Kombucha seems to have skyrocketed into the limelight during the past few years. I’d first heard about it from @LaikenRichelle on Instagram during the beginning of last year.
Kombucha has in fact been around (in various forms) for centuries. It’s an age-old fermented tea that many cultures around the world have used as a source of beneficial bacteria.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a traditional naturally fermented drink made from black or green tea and sugar. It contains a mix of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and has been valued by many traditional cultures for its health-enhancing properties.
So what ferments the kombucha tea? Kombucha is fermented with a SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) which increases the nutrient content of the beverage making even more beneficial to our health. The fermentation process takes around 7-12 days depending on the temperature (warmer weather will speed up the fermentation process) and strength of the SCOBY. Now if you’re concerned about the level of sugar found in the drink, let me ease your concerns. The SCOBY consumes over 90% of the sugar during fermentation, resulting in a low-sugar product when it’s finished. This process is similar to what would happen in milk/water kefir or sourdough bread.
Once an unknown drink, kombucha is now a widely popular beverage sold at most health food stores and many local grocery stores. Many people have also started brewing it at home using various methods like the batch method and continuous brew.
The SCOBY: A Culture of Microbes
The SCOBY, or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, is a colony of microbes that are responsible for turning the sweetened tea into a probiotic rich beverage. It is essentially a living culture of beneficial organisms that convert the sugar into healthful acids and probiotics.
Another name for SCOBY people often use is “Mushrooms” (and you’ll see why below because they look SO MUCH like a mushroom!) and are the reason why kombucha is sometimes called “Mushroom tea.” In actual fact, a SCOBY is a rubbery disc that sits on top of the brewing tea, covering the surface to seal it off from the air. This allows fermentation to happen in an anaerobic (air free) environment.
The SCOBY has also been referred to as “The Mother” by some as it is the parent culture that creates the probiotic tea. During the brewing process, the SCOBY will often create a “baby,” or secondary culture, on top of itself, which can then be used to brew other batches.
If looked after properly, a SCOBY can last for many years. In fact, a family member of mine has been making homemade kombucha for over 13 years and has generations-old strains of SCOBYs that have created many babies over the years.
This tangy fermented drink contains many beneficial acids and probiotics. It has fewer calories than other carbonated beverages like soft drinks, containing only around 30 calories per cup (8 ounces). Kombucha also contains no fat or protein.
One cup of kombucha provides around 7 grams of carbohydrates and 20% of the recommended daily value of B group vitamins, according to the label of the GT brand of Kombucha. Eight ounces also supplies:
- S. Boulardii: 1 billion organisms
- Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086: 1 billion organisms
- Glucuronic Acid 10mg
- EGCG 100mg
- Acetic Acid 30 mg
- L(+) Lactic Acid 25mg
What’s it Taste Like?
When fermented, this beverage has a slightly sweet and slightly tangy (almost vinegary) flavour. The flavour varies widely depending on the brand you buy and the method you choose to use when brewing it at home. Once finished, kombucha tea can also be flavoured in a process known as secondary fermentation by adding fruit, herbs or juices.
This ancient health beverage is known to assist in providing several health benefits. The nutrients it contains are great for helping the body in many ways. Just keep in mind, while there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence from enthusiastic supporters, there aren’t many studies done on kombucha.
So to be clear, it isn’t some magic pill or miracle cure, but it may aid the body in functioning well by supporting:
- Better digestion
- Nutrient absorption and digestion
- Liver detoxification
- Increased energy
These benefits may be somewhat due to the collection of beneficial acids and enzymes available in kombucha, such as Lactobacillus, Gluconacetobacter and Zygosaccharomyces.
1. Supports the Liver and is a Natural Detoxifier.
The liver is one of the main detoxification organs in the body. Kombucha has a high concentration of Glucaric acid, which is beneficial to the liver and helps it to naturally detoxify.
What’s more, as kombucha helps support healthy gut bacteria and digestion, it helps the body absorb and digest food more easily and supplies quick and easy energy without the need of caffeine.
2. Healthier Option to Soda.
Kombucha is a wonderful alternative to sugar-filled drinks like soda. It is naturally carbonated, so when you drink it, it has a nice fizz to it. This is because the secondary fermentation process naturally produces carbonation and bubbles. Soft drinks, however, are artificially carbonated through a process that forces carbonation into the drink.
This fizzy fermented tea provides probiotics and nutrients not found in sodas making it a healthier alternative to other carbonated drinks. What’s more, Kombucha contains less sugar than soft drinks. The sugar you see in the recipe is only there as a food source for the beneficial bacteria and is largely consumed during fermentation.
3. Immune Boost.
Kombucha is naturally rich in antioxidants and provides great support for the immune system. Again, there is no miracle cure or magic elixir when it comes to immune function – it is ideal to support the body in its natural immune process.
D-saccharic acid-1,4-lactone (or DSL for short) is a compound found in kombucha that holds wonderful antioxidant properties. While many unfermented teas are high in other antioxidants, they do not contain DSL. This compound has been specifically recognised as being helpful for detoxification at a cellular level.
4. Promotes Healthy Digestion.
According to the Harvard Medical School, a healthy gut will have 100 trillion+ microbes from 500 different identified species. A lot of research has emerged about the dangers of having an overly sanitary environment and how the overuse of antibacterial soaps, handwashes and products alike, as well as the overprescription of antibiotics are changing the structure of our gut.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, and drinks such as kombucha, water kefir and milk kefir contain billions of these beneficial bacteria, acids and enzymes that help keep the microflora in the gut in balance.
5. May Help in Supporting Joint Health.
Glucosamines are a compound naturally found in kombucha, and are often recommended for improving joint health, as well as relieving joint pain. Glucosamines help to naturally increase hyaluronic acid in the body and also aids in protecting and lubricating the joints.
A Caution About the Benefits of Kombucha
It is important to note that there are no confirmed studies or research on the health benefits and safety of kombucha. However, there are many anecdotal accounts of its benefits and it is enjoyed by thousands. Now do not expect kombucha to solve all your health problems, think of it as a delicious refreshing drink containing healthy probiotics.
Possible Side Effects and Risks of Drinking Kombucha
I absolutely love this traditional fermented tea and drink it almost daily, but there are some side effects and cautions I want to bring to your attention.
Cautions and Risks of Kombucha
- Pregnant and nursing mums and anyone who has a medical condition should consult with their doctor first before consuming it. It does contain sugar and caffeine, which are recommended to be limited during pregnancy.
- Bloating may occur from drinking it. This can be partially due to the presence of probiotics and change in gut bacteria. Anyone who has a digestive disorder or condition should check with their doctor first before drinking it.
- If the kombucha was made incorrectly, harmful bacteria may be present in the drink which could harm your body. This is rare but is more common with homemade kombucha brews. If you choose to make your own kombucha, be very careful to ensure the environment you make it in is kept clean and you’ve brewed it correctly.
- Kombucha prepared in a ceramic bowl, container or vessel of any kind may be dangerous as the brew is quite acidic and can leach any lead from the container out into the finished beverage.
Cautions for Oral Health
Dental problems are a concern with those who consume kombucha regularly. As it is high in natural acids (it still contains less than sodas), this may be harmful on teeth. Here is an article by OraWellness that talks about the specific way in which kombucha may harm your teeth and how to go about preventing this from happening.
Drinking it all in one sitting, not sipping on it over the course of the day, and swishing clean water in your mouth (don’t brush) right after you’ve finished drinking it may help reduce the risk of the acids harming your teeth.
Kombucha is often made using green or black tea as the base. This means it does contain some caffeine which a few people have concerns about. The amount of caffeine present in kombucha will vary based on the type of tea used to make it and how long it was left to steep for. As a general consensus, kombucha is considered to have less caffeine in it compared to coffee or soft drinks. Furthermore, the caffeine content tends to decrease during fermentation, so the longer you leave it to ferment, the less caffeine the brew will generally have. (A word of caution, if you leave it to ferment for too long the kombucha can become quite vinegary and is usually unpleasant to drink. However, it can still be used to make delicious salad dressings, or you can add it to smoothies to mask the strong tangy flavour).
If caffeine is a big concern for you, here are some ways to help reduce it:
- Use a mixture of teas with as little as 20% black tea and lower caffeine teas like white or green tea to make up the difference.
- Try using herbal teas along with 20% black tea as herbal teas tend to be lower in caffeine or even caffeine free. (Do not use teas that have oils (for example, Earl Grey) or any citrus teas as they can interfere with the fermentation process).
- Discard the first steep of tea and use the second for your kombucha. Essentially, steep the tea bags or leaves you will be using for your kombucha in a cup of boiling water for around 2 minutes or so. Once that’s done, pour this liquid away and then add the tea to the liquid you plan to use to make your kombucha. As the majority of the caffeine is removed during the first steep, this considerably reduces the amount of caffeine left in the finished product.
A side note; it is normally not advised to use decaffeinated tea to make your kombucha as the caffeine is often removed through a chemical process and the residue may kill the SCOBY.
Kombucha does contain a very small amount of alcohol, which has sparked much controversy over recent years. It is estimated that store-bought kombucha contains around 0.5% to 1.0% alcohol. To put a perspective on this, to approach the amount of alcohol present in a single 12oz beer, a person would need to drink a six-pack of kombucha. In fact, a bottle of kombucha would have a similar content to that of an over-ripe banana. (Who was even aware bananas contained traces of alcohol!).
Store bought kombucha that contains more than 0.5% alcohol must be labelled as such and ID will often need to be shown to buy it. In general, homemade kombucha will often contain more alcohol than store-bought, but not much more.
How to Make Your Very Own Kombucha
The process of making kombucha is relatively simple. Now, the first time I attempted to make kombucha, I had used a family member’s SCOBY which she kindly gave to me to start off my kombucha. However… I had to travel with it a few hours back home and I don’t think it liked that very much. So when it came time to make my kombucha, after letting my brew ferment for a week, I started to see mould growing on top of my SCOBY. Now, if this happens to you, and you discover furry or fuzzy mould on top of your SCOBY, DO NOT use it. This is unhealthy SCOBY which will have contaminated the brew. You will need to discard the brew, sterilise the vessel thoroughly, and begin making a new batch from scratch (I know, this is a little disheartening, but trust me, if you keep persisting you’ll get the hang if it!).
The second batch I made (using a new SCOBY I purchased from my local health food shop) worked a treat! I know have a constant flow of SCOBYs I use to make multiple stockpiles of kombucha.
How to Make Kombucha at Home
Kombucha is an age-old fermented tea beverage and naturally contains antioxidants and beneficial acids and enzymes, and is a health tonic that may aid in improving digestion. Here is my easy recipe for making kombucha at home:
- 1 gallon size glass jar (ensure it’s been properly cleaned and sterilised first)
- 4 cups of filtered water, boiled (ratio: ¼ cup of organic sugar to roughly every 2-3 cups of tea)
- A SCOBY (which you can find at your local health food store) and 1 cup of liquid from a previous batch of kombucha
- 4 organic tea bags (green or black tea. I use 1 tea bag for every cup of boiling water)
- Coffee filter, cheesecloth or thin cloth and a rubber band
- Sterilise all your equipment (if you haven’t done already) and wash your hands thoroughly.
- Pour 4 cups of boiling water into a large glass bowl and add 4 tea bags using green or black tea, or a mixture of black tea with green/white tea or herbal teas.
- Add a little bit more than ¼ cup of organic sugar. I use organic brown sugar. Honey is not recommended and sugar substitutes do not work.
- Let the tea steep and the sugar dissolve, then wait for the water to completely cool before placing it in the large glass jar.
- Add a SCOBY (ensuring the water is cold. Do not add the SCOBY if the water is still warm as it will kill the colony of beneficial bacteria) and 1 cup of the starter tea (which is the tea the SCOBY was sitting it, as this tea has already been fermented).
- If the SCOBY is not the same size as the container, don’t worry. It will grow to fit the size of the container as it ferments.
- Cover the glass the with a cheesecloth or piece of organic cloth and a rubber band.
- Leave it to sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, where it will not be disturbed. Let it ferment for 7-12 days. After 7 days, pour a little of your kombucha into a glass to taste it to see if it’s ready to stop fermenting. You’ll know if it’s ready as it will taste fizzy and slightly sour, sort of cidery. It will ferment faster in Summer and slower in Winter.
- Now, by this time you will most likely have two SCOBYs in the tea, one as “The Mother” and the other as “The Baby.” Remove both of the SCOBYs and 1-2 cups of finished kombucha to start a new batch and repeat steps 1-9. (Leave enough kombucha in another glass jar for the SCOBYs to sit in until ready to use again).
Here are some things to keep in mind when making kombucha.
- Do not use metal or ceramic equipment when making your kombucha. Use glass or plastic instead.
- Very important to let the tea cool down before you put it in the jar with the SCOBY and starter tea liquid.
- If you use loose leaf tea, strain out the leaves before putting it into the glass jar with the SCOBY and starter tea.
- Store it our of direct sunlight.
Where to Find a SCOBY:
Find a local friend who already brews and ask them if you may have one of their extra SCOBY’s. Or alternatively, you can purchase one from your local health food store.
Where to Get Kombucha (If You Don’t Want to Make It)
If you’re not keen on constantly having a jar of fermenting tea sitting on your counter, then here are some great pre-made alternatives.
Kombucha has increased in popularity in Australia in recent years and is now available in numerous stores. There are plenty of really good brands to choose from, just look for an organic selection without large amounts of sugar or added ingredients. I also opt for brands who package their kombucha beverages in glass bottles rather than plastic ones as it’s more eco-friendly. Some great pre-made brands include:
Kombucha Alternatives That Are Probiotic-Rich
As I mentioned earlier in my post, kombucha contains beneficial probiotics and acids, however it also has some cautions to be wary of. Below I’ll share some other natural probiotic sources that do not contain the same risks.
While kombucha is delicious, it’s also a good idea to branch out and try some other healthy probiotic foods and drinks like sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, water kefir, milk kefir, beet kvass, homemade natural ginger ale, yoghurt (I love coconut yoghurt), miso soup, tempeh, pickles, kimchi, etc.
Kombucha is loved by many for its array of probiotics and delicious taste. While there isn’t much research yet done on its health-enhancing properties, there is an abundance of anecdotal reports sharing its benefits, and it is generally considered by many to be safe to drink.
What we do know is it is a good source of probiotics, enzymes, beneficial acids, and a reasonable source of B-vitamins. It is also fairly easy to make at home, and can be found in many stores. While it may not be a miracle elixir for health, it’s definitely tasty!
As with any fermented or raw product, those who currently have any health conditions or who are pregnant/nursing should consult with a doctor before consuming it.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Have you had kombucha before? Have you made your own at home? What was your experience? Did you receive any benefits from taking it? Share with us below in the comments!
I hope you have a wonderful day!
Wells, Katie. (October 26, 2018). Benefits of Kombucha Tea & How to Make it At Home. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/23994/kombucha-benefits/