What is Kombucha & Should I Be Drinking It?

Even if you’re not a fan (yet), you’ve probably heard of the popularized drink known as kombucha. It’s pretty funky, so based on taste alone many people don’t care for it. What gives it its “funkiness” is the fact that it’s fermented, therefore it can have a vinegary smell and taste, is carbonated, and often has little bits floating in it.

How is Kombucha made?

It’s made by combining three things:

  1. Black Tea
  2. Sugar
  3. Bacterial Culture

The bacterial culture is referred to as a “scoby,” an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, and is the culprit for the floaties in the beverage. These ingredients are left to ferment for a little over a week, at which time the scoby is removed and additional flavoring can be added.

Today, there are endless flavors of kombucha. While most are fruit flavored, others have more exotic twists like root beer and lavender. It is also common to see chia seeds in some variations.

Where did Kombucha originate?

The drink originated in China, where it was consumed as early as 220 B.C. for medicinal purposes. It made its way to Europe by way of Dutch and Portuguese explorers in the early 20th century.

So is Kombucha good for me?

There are many purported benefits of kombucha but very little research to back these claims up. “Much hype and very little scientific evidence,” said Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Thomas Bosch. However, there have been some studies conducted on rats that indicate that kombucha may indeed contribute to immune system health, mental health, cancer prevention and cardiovascular disease prevention.

Regardless, there are two benefits kombucha does provide:

Probiotics

As with other fermented foods, kombucha is a good source of probiotics: microorganisms that help the body maintain healthy flora in the gut which help with digestion. However, probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables can be healthier overall because they contain many other additional nutrients not found in kombucha.

Antioxidants

One of the most potentially beneficial components of kombucha, according to Registered and Licensed Dietitian Kris Coughlin, is its antioxidant qualities. As I explained in my post about eating a variety of different colored fruits and veggies here, antioxidants help protect the body from cell damage by neutralizing free radicals. “Most diseases that we have in North America, the chronic disease, stems from inflammation in the body,” said Coughlin. “So if we can combat that inflammation by getting antioxidants from kombucha, then who knows, we may be able to reduce some of those chronic diseases.”

The Bottom Line

While we don’t yet know for sure if it’s the elixir that many make it out to be, you can’t really go wrong with Kombucha.* The sugar added at the beginning and the caffeine from the black tea are generally used up in the fermentation process, making the drink quite low in sugar and virtually caffeine-free. So, if you’re in the mood for a cold, carbonated beverage and want to avoid sugary drinks like sodas and juices, kombucha is a great option.

*There are higher risks of contamination if brewing it at home, so extreme caution must be taken.

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