Kombucha. Kom-boo-cha. I have to admit that I resisted trying kombucha because I didn’t like the name. It was intimidating to me. The name made me think it would taste bad. Like drinking liquefied nastiness or medicine. I didn’t even bother looking at the array of bottles and flavors when I walked past them in the grocery store. Instead I just thought “What is that weird stuff!?” But then I did try it – and it turns out that it’s…interesting. More than interesting, actually. I had no idea it would be a spritzy bubbly concoction. No idea it would taste fruity. No idea at all that I would find it to be delicious.
Kombucha is a fermented drink. It’s sometimes referred to as kombucha mushroom tea, but kombucha is not a mushroom, but rather a colony of bacteria and yeast. The basic drink is made by adding the bacteria and yeast to tea and sugar and allowing the mixture to ferment. The resulting mixture is acidic, effervescent, and contains B vitamins, antioxidants, and a little alcohol (as a result of the sugar fermenting). There are other drinks that might be confused with kombucha – my local store sells drinking vinegars, chia drinks, tonics, and drinkable probiotic drinks, all of which might contain probiotics and flavorings. But if it’s called kombucha, it’s made from tea, sugar, and bacteria.
Kombucha and probiotics
Many benefits have been ascribed to kombucha. Kombucha has been revered as a healing tonic for at least 2,000 years. The drink was believed to provide healthful micronutrients and bacteria that are beneficial to digestion, detoxification, and immunity. Kombucha is rich in probiotics, which are the good bacteria that have been shown to boost immunity and overall health.
However, those probiotics do not survive the pasteurization process. To benefit from them it’s important to drink unpasteurized kombucha. And when you drink an unpasteurized product, it’s very important to know that it was produced under sanitary conditions – so use a vendor you trust.
It’s always good to include some fermented food in our diet. It aids in digestion and helps to create an environment that is conducive to the growth of all healthy bacteria.
A key feature we want in our microbiota is good diversity. You might notice on the ingredient labels that there are different bacteria present in each bottle. Ring the changes with your kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, and any other fermented food that you eat. As with any new thing, introduce kombucha into your diet a little at a time. Don’t glug the entire bottle at the first sitting!
Kombucha and alcohol
As far as the alcohol content is concerned…there generally seems to be very little alcohol in kombucha. In the US, there is a requirement to label any product that may contain more than 0.5% alcohol. Many of the bottles I looked at carried this label, which doesn’t mean that the drinks inside them do contain more than 0.5% alcohol, only that they might. Every brand’s alcohol content will be different, so be mindful of it if you find yourself drinking a lot of kombucha in a single day. If you’re avoiding alcohol, look for brands that are alcohol-free. The amount of alcohol in home-made kombucha can vary widely depending on how it is made.
Whether home-made or store bought, you should store kombucha in the fridge. I’ve read conflicting information: that refrigeration stops the fermentation, and that the fermentation will continue (albeit more slowly) even when the kombucha is in the fridge. I don’t know which of the statements is correct. However, the longer the kombucha ferments, the more sour it will taste, the fizzier it will be, and the higher alcohol content it will have. (The fermentation will stop when all the sugar has been used up.) When shopping for kombucha, keep this in mind. Pay attention when you buy it so that you can decide whether you prefer to drink your kombucha when there’s still plenty of time before its sell-by date, or when it’s a little more mature and closer to the date.
Many flavors to choose from
The flavor is affected by which tea is used (just about any kind of tea can be used) as well as any added fruit flavorings. You can buy plain kombucha, but mainly you’ll probably see many flavor options.
I learned the hard way that you’re not supposed to shake a bottle of kombucha – fizz went everywhere! However, if you’re drinking a flavored kombucha there might be floaty bits that will settle in the bottom of the bottle unless you give it a little agitation – but be very, very gentle! (You’ll notice the guidance on one of the bottles says to “Swirl gently.” I should have paid more attention to the fine print.)
Like yogurts, it can be overwhelming to stand in front of a case of kombucha and decide which one to choose. The flavor I first tasted was Gingerberry by GT’s Synergy, a kombucha base flavored with organic blueberry juice and fresh ginger juice. I liked it so much that I was stuck on it for a few weeks but then I decided I should try a few others…
1. KeVita, Apple cider vinegar tonic, Elderberry
This was a bit disappointing. I used to eat elderberry jam, but now I don’t remember what elderberries taste like. Despite being elderberry flavored, this drink tasted like apple cider vinegar. I didn’t detect any other flavor, but it’s a pretty color and has nice fizz. It turned out that, as the name suggests, this isn’t actually a kombucha. (A not-so-minor detail that completely escaped me when I was selecting which flavors and brands to try!) Rather, this drink is based on water kefir and apple cider vinegar cultures (which probably accounts for the vinegary flavor).
Each bottle contains 4 billion CFUs (colony forming units), which indicates that the bacteria are alive and active if they are able to divide and form these colonies. Priced at $3.04 for 15 ounces.
Ranking: D. Not terrible, but my least favorite of the four.
2. Live Kombucha, Cola.
If you’re looking for a drink that will help you transition away from soda pops, this could be the one for you. This kombucha has a definite cola flavor; I didn’t detect any vinegary tartness. In the glass, it is the
golden brown of iced tea and looks nice. I would say though that the fizz was a bit too soft for my liking – it reminded me of a cola that’s gone slightly flat. There was a bit of sweetness to the drink from some added stevia. Priced at $2.54 for 12 ounces.
Ranking: C. Because I like tart flavors, I would have liked this more if it had a bit less of that stevia aftertaste.
3. GT’s Organic and Raw Kombucha, Lemonade
At first, this tasted like a mild cider vinegar (which I liked), and then subtle lemon flavors came through. It was crisp and light, and only slightly fizzy. When I tasted it again the next day, the cider vinegar flavor was more pronounced, but it was still good. Priced at $3.04 for 16 ounces.
Ranking: B+. I liked this one quite a lot and would buy it again.
4. GT’s Synergy, Gingerberry
This was my first venture into the world of kombucha, and it’s still my favorite by a long shot. It’s a lovely cranberry color. The blueberry lends a nice hint of fruitiness, and the ginger gives it a bit of a kick. (Definitely give this bottle a very gentle swirl to mix in the ginger. If you don’t, the last third of it will taste quite strongly of ginger.) It’s deliciously bubbly and fresh – pour it into a nice crystal glass and call it your evening cocktail! Priced at $3.39 for 16 ounces.
Ranking: A+. To me, this has it all; flavor, crispness, freshness, and bubbles! I’ll force myself to keep trying other flavors but I know I’ll keep coming back to this one.