For the past few years kombucha has been popping up in health stores everywhere. You might even know someone who brews their own kombucha. But what is kombucha? And is it actually good for you? Or is it a trendy beverage for yogis? We break down the facts and myths.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from black tea and sugar. One thing sets it apart from other beverages. It’s the thing that gives it its health benefits: the SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. If you’ve ever witnessed kombucha-brewing, the SCOBY is the weird looking rubbery disc that floats around in the bottle. It is the collection of living microbes that turns the sugar into healthy acids and probiotics. As unattractive as it looks and sounds, it’s the key ingredient to making kombucha.
How to Make Kombucha
Kombucha is brewed in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, in an airtight container in which the SCOBY seals off the liquid from the air. Although the initial ingredients require sugar, the SCOBY consumes over 90% of the sugar during the fermentation process. This is what allows the final product to be a low-sugar, probiotic beverage!
The process typically takes around 7-12 days, depending on the temperature and the strength of the SCOBY. The SCOBY is often referred to as “The Mother” because it is the parent culture creating the tea. You may have heard of people gifting “SCOBY babies” to each other. It can actually create a second culture on top of itself which can then be used to brew other batches of kombucha. A strain, if cared for properly, can actually last for years!
Health Benefits of Kombucha
You may have just started hearing about it, but this beverage originated in the Far East over 2,000 years ago! It’s quite popular in China, Russia, and Germany. They call it the “Immortal Health Elixir” in Chinese culture.
- A diverse microbial population
- Higher concentrations of good bacteria
- Controlled amounts of yeast and other microbes
- Limited bad bacteria.
Bacterial Strains Found in Kombucha (1):
- Gluconacetobacter population over 85%
- Lactobacillus population up to 30%
- Acetobacter population under 2%
Kombucha also contains other active compounds, mainly polyphenols (aka natural healthful chemicals). These polyphenols have antioxidant activity, vitamins (C, B1, B6, B9, B12, K), and minerals (Mg, Ca, Fe) (2). This makes kombucha a nutrient-rich beverage option.
Additional acids (specifically gluconic acid, glucuronic acids, acetic acid, usnic and lactic acids (2) (3) provide a range of health-promoting benefits. From powerful antioxidant properties to help maintain electrolyte balance, they become the “fermenters.”
Established Probiotic Benefits (4):
- Prevention of intestinal tract infections
- Improvement of lactose metabolism
- Reduction of serum cholesterol levels
- Enhanced immunity
- Stimulated calcium absorption
- Improved protein digestibility
- Synthesis of vitamins
- Counteraction of negative food-borne pathogen effects
The Downsides of Kombucha
Sugar: To flavor kombucha, juice, herbs, or fruit are added to the batch of fermented tea. Though the fizzy fermented beverage is better than soda, sugar is still sugar. When purchasing kombucha, check the ingredient label for added sugar content. Some flavors contain upwards of 20 grams of sugar per bottle!
Alcohol: Another source of controversy with kombucha is the small amount of naturally occurring alcohol. Store-bought brands often contain 0.5% to 1.0% of alcohol. This is labeled and requires an ID to purchase it. To put it into perspective, a six-pack of kombucha equals a single 12-oz beer. Pregnant or nursing moms, or those with a compromised immune system, should discuss consumption with a medical provider.
The Bottom Line
Kombucha is nutrient-dense, microbe-rich beverage option. Especially in comparison to other carbonated sugar-laden beverages on the market. Its probiotic and phytochemical contents give it a wide range of health benefits. Always look at sugar and alcohol content. Search for brands and flavors with lower amounts.