Roots Kombucha Malmö
Roots Kombucha, the new flavour on everyone’s lips. Created by Malmö duo, Nick Rosenstock and Matthias Lehner, the lifestyle drink has quickly taken root in the lives of the health and taste conscious alike. We followed the two friends on one of their weekly preparation workshops, asking questions and digging up answers.
What got you guys started?
ML We are both pretty into food. I am cook by training and we both went to Agricultural universities. That’s also where we met – at SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) in Uppsala. As a microbiologist Nick is by definition interested in fermentation and his enthusiasm, plus my experiences with beer brewing, got me hooked. Nick and I have been fermenting all kinds of things over the last two years and both our homes look (and smell) like a fermentation lab at times. Kombucha was just one of many ferments we were experimenting with.
NR I've been drinking Kombucha, in the US where I come from, for about 10 years, sometimes store bought, sometimes made by friends. I wanted to make it myself since the first time a friend gave me some of theirs and showed me how, but I didn't start making it until after I moved to Sweden in 2010. I lived in a fun collective, and had lots of people to share it with, and I learned how to do it well, and make it tasty. Matthias was one of my “combos” and after people kept telling us how much more they liked our Kombucha, we tried selling it, and when that went well we decided to launch Roots Kombucha.
What is so good about Kombucha?
ML Kombucha is a refreshing, slightly acidic drink that makes you feel really great. I love to drink a glass of it on a busy day when I need a kick-starter. It’s a little bit of a tonic to me. Properly made it contains practically no sugar, because the microorganisms consume the sugar and turn it into organic acids, enzymes and vitamins.
NR Yes. It tastes good. It has almost no sugar, and it makes you feel great after drinking it. There are A LOT of health claims made about Kombucha, but there is not so much evidence to back them up. Although there is some evidence that show in animal studies it reduces insulin resistance (diabetes treatment) and slows tumour growth (cancer fighting). People have been drinking it for thousands of years, and the Russians used it as an integral part of their cancer treatments in the middle of the 20th century. Like nearly all ferments it is a good source of a number of vitamins, and may have probiotic properties (though the EU has recently decided there is insufficient evidence to make that claim commercially).
How is Kombucha created?
NR A Kombucha mother is a culture of microbes living in symbiosis, including both bacteria and yeast. It looks like a rubber mat, some people call it a mushroom, but it is definitely not a mushroom. The symbiosis involves some microbes consuming certain things like sugar and other microbes consuming other things or by products of what the first microbes consumed. This culture floats on top of what we feed it: sweetened black tea. The sugar is the energy source for the culture and tea provides nutrients, as well as contributing to the flavour profile of the final product, which is partly tea and partly organic compounds created by the microbes.
ML Like Nick said you basically grow the mother culture in tea. During fermentation the SCOBY turns the carbohydrates in the tea into various organic acids, enzymes and vitamins. After the fermentation we remove the SCOBY and do a second fermentation with the flavours. It is important for us is to use real flavours – e.g. real ginger root – and not any fake flavouring agents. Finally we ferment a third time, this time in the bottle.
Where does Kombucha come from?
ML So it is a little hard to say that with certainty. It seems that Kombucha came out of China originally, where it was praised for its health promoting properties. It was then taken to Japan to keep the emperor healthy. Over time it spread through Russia, where it remains a popular drink. The Russian army used to give Kombucha to its soldiers during the Second World War to keep their digestion functioning.
NR Yeah, after the Russians got really into it in the 17 and 18 hundreds, it spread to the US via Europe, and of course, as happens with most good things that come to America, it blew up and was commercialised. It’s now pretty standard in most trendy health food stores.
Where did your original mother come from?
NR Our original mother came from Finland through a yoga-connection. Where it came from before then we cannot know, because mothers cannot be made, they can only be reproduced. That's one of the special things about Kombucha. Over time Kombucha cultures adapt and change, and I know ours behaves differently than others. I have shared this mother with a number of people over the years, and she now has offspring in Malmo, Lund, Tonnerhederstad, and Poland!
ML It’s strange to think that our SCOBY is so old, and could potentially live for eternity. Although what lives eternally is of course the culture, not the individual bacteria and yeast cells in it, which are continuously replaced.
Do you name your cultures?
NR We call her mother (don't tell my mum!)
Where does your flavour inspiration come from?
NR What we like, what's healthy, whatever strikes us, and tips from friends. One of our original flavours, and one of people's favourites, if they are willing to try it, is turmeric (gurkmeja in Swedish). Fresh turmeric root has a fantastic flavour and is amazingly healthy. We just tried that as I have been eating turmeric on a daily basis for a long time because of its health promoting properties and a hippie friend of mine in California told me to try the fresh root. When I did I thought that I have to try to do more with it, and making Kombucha with it was an obvious choice. I was instantly in love.
ML I remember Nick drinking shakes with turmeric powder long before we started flavouring our Kombucha with it. It was him who brought home fresh turmeric root one day. I didn’t even know what turmeric was back then. The funny thing with turmeric is that it doesn’t taste like turmeric usually tastes when you flavour your Kombucha with it, it’s more like elderflower. Our latest flavour experiment is orange and we use the orange peel, which we find much nicer, and more nuanced, than blending in juice. But inspiration from flavours can come from anywhere – growing season, food, beer brewing, anything!
NR I am eager to try cilantro (coriander blad in Swedish), the leaf of the coriander plant, since I love that flavour, and hope we can come out with a cilantro inspired flavour soon.
Have you had any disasters?
NR One time I had a few bottles of Kombucha in secondary fermentation (sealed to build up pressure for carbonation), in some old glass vodka bottles on the top shelf above our sink. I got home one day and there was glass and Kombucha all over the kitchen. We were taking care of friends’ cats at the time, and I was sure it was the cats but I couldn't figure out how it could jump so high (1.5 meters above the sink). Poor cats got the blame. The next day I came home and the other bottle had exploded too. I had put it against the wall behind other bottles, so there I was thinking, what the fuck is with these cats, why are they targeting Kombucha bottles? Then after a few minutes of thinking that we were taking care of really, really strange cats I realised, be careful what sort of bottles you brew in!
ML When I think of our fermentation experiments more generally – including beer, bread and vegetables – there have been quite a few disasters. Our first kimchi batch tasted really nice but was super smelly! It was so bad my flatmates wouldn’t let me it indoors anymore. In the end I had to treat it like ‘surströmming’ only eating it outdoors. Another time we brewed a rye beer and were a little ambitious with the share of rye in the grain mixture, which meant that the liquid clogged and what was supposed to be a 30 min draining of the mash turned out to be an 18 hour ordeal. The whole brewing process ended up taking us 24 hours – the longest beer brewing I have ever done.
Who is the most unlikely person you know of drinking Kombucha?
NR My mum and Kim Jung Un. I made the part about Kin Jung Un up, but who knows?
ML Me too! The most unlikely person I know to have drunk (and brewed) Kombucha is my mother. Until very recently I had no idea that my mother was brewing Kombucha in the 70s. She stopped way before I was born and never even mentioned it to me. It came as quite a surprise that when I told her that Nick and I were going to start producing Kombucha she didn’t ask ‘What is Kombucha?’ but rather ‘That’s great! Which flavour?’