Kombucha: Miracle Beverage or Pop Culture Phenomenon?

Kombucha Drink

A few years ago, I had never heard of Kombucha. But soon, I started seeing it, and hearing about it everywhere! Is it really beneficial to your health, or is it just the latest trend that we’ll soon forget?

With roots in China, Russia, and Germany (1, 2) Kombucha Tea is created using what’s referred to as either a “SCOBY”, symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or “Kombucha mushroom” (deemed this because of its shape, and color following fermentation), and tea. (3) When fermented, the yeast and bacteria culture create a carbonated Kombucha beverage.

The Kombucha mushroom includes bacteria such as: Acetobacter ketogenum, Saccharomycodes ludwigii, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Bacterium xylinum, Bacterium gluconicum, Bacterium xylinoides, Bacterium katogenum, Pichia fermentans, Candida stellate, and Torula species as well as others depending on the brew. (3)

The Modern-Day Kombucha Craze

Kombucha entered the United States fermented beverage market in the 90’s. In 1995, a report came out in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linking Kombucha to death and illness in the minds of the consumer. However, it was not until 2003, perhaps as part of the low-carb craze, that health stores such as Whole Foods began increasing the availability of bottled Kombucha. With the increasing popularity of the drink, many folks were keen to create their own at home versions of the drink … which I actually think is best! Kombucha always was intended to be something you would brew on your own, not only purchase in a store.

How is Kombucha made?

As I indicated, the brewer begins with a Kombucha mushroom referred to as a “starter”, basically a lump of the live Kombucha culture. The starter base is then added to a sweetened tea and left to sit in a glass jar un-refrigerated for 7-14 days. Over the course of the first 4 days, the beverage goes from a pH level of 5 to 2.5, and the resulting brew has about 0.5% alcohol in any given batch. (4) The tea is specifically brewed to create a pH balance within 24 hours to avoid contamination of harmful bacteria such as penicillium spp. or candida albicans because these contaminations can lead to illness. (5)

During fermentation, the starter grows into a large mass of symbiotic bacteria and yeast begins to grow on the surface. This mass can now be known as the mother. As the mother mass matures, it will begin to grow its own smaller starter masses that are then sold to other brewers to create their own Kombucha. The starter mass used depends on the type of tea you are creating. Varieties include oolong, white tea, and pu-erh, amongst others. (1) Once finished, Kombucha is known to be highly acidic and contain alcohol, ethyl acetate, acetic acid and lactate. (4) It should be noted that because of its high acidity, Kombucha should never be brewed in ceramic, lead crystal, or painted containers. The acidity can actually allow for poisons (e.g. from the crystal) to leach into the beverage. (10) The finished product: a fermented probiotic Kombucha brew that is then either left raw or further pasteurized.

Benefits of Drinking Kombucha

Being a fermented beverage, Kombucha offers benefits similar to those associated with similar to yogurt and kefir.(6) The probiotics and antioxidants found in Kombucha and other fermented foods or beverages benefit your immune system year-round. One 16oz bottle of Kombucha is about 60 calories. It contains antioxidants plus Vitamins B, C, and E. (7)

Is there sugar in Kombucha?

There shouldn’t be, as it is all consumed by the bacterial cultures before their fermentation. However, trace amounts of sugar may remain in the beverage, and some Kombucha teas may be worse than others. It depends on what other teas and flavours are utilized in production. Personally, if I am grabbing a store-bought Kombucha, I look for servings that offer no more than 2g of sugar, and absolutely NO added sugar. Ginger, lemon, and tea do not boost sugar content. Fruitier additions might! Homemade Kombucha, traditionally brewed, will always contain less sugar in its end-product, if you watch over how it is made and follow the rules.

Kombucha and your Immune System

The detoxifying, anti-oxidizing, and energizing potencies of Kombucha are what’s said to promote a depressed immunity, which prevents against broad-spectrum metabolic and infectious disorders like the flu.(8) In cases of more critical illnesses, including cancer, the tea is highly recommended to patients.(3) The detoxifying high antioxidants and acidic cultures of Kombucha including lucuronic, lactic, antibiotic and acetic acid may also decrease cancerous tumor growth in the early stages.(9) Kombucha has also been associated with improved health with respect to baldness, insomnia, intestinal disorders, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS.(3)

Introducing Kombucha to Your Diet

If unpasteurized, the probiotic component of the beverage is higher and has said to have even stronger benefits digestion and boosting immunity. However, if the brewing is not closely monitored, unpasteurized Kombucha may also carry a higher risk of contamination from bad bacteria.(6)

Store-bought Kombucha will almost always be pasteurized.

Because you are actually fueling your body with probiotics when you drink Kombucha, you might want to start gradually. Introduce 4 ounces per day, and listen to your body, eventually working up to 16 ounces per day.(6) Slow introduction is key; if your liver isn’t firing on all cylinders, Kombucha may actually overwhelm your system.(9)

Let me know if you give Kombucha a try this winter!

Kombucha Tea

Dr. B.J. Hardick

About Dr. B.J. Hardick

Raised in a holistic family, Dr. B.J. Hardick is an organic food fanatic, green living aficionado, and has spent the majority of his life working in natural health care. In 2009, he wrote his first book, Maximized Living Nutrition Plans, which has now been used professionally in over 500 health clinics. Dr. Hardick regularly blogs healthy recipes and holistic health articles on his own website, DrHardick.com, and speaks to numerous professional and public audiences every year. In his spare time, he invests his keen interest in sustainable living into urban development in his hometown of London, Ontario. Learn More

  • Melissa Miller

    I bought a starter culture which was supposed to take approximately 30 days to re-hydrate. Wish I’d done that in warmer weather or with the use of a specific warm spot in our kitchen. But many months later now, I have enough “mother” to share with others. They are so excited to get to make their own! Funny, they noticed a slight alcohol flavor to it. That may be that they were tea drinkers so this was a real change from that. One friend is trying to use it to avoid the temptation and desire for soft drinks. As the article states start SLOWLY! small quantities and work your way up. Another thing to consider is when you will drink it during the day. You may benefit more having it toward the end of the day rather than earlier in the day. Listen to your body and give time to adjust to this wonderfully healthy drink. One of my friends takes just a couple oz of kombucha and mixes it with her unsweetened tea.

    Excited to see how it impacts our health as we go into this fall/winter time of the year.