What is Kombucha?
Simply speaking, kombucha is a fermented tea drink. The wonders of the simple and ancient beverage are that it can help your digestion, reduce health problems, and quench your thirst at the same time.
This drink is loaded with probiotics and nutrients. Its name is derived from and means ‘tea mushroom’ and is sometimes called kombucha mushroom. Now, we know this does not sound appetizing, but really kombucha is one of the best drinks you can have.
The Chinese have been drinking a version of kombucha for over 2,000 years. The earliest recorded mention of fermenting tea occurred in 220 CE. Scientific research started in the first half of the twentieth century by Russian and German scientists. Because of the world wars and various industrial accidents, the cancer rate was rising rapidly. Among many other potential cures, kombucha was researched.
It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that kombucha came to the US and research started by US scientists. Unfortunately, because no drug industry or beverage companies stood to profit from kombucha, very little research was done in the US. There is also little research being currently conducted in Europe or Asia because the health benefits of kombucha are so well known and used.
We have some information on how to make your own kombucha at home down below. Here is the gist of it: kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea. The kombucha mother, also known as the SCOBY, is a mass of bacteria and yeast that convert the sugars in the tea into alcohol and carbonation. This probiotic drink is drunk by many people around the world.
The many benefits of kombucha work through helping your body balance your gut bacteria. This helps reduce immune problems, reduce sickness, increase your health, and has even been reported to fight cancer. It can also help reduce IBS, indigestion, and inflammation.
The kombucha helps your body become healthier by providing natural probiotics and nutrients. You do want to continue to drink kombucha throughout your life because it does not last very long. The bacteria in your gut is replaced every couple of days so you will need a fresh infusion periodically. Drinking a small amount daily provides fresh probiotics and keeps away the bad bacteria.
Most of the kombucha is organic, but it can be debated on whether it is vegan. It is technically the product of a living organism, so those who follow the strict vegan definition cannot drink this. However, what defines life is not consistent among vegans and many consider bacteria to not be life. If you eat yogurt, cheese, or vinegar, you can have kombucha. These foods and drinks are all products of fermentation and contain (or should contain) live probiotics.
Those who make kombucha generally practice organic and raw principles. For kombucha to be healthy and probiotic, it needs to be raw, therefore unpasteurized. Because pesticides and other chemicals harm the bacteria within the SCOBY, most kombucha is generally organic.
We believe everyone should be drinking kombucha with a few exceptions. Those who shouldn't drink kombucha include those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, younger than 2 years of age or have compromised immune systems.
There really aren't many ingredients in kombucha. It consists of tea, sugar and the probiotics. Those probiotics produce a few nutrients, carbonation, and a small amount of alcohol. Like many other drinks that are fermented, kombucha is just fermented tea.
If you are new to drinking kombucha, you don't want to drink kombucha too often or have too much at once. There are billions of probiotics within a few milliliters of kombucha and that can cause your system to react violently if you are not used to it.
When you add good probiotics to your system, they fight off some of the lesser bacteria and those that are unwanted. It can cause many of the bad bacteria to die suddenly, which can cause a toxic condition in your intestine. This toxic shock can kill those with a weak immune system or those who are sick.
Depending on the type of tea you use, kombucha can have many vitamins and minerals. Herbal teas tend to have more antioxidants while black and green tea tend to have more minerals. Because of the probiotics, there is a tremendous amount of various B vitamins, as much as 10 to 20% of your daily recommended value.
Black tea kombucha can provide you with a large dose of manganese and potassium. Various herbal teas will provide you with magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium.
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Once you become used to the kombucha, we recommend having 8 to 12 ounces of it per day. We also recommend drinking kombucha on an empty stomach so you get the most benefit out of the probiotics. But, we know this can make some people nauseous, especially first-time drinkers.
When you begin drinking kombucha, you may be surprised by the sour and slightly bitter taste. In the beginning, it's best to drink lightly fermented kombucha and ones with more fruity flavors. This helps cover up some of the flavors that are not often found in typical diets. The longer kombucha ferments, the bitterer and sour the taste.
As you become used to drinking kombucha, you will find that it becomes tastier and your body desires the more sour and acrid taste. You will also find your desire for sweet foods and processed foods diminishing as your body becomes used to healthier and better food.
Once you start making your own kombucha, you'll find that you have an overwhelming number of SCOBYs. A SCOBY is a Symbiotic Collection Of Bacteria and Yeasts. Generally, it forms a floating mass that is clear to slightly grey. You can give these SCOBYs to your friends or use them for compost. We don't recommend eating kombucha SCOBY even though they are edible (they taste pretty gross).
Kombucha Health Benefits
There are hundreds of different health benefits that come with kombucha. On top of the tremendous amount of antioxidants and minerals that you can get out of the various teas, the probiotics help your digestive system and your immune system. The bacteria and yeasts of the probiotics convert some of the nutrients into even more antioxidants that can only be found in fermented foods.
As we stated earlier, much of the research into kombucha was done to help combat cancer risk. The same research also shows that it helps reduce inflammation in the body. That's because kombucha contains glucosamine. The glucosamines are able to revitalize the hydrolytic acid within the joints. This acid functions to help preserve the cartilage within your bone structure and reduce arthritis pain. The most popular form of glucosamine comes in the glucosamine/chondroitin supplement * that is very popular on the market. Fortunately, kombucha is far less expensive than these supplements.
Depending on the type of tea you make for the kombucha, it will be very rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage to your cells, which can delay aging, repair unhealthy lifestyle habits, and reduce cancer risk.
There are also some studies that show that the probiotic and vitamin content of kombucha can help reduce depression and anxiety. The methodology for this is far too complex to go into with this article, but basically what probiotics do is help rebalance the immune system and increases the communication between the gut and brain. This balances your hormones, which reduces anxiety and stress.
Kombucha Liver Benefits
Aside from the normal detoxification ability of kombucha, liver damage may be reversed. Due to the antioxidative protection, there are some studies to show that the antioxidants in kombucha may be able to prevent liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdoses. This would be especially helpful in hospitals where painkillers are overused. There are also some benefits to other types of damage done to the liver, such as alcohol, other medications, and chemicals. Many livers cleanses include kombucha because of this ability to clear out damage.
Kombucha for Weight Loss
When you are working on losing weight, adding healthy food is a big part. Probiotics can help rebalance your bacteria and improve your digestive abilities. When you improve your digestion, you require less food because you get more nutrients out of your food. That can benefit your weight loss by allowing your body to absorb more vitamins and minerals. Much of overeating in developed countries stems from nutrient deficient foods. We eat more to make up the deficiency.
One of the best ways to kick-start your weight loss is to go on a very short fast. Using kombucha in your fasting helps calm down your digestive system, eliminate excess waste, and repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria. As you include food again, the kombucha will help improve your digestive abilities and acidify your guts so you digest food better.
Just remember that kombucha contains a high amount of sugar for a drink. If you drink too much of the kombucha, you will gain weight because of the excess carbohydrates.
Kombucha Combats Hangover
Even though kombucha has a minor amount of alcohol, that's not the reason that it is helpful to people with a hangover. In fact, it is the healthy properties of kombucha that combats the hangover.
A hangover is primarily caused by dehydration and a lack of electrolytes. Kombucha provides both. It also provides a lot of the antioxidants and vitamins and minerals that help clear out the liver from the waste products of the alcohol.
While not studied, ginger and peppermint kombucha may be able to reduce any stomachache or nausea that comes with your hangover. Both ginger and peppermint are known as remedies for nausea.
We don't want you to drink more alcohol just because you can use kombucha to help relieve the symptoms, but if you do partake a little too much kombucha may able to help.
Kombucha Cancer Benefits
The origins of kombucha studies started with cancer. Before you start drinking kombucha and combining it with chemotherapy or radiation treatments, we recommend you talk to your doctor. There are many polyphenols and antioxidants within the kombucha and they may react negatively to your treatments.
If you start kombucha prior to getting cancer, it can be a great benefit. Many of the studies have worked on the polyphenols and antioxidants to help reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells. Even though this mechanism is not well researched or understood, it is thought that the polyphenols help reduce gene mutation and reverse any damage done to the DNA. It can help reduce the growth of cancer cells and may even induce apoptosis (cell death) in those same cancer cells.
We don't believe kombucha is a cure for cancer or 100% preventative. When combined with a good diet, proper exercise and the right nutrients, it will give you a better chance of not developing cancer and survive any that may slip through.
Kombucha for Candida and Other Infections
We mentioned earlier that kombucha can help reduce candida infections. There are also some studies that show that kombucha has an antimicrobial effect and other similar growth inhibiting properties as antibiotics. Most of the studies have been done on chickens and lab mice, but many people will attest to their ability to fight off infections and colds using kombucha.
Kombucha for IBS
There are some pretty wild claims online, such as kombucha can cure your irritable bowel in a few days. More realistically is that kombucha will help provide probiotics and nutrients that help reduce the damage done to your gut and you will heal on your own. This is how kombucha helps your digestion.
Plus, kombucha is an acidic product, which will help reduce acid reflux and help digest your food properly. It works similar to apple cider vinegar, which we have in a great article over here.
Many people use kombucha for proper gut health and for leaky gut. In the past, these types of problems would only be known to people who ate a highly processed diet. Many of the lower classes, who ate more vegetables and natural foods and fewer bread and pastas, had a fewer gut problem. They also ate a tremendous amount of fermented food.
Today, we know that fermented food and foods preserved in vinegar help our gut health and increase our digestive ability. Kombucha is a part of that solution.
Kombucha for Bloating
There is quite a bit of debate over whether kombucha will cause gas or relieve gas. Since this is a fermented product, it does provide yeast and if you have a problem with yeast in your gut, it could make the problem worse. This will cause more bloating and gas to occur.
However, by providing healthy probiotics and all the antioxidants and nutrients found in kombucha, you can rebalance your gut and get rid of some of the negative yeast and bacteria. This helps relieve the bloating. Also, as you reduce your acid reflux and your IBS, you will experience less gas and bloat.
Kombucha for Ulcers
There is some research that shows the probiotic content of kombucha can help reduce the risk of the H pylori bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. It is also helpful in reducing the bacteria and yeast that are rampant when somebody has candida infections. Both of these bacteria have been known to increase the risk of stomach ulcers and other health problems.
Kombucha for UTI
Kombucha is an acidic drink, like most fermented foods and cranberry juice. It helps reduce urine pH into the normal and healthy range of less than a pH of 6. When the pH levels go low, bacteria have a hard time reproducing the bladder and kidneys. The organs are also able to flush out more of the waste products and bacteria from your system when the pH is lower. Despite the popular alkalizing myth/fad, you want acidic foods in your diet if you want to avoid urinary tract infections.
Kombucha for Skin
There is nothing specifically in kombucha that is going to help your skin. What does is providing antioxidants and vitamin minerals that make you healthy. When you're healthy within, your skin is healthy.
One odd side effect of making kombucha is that you have extra SCOBYs. There are some people that use the SCOBY as a face mask to help reduce wrinkles and moisturize the skin. There aren't any studies to show that this actually works, but many people swear by it.
We haven't tried it ourselves but if you choose to do so leave a comment below and what your results were. We do know that the worst it's going to do is make you look silly for a little bit. The SCOBY will do nothing to harm your skin.
Kombucha for Diabetes
Using the kombucha for diabetes could be hit or miss. Yes, kombucha contains approximately 14 grams of sugar per serving. This can be a little much for people who need to strictly control their sugars. However, there are several studies that show kombucha can reduce the absorption of carbohydrates from food, reduced blood sugar levels, and may even prevent people from becoming diabetic in the first place.
Its primary benefit is to help reduce insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics. If you would like to try kombucha, we recommend working with your doctor. A small amount of kombucha may be beneficial as long as you work with the rest of your diet to reduce sugars and processed foods.
Kombucha Side Effects
There are relatively few health risks of kombucha. In general, they tend to be all around the kombucha having caffeine and having alcohol.
The caffeine is not destroyed in the fermentation process. Any caffeine that would be in the tea will be in the kombucha. You can calculate the amount of caffeine in your kombucha by looking at the caffeine content of the original tea. There are approximately 50 milligrams of caffeine in one standard serving of black tea. The same will be in one serving of kombucha. Green tea has significantly less and herbal teas have none.
The process of fermentation of the kombucha produces alcohol. Under normal conditions, the amount of alcohol is 1.5% to 2% alcohol. The longer the tea ferments, the higher the alcohol. This is extremely small and rarely gets above 3%. However, if you are sensitive to alcohol you should not drink kombucha.
It is debatable whether kombucha is bad during pregnancy. If you drink a lot of this you when pregnant, there is a risk of the alcohol affecting the baby. The same goes for drinking kombucha when you are breastfeeding. Some authorities state that the amount of alcohol is negligible and will have no effect on the baby, but others state that it will. We recommend talking to your doctor about whether kombucha drinks are safe for you during your pregnancy.
We do not recommend giving kombucha to children under the age of 2 years old. Their systems may not be able to handle the minor amount of alcohol in the kombucha and the probiotics may make them sick.
When you are sick, kombucha may or may not help you. After a round of antibiotics, it is definitely beneficial. The probiotics within the kombucha will help repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria. This may help you fight off future infections. If you are sick, it could cause your immune system to overreact or divert energy and resources that could be fighting the real, bad infection.
If you are diabetic or have a risk of diabetes, kombucha may not be a good drink for you. It does contain a large amount of sugar and could be detrimental to your diabetes. However, the probiotics it contains will help rebalance your gut and has been shown in some studies to help reduce insulin resistance. In the case of diabetes, we recommend talking to your doctor and not to exceed 4 ounces of kombucha a day.
Too much of a good thing can be bad for you. In excess, kombucha can cause lactic acidosis, an excess of lactic acid in your blood and muscles that is life-threatening. While many scientists are unsure of how much kombucha you would need to drink to cause this condition, sticking to the recommended 8 to 12 ounces per day is far below the range where you will have this condition.
The final word of warning: it should not be shaken. This is a carbonated beverage that will violently release the gases if shaken. It is similar to a soda can. Because most kombucha is packaged in glass bottles, the glass may shatter and cause injury. But don't worry too much. Under normal conditions, when you don't shake the bottle, kombucha is perfectly safe and the only risk is the fizz tingling your nose.
There are as many kombucha flavors as there are teas. So, what does kombucha taste does like?
Most kombucha tastes like a slightly sour, slightly sweet tea with just a hint of vinegar. Teas with a stronger flavor, like black tea or ginger tea, tend to produce strong drinks. Green tea kombucha and white tea produce a very light drink.
If you let the kombucha ferment too long, it actually turns into kombucha vinegar, which is not very pleasing. It can be used for salad dressings and pickling but is not very good for drinking.
Once you get into making your own or shopping for different flavors, we recommend trying all types of herbal teas. The can produce some really pleasant and uplifting taste sensations you will never find in sodas or processed drinks.
When most people begin drinking kombucha, they choose the kombucha that tastes good and has the lightest flavor. As people get used to the flavor and the tartness they tend to move towards more bitter flavored teas with stronger overtones.
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How to Make Kombucha
Making kombucha is easy. Making kombucha taste good is a bit more of a challenge.
You can make your own kombucha at home. All it really takes is a kombucha starter culture, sugar for the kombucha and tea. You don't even need special kombucha making supplies. But, if you have the money for it, a kombucha maker does make things a lot easier.
We don't want you to be afraid of the kombucha fermentation. It is a natural process that has been going on for thousands of years and is very sanitary and safe. Of course, there are always a few problems that may be associated with it, but we're going to tell you how to avoid most of them.
The basic kombucha recipe starts out like this:
That's it that's all you need to make your first kombucha.
The biggest argument you will get from the internet will be which is the best tea for making kombucha. Everyone has an opinion. Generally, the kombucha starter kits start with basic black tea. You can use any tea you would enjoy and it will produce a drink flavored similar to the tea. For example, ginger tea will produce ginger kombucha.
There is also a lot of debate over the SCOBY. You do need a dedicated SCOBY that came from kombucha. The ones used for making kefir or vinegar will not work or produce a good kombucha.
Generally, we recommend getting your first SCOBY from somebody that's already making kombucha. They will have been growing so many SCOBYs that they'll be happy to give them away. As you begin making your kombucha, you will have more SCOBYs than you know what to do with (the compost and garden love extra SCOBY).
Growing a kombucha SCOBY is quite easy, but there are a few things that can harm it. Cleanliness is your biggest friend. Taking care of your SCOBY is simply a matter of making sure your vessels and your hands are clean. Foreign bacteria can get into the SCOBY and produce mold and other problems.
If you're getting a kombucha SCOBY from a friend or online, they will store it for you. Storing the kombucha SCOBY is as easy as putting it into fresh tea with a little bit of sugar and passing it on. Just make sure everything is cleaned well.
Once you have your SCOBY and you've selected the tea you would like, kombucha brewing is very easy. Simply put everything into one gallon or 4-liter container. Seal the container allowing for a fermentation cap to be added.
We have a link to some kombucha culture growing supplies below. The fermentation cap is just something that will allow gases to escape out but not allow any gases or bugs to enter. A popular example is in the kombucha starter kit from Whole Foods that has this cap right in it. Wine and beer making suppliers also have fermentation caps.
Once all of the ingredients are placed in the kombucha brewing vessel, leave it alone for 5 to 7 days. At that point, we recommend you start tasting small amounts of the kombucha until it reaches a nice balance between sweetness and tart. This usually happens on day 7 to 10.
Now, you can add honey, fruit, juice, or other natural flavorings to increase the tastiness of your kombucha. Many people will add fruit, ginger, or edible flowers to the kombucha.
Your taste buds will let you know when the kombucha is ready to bottle. You don't need to add the next step if you do not choose to, but it adds a lot of carbonation and fuzziness, which most people enjoy.
At this point, you can add various other flavors, such as honey, fruit juice, or fruit pieces. Each of these will add more flavor variations. Adding more sugars, such as the honey, will increase the carbonation.
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Before you bottle your kombucha, remove 2 cups of the previous tea. This will become your starter for the next batch. You will then be able to continuously brew kombucha at home.
You will need kombucha bottles that can withstand pressure. Do NOT reuse beer bottles unless you have the proper capping equipment. When you add the kombucha to the bottles, make sure to leave at least an inch of headspace. The kombucha will continue to ferment in the bottles and the carbonation produced will create a fizzy drink in the bottles. This usually happens within 3 to 5 days.
You can store your kombucha in the refrigerator, which will slow down the carbonation process. If you leave the kombucha in the bottle for more than a couple of days, be sure to burp the bottle by letting out some of the carbonation. This will prevent the bottles from breaking.
But sometimes kombucha does go bad. If you were not particularly clean or some bugs got into your SCOBY, it could grow mold. We highly recommend that you discard any kombucha or SCOBY that appears to be discolored or growing mold. Generally, the acidity and slight amount of alcohol that is produced are enough to keep the vast majority of bacteria and molds away.
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Where to Buy Kombucha
Despite being really popular, getting good kombucha can be difficult. In fact, it's only been in the past 3 years that I found kombucha near me.
There are many different brands of kombucha. And many people have various opinions on what the best kombucha brand really is. It all comes down to taste. If you like a particular brand, that's the one you should drink.
We've looked at a ton of kombucha reviews and discussions to try and figure out which one was the best. But we agree it comes down to taste. Be sure to read the reviews and see which flavors the best match what you like. If you don’t like bitter teas, you won’t like bitter kombuchas.
Whole Foods has many different forms of kombucha. In some of the stores and online, you can buy kombucha in bulk and you can even buy the kombucha SCOBY individually.
There are some places you can buy a kombucha starter kits and the kombucha culture online. These places will have it listed as buying the kombucha mother. Some of these places will also sell the kombucha directly to you. I got my kombucha SCOBY from Cultures For Health *.
If you're looking for what kombucha we recommend - GT's Living Foods Kombucha (all their lines - Classic Kombucha and Synergy Organic Kombucha):
There are also many different other brands you can find in individual locations. We also recommend checking out farmers markets because some manufacturers will make small-scale productions in local areas.
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