I sat down with Mike and Jenni of Happy Leaf Kombucha and asked them how they creatively use kombucha in their kitchen. Which foods naturally pair best with its flavor profile? How did they incorporate kombucha into recipes? Their eyes immediately lit up as they shared their favorite ways to use kombucha. Kombucha-braised chuck roast? Kombucha frozen yogurt floats? I started taking down some notes.
I have recently been hooked on making my own drinking vinegars, or shrubs, and I have had fun finding other ways to use them in the kitchen, like in salad dressings or cocktails. I figured that kombucha is pretty versatile as well. It has all of the components of a refreshing, food-friendly libation: it is palate-cleansing, effervescent, lightly acidic, and a little mouth-wateringly sour.
How to Pair Kombucha with Food
- Pair like with like: Happy Leaf pairs their kombuchas with a seasonal "culture plate." It sports the likes of pickled beets, pickled onions, sauerkraut, seasonal sprouts, local bread, and pickles from the Real Dill, another local company that specializes in all things pickled. Mike's rationale is to pair "like with like." Fermented and pickled foods naturally complement the tart, sour notes in kombucha. I agree.
- Substitute kombucha for vinegar: Kombucha, similar to a drinking vinegar, is tart and bright in its flavor profile. If a recipe calls for a little vinegar, like a pasta salad, try tossing in a little kombucha. For example, try substituting a little kombucha for vinegar in your favorite vinaigrette. Just add a little lemon, if you need some extra tartness. This works especially well if you make a batch of kombucha and it turns out a little vinegary.
- Avoid pairing kombucha with these foods: I asked Mike and Jenni if there is a food pairing that just doesn't work with kombucha. As a sommelier, this question is always on my mind. Mike mentioned that kombucha never tastes good after a cup of coffee. The theory is that pairing bitter foods with higher-acid foods isn't pleasant, and the floral and fruity notes of the kombucha are lost.
How to Use Kombucha in Recipes
- Kombucha Vinaigrette: Mike and Jenni agreed that using kombucha in salad dressings is genius. I have been dying to try this Fig Kombucha Vinaigrette I pinned earlier this spring. Again, adding kombucha in a vinaigrette adds a kick of acidity and bright, fruity notes.
- Kombucha Sorbet or Kombucha Frozen Yogurt Floats: Happy Leaf has partnered with a local ice cream company, Sweet Action, to produce a kombucha sorbet. You heard me right. They also suggest adding a scoop of frozen yogurt to a glass of kombucha.
- Kombucha Marinades: The first culinary use for kombucha that Mike mentioned was chuck roast marinated in his cranberry-lavender kombucha. That got me to thinking about marinating a pork loin with homemade ginger kombucha. Add a side of sauerkraut and pair with a glass of kombucha, and you've got an amazing dinner.
- Kombucha Cocktails: It sounds counter-intuitive to pair a healthy, supposedly detoxing drink with alcohol, but kombucha makes a surprisingly good mixer in cocktails. These Ginger Kombucha Cocktails mix vodka, mint, and lemon together with puckery ginger kombucha. This Sparkling Watermelon and Berry Kombucha Sangria will definitely make it to my back porch sometime this summer.
Thanks, Mike and Jenni, for the suggestions!