We talk a lot about healthy food choices, and how different foods are appropriate for different people. There is no universal diet for everyone, but there are foods that are more beneficial to you than they might be for you friend or husband. When it comes to beverages, it is safe to say that water is the best choice for every living thing on the planet. Water is life, water is what makes the Earth the only planet in the known universe suitable for life. But even though it is the one ideal drink for every human on the planet, sometimes we crave more options. Life is about making good choices, but it doesn’t necessarily need to taste bland all the time. There are more beverage options than water, tea, herbal tisanes or coffee. Fruit juices are usually fructose bombs that are not ideal for some people, and pre-made smoothies are often in the same category unless you make your own and include all of the important nutrients (adding in fat and protein, for example).
We also learned how important probiotics are for our digestion and overall health, and how fermented foods feed our friendly gut bacteria in order to keep our immune system and digestive tract healthy. When we have healthy and balanced gut flora we have a healthy gut, healthy immune system, and healthy body. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and yogurt, but there is also a probiotic item you can drink. Kombucha is a fermented beverage full friendly bacteria that support your health, it tastes good, and could be added to your list of healthy drinks for its numerous benefits! Kombucha is a traditional beverage with a very long history, that had been forgotten for many year, but recently came back into the public eye.
WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?
Kombucha is basically a fermented tea. It is available in stores, but you can easily make your own at home, just like you would make sauerkraut. It is easy, affordable, and fun, plus you can be 100% sure about the ingredients in your homemade product. All you need to make your own probiotic beverage is ordinary tea, sugar, and a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast, and it is also called a starting culture. A fully grown SCOBY looks like a slimy pancake, usually in a circle shape (because kombucha is typically cultivated in round jars, and the SCOBY spreads all over the surface as it grows). Bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY feed on sugar, and they produce a small amount of B vitamins, amino acids, organic acids, enzymes, and probiotics. All of this good stuff is what you later drink in the finished slightly carbonated, tangy drink.
BENEFITS OF DRINKING KOMBUCHA
Kombucha is often referred to as a miracle drink that cures everything with no side effects and no limitations for consumption. But even though this beverage has some great benefits, it is certainly not a magic potion, and it might not be ideal for everyone. For example, people who suffer from SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) will not benefit from adding even more bacteria into the body before the inappropriate overpopulation of the gut is addressed. Fermented foods and beverages may also be problematic for those with histamine intolerance, Mast Cell Activation Disorders, Lyme disease, or parasitic infections. If you notice flushing, itching, migraines/headache, bloating, or other troublesome symptoms, Kombucha might not be the right way for you to consume your probiotics. It does have probiotic benefits without a doubt, and probiotic foods are generally good for our health. There are a tremendous number of different probiotic strains present in kombucha, with different kinds of specific benefits. Most evidence regarding the benefits of kombucha are anecdotal and there has been no real scientific research, but the probiotics in kombucha contribute to improved digestion without a doubt.
Healthy gut bacteria protect the gut lining, prevent candida overgrowth, help with nutrient absorption, manufacture essential fatty acids, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and help with all things connected to immune and gut health, including detoxification, liver health, reduction in gas and bloating, and improved joint health (due to the presence of glucosamines in kombucha). Some kombucha manufacturers claim that drinking kombucha on a regular basis can alkalize the body, boost energy, reduce headache and anxiety, and prevent chronic diseases. These claims are not supported by strong scientific evidence, but there are people who have reported positive effects when drinking kombucha regularly, especially when they brewed their own kombucha at home. The bottom line is that probiotic bacteria are very important for a healthy digestive system, and kombucha is full of these friendly guys.
WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
The taste varies from batch to batch. Store-bought kombucha is usually consistent with the flavor, as manufacturers are able to provide constant conditions for the fermentation process. Kombucha ferments slower with lower temperatures, while in summer the whole process might take much less time. Not everyone enjoys the taste, and because it is highly subjective to describe the taste, you will probably have to try and see if you like it. Some people say it smells and tastes vinegary, others compare it to alcohol-free sweet champagne. I actually use kombucha in place of champagne on occasions that socially encourage a fizzy beverage in a tall glass, like weddings or New Year’s Eve. Fermented tea doesn’t really sound appetizing, but it has a hint of sweetness and a natural fizz, while still being a bit acidic and tangy. You can always tone the acidity down a bit by adding more sugar or even adding the flavoring of your choice with fruit puree, herbs, ginger, or rose petals.
It is important to note that kombucha is an alcoholic drink. There is a very small amount of alcohol in it, but it is there. There is a wonderful post by Eileen on Phoenix Helix talking about all the kombucha myths; it explains and debunks all the myths and truths about this traditional health drink. Most sources say that it is safe to consume kombucha daily, and to keep your consumption below eight ounces a day (though you may want to start more slowly). If you are worried about leftover sugar in kombucha, you can always turn to other fermented foods and experience the same number of health benefits, or control the amount of sugar you put in by making it at home. I tried and succeeded a few times in the past, using this recipe by Stephanie Gaudreau, but there are many more available online, like this one by Mark Sisson, or my favorite ginger-lemon kombucha by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. Gut health professionals love kombucha for its gut healing benefits!
If you are interested in making kombucha at home, check out this Big Book of Kombucha, that includes over 200 recipes and different flavor combinations, and very detailed instructions that will help you become an expert kombucha brewer. Another great book - not just about kombucha - is the Art of Fermentation, full of DIY recipes for all kinds of fermented foods you can add to your diet and receive all of the health benefits, heal your gut, and strengthen your immunity. If for some reason you are not into fermented anything, you should know that you still need to somehow support your gut flora with probiotic cultures (at the very least, this should be done after you finish a round of necessary antibiotics). For that reason, you might want to check out this product by Genki Foods, known to provide real food based supplements that still provide important nutrients, enzymes, and bacteria without the need of consuming fermented vegetables you might dread, respond poorly to, or simply dislike. For the rest of us, who enjoy the acidity and fizz, let’s raise our kombucha glasses and give a toast to the health of our digestive bacteria!