Kombucha. If you’ve spent any time at your local health food store recently, you’ve likely seen or heard about this trendy tea. Despite all the sudden hype, kombucha is far from a new concoction. It was actually first brewed in Asia more than 2000 years ago and has maintained enormous popularity in China and surrounding countries. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and you can now find kombucha in a growing number of health food markets and cafés around the world.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink full of probiotics, antioxidants, and B vitamins. It's made from black or green tea.
But the question remains: What exactly is kombucha? Despite the fact that the tea drink is fermented, you’re not likely to get drunk off this stuff. Your average kombucha has less than 1% alcohol, so it’s generally safe for everyone when properly brewed. Read on to get the full breakdown on kombucha, including the health benefits and fermentation process.
Kombucha is fermented using what’s known as a SCOBY: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY resembles a large mushroom, but don’t be put off by it. It’s removed long before the tea is served, and it’s there to facilitate the fermentation process.
The live bacteria in the SCOBY are what turn the tea into authentic kombucha. Aside from the tea and the SCOBY, the only other ingredient needed is sugar, though some people also like to add fresh fruit, honey, or other flavor enhancers.
When trying kombucha for the first time, the first thing you’ll notice is the slight vinegar smell. The tea itself has a sweet, tart taste.
Health Benefits of Kombucha
Kombucha has been heralded for treating everything from arthritis to heartburn to depression, but a lot of these claims are anecdotal and still require more research. Because of the amount of bacteria present, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid kombucha.
With that said, clinical research has revealed a few promising health benefits. For instance, one study found that kombucha may improve HDL- and LDL-cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. That same study found that kombucha may slow the digestion of carbohydrates and improve blood sugar levels. Perhaps most impressive of all, kombucha may even slow the growth of cancer cells.
If you’ve never made kombucha at home, it’s best to purchase a kombucha starter kit, which can be found online. The kit will provide you with the necessary SCOBY, starter tea, and other ingredients, along with general instructions.
The preparation process is fairly easy. Just boil four cups of water and steep eight bags of your favorite tea. Stir in sugar to your liking and let it dissolve. Then let the tea cool. From there, add two cups of starter tea. This is tea from a previous batch of kombucha that adds acidity to the liquid and protects you from the bacteria.
Pour your mixture into a gallon-size jar and carefully add a SCOBY using clean hands. Cover the jar with several layers of cloth and rubber bands, and let it ferment at room temperature for at least a week. Then remove the SCOBY and pour out about two cups to set aside for your next batch of starter tea. Let the rest of the tea sit at room temperature for another three days, and then serve.
Amarasinghe H, Weerakkody NS, Waisundara VY. Evaluation of Physicochemical Properties and Antioxidant Activities of Kombucha "Tea Fungus" During Extended Periods of Fermentation. Food Sci Nutr. 2018;6(3):659-665.doi:10.1002/fsn3.605
Kaewkod T, Bovonsombut S, Tragoolpua Y. Efficacy of Kombucha Obtained from Green, Oolong, and Black Teas on Inhibition of Pathogenic Bacteria, Antioxidation, and Toxicity on Colorectal Cancer Cell Line. Microorganisms. 2019;7(12).doi:10.3390/microorganisms7120700