by Hope Anderson, RD
Fermented foods and drinks have taken supermarkets by storm, not only for their health benefits but also for their exciting palate-punch. While beer and wine, cheese and yogurt are the most familiar ferments, kombucha has recently risen to the top of the trend.
Kombucha is a fermented tea that tastes like sparkling cider with a slight tang of vinegar. It’s refreshing bite and effervescence can become addictive, after you get past the initial odd flavor. But what exactly is this tea, otherwise known as the “elixir of life”, and is it really all that great for us?
Of eastern origin, kombucha has been consumed since around 220 B.C. and is made from black, white, or green tea and sugar. Yeasts and bacteria feed on the sugar and ferment, forming a symbiotic colony that appears on a gelatinous disk called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).
After fermentation, the tea becomes carbonated, slightly caffeinated, and produces B vitamins, acetic acid (vinegar), probiotics (good bacteria), glucoronic acid, and ethyl acetate as byproducts.
Interesting Kombucha Factoids:
- Contains anywhere from 0.5—1% of alcohol, but is still considered to be alcohol-free
- Bacteria and yeasts metabolize 95% of the sugar in the fermentation process, leaving about 3-10 calories of sugar per serving, depending on length of fermentation
- While it has caffeine, the content is fairly low (25 milligrams per 8 ounces)
- Those who swear by the health tonic claim it stimulates digestion, aids in liver detoxification, makes hair thicker and sleep better, clears skin, and stimulates the immune system. But despite abundant claims of it being a “cure all”, no clinical studies to date have proven any valid benefits. There are, however, some actual risks to drinking kombucha – specifically home-brewed ‘bucha – for certain populations
According to doctors from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, those with weak immune systems, such as people with cancer and HIV, should steer clear. In an informational section of the cancer center’s website, they warn, “patients with suppressed immune systems should not consume kombucha beverages produced in an uncontrolled environment.”
So for $3 (or more) a bottle, why drink it? Well, if you’re an otherwise healthy individual who enjoys the taste of kombucha on occasion, I say bottoms up – it’s hydrating and low in sugar and caffeine, making it a healthy drink in its own right. Treat yo’ self.
Other fermented foods to give a try:
- Tempeh: naturally fermented soybeans
- Miso: fermented paste made from soybeans, rice, or barley
- Sauerkraut: salt-fermented cabbage
- Yogurt (with live and active cultures)
- Kefir: fermented milk drink that tastes like yogurt
- Kimchi: fermented spicy cabbage