If you haven’t tried kombucha yet, you probably will soon. This fizzy fermented tea seems to be all the rage right now. Kombucha has made its way out from medicinal cabinets into its own designated aisle in grocery stores. Many cafes and restaurants even have kombucha on tap! Kombucha enthusiasts consume this probiotic drink because of its claimed health perks, while others are just simply following the trend.
“Cream, sugar, or bacteria with your tea?” Kombucha is a blend of tea, sugar, and bacteria and yeast cultures, known as a starter culture called SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) (1). The starter culture used for this drink is a mushroom shaped bacterial mass that floats over the tea during fermentation. From this process, you are consuming some live bacteria. Don’t let this scare you just yet! These are ‘good’ bacteria, known as probiotics, that can help aid with digestion and boosts your immune system. Kombucha is finished off with vinegar, B vitamins, enzymes, acid, and other chemical compounds. Still a bit grossed out? Well, some familiar fermented probiotic products that you probably already consume include yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and tempeh.
Health claims (2)
Is kombucha safe? We already covered how friendly the live bacteria found in kombucha can be. But with every health product comes with questionable risks and side effects (3).
The CDC recommends drinking no more than 4 oz of kombucha a day. Try choosing kombucha with less than 5 grams of sugar to avoid chances of alcohol consumption. Thanks to fermentation, kombucha drinks may contain small amounts of alcohol, some more than others. Kombucha that does contain high amounts of alcohol should be labeled as such. Pregnant women, the elderly, children, and anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid drinking kombucha.
Pasteurized vs unpasteurized
Pasteurized and unpasteurized kombucha are sold in stores. Pasteurization is a process that consists of heat, killing unwanted bacteria. This makes for a more stable and safe kombucha product while claiming to still hold its positive health effects. Unpasteurized kombucha, commonly labeled as ‘raw’, guarantees that the good bacteria will still remain intact, maintaining its probiotic value. Raw kombucha will still have bits of the starter culture floating around, which looks like pale, gelatin-like blobs, known to be the most beneficial part of the drink.
Brewing at home
Store-bought kombucha is always your safest bet! If you’re going to make kombucha at home, be sure to follow proper food safety guidelines to prevent any foodborne illnesses. Be sure you are brewing in a completely sterile workplace, including countertops, materials, etc, to decrease the risk of any unwanted bacteria seeping into the tea.
Bottom line? If you’re looking for a probiotic drink to boost your health and don’t mind the sour, vinegar taste, then add kombucha to your list. If the live bacteria freaks you out, steer clear from this drink. Remember, there are other alternative ways to give an extra boost to your health!