Many people know kombucha tea for its health-promoting benefits. But is it really good for you?
Once considered a relatively obscure health beverage, kombucha has gone mainstream.
Supermarkets around the world carry this type of tea. In 2017, sales reached more than $500 million in the U.S. alone. Food industry leaders predict global kombucha sales will be close to $2 billion by 2020.
Proponents have called it “the ultimate health drink” and the “tea of immortality.” Skeptics remain unconvinced. But what do we know?
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a sweetened, fermented tea.
The fermentation process creates, among other things, carbon dioxide (which gives the tea its fizz), alcohol. It also creates a variety of acids including acetic acid, lactic acid, propionic acid, glucuronic acid, and gluconic acid.
The taste of kombucha varies. But it typically has a slightly sweet, slightly sour, vinegary flavour and a light, effervescent feel. Some people say it resembles the taste of sparkling cider.
Flavoured kombuchas are made by adding fruit purees or fruit juice concentrates, herbs, spices, and other ingredients.
How Is Kombucha Made?
If you have attended any of my ferment workshops or own my cookbooks, I hope you can answer this question! If not, grab your copy in the SHOP and try it for yourself.
Traditionally green, black, or white tea (which all come from the Camellia sinensis plant) is used to make kombucha. Most herbal teas don’t have the nutrients needed to make the process work.
A sweetener is then added — usually sugar. Other sweeteners have been used, as well, such as honey and maple syrup.
Then, the mixture of tea and sweetener ferments with the help of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (also known as a SCOBY, or a “mother”).
A SCOBY is a thick, round, floating microbial colony that resembles a mushroom. The SCOBY is a self-perpetuating culture. This means it multiplies itself through the process of creating kombucha tea. (New starter colonies are sometimes called “babies.”)
After a period of time — anywhere between three and 30 days — the kombucha is ready to drink!
What About the Alcohol Content of Kombucha?
During the fermentation process, the culture turns sugar into ethanol, which is a type of alcohol. So the resulting beverage contains alcohol.
Kombucha typically contains about 0.5 to (rarely) as much as 2% alcohol. While the alcohol content is low, it can cause problems for some people. But for most people, it’s not much of an issue because it’s less than 1/10 the amount typically found in beer.
Tea is a remarkably healthy beverage. Its proven benefits range from helping fight cancer and improving bone strength to burning fat and protecting against cardiovascular disease. Kombucha comes from tea. So how does it stack up?
Studies on kombucha have found polyphenols, acids, and vitamins, which are in regular green and black tea. In fact, in one study, kombucha tea had more antioxidants than unfermented tea.
Polyphenols in tea have shown great potential in protecting against some types of cancer. The most potent benefit of tea — both fermented and unfermented — may be its catechin content. Catechins act as potent antioxidants and protect against the development of disease. And many of them are abundant in kombucha.
In addition to the beneficial components found in tea, new compounds form when you make kombucha, which may also have favourable effects. One compound is DSL (D-Saccharic acid-1,4-lactone). DSL has the potential to inhibit an important enzyme that may be linked to cancer growth. More study is needed to determine if this will also provide benefits to humans.
What Science Says
If you look at the research around kombucha and its benefits, one thing is clear: We need more research.
There are a lot of health claims made about kombucha, but so far, no studies have been published on the biological effects of kombucha on humans.
We have animal studies and some decently valid sounding theories, and it does seem plausible that it brings some positive health benefits. Especially when you look at the history of this alive beverage and how it has been used over thousands of years.
While we lack certainty, an impressive body of studies do suggest that kombucha tea could have antimicrobial, energizing, and detoxification effects. And it may even help prevent disease, including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Without a doubt, kombucha is a rich source of probiotics. Kombucha is a fermented food and carries a large number of probiotic bacteria that may be beneficial to your digestive health. A 2014 study published in Food Microbiology identified a prominent Lactobacillus population and numerous beneficial yeast species that were abundant in kombucha.
Risk Of Kombucha?
Kombucha can contain a high amount of sugar.
In a 2001 paper called Sucrose and Inulin Balance During Tea Fungus Fermentation, researchers found that almost 35% of the sugar remains after seven days of fermentation. After 21 days, this percentage dropped to 19%. This is why kombucha tastes sweet when you drink it — even though it’s fermented.
Some of the kombuchas on the market have fruit juice or sugar added after the fermentation process. This means those batches will have more sugar.
If you’re buying kombucha, I recommend reading the nutrition facts. And remember: If it tastes sweet, it’s probably because it is. Aim for the lower sugar options or make yours at home with no added sugar or sweeteners.
I am all for kombucha, hence why I run workshops on how to make it and sell recipe books with instructions on how to make it for yourself. I do believe it has some wonderful healing properties and is nourishing for your gut health.
It’s a better choice than bottled juices and a much better choice than soft drinks, bringing a healthy dose of antioxidants plus some fantastic health-boosting probiotics.
But it also contains sugar, some of which remains in the final product, this is what you need to be wary of. Everything in moderation! On a recent podcast episode, The Wellness Guys suggested drinking maybe 25-50mls per day. If you buy your kombucha, you’ll realise that this means not consuming the whole thing at once!
Making your own is cheaper and healthier too, so get on board the kombucha train and start adding a little of this tasty drink into your daily wellness habits.