It's alive, it's alive! What exactly is it? In this case, it is Kombucha, and it is alive. Kombucha, whose nicknames include the "immortal health elixir," "mushroom tea" (it's not made with mushrooms), "'buch," and many more, is a fermented tea known for its purported health benefits. It's made with tea (plain, usually green or black), sugar, and a funky symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast called a SCOBY. The fermented and frequently fizzy finished product contains healthy acids, probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes with a surprisingly low amount of sugar. Kombucha's taste usually inspires a strong reaction—you either love it or hate it. The drink has been described as vinegary, tart, and bubbly.
No one knows for sure how and where it was created, but most kombuchamaniacs on the interwebs believe it originated in China around 200 B.C. Over time, the mysterious drink spread across the globe and enjoyed popularity in the United States among the health-conscious throughout the 1970s to the 1990s. Recently, kombucha has enjoyed another surge in popularity, and now it's almost impossible to find a grocery store that doesn't sell the enigmatic drink, often going for $2 to $5 a bottle.
The purported health benefits of kombucha include improved digestion, increased energy, immunity and liver support, weight loss, and more. While there are few scientific studies on kombucha as a whole, many of kombucha's ingredients have long shown health benefits, and growing evidence points to the overall health benefits of ingesting fermented food, which improves gut health.
Is It Safe?
While most people report feeling great and refreshed after a bottle, there have been reports of adverse reactions, mostly from home-brewed kombucha—effects that can be avoided through sanitary brewing practices. Due to its high levels of acidity, kombucha can hurt tooth enamel, but luckily there are things you can do to minimize the damage.
How Kombucha Is Made
Kombucha is made by brewing plain green or black tea, combining it with cane sugar, and placing it in a glass jar with added water. Next, the SCOBY (which can be purchased online, acquired from your granola pal, or even grown from a bottle of store-bought kombucha) is added, and the now complete glass jar is set aside to ferment for the next 7 to 14 days, during which the SCOBY feeds off the sugar and creates all the healthy and somewhat yucky-looking stuff. Oftentimes, brewers will add a second fermentation process, in which it's bottled with added sugar or fruit and left to ferment for another 2 to 4 days, possibly making the drink more carbonated. After the process is complete, the original SCOBY, called the "mother," creates a new additional "baby" SCOBY, which can be used to brew another batch or given to a friend to start his or her own. 'Surprise! I got you a living colony of yeast and bacteria for your birthday, and now we're BSFFs, Best SCOBY Friends Forever!'
Before brewing your own batch, it's highly recommended to research the brewing process, as there are many variables that could create a bad or harmful batch. Kombucha starter kits are available for purchase and are a great way to introduce yourself to brewing "buch."
Should I Try Kombucha?
Yes! Find out for yourself if you enjoy the taste, and see if you notice any of the professed health benefits. If you end up falling in love with kombucha, as many do, you can begin brewing your own, which in the long run is significantly cheaper than store-bought brands. Plus, you can experiment with flavors and feel the pride of doing it yourself. Be brave and decide for yourself is kombucha is right for you!