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.
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.
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!