The kombucha craze is on!
Cravings for this tangy, gut-healthy brew are rising with the verve of its natural fizz. Kombucha, with its myriad flavors, is not only lining retail shelves on its own, this tea concoction is on trend blended into coffee, cocktails, juices, and even cupcake frosting.
According to legend, kombucha, also known as "stomach treasure" or "sea mushroom," dates back to the Chinese Tsin Dynasty in 221 BCE where the fermented tea drink was thought to improve digestion and longevity. Its history has also been linked with Japan, Korea and 20th century Russia.
Fortunately, the kombucha culture has spread for us to enjoy today for its flavor and health benefits.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), often called "mother" or "mushroom" because it resembles a mushroom cap, may be grown or purchased for home-brewing.
There are reports of ill effects, such as infection and even death when homebrewed under improper conditions. Commercial kombucha is safe and as potent in powerful B vitamins and probiotic, gut-friendly compounds.
An eight-ounce quaff serves up 20 percent DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of several cell-healthy B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, and 25 percent DV of folate.
Kombucha's health claims — that it benefits everything from arthritis to cancer — abound, but science doesn't back them because evidence (mostly lab and animal studies) is limited. However, evidence does show that kombucha, like all fermented foods, has active bacteria, fungi and yeasts, which indicate antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Kombucha's impact on gut health — its probiotic and prebiotic influence — is most studied, but more research is needed, especially human dietary intervention studies (Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 2019).
The finer points
Find kombucha in the refrigerated section of markets, generally near the fresh juices. Check labels to ensure you choose a living product, one that is raw and contains live cultures. Strands and cloudiness from the SCOBY are usually visible (and drinkable) through the bottle. If it's pasteurized, those gut-healthy cultures are killed.
A result of fermentation, Kombucha contains a minute (less than .5 percent) amount of alcohol. Original Kombucha is usually just black tea and sugar fermented with a SCOBY. Many brands add sweetness in the form of fruit juices and other flavors. Refrigerate kombucha at home. It will keep indefinitely.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)