Move over, juices, smoothies, and whatever else #healthyish people are drinking these days. You need to make room for kombucha. Whether you’re a total newbie or a ‘booch’ fanatic, here’s the low-down on the drink that’s got everyone talking, sipping, and probably burping.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is an ancient Chinese fermented drink that is 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 five 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 the pasteurized version has the harmful bacteria filtered out, it does lose those sought-after good bacteria as well. The raw varieties continue to ferment in the container, resulting in the formation of probiotics. This fermentation process produces alcohol, which is why some kombucha has a 21+ label. Wild #booch filled Saturday night, anyone?
The Benefits of Kombucha
Other than its bubbly, slightly sweet, and vinegary taste that sometimes makes you feel like you’re drinking a cocktail, here are a few reasons to jump on the booch train.
1. Hello, healthy gut.
Whether you like to talk about it or not, having a regular digestive system is the ultimate sign of #healthy. 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 a 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. With that being said, it does have some benefits, since scientists have even considered giving the booch to astronauts in outer space since their gut microflora might be wiped clean in their harsh living conditions.
2. Buh-bye, harmful microbes.
We may be all about “good bacteria,” but it’s important to remember what came first—bad bacteria. The low pH of kombucha may help to block the growth of many 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 contain an antioxidant compound called EGCG, which has been shown to increase the number of calories your body can burn. And one study found that the fermentation process used to make kombucha may actually increase the antioxidant properties.
But Wait, It’s Not Perfect
Although we 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 four fluid ounces a day and work your way up to eight ounces a day to see how your digestive system responds,” Brisette says. Kroll also cautions against the sugar content in kombucha: “Most kombucha I've seen contains juice, so I tell my clients to drink 1/2 of the bottle to get the probiotics without too much sugar.”
Pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune systems shouldn’t drink kombucha because there is potential for the bacteria to cause more harm than good. And in that same vein, children, the elderly, and anyone who has a compromised immune system should avoid unpasteurized products in general.
If you're hoping to jump on the booch train, or maybe you're already on it but are getting tired of the same flavors, here are the ones I've been sipping on lately.
The 3 Kombucha Brands We Love
This adorable little 10-ounce bottle is actually chock-full of goodness. Bear's Fruit is made with 100-percent organic fruit and real herbs. So you get your good bacteria and your fruit all in one cute little package. Plus, it helps you keep your consumption in check since it's so hard to drink half of a bottle. Pro tip: Drink one of these when you're craving the real bubbly but trying to give your liver a break.
Health-Ade kombucha was started as a hair-loss treatment (yes, SCOBY has the wonderful side effect of treating hair loss), and it took off as a great tasting kombucha. “I drink it,” says Tawnie Kroll, RDN. “I’ve just found this to be one of my favorite taste wise,” she adds. It’s fermented in small batches, flavored with cold-press juice and certified organic, so it doesn’t contain any weird additives.
This brand was started in a kitchen, grew to a farmer’s market, and is now sold country-wide. They use a mixture of organic green and black tea mixed with organic fair trade cane sugar to create really interesting flavors, like Pomegranate Lemonade and Coconut Lime. The sugar content is minimal and the taste is intense… in a very good way.