A bubbly, tangy drink, kombucha has taken the beverage industry by storm in the last few years and is expected to grow by over 50% in the next couple of years. With many purported health benefits and a unique flavor this ancient drink is a fresh addition to the supermarket drink aisle.
But what is kombucha?
It’s a type of tea. Like yaupon, kombucha is a variation on traditional tea. While yaupon differs from traditional tea because it comes from the yaupon holly rather than Camellia sinesis, kombucha uses traditional tea then takes the brew process a step further.
Kombucha can be made with green, black, white, oolong, and even yaupon tea. Makers add sugar, additional flavors or fruit juice, and a special compound to the base tea. This special compound is a mixture of live bacteria and yeast known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY’s mushroom-like appearance gives kombucha it’s other name, mushroom tea. Once the SCOBY is added, the concoction ferments for about 1-4 weeks.
The bacteria and the yeast within the SCOBY react with the sugars in the mixture to produce carbon dioxide (this makes the drink fizzy), alcohol (in variable quantities), and acid (this gives the drink a tangy flavor). The acidity generated by fermentation gives kombucha a vinegar-like taste that different brewers can cut through with added flavors and sugars. Fermentation also gives the kombucha its probiotic advantages. These probiotics boost the good bacteria in your stomach to improve your gut microbiome.
The fermentation process also generates a small amount of alcohol. In many brews, the amount isn’t high enough to make the drink count as alcoholic by government regulations, since it remains under .5% alcohol content. Some varieties are curated to a higher alcohol content or may be mixed with other drinks to increase their alcohol content. If you ever try to brew kombucha at home, this can also cause a higher alcohol level.
While kombucha tastes great and may provide a number of health benefits, many nutritionists advise moderation. Many of the health benefits attributed to kombucha haven’t been proven in human studies and are limited to rodent studies. Though these are promising for kombucha’s effects in humans, there is little science out there to support the claims. Homemade and unpasteurized kombucha products also run the risk of contamination and may cause intestinal problems or food poisoning. To stay safe, nutritionists recommend around 4oz of kombucha a day until you can build up greater tolerance.
It’s best to purchase brands in stores to avoid the potential pitfalls from home brews. One of our favorite kombuchas is YesFolk Tonics based out of New York. You can find all their delicious varieties here (including a CatSping yaupon based brew paired with apple and desert mint).
Kombucha is a delicious drink with a unique flavor unlike anything else on the beverage aisle. Try out different varieties to find your sweet spot. With hundreds of craft brewers, there’s a kombucha for everyone.