What are Gluconobacter and what are Acetobacter?
Gluconobacter and Acetobacter are both bacteria that are known for their ability to produce organic acids through fermentation, but being separate genera, they belong to different families of bacteria — which means they have some distinct differences. Acetobacter bacteria are known for their ability to produce acetic acid. They convert alcohol into acetic acid, which is the main component of most vinegar. On the other hand, Gluconobacter species are bacteria known for their ability to produce gluconic acid by oxidizing glucose into gluconic acid — a different end product — and the main component of a proper kombucha. Gluconic acid is not the same as acetic acid, and it has different properties, uses, and health benefits.
How do they relate to kombucha?
Not all scobys are created equal, and you’re about to learn why! From a kombucha standpoint, the most important difference between the two bacteria the ability to produce gluconic acid, as the microbial makeup of your brew has the most significant effect on the taste and quality of your finished brew — and the health benefits. The reality is that kombucha ferments heavy on gluconobacter taste exponentially better than acetobacter, which is essentially a vinegar ferment. Gluconic acid is what gives a great kombucha that trademark lightly sweet, tart, tangy flavor — vs the sour and astringent vinegar taste and odor of acetic acid.
Kombucha cultures will generally have both acetobacter and gluconobacter, but the difference is in the specific species and their ratios. That’s why different kombuchas can taste so different. A quality kombucha will be a mostly gluconic acid ferment, and that’s why making sure you get a high quality, predominantly gluconobacter ferment like Gaia is so important. But as with all things in life, there is a tradeoff. Acetic acid ferments are substantially more forgiving than gluconic acid ferments in terms of temperature. Whereas acetobacter can thrive into the low 70’s and even 60’s, gluconobacter need a little bit higher temperature range to thrive. That’s why we tell our customers over and over: NEVER LET YOUR BREW FALL BELOW 74°F.
But here’s the thing: the gluconobacter are worth a little bit of extra care for the exponentially better flavor — and the ancient health benefits that have made kombucha the queen of functional beverages.
What are the health benefits of Gluconic Acid?
Gluconic acid has several potential health benefits, although more research is needed to fully understand its effects. Some of the purported benefits, supported by research, of gluconic acid include:
- It may help detoxify the body: Gluconic acid is a proven chelating agent, which means it forms bonds with metal ions and helps to remove them from solution. Gluconic acid is likely what gives kombucha its purported magical abilities of detoxification.
- It may help regulate blood sugar levels: Gluconic acid is produced by the oxidation of glucose, and some studies have suggested that it may help regulate blood sugar levels by preventing spikes in glucose levels after a meal.
- It may have antioxidant properties: Some studies have suggested that gluconic acid may have antioxidant properties, which means it may help protect cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals.
- It may have anti-inflammatory effects: Some research has indicated that gluconic acid may have anti-inflammatory effects, which means it may help reduce inflammation in the body.
- It may have antimicrobial properties: Some studies have shown that gluconic acid may have antimicrobial properties, which means it may be effective at killing harmful bacteria and preventing the growth of infections.
- It may support healthy digestion: Some studies have suggested that gluconic acid may help support healthy digestion by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- It may support oral health: Gluconic acid is produced by the oxidation of glucose, and some research has indicated that it may help support oral health by preventing the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
- It may support wound healing: Some studies have suggested that gluconic acid may support wound healing by promoting the growth of new cells and reducing inflammation in the affected area.
- It may have anti-carcinogenic properties: This means it may have the ability to prevent the development of cancer cells in the body.
Here at RBC, the research only affirms what we and thousands of years of kombucha drinkers agree on: drinking kombucha is a benefit to our health.
How many strains of bacteria have been found in kombucha?
The SCOBY contains a variety of different bacteria and yeasts, and the specific strains present can vary depending on the conditions of the fermentation process, the region, the source, etc.: scoby’s have been changing hands for thousands of years, so (from a scoby standpoint) it’s a lot of time to evolve. While the specific number of bacterial strains that have been “found” in kombucha is not well-defined, and may vary depending on the source of the kombucha cultures and the methods used to identify the bacteria, some studies have identified more than 200 different bacterial strains in kombucha. Others have identified fewer than 50, so from a “closed case” standpoint, the exact number of bacterial strains in kombucha is not well-established — and due to the ever evolving nature may never be.