When I began to research how the gut influences mood, I did not expect to end up starting my mornings by peering into a jar of tea sitting on my shelf, hoping to see a skin growing on top of it. Yet, here I am, starting a home brew of kombucha in my flat.
Kombucha is, in short, fermented tea. The fermentation process forms a “skin” on top of the tea called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY is a microbial association of several bacteria and yeast that form a powerful symbiosis – powerful enough to limit the growth of contaminating microorganisms. The death and breakdown of yeast cells contribute to nutritional content for bacteria (more details here). I decided to grow a kombucha SCOBY in part because it may be seen as an analog for the gut/skin connection: the SCOBY protects the tea beneath it as the skin protects the body, and the microbiota of the tea affect the SCOBY as the gut microbiota affect the skin.
Another reason I was inspired to take this endeavor was the kombucha art performance by Alanna Lynch I had found out about when I was looking up microbial art. In it she explores not only how the cellulose-filled SCOBY can be used in textile production, but also how the lines defining “self” can become blurred by the microbes living in us that have great influence over our health. My interest in the beverage was peaked.
I further wondered if, as a probiotic, kombucha could possibly have the ability to influence mood by influencing the microbiome. Many health benefits are associated with kombucha, ranging from acting as a digestive aid to combatting cancer. It is also said to improve health of skin, hair, and nails. When I see that many health benefits listed, I tend to become skeptical of the claims, so I decided to look more specifically into kombucha’s possible influence on depression. That was when I found an article from this year that presents evidence that fermented food consumption could be preventative of depression. Fermented foods have both probiotics and prebiotics (prebiotics are essentially the food on which the good microorganisms can feed). The article details several ways in which gut-related biological pathways could influence depression and anxiety, and how those pathways could be influenced by fermented foods. This caught my attention as I have previously read that traditional diets (particularly the Mediterranean diet) are associated with lower rates of depression, and traditional diets usually contain some fermented food. Limited studies have been done on the link between fermented foods and mood disorders, and more research is needed in this area.
I started my kombucha-making process with a trip to the health food store, where I picked up a bottle of raw china white tea kombucha. Next, I brewed jasmine green tea, in which I stirred a generous helping of granulated white sugar. I let it steep for a few minutes, then removed the tea bags and let the tea cool at room temperature for several hours.
Once I was confident that it was no hotter than the air around it, I added the bottle of white tea. I covered the jar with a paper towel, and it has been sitting in my room ever since.
Every source that I have read says that the SCOBY takes at least a week to form. It seems that I should probably allow it to sit longer than that as my primary purpose is to grow a SCOBY (if my primary purpose were to drink the tea, I would have to be concerned about the continually rising alcohol level). I am not entirely sure what I am going to do with my home brew once it is satisfactorily fermented, but I am excited to follow this thread wherever it leads me.