Kombucha – What’s Up With This Stuff?

Kombucha in my yard

Kombucha in my yard

Somebody in my microbiology class last semester home-brewed kombucha and gave a presentation on the process as her term project. At the time, being the nerd that I am, I’d never heard of it. Apparently, kombucha has been part of the cultural lexicon for several years now. It is not unusual for me to learn about ‘new’ products or fads long after the fact. Of course, once I heard about kombucha I started seeing it everywhere. I finally grew curious enough to buy a few bottles and look into its many health claims.

Before we get to its dubious status as a miracle drink, let me give any other culture-nerds out there a little Kombucha 101. Essentially this stuff is a fermented tea beverage. You start off with a batch of tea, sugar, and a culture of yeast and bacteria that looks like a gelatinous, milky pancake. Screw the lid on tight and let the mixture sit for a while and it will ferment. The yeast metabolizes the sugar so the end product isn’t really sugary. I’ve never tasted home-brewed kombucha but what you get at the store comes in a myriad of flavors. Some are mixed with exotic fruit juices like mango or pomegranate. Ginger appears to be a popular flavor addition. So if you’re wondering what it tastes like, think sparkling apple cider or ginger beer. You’ll find a glop of residual culture at the bottom of each bottle which may gross some people out but I imagine only adds to kombucha’s mystique for others.

Hard core kombucha-ers associate the drink with a huge variety of health benefits ranging from digestive aid to cancer cure-all. The label on the bottle of GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha that I purchased lists ten benefits to the drinker that all, amazingly, start with the letter “r”. These are: rejuvinate, restore, revitalize, recharge, rebuild, regenerate, replenish, regain, rebalance, and renew. The label also says that Kombucha supports digestion, metabolism (this one makes me chuckle, immune system, appetite control, weight control, liver function, body alkalinity, anti-aging, cell integrity, and healthy skin and hair. Wowza! Pass the kombucha!

I fancy myself a skeptic, so a little red flag goes up in my mind when I see health claims for a product that could be considered ‘too good to be true’. Another red flag goes up when the product is also an ‘ancient Chinese remedy’. In such cases, the majority of health claims tend to be based on anecdotal evidence and lack scientific foundation. Sadly, this seems to be the case here. Of course this doesn’t mean that kombucha imparts no health benefits to the drinker, just that it probably doesn’t do all that it is purported to do. Kombucha has probiotics, which we know are good for intestinal cells, antioxidants, and there is evidence that fermented foods can be beneficial for immune function. I tend not to think I need to be ‘detoxed’, but if you do, there is some evidence that kombucha may help with that, too. One question to consider is, “Currently, as a non-drinker of kombucha, is my health deficient in any way that would be best helped by drinking kombucha”

That said, as long as the consumer is a normal, healthy adult, kombucha doesn’t seem to have any ill effects aside from a few cases of people drinking bad home-brew or combining it with certain medications. So if you can afford it (I bought it on sale for $3 a bottle and feel like it benefits you in some way, then I say go for it. If you have cancer, though, I’d go to the doctor. I found the taste somewhat pleasant and noted it only has 60 calories and 14g carbs for a whole big 16oz bottle. Dave, on the other hand, was reminded of his first taste of beer. The bottom line for me is that the price and the cloudy stuff at the bottom will probably keep me from indulging very often.

16 Responses to “Kombucha – What’s Up With This Stuff?”

  1. Stacey says:

    I wanted to try this the other day from Whole Foods and kept reading the info about it and was a skeptic myself and passed;(
    I might try it if it was on sale ;P Thanks for the review, I feel like I’m not the only person that had questions about it.

    Red Flags= common sense

  2. shelley says:

    I still have 2 bottles in my fridge. Would give them to you if I could!

  3. Jose Gonzalez says:

    I’ve been trying out the different flavors. Definitely an acquired taste…very strong. I agree with Dave, there’s that taste. I also don’t think that it will cure everything. But let’s see what happens…

  4. Betsy says:

    I don’t know about the benefits, but I love this stuff. I make it myself using a scoby that I got from someone in town for free. Only other ingredients are tea and sugar. I’ve been adding a couple of frozen raspberries to each bottle, and WOW!

    It’s definitely too pricey to drink on a regular basis if you’re buying from the grocery store, for me anyway.

  5. Sarah says:

    I love the stuff! It may be an aquired taste but it makes you feel so good! Great for a hangover. And these days I’ll chose it to drink instead of booze. Makes the whole body happy!

  6. Sarah says:

    I am however brewing it at home to save $$

  7. Kombucha has a long history as a health tonic in Russia and China. And fermentation being the primary method of preserving food for millennia, most traditional cultures eat or drink something fermented with every meal to aid digestion (and provide important probiotics which offer many immune enhancing and nutritional benefits).

    So the kombucha fad notwithstanding, if you can make your own, it’s a tasty way to get these benefits into your diet regularly.

  8. Robert says:

    Seems like a lot of carbs for just a drink. Are they all from sugar?

  9. shelley says:

    I think that if you enjoy the taste and can make it at home or if cost is not an issue for you then there’s no reason not to drink Kombucha. In fact, I think home-brewing sounds like fun. The tone of this post might imply that I don’t approve of Kombucha. Actually, I just think it is over-hyped and that people make health claims about it that are unsubstantiated. The same goes for coconut as far as I’m concerned. I love coconut and eat some form of it every day. But there is a lack of evidence to support some of the health claims made about it.

    Robert – I’m pretty sure the carbs are coming exclusively from sugar. If you home brew, you can control the level of fermentation and reduce the sugar content in the end product.

  10. Grok says:

    I home brew Kombucha, Raw milk Kefir (goat & cow), and water Kefir non-stop. There are gallons of each in my fridge right now. I drink all or most of them every day.

    I also make Kefir cheese and put Kefir cream with berries & almonds on my coconut flakes when I have them. Mmm!!!

    I’ve seen the most benefits from milk kefir. I started drinking the milk kefir some time before the others. It took care of a reasonably uncomfortable lactose bloating/IBS issue completely! I can’t say enough good things about it. I’d drink a gallon a day (have before) every day if I could afford all that raw milk 🙂 There are some other benefits I won’t mention here 😉 but they are good ones and I’ve tested enough to know they are directly related to the kefir consumption.

    I’ve noticed Kombucha will take care of heartburn. I haven’t really noticed any other benefits, but my consumption is still only about 8oz a day.

  11. Helen says:

    I am brewing my first batch of kombucha. We love the stuff and want to save $$$$$$.

  12. Debra says:

    I tried Kombucha for the first time last weekend and liked it enough to purchase a jug for $12. It is home brewed and I really enjoy the fizzy, tart and cidery taste. Kind of like a combination between apple cider and wine cooler, but less sweet than either. I think the flavor is very refreshing and nice to have something with a little fizz since sodas have left my life for good. The woman I purchased the Kombucha from said I could use the last half of the jug to make myself another batch as it would grow it’s own “mushroom”. I just need to leave it at room temp and add organic brewed black tea with sugar, cover with cloth and wait two weeks. I am going to give it a try. I am also skeptical of the many proclaimed benefits but I am pretty sure the fermented stuff is good for the intestinal tract. I have been drinking about 6 oz a day.

  13. ShelleyB says:

    I got my DH onto it and he now drinks it instead of pop, which has to be better. We often take to someone’s house instead of booze to drink, my DH was never a big drinker and we are both athletes so its a great alternative.

  14. admin says:

    I saw this article about the branding of Kombucha. Thought it was interesting.

  15. Lisa says:

    The high country kombucha only has 5 carbs
    2gsugar. I love kombucha, i cant afford to drink it all the time but it always makes me feel better especially on a day you dont feel good it works! great stuff!

  16. shawn says:

    Just had a bottle of GT kombucha and I felt pretty good until I exercised. Then the good energetic feeling intensified to the point of anxiety. Then I stretched only my legs (I ran alot and hard for my exercise because I felt so energetic) and I calmed down. Powerful stuff I think. I like the brand though and will definitely be buying it again soon.

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