If you are health crazed in any way, you are already aware of the kombucha tea fad. Over the past few years, kombucha has emerged as one of the most sought after health drinks, and has become a staple in many people’s diets. This drink as absolutely exploded on the market. MarketsandMarkets, the world’s No. 2 firm in terms of annually published premium market research reports, estimates that the kombucha tea market will be worth 1.8 Billion USD by 2020. If kombucha didn’t have your attention, I bet it does now. Here’s what you need to know:
What exactly is Kombucha?
Kombucha tea is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, life bacteria and yeast. Sometimes fruit juice and other flavorings are added to the tea as well. It’s often referred to as “mushroom-tea”; during the brewing process the bacteria and yeast grow into a mass that resembles a mushroom cap. Kombucha, however, is not a mushroom.
Kombucha tea is made by adding the symbiotic colony to sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment. The drink has a slight distinct odor and sweet-tart flavor. Often you may find small remnants of the bacteria used to create it in your drink, which sounds unappealing but is not much different from finding some sediment in your wine. Kombucha is highly acidic, contains sugar, B vitamins and antioxidants, as well as some alcohol that results from the fermentation process. It usually has 30 calories per eight ounces (mainly from the sugar).
Actual contributing microbial populations in the symbiotic cultures vary, but the yeast component generally includes Saccharomyces, and the bacterial component almost always includes Gluconacetobacter xylinus to oxidize yeast-produced alcohols into acetic (and other) acids.
The history of Kombucha:
Even though kombucha has been a fast growing trend for the past couple of years, it is not new. The roots of the are not completely known, but some sources say the tea traces all the way back to 200 B.C, in northeastern China, where it was known as “The Tea of Immortality”. It is also said to have been imported to Japan around 414 CE. The name “kombucha” is said to come from the Japanese.Kombucha is reported to have been consumed in east Russia at least as early as 1900, and from there entered Europe. In 1913, kombucha was first mentioned in German literature. At least as early as the mid-1990s, it became popular in the US.
Health Benefits of Kombucha:
Many claims have been made that kombucha provides a wide array of health benefits. Every single reputable medical source I researched prefaced that there is no scientific evidence that has backed these claims. Registered dietician and author for the Washington Post says, “Most of the big curative claims about kombucha are unfounded: there have been just a few animal studies on it, and no solid research has been done on people. But some health benefits are likely since kombucha, when raw or unpasteurized, is rich in probiotics, good gut bacteria (like those in yogurt) that have been shown to boost immunity and overall health.”
Here are the health benefits that are claimed to occur by consuming kombucha tea:
- Improved digestion
- Preventative to cancer
- Curative and preventative to AIDS
- Stimulation of Immune System
- Boosting libido
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Helps arthritis
- Improve liver function
Many sources say there there just isn’t enough evidence to back these positive claims, and kombucha should not be used as a lone alternative for modern medicine. “In a 2003 systematic review, Dr. Edzard Ernst, an academic physician and researcher specializing in the study of complementary and alternative medicine, characterized kombucha as an “extreme example” of an unconventional remedy, because of the great disparity between implausible, wide-ranging health claims lacking evidentiary support, and the potential for harm the preparations seem to hold.“
Even though there has not been substantial scientific and medical evidence to prove the health benefits of kombucha, there have been adverse affects linked to tea.
What are the risks and dangers of kombucha?
Reports of adverse effects from drinking kombucha are rare, but it is unknown of whether they are really just rare, or underreported. Regardless, negative reactions to the drink have happened. Some of the adverse effects known to occur when drinking the tea are:
- Upset stomach
- Allergic reactions
- A health threat to those who are pregnant or have a compromised immune system
- hepatic (liver) and kidney toxicity
- Metallic toxicity from brewing at home in certain pots (lead poisoning)
- Not recommended for children under 4 years old
- Drinking too much can cause lactic acidosis
One reason for the negative effects is that kombucha is easily brewed at home, and made “naturally” by many people. The problem with this is that if kombucha is made under non-sterile conditions, contamination is highly likely.
Another downside to kombucha is that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that are known to exist in the tea mixture do not survive the pasteurization process. Therefore, to drink kombucha with probiotics means to drink it unpasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria, and if kombucha was made in unsanitary conditions and on top of that is unpasteurized, it could pose a serious health threat.
The acidity of the tea can also cause harmful effects, and home brewers have been warned to be careful of over-fermentation; this can cause acidosis.
Now that you know what kombucha is, the history behind it, the potential (but yet, scientifically unproven) health benefits, and potential (but rare) risks to drinking it, it is up to you if you want to give it a try. Millions of people love it and have added it as a staple to their diet. I have tried it as well, and am not too keen on the distinct taste, but am not opposed to trying other flavors.
To be safe: always stick with the store-bought brands (which are FDA approved and follow safe, clean brewing methods), rather than trying to create kombucha on your own, or consuming it from someone who did.
Let me know what you think! Do you like kombucha? Have any thoughts or opinions on my post? Leave me a comment below!