Move over, juices, smoothies, and whatever else folks are drinking these days. You may need to make room for kombucha.
Whether you’re a total newbie or a “booch” fanatic, here’s the lowdown on the drink that’s got everyone talking, sipping, and probably burping.
Kombucha is a fermented drink that’s made from tea, sugar, and “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). “Essentially, the bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY ferment the sugar in the tea, making the beverage slightly bubbly and giving it a funky, almost vinegary taste,” says Christy Brisette, MS, RD.
If the sugar in the ingredients sets off a red flag, there’s no need to fear.
Brisette says that most of the sugar is “eaten” by bacteria in the fermentation process, but to try to look for kombuchas that have 5 grams of sugar or less. “The final product has plenty of probiotics and little sugar, but some companies do add a little fruit juice to flavor the kombucha,” she adds.
Kombucha is sold in both raw and pasteurized varieties. While pasteurization kills the harmful bacteria, it also destroys some of those sought-after good bacteria.
The raw varieties continue to ferment in the container, producing more alcohol and carbonation. This explains the 21+ label on some bottles of kombucha. Wild #booch filled Saturday night, anyone?
Let raw kombucha ferment long enough and you’ll have a drink that tastes like bubbly vinegar. Not exactly the booch you were going for.
The ingredients in traditional kombucha are pretty simple: tea (usually black or green, and often both); sugar; and kombucha cultures (hello, SCOBY!).
The SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) is what the kombucha trend is all about. This rubbery film of friendly bacteria and yeast does the work of fermenting and provides the probiotics responsible for kombucha’s health benefits.
Kombucha is like a little bottled-up chemistry project. The yeast convert the sugar to alcohol, organic acids, and carbon dioxide. Then bacteria convert that alcohol to acetaldehyde and acetic acid, which give kombucha that vinegary taste.
How much sugar, alcohol, and probiotic is in your booch? That’s determined by the strains of bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY, type of tea and sugar, how much oxygen is available, fermentation time, temperature, and how long it’s been sitting on that shelf waiting for you to pop it open.
Some commercial kombucha lists the number of microorganisms at the time of bottling. So when in doubt, check the label!
Many commercial kombuchas are flavored with juices like kiwi, raspberry, ginger, orange, and even carrot. Some use juice as the sugar source for fermentation, while other brands of kombucha use both sugar and juice.
And while most kombucha gets its effervescence naturally from the fermentation process, some commercial brands add carbonation to get a more bubbly consistency.
Kombucha’s bubbly, slightly sweet and vinegary taste that’s reminiscent of a cocktail is probably enough to make you jump on the booch train. But is kombucha good for you? It turns out, it might be.
1. Hello, healthy gut
Whether you like to talk about it or not, having a regular digestive system is a big health bonus. What can help you get there? Probiotics. What has probiotics? Kombucha.
What’s even more interesting, though, is that several studies have found that this beverage acts as a symbiotic, meaning it contains a combination of prebiotics and probiotics. The prebiotics help feed the probiotics, so drinking kombucha is like being at the most exclusive gut bacteria party.
But, while it may be tasty and hydrating, research suggests that kombucha may not seriously alter the makeup of your microbiome, due to the low culture count and lack of varying strains.
While we would love to believe drinking kombucha will help boost your gut flora and digestive health, we’ll need more research in humans to know for sure. Stay tuned.
2. Buh-bye, harmful microbes
We may be all about populating our guts with “good bacteria,” but let’s not forget about the bad bacteria. Kombucha’s low pH may help block the growth of many harmful microorganisms, especially those tied to food poisoning, like E. coli, salmonella, and shigella.
3. Up the anti(oxidants)
Before kombucha becomes a fermented sparkly bev, it’s an antioxidant-rich tea. It can be made from a variety of black and green teas that are all rich in polyphenols.
These antioxidants may help counter the damaging effects of free radicals on your body, which may contribute to aging and can lead to a number of diseases.
One study found that the fermentation process used to make kombucha may actually increase its antioxidant properties.
4. Other benefits
Kombucha’s fans praise it for its many claimed health benefits, including lowering heart disease risk, helping manage type 2 diabetes, and protecting against cancer.
Indeed, in animal studies, kombucha shows promise in helping to control blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, and reducing oxidative stress.
Although we may want to drink all the booch all the time, there can be too much of a good thing. First, tea does contain caffeine, albeit less than coffee, but it might still give you a little buzz. If you’re avoiding caffeine for any reason, it’s best not to indulge in this bubbly drink.
“If you’re new to kombucha, start by drinking 4 fluid ounces a day and work your way up to 8 ounces a day to see how your digestive system responds,” Brisette says.
Pregnant people shouldn’t drink unpasteurized kombucha because there’s potential for the bacteria to cause more harm than good. In that same vein, children, the elderly, and anyone who has a compromised immune system should avoid unpasteurized products in general.
Kombucha can also contain a small amount of alcohol. So if you’re avoiding booze, you should avoid the booch.
Kombucha is a tasty fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, and friendly bacteria and yeast known as “SCOBY.” Often, kombucha is flavored with different kinds of juices.
You may enjoy benefits like healthier gut flora, antioxidants, and lower blood sugar and cholesterol from drinking kombucha, but more research in humans is needed to know for sure.
People who are pregnant or immunocompromised should stay away from the booch, since it contains living yeast and bacteria that could cause harm to those with compromised immune systems.
Since kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol, teetotalers (or, nondrinkers) will want to check the alcohol content before popping open a bottle of kombucha.
At the very least, kombucha is a tasty and refreshing beverage with a unique flavor that will leave you feeling refreshed whether or not it lives up to all the health benefit hype.