You’ve seen the glass bottles of kombucha take over refrigerated drink shelves at your local grocery store and maybe even offered on tap at a restaurant or made into a cocktail at a bar. But just what is kombucha? Is it good for you? And how do you pronounce it?
Kombucha (pronounced com-boo-cha) is a fermented tea that has roots tracking back to China in around 220 BC. Black or green tea is fermented with a bacteria culture called SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, and sugar. The culture looks like a large white disk and can be used again and again to make multiple batches of kombucha.
How Kombucha is Made
Kombucha is made by brewing the tea, dissolving the sugar in the hot tea, then adding the SCOBY and kombucha from a previous batch. It sits in a warm, dark place for 7 or more days until it’s a good balance of tart and fizzy. The SCOBY is removed and used for other batches, and the tea can be flavored or bottled immediately.
Kombucha’s Health Benefits
In addition to being a tasty drink and an alternative to sodas, kombucha has several health benefits.
Helps Digestion: Kombucha is fermented, meaning it’s loaded with probiotics. Kombucha can be made up of four different strains of probiotics. Probiotics help keep your digestive system in balance by adding to the healthful bacteria that’s there, or helping to repopulate if the balance between healthful and harmful bacteria has tipped.
Improves Immunity: By having additional probiotics from kombucha to keep your digestive system in balance, you can help with your immunity. 70-80 percent of your immunity is located your digestive system.
High in Antioxidants: Kombucha, especially brewed with green tea, is high in antioxidants. Antioxidants fight free radicals in your body and prevent them from causing damage to your cells which could lead to disease.
Can Kill Harmful Bacteria: While kombucha is fermenting, acetic acid (also known as vinegar) is produced in the tea. It is able to kill harmful microorganisms, like ones that can cause infections or Candida yeast.
It Has Sugar In It, Isn’t that Bad?
With the amount of studies coming out on sugar causing health issues, we are more aware than ever of sugar in our food. The sugar in kombucha is used to feed the bacteria in the SCOBY and allow for fermentation. By the time the kombucha is ready, there’s little left in it.
If you’re buying kombucha, it’s very common for the kombucha to be flavored with fruit juices, herbs, or spices. Read the ingredient label and nutrition facts to see how much those flavors add to the sugar content and be mindful of that. If you’re easily affected by sugar, choose flavors that are sweetened with herbs, spices, or fruits with lower sugar content, like berries.
Is Kombucha Alcoholic?
Kombucha contains a trace amount of alcohol. In the fermentation process, ethanol and carbon dioxide are naturally produced. Alcohol is a natural byproduct of a sugar and yeast fermentation. Most of the kombucha you’ll purchase will be less than .05% alcohol by volume. There are more alcoholic versions of kombucha, and those will clearly state their alcohol content.
How to Add Kombucha into Your Diet
You can easily add kombucha into your diet to get it’s benefits, in more ways than just by drinking it.
As a Drink: You can swap out soda or other carbonated beverages with kombucha. Make sure you’re still drinking the same amount of water you usually do, if not 8-10 ounces more per bottle you drink. Start out with half a bottle a day (which is a serving size) and gradually work your way up to the full bottle, especially if your digestive system is more sensitive.
In Other Drinks: You can add kombucha as a mixer in your alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages for an added fizz and flavor. If you are mixing kombucha with alcohol, be sure to drink plenty of water and drink responsibly. You can also add a little fizz and probiotics to your smoothie as well.
In Salad Dressings: Kombucha’s tart flavor and vinegar content makes it a great ingredient in a salad dressing. Swap out the vinegar that a recipe calls for with kombucha and add other seasonings and herbs to taste.
As a Snack: You can add kombucha to high quality gelatin to make boosted gummies or fruit snacks. Make sure the heat is low when you’re dissolving the gelatin so you prevent killing off the probiotics.
When you’re buying kombucha, make sure that it’s raw and unpasteurized. Pasteurization would kill off the bacteria that adds so many benefits. When you’re shopping in the store, head for refrigerated cases to find the kombucha.
Try a few different ways of adding kombucha to your diet and see which ones you like the best. With all new additions to your diet, start off slow and notice how your body reacts to it. If your body handles it well, go forth and enjoy the flavors and benefits kombucha has to offer.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: Daniel S Edwards/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Nicola K/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Daniel Bruno/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: zarzamora/shutterstock.com