Fads may come and go, but kombucha has some serious staying power: Its first recorded use dates back to China in 221 B.C. Today, it’s so popular that PepsiCo recently acquired a kombucha brewing company. Kombucha is usually prepared as a tea and is often referred to as “mushroom tea,” although that’s a misnomer.
A kombucha “mother” is called a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), a pancake-shaped colony of microorganisms that floats on top of a batch of brewing tea. “Kombucha is simply green or black tea that’s fermented by the scoby, which makes it a probiotic,” explained Katelyn Metz, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at Augusta University Health. “The resulting beverage has slight effervescence and a mild vinegar taste.”
Just the kombucha facts
Kombucha proponents have claimed that the brew can help with weight loss, boost your immune system, stave off heart disease and even prevent cancer. Unfortunately, there is no proof to back up those claims. However, although many of the health benefits of kombucha remain unproven, the beverage does contain healthy components. “Through the fermentation process, we know that the final kombucha product contains vitamin C, vitamins B6 and B12, thiamine, acetic acid and lactic acid,” noted Metz. “It also contains small amounts of sugar and alcohol, depending on how long the fermentation process was.”
If you’d like to try your hand at making your own kombucha at home, brewing kits and instructions are available in many online and brick-and-mortar stores. However, there are some things to keep in mind, since improper brewing techniques can actually be harmful to your health. Metz suggests you consider these questions first:
- How sterile are your brewing conditions?
- Are you using ceramic pots for brewing?
- If so, were they manufactured to eliminate the risk of lead poisoning? (Acids in the tea can leach lead from the ceramic glaze.)
- Where are you obtaining the scoby?
Metz also warns that consuming large amounts of kombucha has been linked to serious illness such as metabolic acidosis and liver damage, as well as food poisoning from incorrectly brewed home batches. “Eight to 12 ounces a day seems to be satisfactory in providing the reported health benefits of probiotics and minimizing serious risks,” she says.
The bottom line: Kombucha is generally considered safe to drink, except for those with compromised immune systems or people with a history of alcoholism. Diabetics should note that sugar is often added to commercially brewed varieties. “Kombucha isn’t meant to be the backbone of your health,” said Metz, “but maybe it can satisfy your craving for a fizzy drink and even provide a few health benefits.”