What Is Kombucha And Why Should You Be Drinking It (If You Aren’t Already)?

Last Updated On August 12, 2019

By: Michael Peter, Raw Brewing Company CEO

If you frequent any yoga studio, farmer’s market, or evan most supermarkets these days, the chances are you’ll run into some form of Kombucha.  And your health-nut friend who munches kale before pilates isn’t just citing a new trend when she praises this bubbly tea: kombucha has very real research to back up its spot in the health hall of fame.  In the last few years, the effervescent fermented drink has positioned itself among all the other K’s in the marketplace such as kale, kimchi and kefir, offering itself up as a more than delicious beverage with added health benefits.

Seeing this drink on the shelf or online for the first time, you might be swayed to think it’s a new product. False: Kombucha is timeless (basically), and it’s history stretches back to ancient times. How has this fizzy drink kept up with the centuries?  You guessed it: health benefits.

Depending on who you ask, it’s thought to have originated in more than 2,000 years ago in China or the Ukraine.  Both these cultures, and most of the east, have utilized raw Kombucha and fermented foods for eons as a treatment for illnesses and ailments, and to maintain good health.  Handed down from person to person, Scobys made their way around the world, and today kombucha is considered by many of its believers as a healthy, living beverage that can help treat everything from diabetes to leaky gut.

Much of the positive press comes from studies in laboratories, animals, and humans that demonstrate kombucha’s potential to increase digestive health, bolster the immune system, reduce inflammation, and even help the body resist cancer [1]. Most of these beautiful characteristics are supported by kombucha’s ace-in-the-hole: fermentation.  And a properly fermented kombucha will contain all of the following beneficial compounds:

  • B Vitamins: the yeast in kombucha produces significant quantities of naturally occurring B vitamins — kombucha is a natural energy drink!
  • Glucuronic, Gluconic, Acetic, & Other Organic Acids: The health benefits of these organic acids include reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and keeping blood sugar spikes at bay. Acetic acid also has an alkaline effect, which helps all the systems in your body run smoothly.
  • Polyphenols & Antioxidants: Polyphenols are responsible for the antioxidant qualities of green, black, and white However, after fermentation the finished kombucha has much, much more.
  • Amino Acids: the literal building blocks of the body, sufficient amino acid intake is an essential requirement for optimal health.
  • Organic Enzymes: involved in the digestion of food, enzyme intake is thought to protect against this malabsorption
  • Live Probiotics: an essential component of digestion and a healthy gut, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests some illnesses can be treated with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria.

Within this article, we’ll uncover what exactly it is, some of the suspected health benefits, and why we love it so much!  But, before we delve into the details, let’s back up and answer the overarching question….

What is Kombucha?

It’s tea…but fancy, fizzy, fermented, delicious, healthy tea. The beverage starts with tea (green, black, or white), sugar, and water as a base, and here at Raw Brewing Co., we call that kombucha wort.   Kombucha is fermented using a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY), commonly referred to as a “mother” or “mushroom” because of its ability to form a mushroom-like structure during the fermentation process.  The SCOBY is what creates the magic, but here’s the basics of this biochemical reaction:

  1. The yeast in the scoby eat sugar, creating alcohol, carbon-dioxide, B-vitamins and other beneficial acids and enzymes in the process.  The yeast in kombucha is why some people feel the flavor is reminiscent of beer, the carbon-dioxide is why it becomes fizzy, and the B-vitamins are why so many feel a boost of mood and energy when they consume it.
  2. The beneficial probiotic bacteria in the scoby eat the alcohol, creating more bacteria, additional beneficial enzymes, and additional beneficial acids.  The bacteria are what create the typical kombucha vinegary-tartness so many bucha drinkers around the world have grown to love.  The bacteria are also known to be highly beneficial for intestinal flora, support immune function, as well as aiding nutrient absorption and infection control.

This all sounds simple enough, but the brewer’s personal taste, the choice of scoby (different SCOBYs have different yeast and bacteria strains), and the choice of sugar largely affects the finished product’s tartness and underlying flavor.  This is why, when tasting different kombuchas can make you wonder if you’re even tasting the same beverage.  When purchasing kombucha in the store, Be sure you’re choosing a high-quality product, and not just a “constructed kombucha” beverage like much of what’s on the market today, by checking the ingredients.  If it’s got added probiotics, it’s not fermented kombucha — and really not kombucha at all..

Why is it so good for you?

Pause for a moment and think about the kombucha’s base.  Tea.  Tea is a robust source of polyphenols, flavonoids, and saponins [2].  These micronutrients are known as antioxidants, are one of the core reasons eating plant-based foods are good for you.  And why are antioxidants good?  Because they help prevent detrimental chemical reactions (oxidation) in the body that can damage cells.  A wealth of studies show polyphenols lead the way in supporting digestion and combating neurodegenerative disease, while flavonoids (from plant pigments) are the rockstars of heart health and saponins champion an immune system boost.  All three are also indicated in decreased cancer risk [2].  Tea is clearly the perfect building block for kombucha as a health drink, but what makes it stand out from plain ol’ tea?

Fermentation

Kombucha fermenting

Fermentation is the name of the game when it comes to kombucha brewing, and it’s the magic responsible for most of the drink’s health benefits.  In general, fermentation is the process where bacteria and yeast converts to all sorts of good stuff (enzymes, more good bacteria, alcohol, etc.).  Lots of foods you already eat involve fermentation somewhere in the process, like cheese, wine, yogurt, and chocolate (yes, really). What makes kombucha’s creation journey unique in the world of fermentation is that it completely revolves around this step, bringing the building blocks of the process – namely probiotics – to the forefront. Besides the fizzy drinking experience, fermentation builds a teaming industry of good bacteria that go to work on your body to help digestion, the immune system, organ health, and more [2]. The production of raw kombucha makes it possible to consume a live bacteria culture, instead of lab grown bacteria that has been mostly “killed” by cooking and processing. The fact that the bacteria is alive and thriving when it reaches your gut makes it significantly more helpful to your system than any probiotic supplement could ever hope for.  Fermented foods have been widely studied for its benefits to the body, starting, clearly, with your gut.

Gut Bacteria

Kombucha is rich with the good bacteria that are similar to what’s naturally in your gut, and have the potential to improve systemic health dramatically. Study after study has shown that gut health drives the health throughout your entire body.  So when you think about how important it is, it’s no wonder kombucha packs such a punch. The combined length of the small and large intestines is over 25 feet — the width of a tennis court.  And what how well that factory is working affects every organ from your skin to your liver. Poor gut bacteria can result in a host of health issues and has even been shown to reduce cognition and leave your nerves unprotected [3]. The good news is that studies have determined it can take as little as three days to a few weeks to “train” your gut and address health concerns (depending on severity, of course) [3]. When good, varied, bacteria is supported, the body is better equipped to tap into the nutrients provided by a healthy diet.  Aside from the obvious nutrition absorption, even seemingly unrelated functions are improved, such as the immune and cardiovascular systems [2][3][4].  It is safe to say that there is no down-side to improved gut bacteria.  Thanks, kombucha.

In a world full of soda, be a kombucha!

If you’re not drinking kombucha, what ARE you drinking? Sugary drinks like soda (and yes, even fruit juices can wreak havoc on your health). Refined sugar is a prime suspect for increased inflammation in the body, and low-calorie sweeteners can be equally detrimental, “tricking” your body into treating them like real sugar, causing blood sugar spikes, and increasing risk for type II diabetes [4]. Kombucha offers a flavorful alternative without the cost to your well-being. This point can be confusing – isn’t sugar added to the brew? Yes, this sugar is required as the food for fermentation, but its breakdown leaves only small amounts compared to sugary soft drinks. So, do yourself a favor, and swap your go-to beverages for a sparkling glass of ‘bucha.  In a world full of soda, be a kombucha!

That Taste, Though

Good kombucha should taste amazing!  But we hear it all the time from potential new drinkers or people that tried some kombucha a friend gave them a decade ago — they’re worried about that potentially funky kombucha taste.  So kombucha is good for you…like, REALLY good for you.  But that doesn’t mean it should taste bad!  To put it simply, if the kombucha doesn’t taste good to you, it’s just not a kombucha you enjoy.  But it’s extremely rare for us here at the brewery to introduce a customer to kombucha and not find a flavor they truly enjoy drinking.  So if at first you don’t succeed, try another flavor or another brand.  Your body and mind will thank you!

Okay, but what if you’re here for the health benefits but the taste just isn’t your cup of tea (pun intended)?  Yes, kombucha has a bold, and sometimes polarizing funky flavor.  Lucky for you, there are a host of ways to work this health serum into your life without guzzling a bottle.  Because of the gluconic/acetic acid content and mild sweetness, it is a delicious substitute for vinegar in homemade salad dressings. And boom: just like that, you added probiotics to your salad.  And if it isn’t sweet enough for you, swirl it with fruit or juice of your choice for a sparkling punch.  Even outside of consumption, kombucha is starting to gain serious traction for a host of other benefits, including skin-care, especially when used as a toner after a good facial cleansing. 

The purported (and evidence based) health benefits of kombucha include:

  1. Natural Antibiotic: Kombucha can kill bad bacteria and may function as a natural antibiotic.
  2. Immune System Booster: The healthy gut bacteria obtained from drinking Kombucha can help to boost the immune system, which is now known to be strongly linked to the microbiome and healthy bacteria within the gut.  Probiotics, particularly from those in fermented foods, can reinforce our natural defences against damaging microbes and certain types of disease or pathogens.  Kombucha is also packed with amazing antioxidant components. This is primarily due to the fact that it’s produced from black tea, which contains high amounts of polyphenols, vitamin B, E, C and A, along with beta-carotene, all of which aid in the functioning of a healthy immune system.
  3. Digestion & Gut Health: A healthy human body has three to five pounds of good bacteria and microbes, commonly known as the microbiome. However, stress, antibiotic and drug use, among other factors, can deplete and damage the microbiome.  Kombucha is jam-packed full of healthy probiotics that aid gut health and digestion, and some research shows that the intake of Kombucha showed improvement in cases of leaky gut, stomach ulcers,  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Crohn’s Disease.  You may be able to assist and help repopulate your microbiome with healthy bacteria by introducing Kombucha into your dietary routine.
  4. Detoxification:  Glucuronic Acid is one component of Kombucha, that in recent studies, has shown to produce cancer-fighting actions and support the natural detoxification process of the body. Kombucha also contains gluconic acid, whichis known to assist in combating certain pathogens, such as those that cause food-borne diseases.
  5. Metabolism, Weight Management, & Weight Loss:  Kombucha (similarly to the purported effects of apple cider vinegar) may boost and enhance metabolism.  And true believer after true believer will tell you about the benefits for weight management and weight loss when trying to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle.
  6. Joint Health & Inflammation:  The SCOBY within Kombucha contains glucosamine, amino acids and hyaluronic acids, which are all known to be good for joint health.
  7. Heart Disease Risk, Cholesterol, & Blood Pressure:  Kombucha may assist in maintaining heart health by reduction of bad LDL cholesterol.  A Journal of Nutrition study showed that green tea decreases the risk of heart disease by more than 30%. While the research was focused mainly on brewed green tea, Kombucha likely still offers these same health advantages.
  8. Diabetes: Kombucha may help manage type 2 diabetes and lower blood sugar.  A research study released in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine investigated the impact of Kombucha in diabetic rats. Researchers discovered that in lowering blood glucose levels, Kombucha was more efficient than black tea. These findings were due to the potential of fermented tea’s action regarding the inhibiting activity of a-amylase and lipase. It’s also been recorded to repress the absorption of poor cholesterol and triglyceride.
  9. Depression:  There may be a link between probiotics and depression, and there is an absolute link between B Vitamins and mental health, suggesting kombucha could help promote positive mental health.
  10. Cancer:  We all hope that one day, there will be a widespread cure for cancer.  But while we wait, in research, Kombucha has demonstrated the capacity to prevent cancer cells from expanding or reproducing in controlled laboratory environments. This is positive data, and although we do not at all recommend Kombucha as a treatment method for cancer, it’s interesting to learn just how far reaching the effects of this ancient beverage really are.
  11. Athletic Boost: Some athletes report Kombucha not only provides them with energy for exercise but also helps with the workout recovery too. Combine this with the increased immune function that you obtain from the probiotic drink, and you have a high-powered performance drink that’s completely natural.
  12. Hangovers:  So we can’t technically tell you that kombucha helps your hangover.  But we can tell you this: nearly everybody who’s tried it as the last drink of the night says it does!

Disclaimer

While Kombucha provides a wide variety of health benefits for plenty of people, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s only one piece of the puzzle, not a magical answer for anything and everything that may affect you. To date, there has been no long-term kombucha-specific scientific study in humans that provides the necessary data to firmly claim or categorize any specific benefits.  It’s a good idea to check with your health care specialist if you have concerns.

There you have it!  All there is to know about this yummy beverage, and all the reasons we here at Raw Brewing Co. are true believers.  And if after everything, you’re still not sold on kombucha’s place in your life, throw caution to the wind and add a little vodka or gin for a kombucha cocktail – the more you drink (especially when you wake up feeling vastly better than after a normal night out), the more likely you are to change your mind.

So grab yourself a glass of your favorite bubbly Kombucha, and let’s cheers to health and the success of the trending beverage…prost!

 [1] Dufresne, C., & Farnworth, E. (2000). Tea, Kombucha, and health: a review. Food research international33(6), 409-421. https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?journal=Food+Res.+Intern.&title=Tea,+kombucha,+and+health:+A+review&author=C.+Dufresne&author=E.+Farnworth&volume=33&publication_year=2000&pages=409-421&doi=10.1016/S0963-9969(00)00067-3&[2] Gaggìa, F., Baffoni, L., Galiano, M., Nielsen, D. S., Jakobsen, R. R., Castro-Mejía, J. L., … Di Gioia, D. (2018). Kombucha Beverage from Green, Black and Rooibos Teas: A Comparative Study Looking at Microbiology, Chemistry and Antioxidant Activity. Nutrients11(1), 1. doi:10.3390/nu11010001

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356548/[3] Kim, B., Hong, V. M., Yang, J., Hyun, H., Im, J. J., Hwang, J., … Kim, J. E. (2016). A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function. Preventive nutrition and food science21(4), 297–309. doi:10.3746/pnf.2016.21.4.297

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216880/[4] Kombucha Benefits and Risks. Lana Burgess  – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319630.php

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