Kombucha is fermented black or green tea that contains live microorganisms—those healthful probiotics that boost immunity and promote a healthy digestive system. A colony of bacteria and yeast is added to a base of tea, sugar, and fruit juice (for flavoring). Similar to beer, the yeast eats the sugars and expels alcohol and acid during the fermentation process. It’s often called mushroom tea due to the bubble of bacteria and yeast that settles at the top and looks like a mushroom cap. The end product is a carbonated, slightly alcoholic tea that contains a wealth of beneficial bacteria. But just how good for you is this “elixir of life”?
The Low-Down on Kombucha
Kombucha has been around for about 2000 years, but it wasn’t commercially branded until the late 1990s. There have been miracle health claims made about kombucha, as well as reports of very serious side effects. Let’s address those first.
Experts warn that homegrown, unpasteurized varieties of kombucha may not be safe. If conditions aren’t entirely sterile, harmful bacteria can seep into the tea and cause stomach upset and acidosis…and even more serious complications such as liver damage and death. Kombucha is typically brewed in ceramic pots, and heavy metals from the pots can leach into the tea. Allergic reactions to the molds that can form during fermentation have also been documented. For these reasons, experts recommend sticking to commercially packaged and processed kombucha that you can find on the shelves of health food stores.
Full of probiotics—proven to strengthen immune system and digestive health—vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids like beta-carotene, kombucha is a polyphenol powerhouse that has been touted as a cancer preventative, kidney protector, weight loss promoter, blood sugar regulator, and even a hair thickener! Many of these health claims are backed by animal studies, but unfortunately haven’t been validated by any human clinical trials. But don’t let this stop you from grabbing a bottle to quench your thirst, especially if you’re hooked on a soda habit. When you look at the antioxidant and probiotic concentration of kombucha, it’s clear that if you’re in the mood for a fizzy drink, kombucha is perhaps the healthiest choice of all.