Uncapping the mysteries of kombucha

kombucha
Eunice Choi/File

Kombucha — kombu-whaaa? It’s a strange word. Maybe you’ve seen the beautifully decorated glass bottles of Guava Goddess flavored GT’s Kombucha at the GBC, or the Asian Pear and Ginger Kombucha Wonder Drink at Brown’s, but have been a little too hesitant to actually reach into the fridge and grab one. Fitness fiends rave about the beverage and its multitudinous health effect — but is it really all that it claims to be?

So what exactly is this mysterious beverage?

Kombucha is a fermented drink made using tea, water, sugar and a SCOBY, or a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Another common name for kombucha is mushroom tea, as the SCOBY has an appearance similar to that of a mushroom.

Let’s get a little into the science of it. Not every type of kombucha contains the same strain of bacteria. Some of the more commonly found types in popular brands include acetobacter, lactobacillus and saccharomyces. Acetobacter is a type of acetic acid bacteria. It converts ethanol (drinking alcohol) to acetic acid when there is oxygen present. Lactobacillus is a part of a bacterial group that converts sugar to lactic acid (fun fact: this strain is important in maintenance of the health of the vaginal microbiota). Saccharomyces is especially important in the production of food. It is often used in making beer and bread.

The process of making it is pretty simple. First, you steep tea in boiling water, add sugar and let it cool down. Next, add a SCOBY or a brand-new bottle of kombucha (that contains live cultures) into a jar suitable for fermentation. Let this sit for about a week to a month, and there you have it — your very own batch of kombucha!

The fermentation process creates a slight effervescence, making kombucha bubbly similar to soda or carbonated water. There is sugar added in the brewing process, but it’s necessary for fermentation to take place. Essentially, in adding sugar, you are feeding the kombucha culture. After a little while, only trace amounts of the sugar are left.

Although you are using tea, the caffeine content in your final product is lowered to about a third of the amount used to make it. Also, the longer you let it sit, the higher the alcohol content. If you go to the store and buy some, you may see that some brands require that you be 21 and over to purchase them. Most brands, however, tend to be below the alcohol limit and don’t require any form of identification at the time of purchase.

As for its health benefits, this drink is a probiotic, meaning that it contains “good” bacteria that helps keep your intestinal microbiome healthy. For centuries, kombucha has been regarded as having healing properties. It balances the internal pH of your body, helps with digestion and is high in antioxidants, which help get rid of cancer-causing free radicals.

One of the most commonly found brands on grocery store shelves all over the country, GT’s, came to be when the company founder’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctors believed that she didn’t even have a year to live. A little while after being diagnosed, doctors ran tests, and they were surprised to see that the cancer hadn’t metastasized. The only thing she had been doing differently was drinking kombucha and she believes that it helped her with the healing process, before, during, and after chemotherapy. Her son, GT Dave, started brewing this tea beverage in their very own kitchen.

At $3 to $7 a bottle, kombucha can get a little costly. But it’s a great alternative to alcohol and sugary beverages, and it leaves you feeling revitalized. While it isn’t really something you can afford to drink daily on a college student’s budget, it’s good every once in awhile. If you have meal points, make the most of them and stock up on kombucha!

Contact Kithumini Jayasiri at [email protected].