Part Two, continued from April21st post.
Around us were three huge tanks of kombucha in various states of completeness. We walked over to look at the mother scoby on top of one of the three 400 gallon tanks he currently keeps going. On top was a huge disc of bacteria and yeast busily processing and altering the sugar in the tea. Currently, he makes six different flavors, original, ginger, berry, citrus, herbal and infused. He says he often experiments with the flavors without compromising his original concept of using the purest ingredients, like spring water and organic black teas. With his flavor choices he has decided to preserve his creative freedom. The berry flavored kombucha for example, can have raspberries, elder berries, goji berries and so forth, depending upon what is in season. Nathan sometimes adds tulsi, which is a variety of basil. In Ayurveda medicine it is known as the queen of herbs and revered as an antioxidant with adaptogenic qualities that Nathan says help the body adjust to stressors.
Nathan first started brewing kombucha as Living Well Brewery, then Living well Thrive in 2007. He became interested in fermented foods when he moved to Chicago and discovered the organic and health conscious community where he began to experiment with making kefir, kimchee and sauerkraut as well as kombucha and vegetable juicing.
“Chicago is a place for cultural diversity. Anything you are attracted to you can find here. I found the health conscious community. I found organic markets, local markets, farmer’s markets, and ideas that I’d never considered before, like why be vegan, or gluten free? All of this just helped point me in the direction of how to be more health conscious and how to help benefit health conscious people. I played around with making raw juice and smoothies and going to events with music. I’d go and set up my juice bar. My first event was $300 worth of produce and a juicer. That’s where I got started and I made $300 back and I had some produce left over and I considered that a success. But the amazing thing is how much people really appreciated it. There is a lot of work to it.”
Although Nathan is reluctant to define his product as healthy because of preconceived ideas about how it will taste, he is enthusiastic about the benefits kombucha can produce in people who want to clean up their act. “The interesting thing is how does kombucha work? Does it heal the body? Is it medicine? When the body is detoxified, it heals itself. So the only thing responsible for healing the body is the body itself. All pharmaceuticals do is create a way for the body to heal itself. Antibiotics wipe out a lot of bacterial infection, but the same goal can be accomplished by detoxification, proper diet, lifestyle and spiritual practice. What is kombucha doing? It’s getting toxins out of the way. It’s giving us something that we can use that feels good, that has health benefits, that helps the body to deal with the toxic load. Do you want to start taking care of your diet? Drink kombucha. That’s step one. For any detox program, kombucha is a segue in to that. Do you want to go on a juice cleanse or a juice fast? Do you want to reconfigure your diet so it is healthier? Drink kombucha. And if we can make it delicious, that’s even better.”
Yet how can it help us detoxify our bodies? Lovers of kombucha claim that it helps to recondition digestive flora in the gut. Nathan explained, “The vinegars in the fermented foods have antimicrobial properties and probiotics which wipe out pathogenic or non-beneficial microbes in the gut and deposit healthy flora, as well as stimulate organs in the body to aid in digestion. In particular, they believe that kombucha detoxifies the liver with gluconic acid (which comes from glucose sugar and microbes creating gluconic acid) through oxidation of the glucose molecule. Studies have shown that this acid helps carry heavy metal toxins outside of the body.” Although little research in the western world has been done on these claims, people who enjoy kombucha’s benefits will tell you that this is because the west is historically not interested in researching foods that may have medicinal properties because the health industry is more interested in pharmaceuticals. A quick search of the internet turned up a few studies, one particularly from the Defense Institute of Physiology Allied Sciences in India that found kombucha to have antistress and liver protective qualities for rats, and no toxicity was found. On the flipside, there are a few negative reports from people in the US, although all appear to be anecdotal.
Nathan’s mission, to make the best kombucha on the market, is a noble one, not just because it is a pleasurable product that may be good for you, but because he sees it as a way to help people be happier, healthier and more connected. He feels that drinking kombucha is the first thing we can do to benefit our body that feels good and isn’t limiting because you don’t have to give anything up. The next thing is introducing more things that taste great and are healthy.
Nathan is clearly passionate about kombucha, but he is also passionate about food as a means to increase health. He is considering the possibility that his interest in health conscious living could lead him to develop other products in the Arize line. “One of my favorite things to do is to share food. I go to potlucks and I’ve hosted raw food meet-ups and that’s really fun. The idea for me is to break through the barrier people have with the idea that a certain food is vegan or gluten free so it is not for them. I’ve seen ingredient cards with a little place to check the box if it’s vegan only. Well, if it’s vegan that only means it is available to everyone, not just vegans. We have this huge blockage to that idea.”
Before I left, I asked if he had any advice for the novice kombucha brewer and he did. “Keep it warm and let it go for as long as possible before you do the next batch. Put more time in to it. You have to keep it warm because when it gets cold it gets more vinegary and alcoholic. Let it mature.”
Although my mother scoby dried up in a jar on top of the fridge shortly after my experiment, I did plow through the case of kombucha I purchased during my visit to Nathan’s facility, having acquired a real taste for the hops flavored variety. Just as Nathan predicted, I did not remove every guilty pleasure item from my cupboards, but with the help of a few billion microrganisms, I am confident I removed some toxins from my life.
For the DIY inclined, kombucha brewing kits are available at Brew & Grow locations around Chicago for $40.