Conversation with Ed Kasper – the Happy Herbalist

I was in Santa Cruz recently for work and had the pleasure of meeting up with fellow Kombucha guru Ed Kasper, also known as The Happy Herbalist.  From his website:

Ed Kasper LAc. Licensed Acupuncturist and Medicinal Herbalist. A licensed health care professional trained and tested for competency in the prescription of herbal medicine by the State of California. Ed also practices homeopathy and is a member of SOHNA, the Society Of Homotoxicology of North America.

Ed first heard about Kombucha 10+ years ago through Chinese medicine. In fact, some of his cultures are from China thanks to his mother-in-law who is from Tianjin. She used to brew it herself in the 70’s in China. They brewed it in the continuous brew fashion.

The biggest question we discussed was “What is Kombucha?” Although there are several people making Kombucha, there has yet to be a standard working definition. Almost nobody tests for bacteria and yeast because it’s extremely expensive. Ed does test his for the acids, but not for the bacteria and yeasts. The bacteria is the important part of the Kombucha as it produces the acids like acetic acid and glucuronic acid, whereas the yeast produces alcohol and flavor.

For instance, beer & wine manufacturers precisely measure how much yeast and bacteria they are adding to their brew, however, Kombucha brewers can’t control the quantities of yeast and bacteria.

Another question we discussed was “Do you really need tea?” It has been established that the Kombucha needs the nitrogen (according to Gunther Frank). But that doesn’t mean that it has to come from tea. The yeast and bacteria vary and there is no uniformity across the board in terms of results. There are simply too many variables to keep it consistent. Therefore, Kombucha can be many things. To reduce confusion however and in searching for a standard definition, Ed believes that Kombucha should be made with tea (camellia sinesis)

Lactic acid isn’t in all Kombuchas. According to Ed, Harold Tieze says that Kombucha is a lactic acid ferment. GT doesn’t claim to have acetic acid, only lactic acid and the bacteria that create these acids aren’t able to produce glucuronic acid. So it is unclear as to whether GT’s has glucuronic acid or not.

Michael R. Roussin says the defining feature of Kombucha is the presence of glucuronic acid. He tested over 800 Kombuchas in his lab, did spectroanalysis, and found a lot of different stuff in Kombucha but 3 things repeatedly occurred – fructose (sugar), acetic acid, and glucuronic acid.(However, when I look at Michael’s site, he claims to not have found any glucuronic acid, so this is a bit confusing still.) Acetic acid creates glucuronic acid. You can have your Kombucha tested for $50-100, but you have to tell the lab what you want to test. Due to the difference of opinions from the different people who have researched Kombucha from Gunter Frank, to Harold Tietze, leads to there not being a working definition of what exactly comprises Kombucha.

Ed is most interested in researching what exactly comprises Kombucha in order to create a standard in the industry.

1. Water – Ed recommends Distilled Water because it’s the benchmark for purity. The thing that distilled water lacks is oxygen – which means essentially it is dead water and tastes terrible. The more oxygen in the water the better for the Kombucha. However, the best choice of water is what you are using in your daily life right now. He doesn’t suggest the extra expense simply for the Kombucha. I have to agree with Ed’s philosophy about using the water that you are drinking. Chlorine will adversely affect the Kombucha, but it can thrive in low amounts of it. Therefore, I continue to believe that for home brewing, filtered and boiled water will be okay.

2. Tea – medicinal uses for different types of tea, according to Chinese Medicine – inherent healing properties of the teas are passed on to the Kombucha. All teas are diuretic and will cause some water loss.

White Silver Needle Tea – When Ed tested this Kombucha, it came out with a higher amount of glucuronic acid than other teas. He recommends a premium white tea (not cheap brand) as it will also create more carbonation and thicker SCOBYs.

Green tea – in TCM is perceived as “cooler” which would make it ideal for a summer brew.

Black tea – Has more purines, and in TCM is considered warmer which makes it more of a winter brew as it is better for circulation and is invigorating.

Ed did approve of the shortcut method that I teach in order to cool the tea as fast as possible so that pathogens won’t have an opportunity to affect the SCOBY. That is why it is important to use the starter in order to lower the pH of the surface area to protect the SCOBY from infestation by mold.

3. Sugar – Kombucha doesn’t care what kind of sugar you use, but it will affect its performance level. You can use xylitol (tastes terrible), maple syrup, honey (not raw). However, if you can’t bake with it, then you can’t brew with it. That is why stevia is not able to be used since it doesn’t ferment. The amount of sweetener you need to use has to match sugar’s glucose level .

The chemicals in white refined sugar aren’t bad for the Kombucha but they are bad for you  Real sugar helps the SCOBY look good. Fructose creates acetic acid (but not glucuronic acid). Corn sugar (dextrose) works, but takes longer, and creates a thicker taste like beer. White sugar is high octane and easier for the bacteria and yeasts to break down. Molasses is fermentable but will take longer to break down which means you may have to use more, brew longer, or raise the temperature to speed up fermentation. The minerals in the sugars don’t affect the Kombucha, they affect you. Not all of the sucrose is consumed because a portion of it is unfermentable. You will consume a slight amount of sugar. I still prefer to use Organic, Fair Trade Evaporated Cane Juice as I appreciate the health benefits and the human benefits of using this kind of sugar.

4. Heating Pad – Ed recommends using a heating pad because it makes the Kombucha more uniform in taste and creates a thick, creamy SCOBY. Harold Tietze & Gunther Frank both used heating pads for their Kombucha. You can tell how the ferment is doing by looking at the SCOBY. 80-84 degrees produces a more consistent quality of SCOBY and flavor of Kombucha.

However, according to Ed, Len Pozio favors cold brewing (brewing at a low temperature.) Len believes that the heating pad only heats the bottom of the vessel, so the bottom yeasts are going to proliferate faster. Len brews for at least 14 days. More about taste than health benefits. Len Pozio says that the Kombucha needs a long time to ferment for the fullest expression of all of the acids.

Without a heating pad, depending on your local climate, you may produce an erratic ferment if temperature varies greatly from day to night. However, Harold Tieze says that this temperature disparity adds to the variety of bacteria and yeast present.

5. pH strips – I have never used pH strips, but after my conversation with Ed, I feel convinced to test my own Kombucha. Once you know the taste of your Kombucha, and have tested that it is the proper pH, then you don’t need to use pH strips. If you have a fresh ferment, but if the pH is still at 4.5 or 5.0 and you bottle it and leave oxygen in it, it could be pathogenic because the acids aren’t low enough to preserve it. The proper pH for Kombucha is in the range of 2.5-3.0. Acetic acid isn’t an indicator of pH.

Ed recommends testing the pH in beginning, water = 7, and you will want to watch the pH go down from 7.0. When the taste is semi-sweet, in the range of 3.0 then it’s anti-pathogenic.

6. Other tips
*You don’t need to rinse out your jars because Kombucha is at a pH similar to vinegar and therefore self-preserving.

*Recommends keeping a spare on hand in case your brew should have any problems with mold.

*Some people put crystals in the Kombucha to help the brew. Katalyst is an East Coast brand that brews theirs with crystals.

*Ed doesn’t recommend it for pregnant or nursing women, just in case there is any mold that might get in it and adversely affect the fetus. He recommends using caution. Many people use it with no harmful affects, but if it’s 1 in 5000, that’s still too high of a risk. In fact, Ed doesn’t vaccinate his children because the odds of 1 in 1,000,000 is also too high of a risk to take. That being said, his children do not consume Kombucha. He believes that immunity should be developed naturally rather than using Kombucha to do that for them. Also children don’t need more energy, nor do they need to detox.

*Older people need it for digestion, to reduce constipation, and to detox.

*Only give Kombucha to people who’s health isn’t severely compromised. The body can only cure itself if it has some energy left. Using Kombucha, Chinese medicine or homeopathy may weaken the body further by causing healing “stress.” More isn’t necessarily better.

*Some people will have adverse affects from the Kombucha i.e. fever, flu symptoms, could be from detox or allergic reaction.

*Keep the Kombucha in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Bacteria like more surface area to enable oxygen exchange.

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