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WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?

WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?

Kombucha is not a mushroom fungus, sparkling soda, or alcohol. Kombucha is a health alchemy that forms when simple tea, water, and bacteria are brewed and left to ferment... much like beer but without the high ABV.  

This brewing process is ancient, dating back to 220 BC China, and results in a refreshing carbonated "functional beverage" packed with probiotics, antioxidants, and a slew of invigorating health profiles.  

We dig kombucha (like, a lot), and we're not your traditional health freak. Not only does kombucha have a rich presence throughout human history, but the drink literally makes us better people-inside and out.  

Unlike soda, chemical-bomb energy drinks, and sugary juices, kombucha is a raw beverage whose effect extends beyond the bottle. Kombucha inspires healthier lifestyle choices and fortifies your body in a way that nearly no other beverage can.  

But you may have some questions. Here is a comprehensive guide to everything 'kombucha.' 

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How Do You Ferment Tea? 

Traditionally made with black, green, or white tea, plus sugar and symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (referred to as "SCOBY"), kombucha's brewing process is pretty simple, but like all good things it takes time, due to the fermentation (about 7-14 days).  

The amount of each ingredient differs by brand and recipe but should yield a consumable drink with carbon dioxide (carbonation) and trace amounts of alcohol.  

No, you won't get wavy on raw Kombucha. In fact, mouth wash and marinated steak contain higher alcohol by volume (ABV).  

Nicknamed "booch," kombucha was praised throughout history as "the elixir of life" and "tea of immortality," says Kombucha Brewers International.  

This once ancient concoction evolved from being a wellness tonic for royalty to an underground hippie brew. Today kombucha edges soda off its pedestal as a better-for-you refreshment that doesn't sacrifice taste. 

Kombucha is becoming the do-it-all drink, enjoyed after working out, in cocktails, and as a replacement for soda. It's winning over the masses because of its taste and health benefits. By 2020, kombucha sales should hit 1.8 billion. At this moment, it's the fastest-growing drink in functional beverages.  

So, what does kombucha do for your body? 

Benefits

Kombucha is tied to health and longevity. High-fructose sodas, however, are linked to diabetes, dehydration, and obesity. Not so 'refreshing', huh?  

Basically, kombucha blends the benefits of antioxidant-rich tea and fermented foods. Here's a rundown of what a single bottle of booch can promote: 

  • Probiotics & Gut Health  

Before kombucha was served in craft cafes and coffee chains, researchers from Switzerland in the 1960s proved drinking kombucha was as beneficial as eating yogurt. Fermented dairy products like yogurt are linked to reducing the risk of maintaining cardiovascular wellness and improving gut health.  

Kombucha contains probiotics made up of microbes, which aid in digestion but also allow the body to absorb nutrients better and supercharge our immune systems.  

Probiotics in kombucha promote digestion activity while balancing intestinal flora, which is great because gut health also affects your skin, throat, urinary tracts, and energy levels.  

In 2018, Forbes called readers to action saying, "you should be paying more attention to your gut microbiome." Adding that, "Having a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria in our bodies helps us modulate immunity, insulate us from toxins, better absorb foods, and fight disease." 

Stronger body and mind? Yes, please.  

The largest study ever done on the human biome and gut health performed in 2018 at Duke University also fortified the astounding connection between gut health and mental health. For decades kombucha drinkers have attested to feeling mental clarity after drinking the fermented tea, now we have proof.  

  • Antioxidants & Detoxifying 

Many kombuchas pack a punch of antioxidants, which come from green or black tea. Fermenting kombucha tea actually raises the antioxidant count of tea, studies have proven, and works to detoxify the body. 

Research shows kombucha is connected to an increased metabolism and reduced appetite, boosted energy levels, and rebuilt connective tissues. That's thanks to the rich blend of enzymes and bacteria acids found in kombucha. The drink also detoxifies the blood, sustains blood circulation, reduces blood pressure, sustains the inflammatory response system, supports joint health, and promotes healthy liver function. *Takes a reading break and runs to the store for kombucha.   

  • Antimicrobial  

If the term "antimicrobial" sounds like a hydrogen peroxide liquid you'd clean a cut with, you're on the right track. Kombucha has antimicrobial properties that allow it to function as an antibiotic. Especially kombuchas brewed with black tea. These antimicrobial activities, strengthen the immune system. 

Traditional soda, however, does nothing for the human body. If kombucha and soda were in a boxing match, here's how that fight would go down. Hint: kombucha is the Ali of this story.  

Where Did Kombucha Come From? 

Fermented tea was created around 22O BC, around the time and place The Great Wall of China was built. The name we use today, however, came to be in 414 AD when a Korean doctor named Kombu brought the elixir to Japan to be used as a health drink for the Emperor.  

That's right, you're drinking a bevvy formerly coveted by royalty.  

The pollination of Kombucha took off with the expansion of trade routes and soon the drink was popping up in Russia and Germany. In the 1950s, the French began drinking kombucha and spread consumption into North Africa. Despite a shortage of tea and sugar that dinked consumption during World War II, Italians fell innamorato with the drink and guzzled up "Funkochinese" (their word for Kombucha).  

It's mind-blowing how long kombucha has been around. Whoever said "let's put bacteria in our drinks" must have sounded insane at the time.  

The Kool Kombucha We Drink Today 

Bucha Live Kombucha

In the 21st century, the wellness movement has made it vogue for all professions and people to eat, drink, and play in ways that promote long-lasting health.  

Higher demand for fortified beverages means more people are starting to drink the kool-aid. Kombucha went from being a drink associated with non-showering hippies and local health food stores to a posh bevvy preferred by celebrities.  

You can now get kombucha in gas stations, gyms, and traditional grocers. Slow clap for increased accessibility.  

Booming in North America, the kombucha category is also fortifying in Europe and Asia Pacific, according to Inkwood Research. And it's giving soda a run for its money.  

After consumers got woke about carbonated sodas and how trash they are for the body and mind, the entire Carbonated Soft Drinks (CSD) category took a hit. Natural and craft carbonated drinks like kombucha became the favorite replacement, with 100-percent natural ingredients, real sugar or plant-based sweeteners, and organic ingredients. 

The advent of craft kombucha being more affordable and available to wider audiences also expanded flavor experiences. Consumers are retraining their palate away from sugar-centric drinks to taste the realness of everything they consume. Hitting on natural flavors pulled from real ingredients, kombucha is so much more than cola's nemesis.  

Kombucha does sit at a higher price point than most soda, but consumers show openness to spend about $5 a bottle- less than a fresh-pressed juice or protein smoothie. Overall, kombucha sits in the sweet spot for price and taste, while feeding our modern drive to create healthier lifestyles. (Yes, you're still allowed to bail on a workout for a donut. It's called balance.) 

Fruity and Fresh Taste & Ingredients  

Crisp, fruity, and often infused with herbs and spices, kombucha comes in wild and expansive flavors. Capitalizing on bright and uplifting combinations, fruit flavors drove the kombucha market in 2018 as our taste buds craved a profile that was refreshing and approachable, yet unique. 

Yuzu, for instance, is a citrus plant common to Korea and Japan that is almost impossible to find in your neighborhood produce isles. The taste is a cool combination between a lime and grapefruit, used as a natural flavoring for some craft kombuchas.   

Fruit-flavored functional beverages also pack nutritional upticks that faux flavoring in sodas and sugary juices can't claim.   

The explosion of new kombucha flavors have introduced tastes that are rare and keep the category exciting. Plus, they're a pinch more appealing than fried chicken and crab-flavored potato chips. 

Kombucha is also flavored with fruits like apple, coconut, mango, berries, herbs, spices, and even flowers.  

With natural and delicate ingredients (make sure your kombucha is USDA-Certified Organic!), it's clear brewers aren't trying to cover up or disguise the underlying fermented flavor-often compared to apple cider vinegar.  

Kombucha gets a bad rap for being strong, sour, and bitter, but this bold flavor will depend on the brand and fermentation. One key ingredient in its brewing that keeps kombucha tasting sweet is sugar.  

*Pro-tip: prioritize kombuchas made with real cane sugar.  

Kombucha Brewers say sugar is essential for fermentation as it's necessary to feed the yeast. CO2 and ethanol are produced when yeast feeds on sugar, then bacteria consume and convert ethanol into healthy acids. In the end, very little sugar remains and the result is a sweet-tart base flavor.   

Every brand of kombucha tastes different (vinegar, flavor, carbonation, etc.). If one overpowers your palate with vinegar or explodes when you shake it, try another brand. #byefelicia  

If you're a life-long soda drinker, switch to kombucha with stronger natural flavors. Eventually, that taste will seem sweeter and a classic soda will gross you out.  

Urban Legends & Misconceptions 

Does kombucha get you drunk? Poison your stomach with lead? Is it a nasty fungus?  

Dominant misconceptions surrounding kombucha are largely false, especially when compared to hard evidence on the effects of other drinks like sodas and sports drinks.  

  • Toxicity 

Research and testimonials prove drinking soda is directly associated with weight gain and lower intake of key nutrients. Experts explicitly recommend reducing soft drink consumption based on the science. Toxicity is even more alarming, as studies chart the multitude of harmful substances and chemicals in sodas and sports drinks that include everything from BPA to phosphoric acid, harmful sweeteners, contaminated water, and rat pee. That's right. Rat. Pee.   

The few toxicity accounts on kombucha are limited to reports of gastrointestinal issues and lead poisoning caused by using ceramic pots during home fermentation. These cases are extremely isolated, and researchers say, "there is no substantial evidence to confirm the toxicity of any kombucha tea or the occurrence of illness."    

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says kombucha is 100-percent safe for us to drink. They carried out microbiological and biochemical tests in 1995 with Kappa Laboratories to make sure of it.  

  • Alcohol 

The presence of trace alcohol has been the biggest hurdle for kombucha to conquer. After all, it doesn't sound right to drink alcohol after a workout, at work, or give it to kids as a refreshment. But kombucha does not have enough alcohol to be considered, well, alcoholic.  

Physical and mental abilities, as well as overall mood, are not altered as when alcohol is consumed. Meaning yes, kombucha is safe and healthy for kids. 

The kombucha industry has made ABV regulation a top priority since 2010 when a massive kombucha recall at Whole Foods halted sales. Non-compliant brands were quickly pulled off the shelves. 

Ironically, without the option to buy kombucha, drinkers craved it even more and the fiasco led to an upward spike in consumption once ABV was monitored more scrupulously.  

Today, kombucha is heavily regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Guidelines assert that kombucha should be 0.5% ABV, and anything higher needs to be classified as an alcoholic beverage. Kombucha brewers choosing to brew to a higher ABV call their brew "Hard Kombucha." 

If you feel good and buzzing after a kombucha, it's not the alcohol. This is your body's way of saying it's taking in nutrients.   

  • Human-based Research 

Most of the lab-based research we have on kombucha has been performed on animal subjects like mice and rats. There is a gap in scientific evidence based on human models, and kombucha's long history and popular track record can't fill the space of controlled testing.  

In July 2018, researchers from the University of Missouri took strides in filling this void by publishing a massive systematic review looking at the health benefits of kombucha in human subjects. 

We should expect to see a slew of human-based kombucha studies take place over the next few years, as more people are drinking the fermented tea and volunteering for research.  

  • Floating Fungus 

The floaters at the bottom of your kombucha bottle aren't nasty fungus. There will be no harmful fungus in your kombucha because the unique pH level of the drink protects it from harmful microorganisms.  

So, what are those floating pieces?  

Often called "jellyfish," the gel-like chunks in kombucha are made when good bacteria continue to flourish after brewing. They're harmless and can either be drunk or spit out.   

Minimal to No Side Effects 

There are side effects from consuming too much of anything, from water to spinach. With kombucha, guzzling gallons every day can wear down tooth enamel due to the drink's acidity. The acidity is caused by kombucha's low pH, which keeps bad bacteria from thriving. 

Experts suggest drinking kombucha with a straw so the liquid doesn't coat your teeth, and afterward having a cup of water to flush the mouth.  

Other side effects of drinking kombucha relate to its key ingredients: sugar, caffeinated tea, trace alcohols, and bacteria.  

Anyone who suffers from alcoholism, irritable bowel syndrome, weakened immune system, or has blood glucose control issues may want to skip kombucha or consult their physicians before stocking up. Individuals with diabetes should ask an expert as well.  

The rule is: if you have questions, concerns, or want a professional green light, simply ask your doctor.  

DIY Home Brewing 

Bucha kombucha concertHomebrewing has become a popular garage hobby made easy with beginner kits and YouTube tutorials. The DIY brewing movement took off with beer, but brewskies require a higher investment in equipment, time, and space, so more hobby brewers have turned to batching kombucha.  

The resources to start are aplenty, from Home Brewing associations to chat groups and how-to manuals. Materials to get started aren't too difficult to find (i.e. cheesecloth, bottles, pH meter, kettle, funnel, strainer) and the ingredients are basic (tea, sugar, SCOBY, water).  

But don't be surprised if your windowsill kombucha doesn't taste great... much like your garage IPA. If taste and safety are a priority, stick with trusted, real brands.  

Homebrewing does come with due precautions. Fermenting live bacteria or yeast without properly following food safety procedures can result in allergic reactions and lead poisoning. For this reason, it's safest to join an association and get your instructions from a legitimate source. 

Trending: Hard Kombucha and Fun Festivals  

Kombucha is a buzzing word and it's being talked about everywhere. The latest trend getting attention is "Hard Kombucha." Capitalizing on its already boozy property, beer kombuchas are competing in the "mindful drinking" space, alongside hard seltzers and ciders. 

Many question how "healthy" hard kombucha can be. The answer: high alcohol dehydrates, so even though kombucha is packed with benefits, high ABV can render hard kombucha's pure health promises somewhat void.  

Hard kombuchas can, however, be healthier than gluten beer that leaves the drinker feeling bloated and heavy. Major beer labels are looking to join the kombucha fad, with Samuel Adams planning a new hard kombucha to launch in 2019. 

In other kombucha news, entire festivals are being created around booch. 

The first annual Michigan Kombucha Festival took place in May 2019, Canada will see kombucha festivals hit Ottawa and Montreal over the summer, and SoCal's first Kombucha Festival dubbed "Boochfest" kicks off July 21. 

Whether you're hitting a summer festival, looking for a wellness boost, a new hobby, or picking kombucha over soda at the grocery store, drinking kombucha is a lifestyle decision that benefits mind and body longevity. No wonder we love it.