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Kombucha: An Effervescent Way to Combat Food Waste

One of the ways that The Culinary Vegetable Institute works in synergy with The Chef’s Garden is to find solutions for the food waste that is an inevitable outcome of every farm throughout America.

The national percentage of ingredients that are grown but never consumed stands at a staggering forty percent. This number is the result of several different factors at the CVI, it is a digit we are in a perpetual battle to reduce.

Our minds are constantly imagining ways to eliminate waste as we conjure methods to transform every item that is not sold to our chefs into products like vinegar, hot sauce and miso.

We never see a vegetable peeling as something to be discarded without a use. We never throw our vegetable tops into the rubbish bin.

We are always striving to transform them into something even more extraordinary than they were before. It’s one of the most gratifying elements of our work here at the CVI. Nothing is ugly to us here, nothing is without merit.

One of the recent projects we’ve embarked upon in our efforts to eliminate waste is through the effervescent power and appeal of kombucha. We like to think of this product as the vibrant tea that could and is currently transforming countless ingredients into it in our kitchen at the CVI.

One of the food waste struggles we are fighting is what to do with all of the product we have leftover following one of our events. We are always left with an abundance of stems, leaves, seeds, blossoms and tops, ingredients we would never consider discarding but that leave us brainstorming for a solution.

Of course, there are many elements that are perfect dancing partners for botanical teas but let’s face it, a radish top tea does not sound all that appealing. Enter kombucha, a catchall for virtually any leftover herb, flower or vegetable product.

We toss nearly every remaining fresh vegetable in all its incarnations following an event into a container and cover it with distilled water. One key is not to ever use water from the tap because the typically high fluoride and chlorine content of standard tap water will kill kombucha’s flavor. Distilled water is the solution and once it’s added to our floral and vegetal base, we cover it and let is steep for between three to five days.

The next step is to strain it and then, for every gallon of liquid, we add one cup of white sugar. This might seem like it would result in a kombucha that was too sweet and at first it’s true.

That’s where the role of the “mother” or the “scoby” comes in. The yeast in a scoby is starving for sugar and after it’s introduced to the kombucha, it gets to work, consuming sugar as fast and as furiously as it can.

We let the scoby do its thing for between two to three weeks. The warmer the environment, the faster it will work its magic. Throughout this process, it elevates the brightness, drastically tempers the sweetness and intensifies the vibrancy. It’s also during this time that the kombucha’s effervescence emerges.

The result is a kombucha that is a direct extension of The Chef's Garden, a mirror of the farm in all its complex, dynamic, thriving beauty. We've begun incorporating kombucha into our events. There's a marigold and nasturtium kombucha that we've recently worked into a cocktail and there's so much on the kombucha horizon here at the CVI that we invite you to come and experience for yourself.

What's most exciting about our kombuchas is that much like our CVI events, no two are ever exactly the same. Explore the effervescent world of kombuchas for yourself. Every sip will be an adventure!

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