What is kombucha, exactly? We delve into the secrets behind this allegedly magical fermented elixir.
Kombucha is kinda having a moment now… well, it has been for a few years. There are dozens of local and national brands making their claim on the ‘booch market. But what is kombucha, exactly? And more importantly, is kombucha good for you?
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fizzy, fermented tea beverage that is centuries old. Made using tea, sugar, and a funky culture called a SCOBY, the mixture ferments for about a week before being drunk as a deliciously refreshing – and purportedly amazing – health tonic.
Kombucha can be made from any variety of tea (black, green or white), and increasingly from herbal mixtures to keep it caffeine free.
The tea is brewed, sugar is added, and then the SCOBY is added to begin the fermentation process. Often the SCOBY referred to as a ‘mushroom,’ but it is not a true fungus. Instead, the SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of beneficial bacterias and yeasts. Wikipedia explains all the good stuff in the culture:
“A SCOBY [is] similar to mother of vinegar, containing one or more species each of bacteria and yeasts, which form a zoogleal mat known as a ‘mother.’ The cultures may contain one or more of the yeasts Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, and Zygosaccharomyces bailii.”
And now for the food magic! The unique combo of bacteria and yeast biochemically react to the sugars, breaking it down to create a wealth of probiotics (beneficial microorganisms), trace amounts of alcohol, and carbonation. The resulting drink is moderately fizzy, mildly sweet, slightly vinegary, tart and totally refreshing.
But is Kombucha good for you?
In popular culture, kombucha is purported to prevent cancer, boost the immune system, reduce the impact of aging, and improve digestion and liver function – some people consider it a fountain of youth! But this superfood is increasingly coming under scrutiny for its anecdotal benefits and potential problems.
In this post from Food Renegade, it seems there are unending benefits to kombucha! But many of these claims– here and in other blog posts and kombucha websites– are only tenuously linked to actually science and little citation is offered. You can see this here in this post on Food Republic, too. Both of these sites seem to focus on more of the supposed benefits– and anecdotal evidence– rather than actual research.
So what is the science? As reported on Mic, “[Kombucha] believers credit the tea with everything from improving digestion to curing cancer. Others say it can lessen joint pain, liver problems and more. If it makes you sick, kombucha can probably fix it. Or not. As Andrea Giancoli, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told NPR, ‘There is really very little evidence to support any kind of claims about kombucha tea. So we don’t know if it does anything at all.'”
NPR’s food blog, The Salt, writes that while most of the benefits of kombucha are probably overstated, it is clear that this funky, fermented beverage is full of good bacteria known as probiotics. Research shows that good bacteria can be so good for our whole body, and while kombucha offers a good dose of probiotics, you can probably get them from other (safer) sources.
While I was pretty on the fence with this research, there was one nail in the coffin that’s going to make me reconsider any ‘booch bottles henceforth. When I consulted my favorite source for smart nutrition, Dr. Michael Greger’s Nutrition Facts, I was pretty surprised that he thinks the science on kombucha is clear: kombucha is not good for us. The Mayo Clinic also recommends that kombucha should be avoided.
In this short video Dr. Greger explains that the science reports that kombucha has been linked to life-threatening lactic acidosis. While the science is not clear exactly how it happens, the evidence is enough for Dr. Greger to not recommend drinking kombucha at all!
How to Make Kombucha
If you want to throw caution to the wind, or if you’re not convinced yourself whether it’s good or bad, you can continue to shell out $4-6 per bottle of your favorite brand of ‘booch. Or you can take the DIY route and make your own! Our friends at Eat Drink Better have a great tutorial for how to make kombucha, including three different ways to get a SCOBY for fermentation fun.
Please remember: we’re bloggers, not doctors! Please see your health care practitioner before beginning any supplementation program.