Kombu…what? Let’s Talk About Kombucha

By Abby Cartledge

If you’re like me, you may feel like there’s a new food fad every week, which makes trying to stay on top of things in the nutrition world a little overwhelming! One of the newer trends you may have heard about is something you may not even know how to pronounce – kombucha. But what is it, and what does it do for you?

What is Kombucha?

First things first – how do you say it? Kombucha is pronounced com-BOO-cha. This sour, sweet, and fizzy fermented tea drink has become popular recently in the US, but it actually dates back thousands of years.1

Kombucha starts as sugar-sweetened black tea to which a variety of good bacteria and yeast are added. As the bacteria and yeast digest the sugar, they release gases. This process is called fermentation. Fermentation changes the flavor and chemical makeup of the tea. In fact, this is what gives kombucha its unique flavor and fizz!

Today, producers may add spices and juices to create many flavors ranging from raspberry to lemon cayenne pepper.

Is it good for me?

Like many food trends, there are very few studies looking at the benefits or safety of drinking kombucha, so you should be wary of claims selling kombucha as a miracle, cure-all drink. It’s possible, however, that “raw” or unpasteurized versions of this drink may provide health benefits due to the presence of probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria that have been shown to improve bowel movements, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach ulcers.2 So, while there is no guarantee, kombucha may help with these problems.

Some producers pasteurize their kombucha. This process kills harmful bacteria. As you may have already guessed, it also kills good bacteria. For this reason, drinking pasteurized kombucha may not provide the same health benefits. However, if you have a compromised immune system, like during pregnancy, you should only drink pasteurized kombucha.

A note about safety

Despite the potential benefits that come from probiotics, questions have been raised about the safety of drinking kombucha.3 Most of the risks are due to poor home-brewing techniques. These include not storing kombucha at the right temperature or not using sterile jars. If you choose to consume home-brewed kombucha, make sure you follow proper sanitation methods.

The process of fermentation also produces alcohol. Kombucha sold in stores must contain less than 0.5% alcohol to be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage. However, the alcohol level of home brewed Kombucha can reach up to 3%. To stay on the safe side, it may be best to stick with well-known brands sold in your local grocery store.

If you have questions of whether or not kombucha may be safe for you to drink, be sure to ask your physician or registered dietitian/nutritionist.

References

  1. Dufresne C, Farnworth E. Tea, kombucha, and health: A review. Food Research International. 2000;33(6):409-421. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996900000673. Accessed Mar 1, 2018. doi: 10.1016/S0963-9969(00)00067-3.
  2. Dahl WJ. A guide to probiotics and health. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fs286. Updated 2016. Accessed Mar 1, 2018.
  3. Nummer BA. Kombucha brewing under the food and drug administration model food code: Risk analysis and processing guidance. J Environ Health. 2013;76(4):8-11. Accessed Mar 1, 2018.