KOMBUCHA » what is it & why drink it?

What is this heavenly drink? What is it made from? Why drink it, if at all?

Let explore the answers to these questions...

The Basics

Kombucha: Defined

Kombucha is a refreshing, slightly sweet and slightly carbonated beverage made from sweetened tea that has been fermented with the assistance of a bacteria and yeast culture, called a 'SCOBY' which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

  • Fermentation: the chemical breakdown of compounds into simpler substances with the help of microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast. Other examples of fermented food and beverages include beer, wine, bread, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

I find people are hesitant to try kombucha for the first time and often ask, "What does it taste like?" I personally feel it tastes like a cross between an alcoholic cider and a sugary tea... because that's kind of what it is. If you let it ferment for longer than a week it also develops a rather vinegar-y taste which some prefer, while others dislike.

If you try kombucha and don’t like it, don’t lose hope! It’s like trying a beer or a wine for the first time and then saying you dislike all beers or all wines. Kombucha is not only an acquired taste for some, but there are so many different kinds! You might like pale ales but not pale lagers… you might like rieslings but not chardonnays. Likewise, kombucha can taste differently depending on the type of tea used (black, green, oolong, etc.), the length of fermentation (3 days vs 14 days), the flavourings added (plain vs. fruit flavoured vs. carbonated), and so on.

Kombucha: History

Kombucha may seem like a ‘new’ fad summertime drink, but it’s actually not new at all given that the earliest records date back to over 2000 years ago! Having originated in northeast China, the popularity of this beverage spread rapidly with documented confirmation in Russia and Korea in the year 414.

Kombucha: Health Benefits

This popular fermented beverage has been noted for its virtue of health promotion, both prophylactically and therapeutically.

Dietitian's Definition: "prophylactic" measures are intended prevent a disease before it occurs. This is different from "therapeutic" measures which are intended treat or heal an already existing disease.

So what are the benefits? You mean aside from the calmness of mind achieved when sipping on this refreshing drink on the patio while reading a guilty-pleasure novel in the summer heat?

  1. Antioxidants, vitamins & minerals. The benefits of drinking tea has been widely cited, and given that kombucha is prepared from tea it makes sense that kombucha contains polyphenols (antioxidants), flavonols (antioxidants), amino acids (protein building blocks), vitamins (including E, K, A), low levels of B vitamins, vitamin C (if prepared using green tea), and minerals (including potassium, manganese, and fluoride).

  2. Probiotics. Given that the drink is prepared using a culture of bacteria and yeast, it should come as no surprise that this beverage provides beneficial probiotics. The World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations define probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”

  3. Aids in digestion & immune function: We know that probiotics are essential in establishing and maintaining optimum immune health. This may be why kombucha has been highly regarded for its prophylactic properties.

  4. Alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. Given that it can be flavoured in several ways and is carbonated, it is a fantastic substitute for sodas which contain high levels of added sugars. It can also be enjoyed as a replacement for alcoholic beverages for those looking for reduce intake. It's important to note that sugar is still added to kombucha to feed the yeast, though a large portion of it is consumed and converted to carbon dioxide, which contributes to its fizziness.

Kombucha: Potential Risks

Although the benefits are many, I feel a responsibility to inform you of the two main potential risks when preparing your own kombucha at home:

  1. Under the non-sterilized conditions when made at home there is a possibility of contamination by potentially pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and yeasts. Although contamination is a risk, the brew is said protect itself against foreign microorganisms via two means:

  • competition between the many microorganisms in the SCOVY vs. the few the invaders, and

  • the low pH, or acidity, of the brew due to the presence of acetic acid which which kills gram positive and gram negative bacteria.

  1. If incorrect equipment is used toxic elements such as lead can leach into the beverage during preparation or from the storage vessel.

Kombucha: Cost

  • A 500 mL bottle of kombucha costs approximately $4-5 in Canada. This can add up if enjoyed regularly.

  • Making the brew at home is simple and much more affordable. After the initial investment in purchasing the container to house the brew and the SCOBY, making approximately 4L of kombucha now costs less than $4. The only items that need re-purchasing are the tea and sugar.

Kombucha: Summary

Aside from the refreshing taste, kombucha provides beneficial probiotics and antioxidant properties in beverage form. This ancient, fizzy, sugared-tea drink tastes delicious and costs much less to prepare at home, which also gives you the freedom to determine how you want to flavour it and how long you want it to ferment for.

For a step-by-step guide on how to make your own at home check out the post on a Beginner’s Guide to Kombucha.

Happy sipping and welcome to the world of kombucha!

Want To Learn More?

Read this previous nutrition article called BENEFITS OF SOAKING » nuts, seeds, beans & grains

What About You?

What's your favourite way to flavour kombucha? Or do you prefer it without flavourings? Let us know in the comments below or share your recipes with us on Instagram with the hashtag #pickuplimes.