What Is Kombucha And Why All The Fuss?
Every so often, a new food or drink that claims to improve your health, happiness, or what have you gets a lot of buzz, and while it’s taken kombucha nearly 15 years to gain mainstream popularity in the U.S., the tangy, fermented, tea-based drink has been popular in other parts of the world – notably China – since 221 BC.
Back then, it was referred to as “The Tea of Immortality”, and while it may offer a few health benefits, kombucha is not likely to extend your life or cure any major medical problem. Today, it’s popular with folks who are trying to cut down on soft drinks (although some brands contain a lot of sugar), people who are taking a break from alcohol (although kombucha can contain a very small amount; alcohol-free brands are available), and those hoping to improve their overall digestive health.
Health Benefits Of Kombucha
Kombucha is tea based and the many health benefits associated with drinking tea are well-documented:
- Improved immunity
- Reduced risk of stroke and heart attack
- Improved digestion
The fermentation process used to create kombucha imbues the final product with probiotic benefits and may aid digestion by encouraging the diversity of healthy gut bacteria.
Can I Make My Own?
Kombucha can be expensive – top brands sell for around $4.00 per 16 oz. bottle – so many people try to make their own DIY kombucha at home. To get started, you’ll need a SCOBY which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. If you have a friend who makes kombucha, ask if they’d be willing to share their SCOBY. You can order a SCOBY online, or you can make your own from a combination of water; black tea (in bags); sugar; some unflavored, store-bought kombucha; and a lot of time and patience. Everything goes into a glass jar which is then covered and stored in a warm, dark place. It takes 4 weeks for the mixture to generate a jiggly, gelatinous disc at the top of the liquid. That’s your SCOBY. To make the actual kombucha, you brew more tea, add some “starter tea” and your SCOBY, cover and store undisturbed to let the mixture “culture”, then bottle so that the liquid ferments and fizzes.
You can find recipes for starting a SCOBY and making kombucha online. Be sure to follow all instructions carefully. Remember, kombucha is made from bacteria, and not all bacteria is good for you. Contaminants like mold and fungus can get in the mix if you’re not careful. Starting with clean sterile jars, storing at the right temperature for the appropriate amount of time, and being vigilant for signs of mold or anything else that doesn’t look quite right, will help keep you out of trouble.
Alternatives And Complements To Kombucha
Kombucha is not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, and you may find the tangy, tart, vinegary drink is not to your liking. Fans of apple cider vinegar – a popular at home remedy for all sorts of ills – will probably enjoy the many refreshing, fruity flavors available. There are other drinks and foods that contribute to improved digestion that might be more palatable, including miso, a fermented soybean paste used in many Asian dishes – especially soup; kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage concoction popular in Korean fare; and the more familiar sauerkraut, which is also fermented cabbage.
If you find you enjoy kombucha, you may want to try pairing it with food as you would with a glass of wine. Kombucha goes well with all kinds of food, but especially complements Asian dishes. As with wine pairing, there are a few simple guidelines to consider. You can go for contrast – pair a light bodied kombucha with a bold, spicy dish; pair similar flavors – matching a heavier, savory kombucha to a meat dish; or match the flavors in your drink and food – pairing a ginger kombucha with a gingery stir fry.
Some Final Tips
Try a lighter flavored brew first to test the waters, and move up to bolder flavors when you’re ready. Check the sugar content on the bottle; some brands of kombucha are loaded with sugar. And finally, while there’s no recommended daily allowance of kombucha, 12 ounces per day is probably plenty.
Store-bought kombucha is the best way to try this funky, fizzy drink. You’ll want to start slowly – remember, drinking kombucha will introduce new and more bacteria into your gut, and there’s always a possibility of some initial gastrointestinal upset. And a few final notes of caution – pregnant women are advised to steer clear of kombucha, as are those with certain chronic diseases. Be sure to ask your doctor if you have concerns or questions.