The Peaceful Feast


Feel the ‘Booch — Keep Kombucha Wild
January 12, 2010, 10:51 am
Filed under: food sensitivities, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Yesterday, I participated in a kombucha taste test panel. Kombucha (or ‘booch as I call it), is fermented tea. Uh … yum? Not. It actually tastes like carbonated vinegar. So why drink it? There’s only one reason that I can see, and that’s for the digestive benefits. Kombucha is teeming with prebiotics, probiotics, active enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants and polyphenols. It’s a superfood.

I got hooked on the ‘booch last summer when I was undergoing a course of some gnarly antibiotics to get rid of the h. pylori bacteria that was found in my small intestine during an endoscopy. The gastro said this was causing inflammation of my stomach lining that could lead to stomach cancer down the road. The course included high dosages of two antibiotics and prevacid for acid reflux — the condition which had led me to the gastro in the first place. The antibiotics were hardcore, much stronger than any antibiotic regimen I had ever tried — even for pneumonia. The first few days on it, I couldn’t eat at all, even after adding some megadosages of probiotics to my diet.

One day about a month after finishing the course of antibiotics for h. pylori, I was at my sister’s place and plopping down on her couch announced that I was feeling “dyspeptic”. She had just finished handcrafting kombucha and offered me some. My initial response was fermented tea? No way, ick. She urged me to give it a try and so I had a couple tentative sips of the tea, making sucking-on-a-lemon faces all the while. A few minutes later my dyspepsia was gone and I felt okay again. I went out and bought a bottle of kombucha that day and ever since then I’ve kept it on hand to help me out of gastrointenstinal distress. I drink a swig or two a day, mainly before bedtime, and find that it gets rid of upset stomach and bloating better than most anything. It even helps a little with the IBS, although not so much with symptoms of the colon.

My reliance on kombucha for stomach health is how I ended up taste testing a local beverage company’s upcoming kombucha line. The company making the kombucha is very respected in middle America and if anybody can make Kombucha popular nationwide it is this company. There were about a dozen of us in a little classroom tasting the products. Based on looks alone, I’d say we represented a wide cross-section of Boulder — students, Latinos, working professionals, hippies. The woman sitting next to me was dressed in casually expensive clothing. Very Boulder chic. As I said, the beverage company is very respected across the nation. But how do you make kombucha palatable to Middle America without losing it’s boochiness? Is kombucha still boochy once you get rid of it’s wild culture?

With us were two harried beverage company employees running back and forth providing 2 oz samples of each of the five kombucha flavors in development. Without giving too much away, let me just say some flavors were better than others but that there were some good products in that mix. And the stuff that was not so great tasting the company can easily tweak for better flavor. What I found particularly interesting is the company’s addition of a particular set of vitamin/pre or pro biotic/anti-oxidant supplements to each kombucha flavor without a corresponding increase in price. The company is clearly trying to differentiate its product from those currently on the shelves while opening the market up to those who would never consider drinking kombucha.

The company wanted to know what were the top 3 priorities I need for a good kombucha experience, and I listed digestive health, organic, and natural ingredients. The casually-expensive looking woman sitting next to me asked me during a brief break in between sampling why I drink kombucha and I told her for my stomach. She nodded and said that is why she drinks it, too. I like kombucha because I need it. But would I drink it if I didn’t need it? No.

The question I was left with after the taste test is this: Would adding a lot of flavorings and supplements to this new line of kombucha be enough to appeal to those who would not normally drink it? I’m not sure. In fact, I was a little suspicious of whether, after all of its tweaking and tinkering, this company had left enough of the beneficial stuff in the tea to make it worthwhile to drink for digestive health.

For instance, I noticed that each sample was fizzy but not too fizzy the way kombucha usually is. Oxygen from the live bacteria give kombucha its crazy over carbonation. The live bacteria is what makes kombucha good for the stomach. You take away that, you take away the digestive benefits of kombucha, benefits that supplements don’t provide, no matter how much you add back in. I’m very interested in how this will pan out for the beverage company. But I wonder if the finished product will appeal to anyone. Can kombucha be made palatable enough for the non belly-achers, while keep the medicinal benefits that we need? I doubt it.

As for me, I love my ‘booch as is and the thought of some big beverage corp. smoothing out its rough edges makes me cranky. In fact, I am toying with making my own kombucha. You’ve seen the bumper stickers that say “Keep Boulder weird?” Well, my bumper sticker slogan would be “Keep Kombucha wild.”

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Peaceful Feasting in the New Year

My favorite response to questions concerning what resolutions I might make for the coming year is this: Try not to set myself up for failure by making unrealistic promises to change. But I have to change. Why change? Because change brings growth, and if I decide not to grow, I might as well just die.

So, without further ado, here are my top 10 resolutions for peaceful feasting in 2010.

10. Give up dairy: According to the Shari Lieberman’s indispensable book, The Gluten Connection, people with gluten sensitivity often suffer from cross-reactivity with the proteins in dairy. I experienced some symptoms today and realized that I’ve been eating a lot more cow products than usual. Never been a big lover of milk yet I can’t seem to cut the remaining ties. This year, I will. Starting now.

9. Stay gluten-free: I had two mishaps related to receiving Holy Communion due to my inability to remember to bring my low-gluten hosts. Both incidents ended in hangover-like symptoms: headache, metallic taste in mouth, nausea, bed spins, and me sleeping for like 15 hours. In each case, it took me 5 days to recover. No need to put myself through that. I keep my hosts at the church now but if it ever happens again that I forget, I’ll just receive from the chalice or not at all.

8. Stop eating gluten-free junk: My first month gluten-free, I ate just about every processed, carb-ridden, sugar laden “gluten-free” item that I could get my chubby hands on. It’s gotten better since then but I found myself indulging more than I should over the holidays. Some of this stuff is really delicious! Some people can eat gluten-free snacks regularly and still feel ok. But I can’t expect to regain my health if what I’m eating is largely empty calories + fat.

7. Lose weight: Since I can’t have wheat or gluten, I might as well try to limit my carb intake. I’ve been really doing a good job at staying away from wheat, however, I’ve been substituting starches like crazy: oatmeal for breakfast, rice or potatoes for lunch/dinner, gluten-free treats as snacks. I will restrict myself to one portion of starch a day. Plus walking 15 mins. a day.

6. Avoid processed food: Pre-fabbed food is way more expensive and not as healthy as just making it yourself. For Christmas, a friend gave me The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by local chef blogger titan Elana Amsterdam of Elana’s Pantry. The book is visually attractive with some tasty-looking recipes. I’ll be sure to let you all know how my almond flour (low carb, by the way) creations turn out.

5. Don’t be intimidated by the ignorant: So this guy butted into my conversation and said of a 3rd party with gluten sensitivity: Seriously, how can you be that sensitive and live???
Seriously, I just wanted to slap his face but acting violently towards him would blow my oft-used strategy to just ignore him to death. The sad part is, this guy has IBS.

4. Learn how to cook with quinoa: Not only did my boss buy me a 5lb. bag of gluten-free flour for Christmas, but a friend got the same idea and decided to gift me with another 5lb. bag of flour, plus a 5lb. bag of quinoa. Now, this friend is a sweet lady but also stubborn. The quinoa was inspired by an ongoing conversation/argument.
She: Quinoa is great once you learn how to cook with it.
Me: But I don’t like quinoa, plus it turns out bitter when I make it.
She: Quinoa is great once you learn how to cook with it.

Whatever. The point is: I need, need, need quinoa recipes. A little help anyone?

3. Take care of myself: I learned with the bladder cancer scare last year to pay attention to the small still voice inside that says, I need to pull back and just rest, and This. Is. Okay. I don’t have to be around people all the time to have a good life. I don’t have to make myself noticed to be important. I can just be quiet and this is good.

2. Fast: It’s good to take a day off once a week or so and just not eat for 24 hours. It’s good not to think about what I’m going to have for meals or whether the food is gluten-free, or if something about it will make me sick. I’ve found when I’ve done this kind of fasting that I become lighter, empty, freer from attachments to this life. Less prone to gossip and criticism. More inner directed. More prone to prayer and praise. Which leads me to the number one resolution.

1. Be grateful: Today, I heard someone say regarding this new year, How often do people look back on the previous year and thank the Lord for everything they have received. Thank you Lord for the sickness. Thank you for the abundance I enjoy. I am sorry to say I didn’t look back on 2009 with this expansive attitude at all. A lot of self-pitying as a matter of fact. But he is right and I can see that without thanksgiving, I will remain stuck in my little selfish world forever. My hell. May all of us live 2010 in such a way that this time next year we can look back and feel only gratitude for the life that we have been given.