Ribena Kombucha (CABAR #4)
CABAR is a series of dishes where I Cook with A Broken ARm, because, well, I broke my arm (from playing frisbee of all things). The word cabar also means ‘challenge’ in Malay, which is mighty apt, because it's been a challenge cooking with my temporary disability. By virtue of this, the recipes in this series are a lot simpler, and technically doable with just one arm. Fret not though, they all still have that kooky hint of Malaysian/Asian influence, which I know you've come to love on the blog!
- - -
Everything has its opposite. Good and evil, light and darkness, Obama and Trump, Siti Hasmah and Rosmah, Malaysian bak kut teh and Singaporean bak kut teh… The list goes on. And then you have kombucha, a tangy, bubbly fermented drink which at first might not seem to have an obvious opposite. But let me tell you, it’s Ribena.
Here are five (satirical) reasons why:
While kombucha is supposedly healthy for you, Ribena is supposedly bad for you. (I say ‘supposedly’ because the evidence for both is kinda iffy.)
The best kombucha uses real fruit juice in it, but the best Ribena is made from concentrate, i.e. fake fruit juice.
While kombucha might be seen as a quintessentially faddy Californian drink, it actually has origins in Asia. Conversely, while Ribena might seem Malaysian, or Asian at least (or is it just me who thinks this?), it was actually a recipe concocted by the British.
While the taste of kombucha continues to improve with the ages, thanks to more restaurants and chefs experimenting with it, the taste of Ribena continues to go down the drain. Remember the deep, honeyed, blackcurrant-rich Ribena flavour of the 00s? Well you can’t get that anymore, because apparently the manufacturers changed the recipe and now all Ribena is is a bunch of diluted artificial sweeteners and thickeners. Heartbreaking.
Finally, while kombucha might bring to mind the boujee upper-middle class, Ribena can be said to a drink for the lower-middle class, if there was ever a class representative drink.
And just like how there can be no light without darkness, no good without evil, no Golden Compass movie without the novel, there can be no kombucha without Ribena. ...well okay there can be, but stick with my faulty logic here, because the concept of them being opposites is reason enough for me to put them together to make a truly (oxy)moronic drink. All in the name of crazy, mad scientist experimentation.
And guess what, it turned out to be a lot less vile than I thought it would be! The booch mellowed out the basic saccharine sweetness of the Ribena and added a lot more depth and complexity to the drink, and it sorta reminded me of the Ribena of my childhood. So all in all, it was quite a pleasant drinking experience!
Fair warning though, if you’ve never made kombucha before, it might help to make a plain kombucha first. Just get a SCOBY (which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, essentially the thing that ferments sweet tea into kombucha) from a friend or restaurant, and give it some tea to ferment for a week or two. If you don't know anyone with a SCOBY however, it is also possible to also grow your own SCOBY from scratch. I’m far from an expert on this, so here are a few kombucha guides (here and here) that you might find useful. They helped me a ton! Once you get a hang of it, feel free to experiment away with some wild wild flavours! 👨🔬
Next up – Coca-Cola Kombucha..?
P.S. Thank you Yohanna for the SCOBY!
- - -
Makes 1.5 litres of kombucha
150g sugar, granulated or caster
3 tea bags, black tea works best, alternatively you could use ~20g of loose tea leaves
100ml starter tea, from the previous batch of kombucha
300ml Ribena, I used pre-made packets, but you could use concentrate too, just dilute 3 tablespoons of concentrate in 300ml of water, or more if you have a sweet tooth
To make the tea base, add the water and sugar to a pot or saucepan and bring to a boil. Take it off the heat, add in the tea bags, and let it steep for an hour or two, until the water is cool to touch. Then, remove the tea bags and pour the sweet tea into a glass jar, preferably one with a large mouth.
Add in the SCOBY along with the starter tea, cover the jar with a few layers of cloth tightly secured with a rubber band or string, and leave to ferment for 1-2 weeks at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.
The SCOBY with turn the sugar in the tea into alcohol, and then into various acids. So with time, the kombucha will turn increasingly sour. Start tasting the kombucha after 7 days, and depending on your desired level of sweetness vs. sourness, you can halt the fermentation process and proceed to the next step.
Remove the SCOBY from the now fermented tea, along with a bit of the tea itself. You can place the SCOBY in another jar of sweet tea to immediately begin brewing another batch. But if you’re not quite ready for this level of kombucha committment, you can keep the SCOBY in an airtight container in the refrigerator, along with some starter tea, where it’ll happily hang out for a few weeks.
As for the fermented tea itself, mix in the Ribena (or any other fruit juice or herbs really), and strain this mixture into an airtight glass bottle (or two if it doesn't fit). Leave the kombucha out at room temperature for 2-3 days, which will further ferment and carbonate the tea. Then transfer it to the refrigerator, and it's ready to drink!