What is Kombucha?

by Don Bingham

Kombucha is a probiotic, microbiological food that helps regenerate the bowel flora and is excellent for well-being.

A popular health-promoting beverage and natural folk remedy made by fermenting tea, Kombucha is a colony or culture of yeast and other microorganisms embedded in a pure cellulose “pancake.” When the “pancake” is grown in a blend of tea and sugar, it transforms the liquid into a refreshingly and lightly sparkling, sweet and sour drink with a fruity fragrance full of health giving acids and nutrients.

Probiotic drinks are good for us. They aid digestive health and give our digestive system balance. Probiotics means “for life.” It is used to describe products that include microorganisms that are beneficial to health.

Prescription medicines, stress, sickness and especially antibiotics can all disrupt the bacterial balance because as well as killing off the bad bacteria they also kill off the good bacteria. Therefore, we need to restore the balance. Probiotics need to be taken regularly to maintain levels of good bacteria.

Chef Dan Darrah, one of the three chefs at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, keeps Kombucha Tea in the fermenting process on a regular basis. Originally from San Diego, he studied at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland and came to Arkansas as the executive sous chef at the Alotian Club in Little Rock. Chef Darrah has become proficient in healthy-nutritious dishes. Equally as good in pastries and savory dishes, his passion is to cook with flavors and textures that do not sacrifice the delight of the participant for a rich, but healthy experience in the culinary arts.

Chef Darrah explains, “I have been researching, brewing and consuming Kombucha for over five years now. The ever growing knowledge basis has enabled me to become a successful producer of this enigmatic brew. With all of the conflicting research, or lack thereof, I have come to a few conclusions that now are ‘truths’ for myself and my family.”

First, do not believe everything you read.

“The health benefits are so heavily debated that each person who decides to invest their time into Kombucha must decide where they stand on their own. It is evident that this is a black or white point of view. You either believe or you don’t. In my experiences, I have come to the conclusion that it is beneficial for my family. My IBS and acid reflux has effectively gone to the wayside, my energy levels are slightly better when I drink my daily glass (or two), our family is sick less often due to the immune boosting properties, and between this and my Bromelain usage, my joints hurt less at the end of the day. We chefs are on our feet the entire day and the combination has made a noticeable difference.”

Secondly, the environment in which the brew is conceived is of the utmost importance to the effectiveness and safety of the final product.

“In the early stages, I learned that it should not be left in the kitchen where so many other living organisms are so prevalent. These greatly affect the health of your SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). It is much safer to keep it in a dark room or at least a lowly lit room to ensure the health of this living organism.

“Another exciting discovery is that once I had a strong SCOBY working its magic, I could play with the addition of different flavors of tea and fresh ingredients to enhance the flavor of the final product. The continuous brew method I have adopted here at the mansion has become the strongest concoction to date. Because of its vitality, I now am able to mix in Hibiscus tea, which has added a wonderful flavor profile. I also have been experimenting with fruits and herbs to create some amazing, some unusual, and some downright awful flavors. Some of our favorites have been pomegranate, strawberry, blueberry and ginger, apples and cinnamon, blueberry/strawberry/ginger/apple, and orange or lemon. I strongly recommend staying away from fresh mint, herbs de provençe, cloves, and rosemary. Clove wasn’t so bad, just overpowering. It gives it a very strong earthy flavor, which overpowers the essence of the herb itself. I refuse to give up completely on mint; further experimentation will create a wonderful brew. I’m sure of it.

“Don’t let the naysayers change beliefs without having factual evidence to support their arguments.

“So many people have tried to sway me from what trial and error, experience and research has taught me over the years. From the ‘hocus pocus’ and ‘snake oil’ references by the uneducated to the believed adverse effects on my body by my doctor, I have heard it all. He wants me to discontinue use and switch to taking three separate medications to relieve my IBS and acid reflux. Why quit drinking something natural only to ingest three prescriptions that have other undesirable side effects? I think not. I will stick with what my body and mind tell me is best.”

Chef points out the similarities between Kombucha and Apple Cider Vinegar with the “mother” (in the vinegar making process, it is the bacteria and yeast formation created atop of the liquid). Not only do they both have the same brewing process but the SCOBY that is the life blood of either is strikingly similar. Also, the statement that no two brews are the same, which is extraordinarily true, applies to either. Both feed off of the external forces in nature that live in their respective environments. “The yeast and bacteria strains produced are nearly the same (I’m not a scientist, but my research has enabled me to believe so). They both have the same Ph changes to the body, similar results for blood sugar levels and many more.

While the latter has strong support for these healthy results through science and testimony, the former is still waiting for the verdict to come in.

“I use both regularly and I have formed my own ‘truth’…I am a believer.”

Kombucha Tea

1 cup sugar
6-8 bags tea – for loose leaf, 1 bag of tea = 1 teaspoon
1 cup starter liquid
Purified/bottled water
Tea kettle
Brewing vessel
Cloth cover
Rubber band

Boil 4 cups of water.

Add hot water and tea bags to pot or brewing vessel.

Steep 5-7 minutes, then remove tea bags.

Add sugar and stir to dissolve.

Fill vessel most of the way with purified water, leaving just 1-2 inches from top for breathing room.

Add SCOBY and starter liquid.

Cover with cloth cover and secure with the rubber band.

Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional but recommended).

Set in a warm location out of sunlight (unless vessel opaque).

Do not disturb for seven days.

After seven days, or when you are ready to taste your brew, gently insert a straw beneath the SCOBY and take a sip. If too tart, then reduce your brewing cycle next time. If too sweet, allow to brew for a few more days. Continue to taste every day or so until you reach your optimum flavor preference. Your own Kombucha Tea Recipe may vary.

Decant & flavor (optional).

Drink as desired! Start off with 4 to 8 ounces on an empty stomach in the morning, then with meals to help with digestion or as your body tells you it would like some more. Drink plenty of water as it is a natural detoxifier and you want to flush the newly released toxins out.


Recognized throughout the state as an accomplished chef, Don Bingham has authored cookbooks, presented television programs and planned elaborate events. Today, he is the administrator for the Governor’s Mansion.


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