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Good or Gimmick - What is Kombucha?

February 19, 2020

Pronounced "kuhm - boo - chuh", this trendy beverage has been slowly taking over local grocery stores, coffee shops, and even restaurants. You may have heard your trendy yoga-loving friend talking about how "amazing" kombucha is but what is this strange new drink and is it really "good" for you? Or is it a gimmick?

We're going to spill the tea about all the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to this exotic and ancient drink.


What is Kombucha?

It's a fermented tea, often brewed from black or green tea combined with yeast and a bacteria culture. It may sound extremely unappealing when you read about it but it isn't a far stretch from beverages we already drink, like beer or wine.


Fermented Tea - The History

While Kombucha just became wildly popular in the past couple of years, it has existed for thousands of years! While many cultures have fermented beverages, It should come as no surprise that is was the Chinese who invented this beverage because of their deep love of tea.

It was prized for its healing properties, which is something that is still prized today in the kombucha community. With many people citing kombucha as the healing secret to many health problems, it has become a rising health food trend in our modern society. While in the past these early civilizations hadn't pinpointed the exact health benefits, we have come a long way in determining the benefits of this fermented tea. There are still many studies to be done to definitively determine the health benefits of kombucha but there is proof that this fermented beverage is good for the body.


Brewing ‘Bouch - How is it made?

The process is relatively simple and it is more about the time that it takes to ferment to turn tea into kombucha. Green or black tea is typically steeped and sugar is added. Then the most important component is added to the tea, the SCOBY. SCOBY is the acronym for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It is a big thick gooey and cloudy mass or culture of bacteria. It often looks like a gelatinous disc floating in the tea.

While you can grow your own SCOBY, it also can be easily bought, saving you time in the brewing process. You can find high-quality White Labs SCOBY here. This symbiotic bacteria mass is added to the tea then set in a ventilated area away from direct sunlight for 7-21 days. The longer it remains fermenting, the stronger the vinegar-like flavor, carbonation, and alcohol will be. Luckily for beginning brewers, you don't need much equipment to get started. We recommend this basic kombucha brewing kit.

Some brewers will have a second fermentation stage where they will add additional flavors, like fruit or spices. Additionally, in order to regulate the alcohol content, some brewers will pasteurize their brews. The brewing of kombucha has become an artisanal practice with many small and local brewers who are coming up with unusual and unique flavor combinations.


The Taste

Kombucha tastes vary wildly from brand to brand and from brewer to brewer. Due to its fermentation process, which often involves fruit, it tends to have a vinegar tang or taste. Some brands will add additional sugar to counteract the unappealing vinegar taste or just make the overall taste more appealing. However, a high-quality kombucha will have little to no sour vinegar-like taste that comes from good brewing techniques and not the masking of the unappealing flavors.

It also has an effervescent or fizzy carbonated quality to it, which often makes it reminiscent of a cider. This fizzy sensation is due to the carbon dioxide that is produced by the bacteria during the fermentation process.


Is Kombucha healthy?

The media and that yoga-loving friend you know has blown up and exaggerated the health benefits of kombucha. While fermented tea is healthy and good for you, studies have shown that has the same health benefits as plain tea or other fermented foods. Kombucha does contain B vitamins, antioxidants, and probiotics but its nutritional content varies from brand to brand and brewer to brewer.

The most often cited benefit is probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that help with your gut health. However, these probiotics are often found in yogurt and other fermented foods. These probiotics help regulate your digestive system but only if there are live cultures, which means the kombucha isn't pasteurized. Brewers will often pasteurize to halt the development of alcohol formation in the beverage but this also defeats the health benefits of drinking kombucha. For the most beneficial kombucha, it should not be pasteurized to preserve the live cultures in the tea.

Kombuchas will also vary with the alcohol content per serving depending on brewer or label. The amount of alcohol will depend on how long the tea has been fermenting and if the brewer chooses to pasteurize their beverage. This is something to be aware of if you prefer not to drink alcohol. There are also boozy kombuchas, which are meant to an alcoholic beverage and tend to have alcohol content similar to beer or wine.

With the massive popularity of this beverage, some brands have decided to pack their beverages with sugar to make it more palatable and enjoyable to a wider range of people. This thee unnecessary added sugars make certain kombuchas actually bad for you. However, studies have also shown kombucha to help slow down the digestion of carbs, reducing blood sugar levels, which is great for diabetics or those prone to diabetes. In the same study, it also improved kidney function.

Other studies have shown that this fermented tea also helps improve the two major makers of heart disease, "bad" LDL and "good" HDL cholesterol, in as few as 30 days. Additionally, there is some evidence of kombucha assisting in weight loss by curbing hunger, reducing bloating, and reduce overall body weight by preventing your body from processing food into fat.

Keep in mind that these benefits often occur when consuming moderate servings of kombucha and that consuming beyond the recommended serving size will not increase the health benefits of kombucha.

Many big beverage producers are jumping on this popular beverage trend in order to make sales but their kombuchas aren't made to be healthy, they're made to taste good through the addition of extra sugar and flavoring. We recommend reading the label on your drinks or find a local brewer. With more awareness and growing popularity, many local kombucha breweries are popping up and serving up unique flavors.


A daily dose of kombucha

Kombucha may not be for everyone but for those who really enjoy it and want to incorporate it as part of a daily routine, it can get pretty pricey to buy kombucha on a daily basis. We recommend trying to brew your own, storing it in a keg, and dispensing using a kegerator. This way, your brew stays fresh and lasts until the last drop. You can also purchase a keg of your favorite kombucha from your local brewer and serve it through a kegerator.

This actually saves a significant amount of money considering a bottle of kombucha at the grocery store can cost between $2.99 and $10.00, with the higher quality ones on the steeper side. While the initial cost of a kegerator or kombucha dispenser may be high, a keg of kombucha averages about $70 and every pint of kombucha is approximately $1.75! If you choose to brew your own kombucha, you cost per pint can be even lower!