Go Crazy for Kombucha
Kombucha is a popular beverage made by fermenting green or black tea. While it has only just recently become everyone’s favorite “trendy” health drink, kombucha has been around for millennia.
Kombucha originated in the Far East, with the first recorded use coming from China in 221 BC. Back then, it was called the Tea of Immortality. For centuries afterward, it was enjoyed throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, but it wasn’t until around the year 415 that it became known as “kombucha,” named after a doctor named Kombu (Kombu + “cha,” which means “tea”).
Heading into the 20th century, kombucha fell out of favor until after World War II, when a physician in Germany gave it to his patients to treat various conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Today, you can’t enter a grocery or health food store, or even convenience market, without seeing kombucha in the refrigerated section.
Why the surge in popularity?
Well, for one, its fizzy, tangy, slightly sweet and sometimes fruity flavor is a light and refreshing alternative to many of the other trendy beverages out there.
But, it could very well go hand-in-hand with the newfound awareness and appreciation of the microbiome—the diverse array of bacteria that inhabit the gut and play a key role in good health, digestion and immunity.
Over the past decade or so, in an effort to support a healthy and robust microbiome, the use of probiotics has surged. Not only are Americans taking probiotic supplements, they’re eating more and more fermented foods, which are naturally very rich in probiotics. Kombucha, a fermented beverage, is packed with these beneficial bacteria. When consumed, the microbes line the digestive tract, support the immune system, and fight illness, infection, and disease.
Health Benefits of Kombucha
Preliminary research on kombucha’s health benefits is impressive. While more human studies need to be done, here is where some of the strongest potential lies…
Gut Health: Obviously, the greatest advantage to drinking kombucha is improved gut health due to the robust presence of friendly bacteria. Studies show that kombucha contains high levels of probiotics ranging from Gluconacetobacter and Lactobacillus to Acetobacter.1
Lactobacillus, in particular, is associated with reduction of gastrointestinal conditions (C. difficile infections, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.) and vaginal infections. Gluconacetobacter, on the other hand, is known to produce glucaric acid and saccharic acid, which have detoxification and anti-cancer properties.
Heart Health: Kombucha can decrease levels of cholesterol that are linked to heart disease. In a 16-week study on rats that were fed cholesterol-rich diets, those that were also given kombucha had significantly lower total, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol, and higher HDL. Liver and kidney function also improved.2
Liver Protection: Antioxidants in kombucha help fight free radicals that cause cellular damage. The liver is one organ easily affected by free radicals. But research shows that the antioxidants in kombucha can lessen oxidative stress and liver toxicity and could be beneficial against liver diseases.3
Blood Sugar Control: Findings of an animal study revealed that kombucha tea was a better suppressor of blood glucose than black tea. The researchers wrote that, “Kombucha tea can be considered as a potential strong candidate for future application as a functional supplement for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.”4
Other Benefits: Other possible benefits of kombucha include antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, weight loss, enhanced immune function, treatment of the lung disease silicosis, and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and cancers.5
To Make or To Buy?
For all its potential health benefits, there is one drawback to kombucha: Many store-bought varieties contain unnecessary additives. Sugar is an essential ingredient in the creation of this beverage. But the fermentation process reduces the sugar content to almost nothing—it’s a naturally low calorie, low carb and low sugar beverage. But a lot of kombuchas have added sugar and other additives to enhance or sweeten the flavor.
If you buy a brand off the shelves, be sure to check the label and choose a kombucha that has limited ingredients. Better yet, make your own kombucha. This allows you to fully control the ingredients and sugar content.
The process is surprisingly easy, though it does require a bit of patience. Here’s how you do it.
What You Need…
- 1 large glass jar (at least one gallon) with a wide opening
- 1 thin dish towel or cheese cloth
- 1 rubber band
- 8 cups filtered or distilled water
- ½ cup organic cane sugar (most of it gets “eaten up” by the bacteria)
- 4-6 bags of organic black or green tea (you don’t want to use anything flavored or herbal—it can damage the SCOBY)
- 1 SCOBY “mushroom” (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) A SCOBY is a biofilm of microogranisms that resembles a mushroom cap. It is made of acetic acid and various bacteria and yeasts and is an essential starter for brewing kombucha. You can buy a SCOBY online in kombucha starter kits and in many health food stores. But often times people will give them away for free. Because, with each new batch of kombucha the SCOBY replicates itself, active brewers will typically have more SCOBYs than they need.
- 1 cup of premade or store-bought organic, unpasteurized kombucha
- Boil water in a pot. Once boiling, turn off heat and add sugar (1 – 1¼ Cups per gallon). Stir until the sugar dissolves then add your tea bags (4-6 tea bags per gallon of water).
- Steep the tea for 15-20 minutes, then discard the tea bags.
- Allow the tea to cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour the tea into the jar. Add the SCOBY disk as well as the pre-made kombucha. (Note: you only need the pre-made kombucha for your very first batch…thereafter, you’ll just leave a little kombucha from the last batch in your jar when you add your brewed tea for the next batch)
- Cover the jar with the towel or cheese cloth and secure with a rubber band.
- Allow to sit and ferment on your counter for about seven days (and up to a month).
- After about a week, taste your brew – once it’s slightly sour but still slightly sweet, it’s time to bottle it for the “second fermentation”.
- Pour your kombucha into (preferably) glass jars or bottles with a tightly sealed lid or cap. As the fermentation process continues in the sealed container, the carbon dioxide produced will get dissolved into the kombucha producing the delightful trademark effervescence.
Save one cup of this kombucha to use for future batches, and refrigerate and enjoy the rest.
- Marsh AJ, et al. Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples. Food Microbiol. 2014 Apr;38:171-8.
- Bellassoued K. et al. Protective effect of kombucha on rats fed a hypercholesterolemic diet is mediated by its antioxidant activity. Pharm Biol. 2015;53(11);1699-709.
- Bhattacharya S, et al. Hepatoprotective properties of kombucha tea against TBHP-induced oxidative stress via suppression of mitochondria dependent apoptosis. Pathophysiology. 2011 Jun;18(3):221-34.
- Aloulou A, et al. Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 May 16;12:63.
- Kapp JM, Sumner W. Kombucha: a systematic review of the empirical evidence of human health benefit. Ann Epidemiol. 2019 Feb;30:66-70.