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Q: So, what exactly is kombucha? Should I be drinking it?
A: With the rise in popularity of fermented foods, kombucha has come back on the scene in American culture. It is promoted to help with a whole list of health issues.
What is Kombucha?
This fizzy drink is a sweetened, fermented tea beverage that has roots in ancient times. Black tea is brewed, sweetened (with sugar), inoculated with a combination of bacteria and fungus (called SCOBY), and then fermented for 7-14 days. The process is very similar to how vinegar is created from wine. In fact both contain high amounts of acetic acid, the most recognizable astringent flavor in vinegar. The result is a bubbly, lightly sweet and astringent drink that is enjoyed by some and thought to be a super drink by many.
What Makes Kombucha Special?
Kombucha has been considered through centuries of history as a functional food to detoxify the blood, reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, have antibiotic properties, relieve headaches, and treat many, many more ailments.
One of the reasons this beverage is prized for promoting health is because of the microbes it contains that are responsible for the fermentation process. The specific bacteria and fungus in each batch is unique and not standardized. This is one of the reasons why it’s difficult to identify specific nutritional composition and health benefits of kombucha as a whole.
Other components that may have beneficial properties are the tea itself, which is naturally high in antioxidants, and the amount of organic acids created during fermentation.
At this time, most of the research on this drink has been conducted on rats or on single human cells. All of that is to say, there’s no solid backing for all the health claims made about the wonder drink. But a summary of the available research has made some suggestions about Kombucha’s potential health benefits:
- It is a source of B vitamins and some essential minerals.
- It can have higher antioxidant activity than unfermented tea.
- It could protect the liver from the negative effects of toxins (at least in rats).
- It may have anti-cancer properties.
Should Everyone Be Drinking Kombucha?
When it comes to food, even super “natural” ones, it’s never a one size fits all situation. First, if you are drinking a home brewed kombucha, be sure the person who made it (or you) really knows what they (you) are doing and uses sterile equipment. Kombucha that has been brewed for too long can produce dangerously high levels of some acids. There have also been some cases of severe illness, lead poisoning and gastrointestinal toxicity related to Kombucha consumption, although these are all very rare situations.
Second, there are two groups of people with whom it is recommended to avoid Kombucha. They are pregnant and lactating woman as well as those with compromised immune systems, specifically, those living with HIV/AIDS.
In general, it is considered a safe beverage to consume on a regular basis.
To Home Brew or Buy
There are now several larger scale, commercial companies that sell this drink. One such company is Kombucha Wonder Drink. I interviewed Bryan Summers, their Marketing Coordinator, about whether they encourage people to brew their own Kombucha or buy it. He says. “It’s ridiculously easy to make kombucha. It’s hard to make it taste good.” He encourages home brewing but enjoying a commercial kombucha on a regular basis to “check in” on your home brew flavor.
Kombucha can be pretty pricey to purchase on a regular basis so many fans choose to brew it at home. I recommend going to a trusted source to learn the ropes, and Summers recommends a book written by the Kombucha Wonder Drink founder, Stephen Lee, called Kombucha Revolution. This beautiful manual walks you through how to make kombucha and gives lots of recipes for unique flavors and applications, like cocktails.
Cheers to Kombucha!
While there is not strong enough evidence to prove all the health claims for drinking this fermented beverage, it is considered safe to drink when brewed correctly. The preliminary research is promising that it may truly be a wonder drink. But as always, it is a part of a healthy and balanced diet. There are so many other foods and beverages that we know have proven health benefits. So enjoy it all!
Jenna is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. More importantly, she is a mom to 2 little boys and wife to a football coach. She shares real life strategies for better health and doable and delicious recipes on her site Make Healthy Easy at www.JennaBraddock.com. She is active on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest sharing her real life antics. This post contains an affiliate link.
Vinegar: Medical Uses and Antiglycemic Effects. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1785201/. Accessed on May 27, 2015.
Jayabalan R. et al. A Review on Kombucha Tea — Microbology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Comp Rev in Food Sci & Food Safety. 13; 2014.