My mom got into a kombucha phase when I was in elementary school. I didn’t see the appeal of a mushroom-like frisbee floating in murky water. It looked like it should have had a sign next to it that said “ABNORMAL.” I couldn’t believe that people drank the stuff.
Despite resembling the flying pancake monsters featured in an episode of the original Star Trek, the culture of bacteria and yeast on the surface of the liquid is an essential part of the kombucha fermentation process. The result is a slightly fizzy, vinegar-like liquid that has taken the health food world by storm.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha was first fermented in ancient China around 220 B.C. They called it “Tea of Immortality.” Via trade routes, the fermented tea made its way to Japan, Russia, and Europe. It enjoys great popularity today thanks to its health benefits and unusual taste.
Kombucha is essentially a fermented tea drink made by introducing a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast into sweetened tea. It’s similar to the bacteria culture used to make vinegar, and the result has a similar taste. This culture is called a SCOBY for short. Sounds scary.
My mom got her kombucha starter from a friend. It’s similar to a sourdough bread starter, which also contains fermented yeast and bacteria.
Like a sourdough starter, a SCOBY can survive if you peel some of it off and give it to a friend. Similar to a sourdough starter, you could conceivably keep the same SCOBY in the family for generations.
The sour and slightly carbonated taste of kombucha has become more popular in the past decade. Twelve-year-old me wasn’t too crazy about it, but twelve-year-olds are not known for their distinguished palettes.
How Is Kombucha Made?
Kombucha is made by introducing a SCOBY to a jar of sweetened black or green tea. To make the tea, boil water in a big pot, stir in sugar so that it dissolves, and then add several tea bags to steep until the water has cooled.
You will also need to add some “starter tea” leftover from your last batch of Arizona kombucha. This helps the tea fight bacteria that might harm it before it ferments.
Once you add the tea mixture to a jar, you can add the SCOBY. Cover the jar with some coffee filters and tie it on it with a rubber band. Store the jar out of direct sunlight.
My mom kept hers in a closet in the back of the basement. What child wouldn’t get a slight Lovecraftian vibe from a floating object in a murky liquid stored in a darkened room?
Leave the kombucha to ferment for 1 and 3 weeks. During this time, the sugars in the tea are consumed by the bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY.
Bottle the kombucha and let it sit out of direct sunlight for a few days. This allows the beverage to get carbonated. After this step, it is very important to refrigerate the bottled kombucha. This slows the fermentation and makes sure that the kombucha doesn’t become too alcoholic.
What Health Benefits Does Kombucha Have?
A source of Probiotics
Firstly, kombucha introduces probiotics into your system. Probiotics are beneficial bacterias and yeasts that live in your gut and encourage the development of good bacteria in your body to balance out the bad bacteria that make people sick.
Acetic Acid Balances your immune system
The acetic acid content of kombucha also contributes to the balance of your immune system by destroying harmful bacteria.
A Source of Antioxidants
Kombucha also contains antioxidants, substances that fight toxins in your body. Although there aren’t any human studies on the subject, a rat study confirmed that drinking kombucha can reduce toxins in the liver.
Kombucha is mainly known for being good for your gut and your overall microbiome, or the “ecosystem” of organisms that live in your body.
Is Kombucha Alcoholic?
Like other fermented beverages, kombucha contains some alcohol. When made properly, though, the fermented tea contains less than 0.5% ABV and does not require regulation. An incident at Whole Foods had people questioning this, however.
In 2010, a health inspector saw bottles leaking during a routine bottle inspection. Leaking bottles means that the amount of CO2 produced by the bottle exceeds the bottle’s capacity.
Leaking is also an indication that the kombucha is still fermenting. An article from Forbes included the story in the words of Randy Trahan, the inspector who found the leaking bottles at Whole Foods.
“Some of the Kombucha bottles on the shelf were leaking. Being a public health official, I know that alcohol is a by-product of the fermentation process. I could see that there might be a public safety issue… Kids could get a hold of it and get a buzz.”
The bottles in question were tested and found to have anywhere up to 2.5% ABV. Some had an even higher ABV. This is much higher than the levels allowed in a beverage that is marketed as non-alcoholic.
The excess of alcohol was caused by kombucha continuing to ferment even after being bottled unless it is refrigerated.
Kombucha was unavailable in stores for two months after the Whole Foods incident. Despite (or perhaps because of) the confusion and bad press, kombucha took off after its two-month time-out.
Most people have heard of it nowadays, and the health benefits of drinking it outweigh the bizarre pancake-creature that floats within it.
Let That Ferment a Bit
It may have a pungent taste and look like an alien life form, but Arizona kombucha is too much of a nutrient powerhouse to pass up.
Whether you purchase it at your favorite health food store or make it yourself in your darkened basement, this fermented tea is packed with healthy bacteria for a well-balanced digestive and immune system.