If you’re new to the world of fermented foods and drinks, you might just be dipping your toe into the realm of kombucha. It’s a fermented tea-and-sugar beverage that’s pretty commonly available in grocery stores, occasionally on tap at restaurants, and often brewing on top of your crazy, health-nut friend’s refrigerator.
“Traditional kombucha, or sugar kombucha, is the most common kombucha found commercially and found at home,” says Eric Childs—or Kombuchman (‘Buchman for short)—founder and CEO of probiotic-tea brewer and fermentation-homebrew supplier Kombucha Brooklyn and co-author of Kombucha! The Amazing Probiotic Tea that Cleanses, Heals, Energizes and Detoxifies (Avery, 2013).
This traditional kombucha is just the start of probiotic- and organic-acid-packed fermented beverages, though. A lesser-known cousin to kombucha, jun (pronounced either “joon” or “jun,” according to Childs), works using the same fermentation principles but different ingredients. Jun requires honey and green tea, whereas kombucha is produced with sugar and either green or black tea. Both fermented teas originated centuries ago in Asia. Childs says jun is thought to come from the Tibet region, specifically.
Also like kombucha, jun begins with a cellulose-patty starter, which goes by many names: symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), mushroom, culture or mother. Jun SCOBYs and kombucha SCOBYs are not the same—they can’t be mixed and matched. Rather, they have independently developed to be able to digest sugar (kombucha) and honey (jun). There are other differences, too.
“Jun SCOBYs are very white in color,” Childs says. “In traditional kombucha SCOBYs, you’ll see a variety of colors, from white to dark brown.”
The jun SCOBY has even more bacteria and yeast than a kombucha SCOBY (see it under a microscope in this photo from the KBBK blog [http://www.kombuchabrooklyn.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/honey_vs_sugar_SCOBY.png]), and also grows faster. Childs’ experience says they grow about twice as fast as kombucha SCOBYs. You might actually be startled, as I was, to find your SCOBY doubled overnight! One theory for this, says Childs, is “because honey has natural antimicrobial properties to it. In order for the SCOBY to survive, it learned to multiply quicker.”
Still, “a fatty SCOBY doesn’t necessarily mean the best SCOBY,” Childs continues, as it’s the bacterial population, not the size of the SCOBY that really matters in fermentation. There’s a slight difference in optimum temperature, too. A jun SCOBY will still have good fermentation action down to 64 or 65 degrees F, whereas a kombucha SCOBY slows fermentation around 68 degrees F.
Make Jun at Home
Making your own batch of jun at home is pretty simple. All you need are:
- a jun SCOBY, which can be purchased online or adopted from a friend’s culture
- green tea
- honey: 3/4 cup for every gallon of tea
- a glass fermentation vessel: If it has a spout, be sure the spout does not contain any metal parts that can be corroded by the acidic jun.
- a tight-knit clot:h to cover the vessel
- a string or rubber band: to secure the cloth to the vessel opening so bugs can’t get in
Childs says jun brews faster than kombucha, so start testing yours after a few days. The taste will change as the honey is digested by the SCOBY. You can do a second ferment with jun, too, bottling it and adding flavors. Adding anything beyond tea and honey is best done in a secondary vessel so your experiments don’t affect the SCOBY itself.
Is Jun For You?
“Is jun the better kombucha? We get asked that all the time,” Childs says. “I don’t think so. Is honey the better sweetener? Well, yeah.” He points out, though, that the sweeteners for both drinks are used to feed the SCOBY, not sweeten the brew.
When someone looks to Childs for advice on how to start brewing a fermented tea, he first points them to kombucha. Jun is more like the next level of fermented beverages. For starters, he points out that honey is expensive—way more so than sugar.
Having access to the right honey is important, too. Different types of honey yield different flavors. Childs swears by goldenrod honey from New York for KBBK’s jun brews.
Working with honey in this way requires a little more fermentation finesse, too.
“Fermenting honey has a smaller window of forgiveness in terms of the flavor profile,” Childs says. “When you ferment honey too much, you get really bready, fairly yeasty, not-so-pleasant flavors.” Though some people like this.
As word spreads about kombucha’s cousin, the jun market is expanding quickly. KBBK has seen a five-fold growth in its jun SCOBY sales in just two years. What was once a difficult brew to learn about is becoming more accessible to DIYers, and there’s no teacher like hands-on experimentation.
About the Author: Freelance writer Lisa Munniksma is a closet jun brewer—literally, she keeps her jun brewing in her closet and her kombucha brewing on top of the refrigerator. Read “News Hog,” her weekly blog about ag news and opinion, and “Freelance Farmer Chick,” her occasional writing about farming and traveling around the world.