Monday, 6 June 2016


Kombucha is a home fermented probiotic drink. It tastes quite like a nice fizzy lemonade. I am enjoying it from the fridge in these summer days. You make Kombucha from a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) which is like a flat mushroom which grows on top of the fermentation.

The culture, also sometimes referred to as the "mother," resembles a light brown, tough, gelatinous disk, which is a living, growing organism. With each batch of the tea, the organism can regenerate and create a new culture called the "baby," which can be shared with a friend much like the sharing of a sour dough starter.

It may have been introduced to Japan by a Korean physician by the name of Kombu around 415 AD. Today the tea - once routinely used by Samurai - is widely used again in Japan. Kombucha appeared in Germany about the turn of the century from Russia. This fermented tea drink became quite popular across Europe until World War II with the shortage of tea and sugar.

For hundreds of years a tea has been made from Chaga (a birch-tree mushroom) by the Russian peasants of the Alexandrove district near Moscow to cure cancer. There is speculation that the Kombucha mushroom is related to the Birch-tree mushroom.
Visitors to Russia can observe the following typical sight on Moscow street corners: a large metal drum, larger than a beer keg, turned sideways and mounted on wheels. A spigot on one end releases a brown bubbly liquid into a glass. Customers line up to pay for a draught, down it in several gulps and return the glass to the vendor who wipes it clean for the next customer.

The beverage enjoyed by Muscovites, other city dwellers and villagers throughout Russia is kvass, a lacto-fermented beverage made from stale rye bread. It tastes like beer but is not alcoholic. Kvass is considered a tonic for digestion, an excellent thirst quencher and, consumed after vodka, an antidote to a hangover.

It is also recognized that kvass is safer to drink than water. Tolstoy describes how Russian soldiers took a ladle full of kvass before venturing from their barracks onto the Moscow streets during a cholera epidemic. Because kvass protects against infectious disease, there is no worry about sharing the glass.

Russians have been enjoying kvass for at least one thousand years. Wrote Pushkin: “Their kvass they needed like fresh air. . . ” Lomonosov, a prominent scientist of peasant origins lived in “unspeakable poverty” as a student. “With a daily allowance of three kopecks, all I could have by way of food was half a kopeck’s worth of bread and half a kopeck’s worth of kvass. . . I lived like this for five years, yet did not forsake study.”

Sometimes called "mushroom tea," kombucha has been associated with a long list of health benefits.  It's helpful bacteria that support digestion and the immune system. It also contains enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants and polyphenols. But relatively little scientific evidence has confirmed the health claims of traditional cultures drinking the tea.  Recently, researchers from the University of Latvia gathered 75 studies attesting to the proven health properties of kombucha.[1]

For each litre of Kombucha you make, the recipe is:
1 litre water
1 green tea bag
1 black tea bag
4 Tablespoons Sugar (80-100g)

Be careful not to use hot tea near the SCOBY & allow I to cool.
Sterilise thoroughly, unless you are using a batch process.
Initial fermentation: 7-14 days. Secondary fermentation can be more than a month (I’ve never reached a limit where it becomes unpalatable).

[1] Ilmara Vina et al, "Current Evidence on Physiological Activity and Expected Health Effects of Kombucha Fermented Beverage." J Med Food 17 (2) 2014, 179–188 DOI: 10.1089/jmf.2013.0031

North Utsire

The Love Sick Monk

Another cartoon from The Book of Zen: Freedom of the Mind (Asiapac Comic Series) by Chih Chung Tsai (Illustrator), Koh Kok Kiang (Translator)

By North Utsire

Love Locks By The Docks

North Utsire

Liverpool Tall Ships: Mersey River Festival

North Utsire

Muhammad Ali

Any lingering vestige of the 20th century has ended with the passing of Muhammad Ali.  Thus it can be said he defined an era; the space race, civil rights struggles, mass media, Vietnam, and the Cold War. Ali is bound up with that time like  a name running through a stick of rock. With all the TV over his death, it gave me a bit of time to reflect on a couple of things.

Firstly, you would think getting thumped round the head repeatedly would be bad for brain health. Its just a kind of intuition most people have; that the prolonged boxing career Ali emarked on would make you punchy and trigger Parkinson’s (7 years as a journeyman boxer even after the onslaught of the Rumble In The Jungle). But there is no scientific evidence for that. I put this down to the small sample sizes and may be the methodology/ experimental design; you know how narrow the scientific community can be sometimes. But you would expect dementia to be a much more likely outcome from a long boxing career; with Parkinson’s it is the basal cells of the cerebellum (hindbrain) which degenerate.

Observing early footage of Ali, he is the exact opposite of a Parkinson’s patient; look at the table below.

Ali with Parkies
Ali in early years

Slow speech
Slow Movement
Shuffling Gait
Mechanical movement
Motor mouth,
Florid spontaneous poetry
Mohammed Ali Shuffle
Graceful movements, Hyperkinesis

I got round to thinking, maybe Ali had a congenital problem with dopamine secretion; in the early years expressing too much to the extent of being fidgety, and later on in a stage of disintegration. Of course, this could be a problem of unbalanced neurotransmitter secretion, or of receptor cells.

The stress curve of Hans Selye (1936; General Adaptation Syndrome) could be used to show a long period of hyper- arousal/ resistance phase/ eustress where the basal cells are responding to a pathology as yet undetected. He was certainly a force of nature at that time, prone also to fits of depression, nonsensical rambling and occasional outbursts of anger. This reminds me of an ADHD picture.

The other thing I thought (which I lament on his behalf) is that after that epic fight, Ali didn’t resign as he intended, but as mentioned went on to undertake a gruelling 7 year parade of head blows and knock outs. Had he resigned, perhaps he would have arrested his Parkinson’s sufficiently to maybe run as a Senator like Jesse Jackson, run a charity, or a community boxing project. I realise this blows somewhat in the face of my original idea (that his Parkinsons was a kind of teleological or genetic outgrowth) but maybe his pathological need for fighting was also part of the condition. Of course, both the endogenous (genetic) and the environmental (boxing) explanations could be simultaneously true. Whichever was true, we will never know, and sometimes its worth reminding ourselves that obscure neurological or endocrine illnesses can be wonderfully associated with genius as part of a whole package. Whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous is ultimately a value call which is subject to fashion. Ali shall remain as an icon of persevering against all odds.

North Utsire