What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage, made by adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) to a solution of tea and sugar. During the course of the week-long (or more) fermentation process, the cultures metabolize  the sugar and tea components to render a naturally carbonated beverage, with a slightly sweet-tart flavor, full of healthy components like B vitamins, organic acids, antioxidants, and trace amounts of alcohol (see below).

If the beverage is served “raw”, it will be teaming with healthy bacteria and yeast. During a second short fermentation, the brewer often adds flavorings like ginger, lemon, fruit juice or herbs to give the beverages unique taste profiles.

Is this a new health fad?

Kombucha is nothing new, in fact it’s very old. The drink purportedly originated in China in 221 BC and while that may simply be a romantic tale, it has been brewed at home for centuries, and commercially during the last twenty years. With less than ⅓ of the sugar commonly found in soft drinks, and numerous healthful properties, health conscious people everywhere are turning to kombucha to satisfy their thirst.

Both sales and access have recently exploded, as kombucha has gone mainstream, with sales estimated at over $500 million. Buyers can find kombucha well beyond the traditional retail outlets like health food stores. It can be purchased in supermarkets, discount warehouses like Walmart, restaurants, bars (it is used as a mixer), farmers markets and at breweries.

What are the other names for kombucha?

It’s sometimes referred to as “mushroom tea”, as the SCOBY can appear to look like a mushroom cap. Fans of the beverage often refer to it affectionately as “booch” or as it has been called through the ages, “the elixir of life” or “tea of immortality.”

The SCOBY is also referred to as a mother. Why? Because, each batch, the mother will create an additional SCOBY called the baby, which can be used to propagate new batches. Many fermented food starters are called mothers.

What do folks say about  kombucha’s key health benefits?

Ancients called kombucha “elixir of life” for a reason, as they experienced firsthand its healthful properties. Here’s what consumers say when asked how kombucha makes them feel:

  • increases energy
  • aids in digestion
  • supports healthy liver function
  • balancesthe internal pH
  • controls hunger
  • eases constipation
  • boosts immunity
  • enhances overall health and wellbeing
  • just “feel good”
  • lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol levels in the blood, which can significantly decrease the chances of developing heart disease and/or having a heart attack or stroke.

What does the research say?

Kombucha has been researched for the last 150 years in labs all over the world from China, India, Serbia, Russia, Germany,Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Korea and beyond. Many of the studies attempt to discern the mechanisms behind its reputation for helping with

  • cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • healthy liver function
  • removing toxins
  • destroying free radicals
  • chemopreventative
  • anti-microbial/anti-fungal properties

Check out google scholar keyword kombucha for specific studies. 

Is kombucha a fungus or mushroom?

The kombucha culture is a symbiosis of bacteria and yeast, which is technically a fungus, but not a mushroom. The term “SCOBY” was coined in the late 1990’s and stands for:

Symbiotic

Culture

Of

Bacteria &

Yeast.

Mushroom is a common misnomer due to the way the culture looks – kind of like a mushroom cap.

Why is kombucha made with sugar?

As with any fermentation process, sugar is necessary to feed the yeast. Think about yogurt, the yogurt cultures consume the milk sugar (lactose)  to produce a sweet-tart milk product teaming with probiotics. The process is similar for kombucha. The sugar feeds the yeast, which creates CO2 & ethanol, then the bacteria consume the ethanol and convert it into healthy acids. Very little sugar remains when it is bottled depending on how long the fermentation process lasts. Moreover, the fermentation process cleaves sucrose (polysaccharide) into fructose and glucose – both of which are utilized by the fermentation process thereby reducing the glycemic load.

Is there mold in kombucha?

Kombucha is one of the safest ferments to make. Due to its low pH and organic acid profile, several studies have shown that kombucha kills several known pathogenic organisms on contact such as E.coli, Salmonella, Listeria and others.

The development of mold in kombucha is relatively rare, although certainly not impossible. It would be highly unlikely to find mold in commercial kombucha, especially because the pH is monitored closely to ensure that the product is always acidified.

Why does kombucha have to be refrigerated?

The majority of kombucha sold on the market is raw, and therefore biologically active. The fermentation process continues as long as bacteria and yeast have sugars to feed on.  Yeast are temperature sensitive, and cold temperatures keep them less active.

Trace amounts of ethanol are naturally produced by the fermentation process. Keeping kombucha cold is an important means to ensure the quality remains consistent and compliant.

If exposed to warm or hot temperatures, the fermentation continues rapidly and the carbon dioxide will build up quickly. The results could be anywhere from an excess carbonation upon opening to an exploding or broken bottle. It is important to keep commercial kombucha refrigerated at all times to prevent any mishaps. Good thing it is so delicious, leaving it in the bottle almost never happens!

What is the pH of kombucha? Why is it important?

The proper pH level of kombucha is between 2.5 and 3.5 pH. The pH level of kombucha is important as it protects the brew from harmful microorganisms.

How long is kombucha typically fermented?

10-12 days seems to be the typical fermentation time for kombucha brewed at home, although this can vary depending on the brewer’s personal taste, temperature, and other factors.. As a general rule, the longer the fermentation, the more tart the kombucha will be.  Commercially produced kombucha can often take 20-30 days due to the size of the batch.

The time it takes to craft a quality brew is part of why kombucha is priced higher than other beverages.

What are the “jellyfish” or “floaters” in the bottle?

During the fermentation process and even after bottling, the bacteria continues to flourish and produces a by-product of the fermentation.  This gel-like mass of cellulose, often resembling a jellyfish, is completely harmless and can be consumed or discarded. This is what the “floaters” or “jellyfish” are that are seen in Kombucha.

Does kombucha contain alcohol?

Kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol, a natural byproduct of the fermentation process that preserves the brew and protects it from harmful microorganisms. The trace amounts of alcohol are similar to what you’d find in unpasteurized fruit juice. Kombucha is considered halal because it is non-inebriating and the ethanol serves as a preservative.

There are, however, types of kombucha with higher amounts of alcohol which are deemed alcoholic beverages for consumption by an adult 21+ consumer including hybrid drinks like kombucha beer.

 

KOMBUCHA & ALCOHOL FAQ

Why does kombucha contain alcohol?

As with all fermented foods, a small amount of naturally occurring alcohol is typically present in kombucha. The alcohol is a by-product of the fermentation process. The yeast consumes the sugar and converts it to alcohol.  The bacteria converts much of the alcohol to acetic and other organic acids.

What is the difference between “over 21 kombucha “and “under 21 kombucha”?

Kombucha with an alcohol content of 0.5% or higher is considered “over 21 kombucha.”

Why do I get carded when I buy certain brands of kombucha?

Some brands of kombucha are classified as alcohol, when they contain 0.5% or more alcohol by volume.  You must be 21 or older to legally purchase or consume beverages with that alcohol content level. The majority of kombucha on the market are under 0.5% ABV and are non-alcoholic.

Is kombucha inebriating?

Kombucha is not intoxicating. The trace amounts of alcohol are not present in sufficient quantity to induce a noticeable change in mood, physical or mental abilities as when drunk on alcohol. Some may experience a brief sense of euphoria created as the body’s response to uptaking nutrition. Some people who lack an enzyme called DAO and suffer from histamine intolerance may have an odd reaction to kombucha which can mimic drunkenness.

Is kombucha safe for alcoholics to consume?

Every alcoholic has to make their own decision about what to consume. Many former alcoholics have stated they drink kombucha without issue. Others choose to abstain completely. Kombucha is a food and as such, each individual must decide for themselves if they wish to include it in their diet or not.

 

What is NOT kombucha?

Kombucha is not beer

Beer. Beer, ale, porter, stout, and other similar fermented beverages (including saké and similar products) of any name or description containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute for malt. Standards for the production of beer appear in §25.15.  From electronic Federal Regulations

Kombucha is not wine

Wine. When used without qualification, the term includes every kind (class and type) of product produced on bonded wine premises from grapes, other fruit (including berries), or other suitable agricultural products and containing not more than 24 percent of alcohol by volume. The term includes all imitation, other than standard, or artificial wine and compounds sold as wine. A wine product containing less than one-half of one percent alcohol by volume is not taxable as wine when removed from the bonded wine premises.  From electronic Federal Regulations

Kombucha is not distilled spirits

Spirits or distilled spirits. The substance known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits of wine in any form (including all dilutions and mixtures thereof, from whatever source or by whatever process produced) but not denatured spirits unless specifically stated. The term does not include mixtures of distilled spirits and wine, bottled at 48° proof or less, if the mixture contains more than 50 percent wine on a proof gallon basis. From electronic Federal Regulations

What is Kombucha Beer?

Kombucha beer is a hybrid beverage typically derived in one of two ways – blending and fermentation. Kombucha beer blends consist of a brewed beer and a brewed kombucha being combined together. The other method is to brew kombucha with hops, barley or other traditional beer flavoring components as well as utilizing higher ethanol producing yeast to yield a headier brew.