Kombucha. What is it? Let us shorthand this for you: If this were the ‘80s, and the health and wellness industry was Studio 54, kombucha would be our blow. Or how about this: kombucha is to digestion what lube is to sex, welcomed but not required, fun in small doses and sometimes, but not always, a precursor to kinkier options. And by kinkier, we mean kimchi.
Confused? Take a chill pill, dude, it’s the ‘80s! …Er... no it’s not, but anybody else have a hankering for a Capri Sun and an ALF binge? No? Okay, moving on.
It’s 2018 and kombucha has gone from being a weird, fuzzy, filmy fluid your hippie aunt kept in her basement, to a weird, fuzzy, filmy fluid your hippie aunt keeps in her She-Shed. And also sells at Whole Foods. And Wal-Mart. In fact, your hippie aunt is rolling in kombucha dollars right now because she had the foresight to know that everyone needs a vice, even the healthy people, and thanks to the fermentation process inherent to kombucha, sugar is required, that’s right REQUIRED, and mostly gobbled up by good bacteria by the time it reaches your lips, so it’s a win/win all around.
Kombucha is traditionally a black tea (but go ahead and substitute green if you feel like getting jiggy with it) that’s undergone a fermentation process and come out the other side all dressed up and ready to party, packing a slightly effervescent, mildly alcoholic punch (more on this later) and loaded with probiotics, antioxidants, active enzymes and a bunch of other stuff your mother should’ve made you eat instead of pushing the Fruit Wrinkles. Anybody remember those? How’d that name get past the R&D stage?
The health benefits of kombucha have been touted since 221 B.C. when it was referred to in the writings of Chinese Tsin dynasty as the “Tea of Immortality”. Over the years it’s been credited with combating everything from radiation to wrinkles, hemorrhoids to hypertension, depression to diarrhea. In fact, kombucha has been touted as a cure for so many ailments you could literally go through the alphabet. Asthma to anemia. Cancer to the clap. Grey hair to gout. Skeptical yet?
So you want the facts, do ya? You’re going to get all uppity demanding annoying things like, “human-based clinical trials,” huh? Well, you’re not going to find them, not yet, anyway. But if the rats are any indication, guzzling kombucha can reduce cholesterol, boost kidney and liver function and improve your immune system on the whole. On a cellular level, studies have even shown that kombucha prevents growth and decreases the survival rate of cancer cells as well as fending off harmful microbes and bacteria. What is generally accepted, even among the naysaying buzz-kills of this world, is that kombucha, much like other fermented products (a ‘la yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut), will deliver gut-pleasing probiotics as well as B vitamins to your system, which, in theory, should aid in digestion and promote overall wellbeing. Beware of pasteurized kombucha though, which has been stripped of much of the nutritional benefits. And steer clear of overly sugary versions, often hiding under the guise of natural fruity flavors.
After it’s Chinese beginnings, kombucha went on a centuries long world tour through Japan, Russia and Europe before making it’s American debut in the1990s. Crediting homebrewed kombucha with combatting his mother’s aggressive breast cancer, GT Dave launched GT’s Kombucha in 1995. In 2010 a Whole Food’s inspector noticed leaky bottles of kombucha and guessed alcoholic fermentation as the culprit. Sure as sugar, testing found some bottles to be – gasp – as high as 2% over the 0.5% limit that beverages must fall under if they wish to stay out of the way of the pesky Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The kombucha was pulled from the shelves, reformulated to take the buzz out, and reappeared 2 months later. Around the same time it was erroneously reported that Lindsay Lohan’s daily kombucha habit caused her alcohol-monitoring bracelet to go off. Instead of harming the industry, these modest scandals made it explode, paving the way for lesser-known brands to gain attention as well as those capitalizing on kombucha’s natural alcohol content, such Kombrewcha and BoochCraft.
Considered the fastest growing product in the functional beverage market, the future looks rosy for kombucha, with sales projected to reach 1.8 billion by 2020. And with the purchase of industry darling KeVita by PepsiCo, kombucha just might become the choice of the new generation.
We’ve been dabbling in kombucha for quite some time now. It helped Zoe maintain 0.5% sobriety through two pregnancies and aided Erica’s digestion process after her stomach exploded in 2015, albeit with a strange, kombucha-inducing shoulder twinge, but more on that at another time. Not everyone should be consuming fermented beverages, those wrestling with reflux issues should be wary of carbonation in general, and if you’re staying away from sugar, sip lightly. While Erica appreciates the illusive, “it aint juice, it aint soda” quality of kombucha, Zoe prefers to spend her daily fermentation/sugar allowance on wine. Not to mention the strict, don't drink drinks you can't spell rule. A blind taste-test of three major kombucha brands devolved into a comparison on our burping habits (how much is too much?) but we agreed that Suja Peach Ginger tasted oddly artificial. It could be considered an entry-level kombucha, lacking some of the sour, spice and vinegar qualities that a more seasoned kombucha drinker might look for. And while Kevita Ginger delivered a nice tang, Synergy was the hands down favorite.
SO HOW THE F DO YOU MAKE IT?
It’s pretty easy, provided you don’t get grossed out by the rubbery, brain-like symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) that forms on the top of jar. This nasty, chicken-liver looking disc is what allows the fermentation to take place, after all, so don’t hate. Check out our favorite recipe below. Cheers to your health!