pan or whatever, the very first thing I do is I put kombucha on it. And if I can, I throw a SCOBY. It just minimizes the burn for some reason, and lots of people have had that great experience with it.
But there are people out there who are making it into leather substitutes, or trying to turn it into a fabric. Yeah, there’s been some great research. In Australia, they’re doing it. In Iowa. In all kinds of places. And you have to figure out ways to tan it like a hide, because it’s very hydrophilic, meaning it absorbs a lot of water. It’d be like the last thing you’d want to wear as a raincoat.
But if they tan it, they can figure out a way to make that process feasible. Now you’ve got a biodegradable material that can substitute for all these different things. NASA’s even taking it into space with them to see, can they use it to generate fibers that could then be used, instead of having to carry all the supplies with them?
We’re really excited to see where these novel uses will end up. There have also been some studies showing it will absorb environmental toxins. Could we conceivably take a bunch of SCOBYs out to an oil spill, and soak up all the oil? I have no idea, I’m just throwing crazy ideas out there, but it’d be really fascinating to see how that works.
And it’s great as compost; my worms love it. They go crazy for it. That with the tea, which is really nitrogen-rich, can also be used as animal feed and supplement. They need bacteria and healthy things too.
SCOBY ends up being a waste product for most people because you just have so much of it. Chickens fight over it. They don’t even know what the heck it is, but they fight over it. Clearly there’s something on an instinctual level that they’re connecting with, that they’re sensing, “Hey, this is something I want in my body.” There have been experiments done with chickens and ducks and all kinds of things, showing that it’s as good or comparable to some of the antibiotics that are used to prevent disease, and also to help boost weight and things like that.
Abel: I remember we had a huge SCOBY in the backyard. It was probably about the size of a frisbee, but even thicker. And our dog was obsessed with it for weeks. And she would keep coming back to it, shaking it around.
Animals go nuts when they find food as nature intended. And I think we get a small taste of that when we take our first sip of kombucha. It’s something that, when I look over the course of my day, it’s one of the very few things, like coffee, that I really look forward to, and that I enjoy almost every single day. You can feel it and it feels great, and it’s a wonderful ritual as well. It’s a nice thing to share with other people too.
And lots of people, because there’s a lot of unknowns around kombucha, there’s a lot of fear, so a lot of people are like, “Can I drink too much? Or probably I’m only supposed to drink a certain amount?” And that’s, again, trust your gut in action.
My husband drinks one to two 32-ounce bottles a day. That really works for him. And I tell you what, he gets sick far less often than I do. And I’ll have anywhere from 0 to 16 ounces. Some days, I just don’t have any at all. And then I’ll notice, like, “I haven’t had some kombucha. I really need some of that.” It’s listening to your body. It’s not about, again, following a strict dogma. But also because it’s a tonic, some people prefer to have it in small amounts, one to three times a day. It’s like an instant vitamin shot, or something like that, that you’re giving your body. For some people, that works better for them. It’s really finding what works for you.
Abel: And it’s also important to note that we’re all different, as you mentioned. For certain people who have histamine intolerance or other conditions, it’s important to know that it might not work for you. For most people, fermented food is awesome. But not for everyone.
Yeah, and that’s a great point too. We believe any healthy immune system can enjoy fermented foods without issue. But as we know, there are a lot of people whose immune systems aren’t up to speed or are dealing with other issues. Sometimes what that means is instead of kombucha, starting with milk kefir or water kefir, because it’s a little bit gentler on the system; it’s really great for digestion, leaky gut, things like that. And then come to kombucha later.
For some people, like you’re saying with the histamine allergy, it may mean no fermented foods right now until a certain amount of healing has been able to occur through other nutrient-dense foods, be that bone broths or whatever to help rebuild the gut, and then you can gradually introduce them as you start to feel better.
It is really that biofeedback, listening to your body, and being your own… We don’t have the training, we’re not doctors, but nobody knows our symptoms, nobody knows what we’re feeling more than we do.
We’ve even heard about the doctors who say, “It’s all in your head.” And you’re like, “No, it’s not. It’s not in my head. I really feel terrible, and I can’t get off the couch.” Sometimes it takes the medical community a little while to come around to understanding there are underlying causes here. And I think that’s the heart of what we’re talking about. Kombucha goes to the root cause.
It goes to the root of your organism, and it helps the body heal itself. We never like to say kombucha is doing this, kombucha is doing that. Instead it brings your body back into balance, so your immune system can do what it’s supposed to do, which is take care of you.
Abel: Exactly. I love it. It’s like repopulating your body with the stuff that it desperately needed and didn’t get for twenty, thirty years.
Exactly right. And to that end, like I was saying with diversity—I’m a word nerd, you’ll probably see that in the book, they are everywhere. But one that my husband gifted me that I really love is “common immunity.” Common immunity. Community. We need to hug, we need to kiss, we need to let dogs and babies slobber on us. We need to dig our hands in the dirt, we need contact. Yes, even the introverts out there.
Exactly right. And to that end, like I was saying with diversity—I’m a word nerd, you’ll probably see that in the book, they are everywhere. But one that my husband gifted me that I really love is “common immunity.” Community: “Common Unity.” We need to hug, we need to kiss, we need to let dogs and babies slobber on us. We need to dig our hands in the dirt. We need contact. Yes, even the introverts out there.
We’re bacteriosapiens. We run on bacteria. They’re a big part of the cells that we have. And what do bacteria do in order to protect themselves? They reach out; they connect.
Think about the SCOBY. What’s happening is they’re throwing out these nanofibers of cellulose that bond together and create this lid. And that lid prevents other harmful organisms from colonizing or penetrating the brew or causing contamination.
When we come back to that imagery of looking at the world though that bacterial lens, and we realize that reaching out to people, being friendly, having a smile, reengaging with your community, that’s really how we’re going to shift what’s going on in our society today.
Because it’s when we’re isolated, we’re afraid of our neighbors, we’re not in touch with anyone, we’re only watching the programming box—that’s when we’re really in a situation where we feel defenseless, because we don’t have the strength of those numbers, the strength of other people and their energy around us.
I really encourage people to get into this hobby and then find someone else in your neighborhood who loves it too, to allow that to be an entrée for making new friends and relationships.
And it’s great that we have online community. But it’s even better when we can get out in person, whether that’s going to a conference or a show or a community event. There are fermentation festivals happening everywhere. You want to find what’s going on in your community with like minds and like hearts, and just connect with those people and plug in.
WHERE TO FIND HANNAH CRUM
Abel: Before we go, would you mind telling people what you’re working on next and where they can find you?
Kombucha Brewers International, if you’re interested in that, is made up of home brewers who decided to go commercial. If that’s you, if you’re feeling the passion to give back to your community in that way, check us out at kombuchabrewers.org. We’re doing great things for the industry.
And what’s next? Research database, all kinds of new things are going to be rolling out at the Kombucha Kamp site, we hope, next spring.
Abel: Great. Hannah, thank you so much for doing the work that you do.
Thank you. The bacteria in me acknowledge the bacteria in you. 🙂
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BEFORE YOU GO…
Here’s a quick update from our online community, the Fat-Burning Tribe.
Two weeks ago, today, I had total hip replacement surgery. I have to tell the tribe that for several months leading up to the surgery, I was following the Wild Diet and working with a personal trainer who specializes in mobility.
Since February 1, 2016, I’ve lost 35 pounds of fat, 15+ inches, and 3 clothing sizes. I believe that healthful eating and exercise are the keys to my smooth and strong recovery…so far, so good. I’m becoming pain-free as I’ve been working with physical therapy, and not having an extra 35 pounds to move with is ideal.
I thank Abel and Alyson for the motivation and for the development of such an amazing way of life. I feel great, and I do NOT suffer one bit!!!! I eat what I like…I count nothing…I don’t weigh or measure anything…I don’t obsess over food…I’m more relaxed, yet at the same time determined…interesting concept. This way of life is TOTALLY working for me, and I couldn’t be more stoked!! Thank you, Fat-Burning Tribe for everything.
Congratulations, Patti—you’re an inspiration! You’re proof that when you take the reins of your lifestyle, everything can change.
Your point about not obsessing over food or counting and measuring everything you eat is extremely important. I’ve never been a fan of counting calories, gyms, ab-gadgets, diet foods, and other fitness industry nonsense. You really can do better without all that.
Patti, thanks for being part of our Tribe!
By the way, our new Wild seasonal meal plans in The Fat-Burning Tribe are ready… and they’re going to blow your mind. We’ll give you instructions on how to cook the perfect Thanksgiving feast, including our all-time favorite Maple Brined Turkey, apple pie, mini cheesecakes, and tons more. Plus, we included a bonus Holiday Desserts section at the end of the book that includes 19 of our favorite Wild desserts to whip up for the holidays.
If you want to enjoy your holiday feasts this year without gaining fat, you’ll get everything you need in The Fat-burning Tribe.
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What fermented foods do you include in your diet? Leave a comment below to let us know what improvements you’ve noticed since eating more fermented foods!