Sunday 22 April 2018

Fermented drinks to fortify your defences

These delicious fermented beverages will help to repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria

Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Ginger ale

Valerie O'Connor

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that many people pay good money for in supermarkets and health-food shops.

It's tasty and moreish and it's also ridiculously easy to make once you can get a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) or kombucha mushroom from a fellow fermentalist.

Kombucha originates in Russia and even though it is 'fed' on sugar, this sugar is consumed by the yeasts and this creates a naturally effervescent drink.

Don't be tempted to use honey instead as it won't work and will, in fact, kill the scoby. As it is a fermented food, it is naturally probiotic which helps to restore good gut flora.

Kombucha is made from simple household ingredients and once you get into making it on a regular basis, you won't want to stop.

It has been credited with restoring hair quality and colour and the Russians are known to drink it before a big night out to lessen the effects of a hangover.

If you don't remember to drink it before you go out, then maybe it will help you feel better the next day.

After being fermented, kombucha becomes carbonated and contains vinegar, B-vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and a high concentration of lactic and gluconic acid which may help with digestion and weight loss.

If you are getting into fermented foods, it's worth finding or recycling some good-quality, strong glass bottles with flip-top, ceramic lids - these will help keep the gas in.

A kombucha that hasn't been kept airtight enough will have no fizz and taste really nasty.

There are many fermented drinks in the world of cultured foods. If you can't get your hands on a scoby right away, then you can get started by making kvass or a ginger beer without a special starter culture.

These drinks are cheap and easy to make and make for great conversation starters on your kitchen shelves too!


Irish apples are in wild abundance right now and you can get them for free from friends with trees or buy them fresh and crunchy from local markets.

This home-made cider is refreshing and only mildly alcoholic, though the longer you leave it, the stronger and drier it gets.

Otherwise, it is an invigorating and delicious drink from nature. If you have access to local apples, make the most of them with this easy ferment.

Otherwise, buy locally grown apples from your local market.

All you need is a juicer, a large two-litre jar and some muslin. If you have lots of apples, get some demi-johns or plastic five-litre bottles and make as much as you like.

The whey will kick-start the fermenting due to the presence of lactic acid, which boosts the lacto-fermentation process.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is credited with many health benefits. A spoonful every day is said by some to relieve arthritis and osteoporosis. It soothes burns, helps cure a sore throat, chases away flu symptoms, relieves sunburn and has long been considered a great aid to digestion.

Some lovers of cider vinegar claim that drinking a spoonful every morning gets them set up for the day. It promotes a feeling of fullness, so can aid weight management too.

Ginger Ale

This refreshing and lively drink, full of natural fizz, is great for settling upset stomachs. Warm or cold, this is a sophisticated drink to sip on if you're not into drinking alcohol but enjoy sharp flavours.

Its sharpness means it's good to have with some honey in a mug of hot water to warm you up.

Whey can be bought in health-food shops or you can easily make your own by straining some live, natural yogurt through muslin.

Leave it to drain overnight and the milky liquid is your whey, which keeps in the fridge for months.

* Valerie O'Connor is a qualified organic horticulturalist and delivers workshops and classes in fermenting food (the next one is in Airfield House and Garden, Dundrum, Dublin 14 on October 31). For more info, visit or

Apple cider & vinegar


2 dozen sweet apples, preferably unsprayed, washed

1 tsp sea salt

50ml / 2fl oz whey. This can be made by straining some live yogurt - just tip it into some muslin and leave it strain overnight


Wash and sterilise a two-litre jar and leave it to cool while you juice the apples.

Pass them through a juicer, pausing to remove the pulp after every 10 apples or so, otherwise it will clog. Skim off the foam.

Pour the juice into your jar and add the salt and whey and give it a stir. Cover with muslin and leave at room temperature for 3-4 days. In winter, it's better to put this in the hot-press or somewhere of about 20-22°C. Right now, the temperature is just fine for apple fermenting.

Remove from the hot-press, put the lid on the jar and keep it somewhere cool or in the fridge, where it will store happily for months.

The longer you leave your cider at room temperature, the more it will ferment and the tarter the taste will become. It is deliciously sweet for the first week and then rapidly changes to a face-twisting tartness. Which leads me to apple cider vinegar.

To bypass your cider, or have a couple of sneaky glasses first, simply leave your muslin covered jar at room temperature for a couple of weeks extra. How will you know when it's ready? Your taste buds will tell you.

You can now smugly bottle your own, homemade apple cider vinegar and give to people as gifts.


Special equipment required:

1 x 3-litre glass jar or plastic tub

A funnel

Bottles (flip-top lids for fizzy drinks, see pic), you can buy these online or collect Grolsch or French lemonade bottles.


1 kombucha mushroom - available online from and eBay

3 litres boiled water

6 x organic unbleached black tea bags - Clipper is a good brand and widely available; you can also use green tea or herbal tea

¾ cup sugar

Optional extras: ginger/strawberries/blueberries/dried mango Makes 3 litres


First, make sure all your equipment is clean: sterilise your jar by putting it through the dishwasher cycle or by putting the washed jar into the oven at 160°C for 10 minutes.

Pour one litre of boiling water into the jar, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Pop in your tea bags and cover loosely with muslin or a tea towel and allow to cool.

Top up the jar to three litres with cold filtered water and pop in your kombucha mushroom, cover with muslin and secure this in place.

Transfer your jar to a hot-press/airing cupboard that is generally warm at around 18-22°C for the first ferment.

Leave the jar here for 5-7 days and then you are ready to bottle for what's known as the second ferment. Taste it at this stage: if it tastes sweet and pleasant, now is a good time to bottle it. Make sure your bottles and caps are all sterilised and cooled down.

The mushroom will have sunk to the bottom of the bottle where it has been hungrily chomping away on all that sugar, so simply pour the kombucha via the funnel into your bottles. Taste the kombucha at this point, if it doesn't seem sweet enough, maybe add half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle.

If you want to try adding flavours or fruit, pop a few slices of peeled fresh ginger into a few bottles and maybe a few sliced strawberries or blueberries into a few more. Lavender with green tea is a sophisticated combo and strawberries and mint together is really delicious.

Return the bottles to the hot-press for three more days. After this time, transfer the bottles to a cool place to slow down the fermenting process. Pop your mushroom into a jar with some cold tea and sugar and cover with muslin secured with string. The mushroom will multiply, giving you one to give to a friend or simply make a bigger batch next time.

Kombucha troubleshooting:

The kombucha tastes sour If your finished kombucha tastes sour, it's most likely because you left it for too long in the first ferment, and maybe at too high a temperature. So try leaving it for less time, maybe 3-5 days.

The kombucha isn't fizzy Chances are you need to leave it for longer. To add fizz for the second ferment, add fruit or ginger which works especially well and will give you a lovely, refreshing flavour.

Ginger ale


100g/4oz grated fresh ginger

50ml fresh lime juice

2 tsp sea salt

4 tbsp sugar

8 tbsp whey

2 litres filtered water


Put all the ingredients in a two-litre mason jar and mix everything together. Close the lid and keep at room temperature of about 20-22°C or in the hot-press for 3-4 days.

Transfer to a cold spot. Strain or not according to preference and enjoy it diluted with cold water and ice, or warm water in winter - this will keep for months in the fridge.

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