This trendy, fermented tea promises health benefits, but does it actually deliver?

By Alli Shircliff
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You've probably seen bottles of kombucha popping up in health-food stores or even in your local supermarket. So what's the deal with this magical fermented tea? And does it really deliver on the health promises it makes? Here's everything you need to know about kombucha.

What is Kombucha and Kombucha SCOBY?

Kombucha tea is a popular fermented drink made with green or black tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast historically consumed in China, Russia, and Germany. It is slightly effervescent, and store-bought bottles often come labeled "do not shake before opening."

You may hear people refer to a "SCOBY" when discussing kombucha. SCOBY stands for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." It's the (weird-looking) rubbery disc (or "mother") made up of cultures of bacteria and yeast, used to brew kombucha in a process similar to making vinegar. (In fact, kombucha does have a pleasant, vinegar-like flavor.)

Kombucha and scoby. Photo by Meredith

Kombucha Benefits

There is a lot of talk about the benefits of kombucha, from the everyday to the extreme. Some claim it can prevent cancer, improve liver function, and treat diabetes, but there is no scientific evidence as yet that validates these claims.

Nutritionally, it is low in calories. One 8-ounce serving has about 30 calories, all coming from carbohydrate. It is often rich in probiotics, the good bacteria for our digestive systems. Some brands, such as GT's, list the probiotic content in each bottle.

Is Kombucha Alcoholic?

The process of fermentation involves breaking down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. So in short, yes kombucha does contain alcohol, but only in tiny amounts.

Commercial kombucha found in the grocery store contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol, meeting federal regulations to have a "non-alcoholic" label. However, you might find home-brewed kombucha contain up to 3 percent alcohol.

The bottom line is: alcohol content shouldn't be a concern to most people when drinking commercial kombucha and most home-brewed kombucha. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid drinking home-brewed kombucha and limit their consumption of commercial kombucha.

Kombucha Dangers

When made properly, kombucha can be a refreshing, probiotic-rich drink that is safe to incorporate into your diet. However, over-fermentation or contamination may occur, especially in home-brewed kombucha.

Additionally, drinking too much kombucha, even when prepared properly, can lead to negative side-effects. Because kombucha is carbonated, drinking too much can lead to bloating and digestive issues. And added sugars in some kombucha brands can be bad for your health in the long-run.

It's recommended you drink no more than one to two servings of kombucha a day, and those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised should avoid the drink altogether due to its alcohol content.

Does Kombucha Go Bad?

Kombucha should be refrigerated or chilled at all times. If kombucha is not refrigerated, this can compromise the living cultures in the drink, causing it to continue to ferment and contain more alcohol. Store kombucha in the fridge unless the label says otherwise.

Once opened, kombucha should be used within a week or so for optimal flavor. The same goes for kombucha that's approaching or past the best-by date. Although it will last past the date since it's fermented, its flavor will continue to alter with time, resulting in a more acidic-tasting drink.

Where to Get Kombucha

Kombucha tea was first commercially bottled in the early 1990s, and has quickly become especially popular in the past decade. You can find it at health food stores in bottles or sometimes on tap, and even at some farmers markets. It's available in unflavored versions, and some with fruit puree or juice added for flavor.

Some people make their own homemade kombucha, which is definitely a money-saver and can be fun. But sanitation and quality of the starter (SCOBY) are very important. Find reputable companies for the supplies and consult with the experts before brewing at home.

How to Make Kombucha (Fauxbucha)

France C

Bottled kombucha from the health-food store can be expensive, so making your own might save you some change. While this isn't true kombucha (it's not tea that's been fermented with the help of SCOBY), this "fauxbucha" recipe from recipe creator jack beggs, mimics the taste of real kombucha and has helpful gut bacteria thanks to the apple cider vinegar. Here's how to make it step-by-step:

Ingredients:

  • 8 frozen blueberries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can seltzer water
  • Ice cubes

Instructions:

  1. Place blueberries in a cup.
  2. Add apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and ginger.
  3. Pour in seltzer water and stir.
  4. Stir in ice. That's it!

Cooking with Kombucha

Kombucha can add a distinctive flavor to recipes. Here are a couple to try:

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