Fermented but non-alcoholic drinks are all the craze now, with fancy bottles of kombucha and the like available in plenty of fashionable cafes, but in fact humans have been fermenting drink and food for its health benefits for centuries.
Slightly sweet and bursting with bubbles, fermented drinks are fantastic for your health and often taste amazing! Starts at 60 chatted with Melbourne-based nutritionist Samantha Gemmell about the benefits of fermented drinks.
“Fermented drinks are a great alternative to other fizzy drinks such as soft drink and energy drinks,” Samantha says. That’s because fermented drinks give our bodies probiotics (good bacteria and yeast) that are excellent for the digestion and can even improve overall health, she says.
According to Samantha, the yeast and bacteria eat the sugar in the drink, transforming it into beneficial acids. “The acids can … support your digestive function by helping to break down your food,” she says.
Beer, cider and wine are the best-known fermented drinks, but there are many others that aren’t alcoholic.
Kombucha is a cold fermented black tea, which is made by adding scoby (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to sweet tea. A scoby is the living home for the bacteria and yeast that transform sweet tea into tangy, fizzy kombucha. The scoby seals off the fermenting kombucha from the air and protects it from unwanted bacteria.
Karen Jones, a Starts at 60 community writer, brews her own kombucha after discovering the health benefits of the drink, and says it’s easy to do.
“The scoby keeps growing, and I only need to feed it with black tea, sugar and filtered water,” Karen says. “It brews away and then when I bottle it I add fruit such as raspberries or ginger to let it do a second ferment. This creates lots of fizz and it tastes great while being good for your gut and health.”
Jun is similar to kombucha, but has a green tea base rather than a black tea one.
Kefir milk is another favourite. Tart, with a sour taste and a slight fizz, kefir milk is “made up of milk, probiotics and acids,” Samantha explains. But unlike fermented tea, it’s made from kefir grains (similar to scoby). If you’re not a fan of milk, it’s possible to make water kefir by soaking kefir grains in sugared water. It creates a fizzy drink that’s a little sweet, with a slightly fermented flavour.
If you’re planning to make your own fermented drinks, Samantha says to start small and simple because “there’s no point in having a full-on kombucha brew if you find out you don’t like the taste!” She recommends buying your scoby or kefir grains from a trusted source such as a health food store and, “if possible, taste the drink made from the started ingredient before you use it yourself”.
If it tastes vinegary or slightly alcoholic, Samantha says, “you’ve probably just over-fermented it.” But if it tastes off in any way, it may be a sign that is has been contaminated, she cautions, which means your safest bet is to start over with a new scoby or kefir grain.
It only takes two to three days to ferment a batch in summer (in winter it can take up to two to three weeks) so if you’re enjoying warm weather right now, it’s a great time to give it a try.