Kombucha: health elixir or hype? Find out what all the fuss is about here.
Sometimes called the elixir of health and immortality, this odd-looking and odd-tasting fermented tea is often touted as a multi-functional health drink. But while kombucha is enjoying a moment in the sun, it’s always a good idea to take a level-headed look at any product before adding it to your health arsenal.
Kombucha tea originated in China during the Qin Dynasty in 220 BCE where it was used widely as a cure-all drink after a local medicine man successfully treated the Emperor with a kombucha concoction, or so the legend goes.
It made its way to Russia and finally to the west, on the same hippy tide that brought ancient practices, techniques and recipes from the east during the 1970s. It was marketed then as a cure-all, and later even hyped as a treatment for AIDS and cancer.
While these claims are definitely unfounded, kombucha is a powerful probiotic and can be a fantastic addition to your diet, especially if you're focused on gut health.
Healthiest kombucha drinks
If you are looking to add a probiotic to your diet or have heard about the benefits of kombucha, read on to find out what the healthiest kombucha drinks are and how to get the most out of every cup.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a drink made from fermented black or green tea that is full of probiotic cultures. While the colour and taste tends to vary, it is often a cloudy yellow shade and has a sharp taste with a slight fizz. It’s also got a small amount of alcohol due to the fermentation process, but not enough to have any noticeable effect.
What in the world is a SCOBY?
Kombucha is made with the aid of a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) which “eats” the tea and sugar and produces all the live cultures that are so healthy to drink.
You might have seen kombucha in the fermentation process, SCOBY and all, on food-focused instagrams or at your health-conscious friend’s house: an odd, rubbery-looking pillow that resembles a puffy floating mushroom sitting on top of the liquid.
If you would like to make your own kombucha you can can buy a SCOBY from health food stores, or even make your own from scratch using sugary tea “activated” by live cultures. You can either buy a prepared culture mix or can even initiate the fermentation process by adding some store-bought kombucha to your tea and waiting for it to ferment and the SCOBY to grow.
Of course, if you would like all the benefits of kombucha, without the hassle, or if you just want to try this new health trend out, you can buy bottled kombucha.
What is in kombucha?
It’s difficult to say what the exact ingredients of every cup of kombucha will be because the recipes vary so much. It matters which brand you buy, whether it’s flavoured, pasteurized, or homemade. Each SCOBY will yield a different result.
As a general rule you can expect to find these ingredients in your kombucha:
- Probiotics. This is the biggest draw card, as each cup of kombucha can have billions of good bacterias such as Lactobacillus, Acetobacter and S. Boulardii.
- Caffeine. Most kombucha will have a small amount of caffeine, by virtue of the tea.
- Sugar. Kombucha will also have some sugar content, although actual amounts will vary from brand to brand.
- B vitamins. Most kombucha is also rich in B-complex vitamins.
What are the benefits of drinking kombucha?
The stresses of modern life, poor diet, and common medications such as antibiotics can have a detrimental effect on the bacteria in your stomach. Unbalanced gut flora is blamed for a range of ailments including IBS, low energy, skin conditions, a poor immune system response.
One of the main benefits of drinking kombucha is that it’s rich in probiotics which helps balance gut flora and encourages good digestion.
There are numerous benefits to consuming plenty of probiotics, especially if you struggle with digestion and take or have taken antibiotics recently. It may also help boost your immune system.
The broad B vitamin spectrum may also be helpful for vegans and vegetarians who might not be able to get enough B vitamins from their regular diet.
With the recent focus on a healthy gut, it’s no wonder kombucha has been embraced by the natural health community.
What is the best kombucha flavour?
These days, store-bought kombucha comes in a range of flavours. For a healthier option, we suggest buying kombucha with flavours that have been added by infusing the mixture with fruits or herbs after the fermentation process. There is a wide selection of infused kombucha flavours.
However, if you have more of a sweet tooth, or if you’re not a huge fan of kombucha’s distinctive flavour there are plenty of products enhanced with sweetened flavourings. With the increased popularity of kombucha, the sky is really the limit when it comes to taste.
Our favourites are:
When is best to drink kombucha?
There seems to be a broad consensus that drinking kombucha on an empty stomach maximises its health benefits especially if you are drinking it to aid digestion. That’s because the naturally high levels of acidity in kombucha will interact with other food present in your system and lessen the bacteria’s positive effects.
However, some people might find it a bit strong on an empty stomach and a few people have reported mild nausea after drinking kombucha first thing in the morning. If you experience this effect, eat a little bit before you drink your kombucha (but not too much).
Kombucha works best alone, so minimising the presence of other foods in your stomach increases its benefits and efficacy.
Does kombucha cure hangovers?
One of the most popular times to drink kombucha is in the morning after a big night out and many people report that Kombucha aids hangover recovery.
Kombucha is a sweet and lightly caffeinated drink which will definitely help regulate your blood sugar and help you feel more like yourself again when you have been rough on your body the night before.
The shot of probiotics will probably help you recover as well, as alcohol contains a lot of unprocessed sugars and too much alcohol consumption without enough water intake will make you feel queasy.
What is the best kombucha to drink?
With the wide range of different kombucha brands and flavours, it can be difficult to know which is the best kombucha to drink.
The final decision will be up to you, but after extensive research, we have put together a general guide for characteristics to look for when shopping for kombucha.
Not all kombucha is created equal, so be sure to read the labels carefully.
How to choose the best kombucha
1. Look at the packaging
- Darker is better. Light damages probiotics so the best and most active kombucha will come in dark-coloured glass bottles.
- Go for glass. Glass is by far the best choice for kombucha packaging. Other materials, such as plastics and aluminium, will degrade slowly over time, especially in contact with alcohol, even at small amounts. Glass is far sturdier and will better preserve kombucha’s potency without interfering with the natural fermentation process.
2. Read the ingredients list
- Natural flavours. We will say it again: flavoured Kombucha is delicious but be sure to know what kind of flavouring is used by the kombucha brand you buy. It is relatively easy to use real fruit and herbs to infuse kombucha with creative flavours, but can be faster and more cost-effective to use powdered fruit flavouring or even sweetened artificial flavoring to get a palatable taste. This really defeats the purpose of drinking a probiotic and will mess with the balance of good bacteria – both in the bottle and in your stomach. Stick to natural infusions to get the best flavour.
- Think about sugar content. Another shortcut to a kombucha drink that is palatable is to add extra sugar. While the natural fermentation process will “eat” up sugars, there is a limit, so make sure your kombucha is naturally low on sugar.
- Consider organic. As kombucha is popular with the natural health crowd, organic kombucha should be fairly simple to track down.
3. Focus on the fermentation process
- According to kombucha experts, it takes 21 days for the fermentation process to take place and for the drink to become active and healthy to drink. Take a look at the label. Higher-quality kombucha brands will list their process and tell their customers how long the contents have been fermented.
Is there a lot of sugar in kombucha?
That depends on the brand you buy. The general wisdom is that home-brewed kombucha tends to have a lower sugar content simply because of the natural tendency a commercial brand may have to make the drink more palatable by sweetening it. However, there are plenty of brands that offer low-sugar options and it’s simply a case of reading the label.
Kombucha itself is made with sugar which is essential to any fermentation process. However, during fermentation, the sugar is consumed and converted into bacteria so it is possible to make and buy kombucha with a low sugar content.
Is kombucha really good for you?
In the past, kombucha was marketed as a remedy for a range of illnesses, and a cursory search on health food forums still turns up claims on its wondrous abilities to manage and even prevent a range of diseases.
These should be approached skeptically. Scientists stress that kombucha is a naturopathic remedy and should not be taken as a treatment for any kind of medical condition without consulting a health professional.
Many smart consumers will see kombucha as a valuable addition to a healthy diet. Well-made kombucha is rich in probiotics and will encourage beneficial gut flora, which can definitely support a strong digestive system and help regulate conditions that come from or are exacerbated by a poor digestive environment.
As always, here at finder.com we encourage you to do your research before buying into marketing claims and to approach kombucha with realistic expectations.
If it works for you, and you find you love the taste and feel healthy and revitalised after a cup, then we say go for it.