Kombucha: What is it, the Benefits, and the Myths

I have published this article on request from Spencer Mitchell, who runs the website PullingforHealth.com and the owner of Slim’s Simple Oils. It is a great website that sells infused coconut oils and focuses on the health benefits of Oil Pulling. He also offers free yoga tutorials on the website. Check it out!

While fermented foods have been used in Asia and old societies as long as history can remember, we in the Western world (read: Modern-Day USA) are just beginning to recognize the health benefits of these foods in our every-day life. Of course, our ancestors have been drinking beer (fermented grain) and eating pickles (lacto-fermented vegetables by way of salt) as long as there has been food preservation, but we have almost but forgotten these practices since the refrigerator and freezer became a thing.

One of these foods is taking on a huge rise as a modern-day health beverage: Kombucha. We know it because it is said to contain a multitude of probiotics that aid in digestion, detoxify our bodies, and has a unique carbonated taste that first mystifies us yet also solidifies the belief that it MUST be good for our bodies.

Home-brewed plain Kombucha

Home-brewed plain Kombucha

Many a friend of mine likes to pick up a bottle of Kombucha from the store, for $3 or $4 a pop mind you, after a long night of drinking. Is this the magic hangover relief? Will it make me insta-healthy, no matter my ailments? No, and no, but as a living food it does have some serious health benefits.

Kombucha is a beverage made by fermenting sweetened tea from 7 to 30 days. After 30 days the drink is too sour for many peoples’ tastes and occasionally fruit juice is added to make it palatable. After the first fermentation, it is put into bottles without the SCOBY (more on that later) and allowed to ferment in a warm dark place for two to three days in order to carbonate (and flavor with fruits or juices if you wish).

Kombucha fermenting

Kombucha fermenting

Kombucha is made from four ingredients: Tea, Sugar, Water, and a SCOBY. The fifth ingredient is Time. Sounds simple, huh? It is. I just had to get used to the fact that I was letting food sit out for weeks and it was not going to grow something to make me sick! It won’t if you make sure it has everything to thrive and is acidic enough from the start.

SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts, and although sounds really scary, is actually a healthy environment for all of the good bacterias and yeasts in our body. In the next article I will go over how to obtain a SCOBY or how to make your own!

The SCOBY requires certain nutrients to live and thrive. One of these things is sugar, and the other of these things comes from the nutrients in the tea leaf. Black, Oolong, and Green teas are perfect for brewing Kombucha because of the chemical compounds in the mature tea leaves. White tea is made from young tea leaves, and while you can use it to make Kombucha, it is generally advised to use a blend of black and white teas in order to ensure the health of your SCOBY and therefore the health benefits of your Kombucha.

Kombucha SCOBY at the top of the brewing Kombucha. It is young and non-uniform

Kombucha SCOBY at the top of the brewing Kombucha. It is young and non-uniform

Since I have gone through most of this article without accessing the benefits, truths, and myths about Kombucha, this seems like a great place to start.

Before I scare you off with the pseudo-negative parts, please take a look at the benefits from drinking Kombucha. While these are not FDA-approved, there is a bigger section at the bottom of the above article that canvases 1000 Kombucha drinkers and the positive changes they have seen in their own body. Sound like a health ad? It’s not. Just people trying to be healthy. Continue reading for science-proofed facts about Kombucha, positive and negative, below.

I got most of my information from Phoenix Helix because it is concise and science-backed. Here is a short run-down of everything in this article and information from a couple other sources:

  1. Caffeine content: Most Kombucha DOES contain caffeine. But this DOES NOT mean that Kombucha needs caffeine in order to thrive. It doesn’t! Because Kombucha is brewed generally with Black or Green tea, the caffeine doesn’t go anywhere. Alternatively, Caffeine does increase your energy. You can brew it with caffeine-free tea, though.  It is suggested to buy caffeine-free tea, if you wish, that is decaffeinated by the CO2 method
  2. Kombucha does NOT contain a measurable amount of B vitamins, and it does NOT contain hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, or glucuronic acid. This may make you sad, but is IS thought to contain the building blocks for hyaluronic acid and glucosamine which relieve joint pain.
  3. Kombucha DOES contain beneficial yeast, the beneficial bacteria acetobacter, the pH regulator gluconic acid, and the anti-microbial blood sugar stabilizer acetic acid. Each brew is different, and may also contain one or more of:
    “an analgesic (pain reliever), an anti-arthritic compound, an anti-spasmodic compound, a liver-protective compound, and several anti-bacterial compounds. The blend varies from batch to batch” – See more at: http://www.phoenixhelix.com/2013/03/25/kombucha-myths-vs-truths/#sthash.afW9HJfJ.dpuf/li>
  4. Tea contains L-theanine, which promotes the increase of production of seratonin in the brain. This amino acid reduces stress and therefore makes you “happier.” Now, you are going to find a higher concentration of L-theanine in Green tea so if that is a benefit you are looking for, I would try brewing with green tea or a mix.
  5. Kombucha DOES contain sugar. While a bit is eaten by the SCOBY during the first fermentation, it needs that sugary environment to stay healthy and therefore contains about 15g sugar per 8oz  after 2 weeks of fermentation. The longer you ferment, the less sugar is left. The yeast first must use the minerals in the tea to produce enzymes that change table sugar to fructose and glucose. The yeast then eats the glucose and changes it to ethanol, which the bacteria in the SCOBY then eat to produce healthy amino acids, and trace vitamins and minerals.
  6. Kombucha DOES contain alcohol. But only .5% to 3%, and only a high number if it has been sitting on a store shelf for a long, long time. A normal beer has 4-5%. Yours will probably be around 1%. That would take you, like, 80 oz of Kombucha to maybe get a buzz. You will probably be drinking 2 cups max.
  7. You are probably going to google it, and you are probably going to find a lot of “scientific” sites that tell us the risk of drinking kombucha even leading to death. This is actually false and based off of an incident where two women died unexpectedly within a week of each other, both of whom drank kombucha regularly. This is silly and you will find MANY more people who brew their own kombucha and regularly tout its benefits. But there are ways that it may adversely affect you:
  8. Your body may be a breeding ground of bad yeast. If you drink Kombucha, you may experience adverse affects from the good yeasts in Kombucha killing off the bad yeasts in your body, which is actually making you healthier but feel worse for a short amount of time. Reduce the amount of Kombucha you are drinking regularly until you start to feel well, but STILL DRINK IT! If you have the affliction of being yeast intolerant and your body does not feel better with lower doses of Kombucha after a week or so, stop drinking it and try again in a couple months.
  9. The big thing: Being a probiotic, living food it supports healthy flora in your gut which aids in digestion, supports the immune system by nurturing the correct microbes, and makes a healthy environment for your stomach and the food you eat to nourish your whole body correctly! My body working correctly? What does that feel like? Why don’t you try it out!

In my next article I will write about how to brew Kombucha. If you have time and patience (which, honestly, it took a lot of effort on my part because I am NOT patient AT ALL), you will be thrilled with the idea of doing something, on your own, for yourself.

Reason 1: It is really tasty. Different teas give different flavors

Reason 2: It actually does do things to help your body

Reason 3: It is fun to make things for WAY LESS than you can buy at the store

Come back in a week for a brewing how-to!

Sam

Fun Fact: Chickens regularly given Kombucha were seen to digest protein 20% better. Human studies? None so far on this.. Now if I can only get back to the paper from which I read this 10 minutes ago..

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