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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Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

This week, my boss bought me a 5 lb. bag of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour from Costco just … because. She’s a lovely person, and I thought I should repay her generosity by baking a treat.

Since she and I share a love of bananas combined with chocolate, and there just so happened to be a banana bread recipe on the back of the bag of flour, I decided to bake up a loaf of bannana-chocolate chip bread.

I’m still quite new to the gluten-free lifestyle and baking was never really my thing even when I ate wheat. Did I mention I live at a high altitude? Can you see where I am going with this? In other words, there was not much of a chance the evening would end with a decent loaf of banana bread. So my plan was not to say a word to anyone and just quietly throw the loaf away if my attempt to repay the boss-lady’s generosity turned out poorly.

The evening’s baking started inauspiciously when the pecans I was roasted to add to the batter ended up charred in the oven. Sorry, no pictures. 🙂

Things got better though. I followed the recipe on the back of the bag, except in one step where I substituted arrowroot for xanthan gum, which effectively replaces wheat gluten as a thickening agent in baked goods. Given my lack of high-altitude, gluten-free baking no-how, you may be wondering, “Peaceful, why go and complicate things?” And that’s a good question. Short answer: Xanthan gum has a laxative effect which I don’t need.

But, the main reason I went for the arrowroot is aesthetic: You know that black slimey goo that forms on vegetables when they start to go bad? That’s caused by the same bacterium that makes xanthan. Ick. No thanks.

On the other hand, arrowroot is a starch derived from a tropical tuber plant that is way thicker than wheat flour. No germs and no reported irritants to the bowel system here.

So how did my banana chocolate-chip bread turn out? Quite well, thank you! The recipe made one large loaf of bread that was quite dense yet somehow airy (i.e., did not resemble a brick). The bread was only slightly dryer and more crumbly than its wheat/gluten-full counterpart.

Next time, I’ll use real butter instead of oil and maybe add another mashed bannana to the mix. After eating a slice this morning, I decided that my banana chocolate-chip bread was good enough to bring to work. I’ll let y’all know what the boss-lady thinks! 😉 UPDATE: She liked it and was surprised at its moistness. 🙂

No Hassle Banana Bread
Contributed by Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods
Adapted from Special Diet Solutions by Carol Fenster, PhD.
Ingredients

* 1/3 cup Canola Oil
* 2/3 cup Brown Sugar, packed
* 2 large Eggs
* 1 tsp. Vanilla
* 1-3/4 cups Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour
* 2 tsp. Baking Powder
* 1-1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
* 1 tsp. Xanthan Gum
* 1/2 tsp. Salt
* 1-1/2 cups Banana, mashed
* 1/2 cup Pecans or Walnuts, chopped
* 1/2 cup Raisins (Unsulfured)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350�F. Grease 9×5-inch non-stick loaf pan. Cream together oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large bowl with eletric mixer. Add flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and cinnamon to egg mixture, alternating with bananas. Beat until smooth. Stir in nuts and raisins. Batter will be somewhat soft. Transfer to pan. Bake for 1 hour.

Serves 10.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION:
(per serving)

Calories 310, Calories from Fat 120, Total Fat 13g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Cholesterol 40mg, Sodium 230mg, Total Carbohydrate 46g, Dietary Fiber 4g, Sugars 19g, Protein 5g.