Why It Works
- Using parsley instead of kombucha's typical tea creates a less bitter, more subtle base that can then be used to show off more delicate fruity and herbal flavors.
- Parsley also contains no caffeine, making this kombucha variant caffeine-free or close to it (there may be some caffeine depending on the type of kombucha used as a starter).
- An intense strawberry-rhubarb syrup adds a concentrated dose of color and flavor for the finished drink.
At its core, kombucha is a simple ferment involving a two-stage fermentation with a relatively straightforward base of green or black tea. Beginners will probably want to start with a classic like this jasmine tea kombucha recipe, which offers in-depth explanations of the entire process. For brewers who want to get creative, the most obvious opportunity is adding flavorings, like fruit or herbs, during the second stage of fermentation. But you don’t necessarily need tea to successfully make a fizzy, fermented brew. In fact, the first fermentation is another area where you can customize flavors.
The truth is—and this may be a hot take—you don’t need tea at all to brew kombucha, or, at least, something that resembles kombucha. This recipe highlights the versatility of using a fresh herb in place of tea leaves in the initial brew.* Here, fresh parsley takes the stage, and its mild, earthy, and slightly vegetal quality provides the perfect gentle backdrop for delicate flavorings like strawberry and rhubarb to stand on their own.
*Kombucha purists may bristle at the idea of using fresh herbs or anything other than tea in the initial fermentation. But if world-renowned restaurants like Noma or fermentation specialists like The Cultured Pickle Shop are doing it, then I’d argue we’re in good company.
While tea often produces bitter or tannic notes in the finished beverage that can come across as pronounced, parsley has little to no bitterness to detract from the mild flavorings added in the second fermentation. The initial fermentation period also tempers the vegetal flavor of parsley, and the “tea” mellows out to a funkier, more complex profile. Finally, for those who are caffeine-sensitive, fresh herbs like parsley are a great alternative to using tea.**
**In some cases, a small amount of traditional starter tea (brewed with tea leaves) is required to initiate the first fermentation when using fresh herbs or other non-tea ingredients. So there may be a comparatively smaller—though not non-zero—amount of caffeine present in this type of kombucha.
For a more effective infusion in this kombucha variant, I found that chopping the parsley to increase its surface area helped, without releasing too much chlorophyll and coloring the tea too green. I also use a relatively large amount of parsley, since dried tea is far more concentrated by weight.
The second fermentation in this recipe involves making a concentrated fruit syrup. Many other kombucha recipes employ raw fruit or fruit purée—which tends to speed up fermentation and carbonation by supplying additional sources of wild yeast in addition to sugar. But for most applications, rhubarb needs to be cooked in order to neutralize the astringency (and slight toxicity) of oxalic acid present in its raw form. Gently simmering equal parts strawberry and rhubarb in just enough water and sugar yields an intensely concentrated, deep red syrup brimming with those late-spring/early-summer flavors. Since the syrup is cooked, the second fermentation tends to be a little slower than when using a raw fruit source, but it still happens! The result is a clean-tasting, effervescent beverage that fully showcases all the nuances of the classic strawberry-rhubarb combo.
- For the First Fermentation:
- 12 cups (2880ml) filtered or distilled water, divided
- 1 1/4 cups sugar (8 3/4 ounces; 248g)
- 2 ounces (60g) flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups parsley, jasmine, or green kombucha starter tea (see note)
- 1 SCOBY (see note)
- For the Second Fermentation:
- 1 pound (454g) fresh or defrosted frozen rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound (454g) fresh or defrosted frozen strawberries, hulled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups (355ml) filtered or distilled water
- 1/4 cup (50g) sugar
For the First Fermentation: In a large pot, bring 4 cups (960ml) water along with the sugar to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is fully dissolved. Off heat, stir in parsley and let steep until tea registers roughly 150°F (65°C), about 20 minutes. Stir in remaining 8 cups (1920ml) water and let cool until tea registers 85 to 90°F (30 to 32°C).
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a one-gallon glass jar that has been run through a dishwasher cycle or sanitized with a product like Star San. Strain parsley tea through it; discard parsley. Stir in starter tea until well distributed, about 15 seconds. Gently place SCOBY on top (you should have at least 2 inches of headspace in the jar after adding the SCOBY). The SCOBY may float or sink to bottom of jar; either is normal.
Cover jar with a double layer of coffee filters and secure with a rubber band. Store in a dark area between 70 and 80°F (21 to 27°C) and let ferment until kombucha tastes sour and small bubbles rise to surface, and a new layer of SCOBY has formed at surface, about 7 days and up to 4 weeks (pH should register roughly 2.9 on a pH meter or pH strips).
For the Secondary Fermentation: In a large non-reactive pot, combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and water and bring to boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and simmer until rhubarb is broken down and strawberries have no color, 15 to 20 minutes. Let mixture cool to room temperature, about 1 hour 30 minutes.
Strain syrup through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl, gently pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Let mixture rest until sediment settles at bottom, about 20 minutes. Carefully pour syrup into a clean container, making sure to leave sediment behind, then set aside; you should have about 2 cups (473ml).
Thoroughly wash and dry five 16-ounce (1-pint) twist-cap or flip-top glass bottles. Using clean hands, remove SCOBY from kombucha and place on plate. Then, using a funnel, fill each bottle with 1/3 cup (79ml) strawberry-rhubarb syrup. Stir kombucha with a wooden spoon, making sure sediment is evenly dispersed, then fill each bottle with kombucha, making sure to leave 1 to 1 1/2 inches of headspace in each bottle (you should have about 2 cups of extra kombucha that won't fit in the 5 bottles; this kombucha can be used as starter for your next batch). Seal bottles and store in a dark area between 70 and 80°F (21-27°C) until beverage reaches desired level of carbonation, 3 days to 2 weeks. Check one bottle periodically to monitor carbonation: it is ready when you see small bubbles rising fairly rapidly to the top, even when capped; if using twist caps, the cap will pop up slightly when a good level of carbonation is reaches; if using flip-top bottles, you may need to open one bottle to check the carbonation, resealing if there isn't enough fizz. When kombucha has reached desired level of carbonation, move bottles to refrigerator and store for up to 8 weeks.
To Continue Brewing Future Batches of Kombucha: Repeat Steps 1 to 4, using the leftover kombucha as starter along with reserved SCOBY and new batches of the strawberry-rhubarb syrup.
Large fine-mesh strainer, one-gallon glass jar, funnel, large coffee filters, five 16-ounce (1-pint) twist-cap bottles or flip-top bottles; dishwasher or a sanitizer like Star San (for cleaning vessels); pH meter or pH strips
Starter tea may be obtained commercially; we recommend an original, unflavored black or green tea kombucha for this. For best results, use jasmine or green tea kombucha from a previous batch, or parsley kombucha from a previous batch if you've made this recipe before.
The best source of a SCOBY is a friend or acquaintance who regularly brews kombucha. You can also buy them commercially, but note that SCOBY's that are sold dry or unsubmerged in starter liquid tend to perform weakly in comparison to those sold fresh and packaged in starter tea.
Make Ahead and Storage
The strawberry-rhubarb syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. The finished bottled kombucha can be refrigerated for up to 8 weeks.