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What is kombucha? What its benefits? What can be an alternative to kombucha?
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What is kombucha? What its benefits? What can be an alternative to kombucha?

Mar 28, 2024

From its ancient origins dating back to 220 B.C. to its recent explosion in popularity on platforms like TikTok, where it has garnered a whopping 875 million views, kombucha has captured the attention of people worldwide. Celebrities, from actors to athletes, are often seen carrying cans of the fizzy drink, almost as faithfully as they carry their cell phones.

In 2021 alone, a staggering $2.64 billion was spent on kombucha globally, according to estimates from the market research firm Grand View Research. And the trend shows no signs of slowing down, with projections suggesting a nearly 16% annual increase in kombucha sales through 2030.

Clearly, the fascination with kombucha is on the rise. But what exactly are those bubbles and the ingredients in kombucha doing to our digestion and overall health? In the following discussion, we’ll delve into what makes up kombucha, explore its purported health benefits, and consider potential alternatives for those curious about this trendy beverage.

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What exactly is kombucha?

Kombucha is a tangy, fizzy, fermented tea beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries due to its unique taste and potential health benefits. This bubbly drink is made through a process of fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Let’s dive into the details of what kombucha is all about in a simple and easy-to-understand way.

What’s in Kombucha?

Tea:

Kombucha starts with tea—usually black or green tea, but sometimes other types like white or oolong are used. Tea provides the base flavour and nutrients for the fermentation process.

Sugar:

To feed the fermentation process, sugar is added to the tea. During fermentation, the SCOBY consumes the sugar, producing acids, carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of alcohol.

SCOBY:

The SCOBY, often referred to as the “mother” or “mushroom,” is a rubbery, pancake-like culture comprised of various bacteria and yeast. It floats on the surface of the tea, initiating the fermentation process and transforming the sweet tea into tangy kombucha.

Raw fermented homemade alcoholic or non alcogolic kombucha superfood. Ice tea with healthy natural probiotic in glass with lemon slice on wooden background (Raw fermented homemade alcoholic or non alcogolic kombucha superfood. Ice tea with healthy nat

The Fermentation Process:

  1. Brewing the Tea: Tea leaves are steeped in hot water and then removed, leaving behind a flavorful tea base.
  2. Adding Sugar: After brewing, sugar is stirred into the tea to provide food for the SCOBY.
  3. Cooling the Tea: The sweetened tea is allowed to cool to room temperature, creating an ideal environment for the SCOBY to thrive.
  4. Introducing the SCOBY: The SCOBY is gently placed into the cooled sweet tea mixture, where it floats on the surface, beginning the fermentation process.
  5. Fermentation: Over the course of several days to weeks, the SCOBY metabolizes the sugar and other nutrients in the tea, transforming it into kombucha. This process produces various acids, flavours, and carbonation.
  6. Bottling: Once the kombucha reaches the desired flavour and level of carbonation, it is strained to remove the SCOBY and any sediment. The liquid is then bottled, often with additional flavourings like fruit juice or herbs.

Health Benefits and Risks:

Potential Benefits:

  • Probiotics: Kombucha contains beneficial bacteria and yeast that may support gut health.
  • Antioxidants: Tea, a primary ingredient in kombucha, is rich in antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage.
  • Hydration: Like other beverages, kombucha contributes to overall hydration, which is essential for bodily functions.

Risks:

  • Alcohol Content: While most kombucha commercially available contains minimal alcohol (typically less than 0.5% ABV), homebrewed kombucha can sometimes have higher alcohol levels if not properly monitored.
  • Contamination: Without proper hygiene and fermentation conditions, there is a risk of harmful bacteria or mould contaminating the kombucha.

Who shouldn’t drink kombucha?

While kombucha is generally considered safe for most people when consumed in moderation, there are certain groups who should exercise caution or avoid it altogether:

Woman hand pourung a hot black tea on the black background, selective focus image
  1. Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: Due to the small amount of alcohol and the potential for contaminants in kombucha, pregnant and breastfeeding women are often advised to avoid it to reduce any risk to themselves or their babies.
  2. People with Compromised Immune Systems: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, or people living with HIV/AIDS, may be more susceptible to infections from any harmful bacteria or moulds that could be present in kombucha.
  3. Those with Sensitivities to Acids or Fermented Foods: Some people may experience gastrointestinal discomfort or exacerbation of acid reflux symptoms when consuming acidic or fermented foods and beverages like kombucha. It’s best to exercise caution or avoid kombucha if you have such sensitivities.
  4. Individuals with Histamine Intolerance: Kombucha, like other fermented foods, contains histamine, which can be problematic for individuals with histamine intolerance. Excessive histamine intake can lead to symptoms like headaches, flushing, hives, or gastrointestinal issues.
  5. People with Certain Medical Conditions: Individuals with specific medical conditions, such as severe liver disease or certain metabolic disorders, may need to limit or avoid kombucha consumption due to its alcohol content or potential interactions with medications.
  6. Children: While small amounts of commercially produced kombucha are generally considered safe for older children, it’s best to avoid giving it to infants or young children due to the risk of bacterial contamination and the presence of alcohol.

As with any dietary choice, it’s essential to consider individual health conditions, consult with a healthcare provider if there are concerns, and listen to your body’s reactions when trying new foods or beverages like kombucha.

What can be an alternative to kombucha?

If you’re looking for alternatives to kombucha, there are several beverages that offer similar flavours, health benefits, or fizzy characteristics. Here are some options:

Woman preparing homemade kefir, a fermented dairy drink
Milk Kefir
  1. Water Kefir: Water kefir is a fermented beverage made with water kefir grains, which are a combination of bacteria and yeast. Like kombucha, it’s fizzy and can be flavoured with fruit juices or herbs. Water kefir is often slightly sweeter and less acidic than kombucha.
  2. Milk Kefir: Milk kefir is another fermented beverage, but it’s made with milk instead of tea. It has a tangy flavour and a creamy texture, similar to yoghurt. Milk kefir is rich in probiotics and can be enjoyed plain or flavoured with fruit or honey.
  3. Switchel: Switchel, also known as Haymaker’s Punch, is a traditional drink made with water, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and sweetener (such as honey or maple syrup). It has a refreshing, tangy flavour and is often enjoyed as a hydrating beverage.
  4. Fruit Kvass: Kvass is a fermented beverage popular in Eastern European countries. Fruit kvass is made by fermenting fruit (such as berries or citrus) with water, salt, and sometimes spices. It has a mildly sour flavour and can be consumed plain or used as a base for cocktails or mocktails.
  5. Fruit-infused Sparkling Water: If you’re simply looking for a fizzy, flavoured drink without the fermentation process, fruit-infused sparkling water is a great option. You can create your own by adding fresh fruit or herbs to plain sparkling water for a refreshing and hydrating beverage.
  6. Herbal Tea: Herbal teas come in a wide variety of flavours and can be enjoyed hot or cold. Some herbal teas, like hibiscus or peppermint, have tangy or refreshing qualities similar to kombucha. You can experiment with different blends to find one that suits your taste preferences.

These alternatives offer a range of flavours and health benefits, allowing you to find a beverage that fits your preferences and dietary needs. Whether you’re seeking probiotics, hydration, or just a tasty drink, there are plenty of options to explore beyond kombucha.

What’s the ideal approach for incorporating kombucha into my diet?

If you have specific health or dietary concerns, it’s advisable to collaborate with your doctor and a dietitian to determine the most suitable method for introducing probiotics into your diet.

If you’re new to kombucha, it’s wise to begin with a small serving and observe how your body reacts over a few days. If you enjoy it, consuming between 8 and 16 ounces per day can provide you with an ample dose of probiotics.

When it comes to probiotics, it’s essential to diversify your intake. Consuming a variety of probiotic-rich foods helps prevent overloading on a single type of bacteria, which could potentially disrupt the balance in your gut.

If kombucha isn’t to your liking, there are numerous other probiotic foods to explore, including yoghurt, kefir, aged cheeses, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, and sauerkraut, among others.

Consulting with a registered dietitian is a valuable starting point if you’re hesitant about incorporating new foods into your diet. They can offer personalized guidance tailored to your individual needs and preferences.