Crazy About Kombucha

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If you’ve been listening to any of the Paleo podcasts or have read any of the blogs lately, I’m sure you’ve heard a good discussion or two about gut health.  Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir are being discussed all over the Paleo blogosphere, but there’s one fermented product that is really catching some attention.  Kombucha, a fermented tea, is steadily gaining in popularity among Paleo advocates, health connoisseurs, and well, people that just like a darn delicious drink.  Due to its sweet taste and slight alcohol content, it’s even been used to help individuals who want to get a grip on their sugar or alcohol cravings.  In fact, kombucha was once pulled from the shelves of stores because some of the teas were found to contain more than 0.5% alcohol, which is the legal U.S. limit for nonalcoholic drinks.  This may have been due to the fact that the drink was not properly refrigerated after it left the manufacturing facility.  When kombucha is not held at proper temperatures, it can cause the alcohol level to rise above the 0.5% limit.  Some of the manufactures fought back and changed their formulas to reduce the alcohol content to the acceptable limit.  While you can now find kombucha again in some health food stores, such as Whole Foods, labeled with brands such as GT’s or Synergy for around $3-5 a bottle, some advocates prefer to make their own at home through a home brew method.

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I recently experimented with making my own kombucha.  I was given some great advice by a friend who has helped many get started on home brewing. I had heard success stories from tons of other individuals who had given home brewing a shot.  I was sick of shelling out a few dollars per bottle and I had heard how easy it was to make.  I enjoy other fermented foods, but wanted to complement my current routine and not in the form of a probiotic supplement. To my surprise, the first two batches turned out incredibly well and I’m looking forward to tweaking my recipe in the future by trying new blends.  Believe me, if I can do this you can.

 

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So What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented tea that is a recognized probiotic.  In simple terms, the production involves making  sweet tea, adding a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and letting the SCOBY consume the sugar to produce a drink full of B vitamins, amino acids, organic acids, enzymes, and probiotics.  The SCOBY looks like a mix between a jellyfish and a mushroom.  It doesn’t sound that appetizing, but what a nice nutritional trade off! You can also increase the carbonation by bottling it a second time in smaller containers after the first fermentation is complete.  Some of the beneficial organic acids are further discussed here.

Why drink it?

There have been an endless amount of healing properties associated with the consumption of kombucha.  Websites that sell kombucha cultures, kits, and tools like Kombucha Kamp, report benefits such as its ability to: alkalize the body, detoxify the liver, increase metabolism, improve digestion, rebuild connective tissue, reduce headaches, alleviate constipation, boost energy, and the list goes on.  The American Cancer Society indicates that kombucha has been promoted as a cure-all for a wide range of conditions including baldness, insomnia, intestinal disorders, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and cancer.  As you can see, the vast array of benefits from this probiotic drink are endless, however the available scientific evidence doesn’t strongly support these claims and there have been complications in some individuals.  This is especially true when kombucha is brewed at home.  While there is still much to be debated about the safety and efficacy of using this drink, it’s something you may want to consider adding to your routine.

Some things to consider

  • If you are going to make your own kombucha at home please make sure you use a suitable container, such as  glass.  The acidity of the tea may cause other types of containers, such as ceramic or plastic, to leach harmful elements into your tea.  You can use pH strips to test the pH in your homemade kombucha to verify that it has reached the proper acidity.
  • If you make a home brew, make sure you seal the container with a breathable washcloth or towel.  This may work better than cheesecloths that are recommended in some recipes.
  • You can use many different types of tea (black, oolong, rooibos, green, white).  In my opinion, the wider the variety the better.  Just be careful not to use any tea that contains aromatic oils, such as Earl Grey, which may kill the culture.  Also, while herbal teas may taste great, you’ll be getting more antioxidants from the real tea sources listed above.  Some teas may contain soy lecithin or other dubious ingredients, so always make sure to check those labels!
  • If you are a child, are pregnant, have a compromised immune system, or have kidney disease you may want to talk with your doctor or caution your intake of kombucha.  This may not be necessary for everyone, but it’s something to consider, especially if you are doing a homebrew.  The Weston A. Price association recommends that individuals that haven’t consumed kombucha before pregnancy do not start to consume kombucha while pregnant, but if they are used to drinking kombucha, they can drink it while pregnant.
  • If you are doing a homebrew and are too antsy to wait until the sugars are mostly consumed during the fermentation OR if you buy kombucha that has added puree, remember that there may be a good amount of sugar in the drink.   A popular mango flavored kombucha drink contains about 20 grams of sugar per bottle.  Sugar still counts even though it’s packaged as a health drink.  There’s no need to drink bottles upon bottles of kombucha each day.
  • Try easing into the drink instead of chugging the whole bottle on day 1 if you’re not used to consuming fermented foods.  Start with a few ounces and then try graduating to a whole bottle, if you desire.  Kombucha is powerful stuff and its desirable taste makes it hard to stop at a few swallows, but slow and steady is the way to go for beginners.

All in all, I think kombucha can be a beneficial addition to your current routine.  If you’re curious about this intriguing concoction, try it out and see how you do.  The taste may not be the most pleasing at first, but it can become an acquired taste with time.  There are a wide variety of flavors available to help spice it up, but I’d stick with the original or most basic flavor instead of choosing ones with added purees.  Making kombucha at home is extremely easy and cost efficient, but just make sure you follow the protocols precisely and understand if your particular health status may put you at risk.

 

Please feel free to share your personal experience with kombucha below!

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  1. katieDid
    May 23, 2012 at 5:06 am

    I’m on my third home brewed batch right now… waiting is the only hard part about it! I’m looking to add some flavors to this one, if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them. I find my body craves this stuff now daily, and holding off on buying the $4 bottles while it brews has been hard.

    • Stephanie
      May 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

      You can always increase the amount that you are making (maybe go from 1 gallon brews to 2 gallon) or try a continuous method. That way you don’t have to wait as long in between. As far as flavors, you may want to try adding ginger, different types of black or green tea that are mixed with different spices or clean flavorings, or add sliced fruit to your brew. I find that adding frozen fruit to help cool the water faster is a great way to add more flavor and antioxidants.

    • Laura
      June 8, 2012 at 5:09 am

      To change flavors, I will crush some organic blueberries, strawberries, or other fruit, add it to small bottles and then pour the kombucha in and ferment a second time for a day or two. I am also going to try adding some cayenne pepper to the second ferment this batch. Had it is someone else’s and it was yummy!

    • Mike
      September 22, 2013 at 11:58 pm

      loving kombucha! been watching tons of videos from this site http://www.getkombucha.com

      plus there are tons of stuff on youtube as well!

      what flavors are everyone doing?

      • Sandi
        November 11, 2013 at 5:27 pm

        I am on my 2nd ever batch of green tea kombucha. I thought the first batch tasted beautiful, but to encourage my boyfriend to drink a little, I did a 2nd ferment on about 2/3 of it with some grape juice for 3 days. Instead of tasting like grape pop (which is what he expected) it tastes a bit like cheap sparkling wine, but not in a bad way. I poured about 2 oz of pure organic grape juice into the 16 oz bottles and then filled them with the kombucha. he’ll drink a little bit, but I find myself going to the fridge for a sip every half hour or so when I am at home. I want to try a ginger version but may keep this next batch plain and simple, if it tastes as good as the first one.

  2. Kathleen @ Simplified Paleo
    May 23, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Kombucha is really popular in Portland. I have had it, I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t really seem to do much other than offer a slightly sour tasting tea.

    • jamie
      June 26, 2012 at 12:22 am

      if you get the chance, try Kombucha Mama, http://www.kombuchamama.com. it’s probably the best tasting kombucha out there. super easy to drink, absolutely delicious and really good for you!
      cheers…

  3. James
    May 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I have been making this for years and if you take a glass and add some “calm”- Magnesium carbonate and citric acid (vit c) (ionic Magnesium citrate) you have the makings for one of the best night time get sleepy drinks you can find.

    All synergistic with digestion health.

    James

  4. Tyler
    May 23, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Is there a weekly recommended dose?

    • Stephanie
      May 23, 2012 at 11:50 am

      I don’t know that there is a weekly recommended dose that fits for everyone. I personally wouldn’t go over more than 1 bottle (16 fl oz) a day.

  5. william
    May 23, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Do you drink the jellyfish looking thing? The store versions say don’t shake, so the culture is still visible. Is that meant to be avoided or ingested for added benefits? Any taste difference?

    • Stephanie
      May 23, 2012 at 11:54 am

      The culture (jellyfish looking thing) can be consumed when purchased in the bottles found in the store, but some people are a little grossed out by their appearance. There should only be a small amount of culture in the bottle products. I haven’t been able to really taste anything different when consuming the culture. It’s mostly a texture thing.

  6. pjnoir
    May 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I thought Kombucha was Kaiser Soze attorney !!

    • Ryan
      September 28, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      Awesome. I guess no one else got that reference.

      • Fenix
        February 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

        I just found your site and this was the first thing I read. I did 14 days and felt the way you described! Good for you for going the full 21!! As a side note I am hgocylypemic (someone mentioned it above). I use to have major sugar spikes and drops until I did this and then stuck to the Paleo. Now the only time I feel that classic shake from a sugar drop is if I drink sugar alcoholic drinks. The first week was WAY rough getting through the sugar blues but increasing my protein and fat REALLY helped. I ate a TON of carrots I am pretty sure my skin was starting to look orangish.I love your blog it makes me laugh when occasionally I would like to cry about what I can’t eat anymore. Thanks for that! :)

  7. Lance Strish
    May 24, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Here is DrG’s take http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yp3-5UuLU4 (not good, and sauerkraut kimchi all correlate with breast and prostate cancer).

    Also his latest volume9 is out: http://tinyurl.com/drgvol9

  8. Beth
    May 24, 2012 at 5:11 am

    I’ve been making home brewed kombucha for over 6 months now, and I can’t believe how easy (and cost efficient!!) it is. As for flavors, I’ve attempted to make my own version of GT’s gingerberry, which was pretty good, among a few others. But my favorite right now is brewing with green tea, and adding fresh squeezed lemon juice when I bottle it.

  9. Amber
    May 24, 2012 at 6:31 am

    I used to brew Kombucha at home quite a bit, and most of my family brews as well. I stopped only because i wasnt seeing the great benefits to my skin as my mom, aunts and grandmas were experiencing (paradoxical responder, i guess).

    Make sure to avoid metals when brewing or bottling the kombucha, that can also mess up the pH and undo some of the healthful benefits. Adding fruit when bottling is a great way to keep it exciting (apples and cinnamon, pear, cranberry, pomegranate, whatever is in season). The best way to get a SCOBY is to get a “baby” off someone who is already brewing…it grows in layers and at some point everyone needs to scale back the size of their SCOBY (it is like splitting Hostas…you really shouldnt need to pay for it, because somewhere someone has an excess).

  10. raydawg
    May 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Can the commercial stuff be used as a starter for a homemade batch?

  11. JoshS
    May 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Raydawg- yep! So long as it’s raw, unpasteurized and unflavored, and you haven’t drank any out of the bottle yet (use a whole, freshly opened bottle)

  12. Molly
    May 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I drink water kefir which is very similar. I started drinking this with dinner about a year ago and now I don’t enjoy dinner without it. I like the flavor of kombucha better but water kefir grains are so much more pleasant to deal with!!

  13. Robert
    May 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    It is a complete myth that kombucha is a probiotic drink. You say it is a ‘recognized’ probiotic, but by whom? Not only is there no research to suggest that kombucha contains probiotics, but kombucha is simply too acidic to support these organisms. Kefir, kimchi, yogurt etc are all much less acidic and can support these organisms, but it is far from certain that most do.

    Skeptical? Consider this – some companies have spent years and millions of dollars to develop specific strains of probiotics that actually have the ability to survive the digestive system all the way to the gut in numbers adequate to influence the existing probiotic flora that we all have. Kombucha is a great drink and has many attributes – made with tea, acids derived from fermentation and a small amount of B vitamins, but probiotics organisms it does not have.

    Probiotics are the snake oil of the modern age – beware! Only bona fide preparations are worth buying.

    Robert

    • Stephanie
      May 25, 2012 at 8:17 am

      I agree that there can be some debate whether or not the probiotic issue is valid for every formulation due to the acidity, heat, and level of processing; however, it is definitely an option for individuals to choose if they wish to try a fermented beverage. Outside of the probiotic issue, there are other health benefits (as stated in the article) so that is something to consider. We all need to be a little skeptical of health claims, even in bottled probiotics, so your point is well taken. There are many who have seen great benefits from using the drink. I’m not saying it’s the magic pill or the best choice for everyone. This was simply to discuss what it is and what the proposed benefits are.

      • Robert
        May 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm

        I’m glad you agree about probiotics and I also believe there are many reasons to drink kombucha, not the least of which is to avoid soft drinks!

        It is widely assumed that kombucha contains healthful probiotics. This claim is made by many manufacturers and passed on by most websites without any evidence, and in fact with evidence to the contrary (acidity mostly). It is often the primary reason consumers buy kombucha. It is false and should not be claimed.

        Robert

        • Jeff Bonn
          May 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm

          Robert I’m not sure the acidity argument stands on it’s own. Given that the SCOBY creates and continues to live in an acidic environment it’s not unreasonable to propose that it’s constituents are generally more acid resistant.

          A little Google-Fu suggests that the stomach has a pH of 1.5-3.5 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stomach_acid) and finished Kombucha has a pH of 3.0 (http://www.organic-kombucha.com/kombucha_and_ph.html). This doesn’t prove anything but it suggests that the flora of the SCOBY may possibly survive the stomach.

          Not clear that’s even a good thing frankly, as I’m not sure I want a SCOBY in my gut, especially given how poorly documented the colonies appear to be. That said though I don’t think it’s that the stomach’s acid is a strong barrier to the passage of Kombucha flora into the gut.

          Academics aside, I like Kombucha.

        • Rick Evans
          March 17, 2013 at 10:48 am

          Doesn’t make sense, the culture would die if it couldn’t survive the acidity.

  14. Jamie
    May 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    A friend of mine makes home brewed kombucha and adds cherries when in season, the best I’ve had by far!

  15. Martin
    May 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Is kombucha better in any specific way than e.g. sauerkraut or kefir?

  16. Kris
    May 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Any concerns about reported liver and kidney effects? For example the ones reported here – http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA365602/Cured-by-Kombucha.html

    • Stephanie
      May 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      Yes, I’ve seen those types of case reports. Depending on the dose, the individual’s health status, the preparation method, and what kind of kombucha (home brewed vs purchased) there could be some caution as to potential liver and kidney effects.

  17. Jon Randles
    May 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

    We love Kombucha! Been drinking it for about 6 months. We tried making it but it grossed out my fiance so we stick to buying the large bottles for about $7 a litre. We drink maybe 1-3 ounces a day and it makes us feel great :)

  18. Cade Krueger
    August 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Stephanie thanks for the advice. I used this to answer some questions on a recent post of mine on my site.

    Keep up the solid stuff! :)

  19. Akshaya
    January 7, 2013 at 6:52 am

    Hi,

    I home brew my Kombucha I am planning for a baby and have read about the alcohol concers with Kombucha for it to be a safe drink during pregnancy. I wanted some input on this.Also will the amount of culture and the quantity of the brew ratio affect the alcohol content ? If so, what is the right ratio? I really love and enjoy this probiotic drink , so kindly advice.

  20. Candace
    April 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Can anyone tell me how many grams of sugar are left in a 16 oz bottle of Kombucha made with 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of sugar?

  21. Lori
    July 11, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I tried the Cranberry as my first go-round with Kombucha. WOW. It is strong. It tastes like vinegar with a splash of cranberry. Ha, thankfully I was warned at the food store NOT to shake it- as I would with any other tea or juice drink. I have been sipping it since I bought it- feels like it’s never ending lol. Should I worry about it going bad? (Is that a dumb question?) I plan to be a champ and finish it- it does give a refreshing factor and I could use the gut health.

    I think I’m going to love it. “Just keep sipping!” :D

  22. Connie
    September 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Even though I love kombucha, I have been drinking it for years mainly becasue it makes me feel better. I started brewing my own about nine months ago. For me a continuous brew system works best because its super easy and safe. I hear concerns all the time about alcohol and sugar content. So here’s my take on it.

    I used to be a major sugar and carb addict and I know what sugar and carbs do to my system… and it’s nothing like the way I feel when I drink kombucha. Sugar and carbs weigh me down and give me a headache. I’ve also drank enough alcohol is my system to know it’s poison to my system. Kombucha has a totally opposite effect of sugar, carbs, and alcohol.

    I make my kombucha with Hanna’s Special Blend (http://store.kombuchakamp.com/Hannah-s-Special-Tea-Blend-for-Perfect-Kombucha.html) and organic sugar. Sometimes I don’t add flavoring becasue it’s really good plain, and other times I use organic dried fruit cut into matchsticks and or good tasting doTERRA essential oils, like Wild Orange, Lemon, Lime and Ginger etc.

    If you are concerned about little scobys or floaties, you simply strain them off before drinking :)

  23. CC
    February 5, 2014 at 9:10 am

    The ACS said those health benefits have been “promoted as a cure-all” but later in the article says: “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that Kombucha tea promotes good health, prevents any ailments, or is works to treat cancer or any other disease. Serious side effects and occasional deaths have been linked with drinking Kombucha tea.”

    http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/dietandnutrition/kombucha-tea

  24. Candice
    April 11, 2014 at 3:55 am

    It was very irresponsible to publish only part of what ACS said and imply it was endorsing that kombucha is a cure all when they were actually saying that some claim that but science does NOT support that (at least there is no evidence of it) and in fact there is evidence of serious side effects. I love this blog and have relied on it a lot in the past, but I guess I better triple-check anything printed here since you are so willing to mislead people!!

    • Squatchy
      April 16, 2014 at 11:22 am

      Actually the post she wrote says exactly that. Go back and read the “Why Drink It?” section again.

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