Weird and Wonderful Kombucha
It’s Getting Around Town
Kombucha. You’ve probably seen it somewhere. Maybe you’ve seen it at the grocery store alongside other drinks and paid no attention to it. Maybe you have wandered into a “Hipster Hangout” at a local vegetarian or vegan “café, Or maybe you have one of those friends who is fanatical about “growing things” in their kitchen and you have seen “something” growing in jars on their kitchen counter. It is likely that you have come into contact with this “on the rise” drink.
The New Health Baby on the Block
Komucha has a bubbly, tangy taste to it. When you first try it, you don’t quite know what to make of it. The bottle ingredients may say that it is a cherry flavour or raspberry flavour, so you may expect a fruity drink. Well, it is that, but it seems to taste more like a fruity beer with maybe a twist of vinegar than a fruit drink. In fact, you might even believe it is actually beer since the taste is so similar, except the it has that fruity taste as well. And it is… really.. bubbly.
We may have tried it because of all the “health hype” about it. It is the new thing to try, Kombochu is the new health baby on the block and we don’t want to in the dark about what it is. So we try it just to say that we have.
So, What Is it?
Basically, Kombucha is a sweetened tea that is fermented for a period of 1-3 weeks.The cloudy “floaty bits” floating around in it are called the scoby -some call it a mushroom.
A Bit of History
So where does it come from? It seems that everything old is new again – new to us, that is. Kombucha was originally consumed in ancient China – about 2,200 years ago. It was revered for its detoxifying and energizing qualities. But, of course, it didn’t remain an “ancient Chinese secret”, Kombucha travelled on to Russia through trade routes and then eventually found its way into Eastern Europe. Around the time of WWII, Kombucha made its way into Germany and then later France and Northern Africa.
Fascinating Kombucha Facts
(1) Don’t spill Kombucha on your rubber shoes
The acid in the Kombocha together with the friction from the rubber will eat at your skin. It is better to wash it off straight away.
(2) It’s not a mushroom and It is alive!
The “floaty thing” is often called a mushroom (as in a fungus). It is not a mushroom at all, but is, instead, a biofilm ( a cellulose particle) which is produced by bacteria.
(3) It’s like beer
Depending on how long the kombucha has been left to ferment, the alcohol content can range from between 0.5% and 5%. So it really is like beer and drinking enough of it….well.. you could (maybe) get drunk on it.
(4) It’s Chinese
Kombucha is said to have originated in China (The North Eastern part) around 220 B.C.
(5) It gets things moving
All the probiotics in Kombucha certainly help the metabolism and the digestive process to speed things up. So, the bathroom routine may definitely improve.
(6) It can be turned into clothing -seriously!
The bacteria in Kombucha form a microfilm which can be made into fabric with a leather-like texture. From it, we can make shirts, shoes, coats and more.
(7) It can be addictive
People do develop an addiction to this drink, but not as much as coffee or tea.
Some Health Benefits of Kombucha
It seems that the probiotics, the B vitamins and the acidic compounds in Kombucha are responsible for most of the healthful benefits derived from drinking Kombucha.
(1) Kombucha may help with anxiety and other mood disorders
“In conclusion, the emerging concept of a gut microbiota-brain axis suggests that the modulation of the gut microbiota may provide a novel therapeutic target for the treatment and/or prevention of mood and anxiety disorders.”
(2) Kombucha may boost the immune system
“These data show that probiotics can be used as innovative tools to alleviate intestinal inflammation, normalize gut mucosal dysfunction, and down-regulate hypersensitivity reactions. More recent data show that differences exist in the immunomodulatory effects of candidate probiotic bacteria. Moreover, distinct regulatory effects have been detected in healthy subjects and in patients with inflammatory diseases. These results suggest that specific immunomodulatory properties of probiotic bacteria should be characterized when developing clinical applications for extended target populations.”
(3) Kombucha may decrease incidence of heart disease
“Probiotics create acids that counter cholesterol production: As probiotic bacteria absorb fiber from the intestines, they generate acids. One of the specific acids, i.e. proprionic acid, reduces production of cholesterol by the liver.”
“Probiotics break down liver bile acids: Bile acids assist body in digesting fats, and the liver produces these bile acids from cholesterol. The liver recycles bile acids and utilizes them over and over. Probiotics break down bile acids and, therefore, the liver has to make additional bile acids, using up more cholesterol in the progression.”
“Probiotics actually eat cholesterol: Probiotic bacteria have been shown to break down cholesterol and use it for nourishment.”
(4) Kombucha may fight yeast infection
“…exhibiting the most important inhibition zone observed against the Candida strains tested (Candida glabrata, Candida tropicalis, Candida sake, Candida dubliniensis and Candida albicans). In view of their antimicrobial activity demonstrated against a range of pathogenic bacteria and against a number of clinical Candida species, the fermented L. citriodora and F. vulgare may be very healthful.”
(5) Kombucha may help with type II diabetes
“The findings revealed that kombucha tea administration induced attractive curative effects on diabetic rats, particularly in terms of liver-kidney functions. Kombucha tea can, therefore, be considered as a potential strong candidate for future application as a functional supplement for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.”
The Downside of Kombucha
(1) Keto acidosis
Overconsumption or daily consumption may lead to acidosis, which is an abnormally high level of acid in the blood (the ph drops below 7.35). To be fair, one would have to drink a whole lot of kombucha to get acidosis.
The symptoms of acidosis include: confusion, headaches, tiredness, shaking and rapid breathing or shortness of breath. If acidosis is left unattended to, it can lead to serious medical emergency conditions of brain damage, coma and it may even lead to death.
For more information on acidosis read:
(2) Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a risk depending on how the kombucha was brewed. If it was brewed in a pot that contains ceramic, clay, lead crystals or paint, the acid in the brew will draw out and absorb the lead in the pot.
There are many symptoms of lead poisoning which may include: headaches, stomach pains, sleep problems, constipation, tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, numbness in the extremities.
Home brewing needs to be done with careful attention to the pots used and measures taken to test for traces of lead. If strict procedures are followed, then there should not be an issue with lead poisoning.
(3) Mold and pathogen contamination
This risk is higher in the home-brewed and ‘raw’ (unpasteurized) varieties and usually only if and when certain precautions are not taken. Without going into detail on this subject, it is important to make sure that proper fermentation procedure is followed (length of time, no exposure to direct sunlight or to other objects -cross contamination) and sanitary guidelines are respected.
Kombucha purchased commercially usually does not have mold and pathogen issues because it has been properly tested.
(4) Kombucha can be addictive
Kambucha contains caffeine (it is made from fermented tea, after all). The high quantity of sugar in it also makes you want to drink more and more. Initially, it makes you feel good and energized, so of course you want to get this feeling over and over.
(5) High acidity
The acidic level in kombucha should be a warning signal to people with IBS or other digestive issues.
Also, there may be the possibility of wearing away the enamel on your teeth with regular consumption.
So, what’s the takeaway on kombucha?
Kombucha has an interesting history and appears to have several health benefits (for having been around for so long). Most of the health benefits appear to be centered around the probiotic content of the drink more than anything else. The health studies done specifically on Kombucha are practically (almost) inexistent (for whatever reason). The lack of studies does not necessarily make it unhealthy (or healthy); it is just that the benefits seem to be largely based on anecdotal evidence together with current understanding of the health benefits of probiotics.
If a person is generally in good health, drinks kombucha in moderation (not becoming obsessed and fanatical about it) and obtains the kombucha from a reputable source (I do not know enough about home brewing to endorse it), then there should be no problem enjoying this sweet, tangy and bubbly drink.
So, pour yourself a glass of “bubbly” and raise a toast to life. Life is for Living, after all!