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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Food & Dining

Use caution when sipping kombucha tea

Tribune correspondent
Published:

Q: What is combucha tea and where can I get the stuff to make it? I heard someone talking about how good it is for you on the radio, but he said I needed to get a mother to start it. I'm not sure what kind of mother he meant!

Answer: Kombucha is made from tea that is fermented by yeast and bacteria. The combination of yeasts and bacteria form a jelly-like pancake in the jar or bottle. That is what is called the “mother,” or more commonly the “mushroom.”

There are a lot of sites selling the kombucha mushroom online. It isn’t just a plain mushroom, it's a combination of those special yeasts and bacteria. It is put in the tea with sugar and held at room temperature for about a week as the yeast and bacteria turn the sugar and tea into alcohol and acids.

Kombucha tea is sour and slightly alcoholic when it is finished. It has a long history of use in China, Russia and Japan, and many claims of health benefits. However there has not been any good study to see if kombucha really does any or all of the things that are claimed. There are a variety of illnesses, including at least one death, connected to drinking home-brewed kombucha.

If you want to try kombucha, it's probably a lot safer to purchase a commercial product, since you're less likely to have any toxic contamination in that. Either way, don't expect it to cure your illnesses.

Q: How can I use frozen strawberries? I seem to have plenty of recipes for fresh, but not many for frozen berries, and I have plenty of frozen berries in the freezer!

Answer: I'm guessing you're tired of strawberry smoothies! But there are plenty of other uses. If you time things just right, you can use frozen berries in fresh fruit salads. You just need to get the berries to the table while they're still slightly icy -- that will hold their shape and keep them from dripping all over.

Frozen berries can be used in just about any recipe that calls for chopping or mashing the fresh berries. So they can be chopped for use in muffins, sweet quick breads, cakes or pancakes. Thawed berries often don't keep their color very well, so consider adding some red food coloring to the batter to enhance the strawberry appearance. Chop them while they're still icy, not completely thawed and mushy.

Frozen berries can be cooked down to make syrup or toppings. They can be thawed, mashed and stirred into whipped topping or whipped cream to use on or in cakes, for parfaits or on pies. Chopped frozen or mashed berries can be stirred into gelatin for a variety of desserts. If they're chopped, mixed and served while the berries are still icy, you can use them in a variety of fruit salsas to serve with grilled meats or fish.

Depending on how they were frozen, you may be able to make jam or jelly with them, too. If they were frozen without added sugar, they're ready to go for any jam or jelly recipe. Just let them thaw, measure and use according to the directions for the sweet preserve. However, if they were sugared before they were frozen, you'd have to know the exact amount of sugar that was added to the fruit to be able to adjust for it in your recipe. And you'd have to use liquid pectin, not powdered. With liquid pectin, the sugar is added first, and since the fruit is already sugared, it will work. If you put the sugar in first, before the dry pectin, it's likely to not gel properly.


Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at mkeith@ufl.edu.


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