Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you've heard of Kombucha. Since being recently rediscovered, this ancient beverage has been lauded for its deliciousness, lower sugar content and myriad health benefits. It fits right into the new nutritional focus on gut health and probiotics, suggesting that our wise ancestors understood a whole lot more about the human body than we gave them credit for.
That's all well and good, but what exactly is this new/old miracle drink?
Kombucha is, in fact, fermented tea. The tea leaves are combined with yeast and sugar, then left to 'do their thing' for a week or so. In that time, bacteria, acids and alcohol form in the drink, giving it its unique fizzy, cloudy, sweet-n-sour body.
The specific culture used to produce Kombucha is called a SCOBY: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts. The SCOBY and the bacteria produced through fermentation mean kombucha tea contains a host of microorganisms which are actively beneficial to the balance of your gut microbiome.
You can use the cloudy, mushroom-like culture at the bottom of your Kombucha to make your own! Check out this fun and simple recipe. Homemade Kombucha is usually lower in sugar content than commercial ones, and higher in antioxidants - and alcohol.
The health benefits of a probiotic-rich diet are well established.
Recent years have brought to light the crucial function of gut bacteria, which play an essential role in a slew of biological processes from digestion and nutrient absorption to immunity, hormone regulation and sleep. In fact, the gut microbiome, as this microscopic population is referred to, is often known as the forgotten organ.
Probiotics are bacteria which contribute positively to our overall health thanks to their impact on these bodily functions. Consuming a diet rich in probiotics is, therefore, a sure-fire way to keep our gut balanced and our bodies running smoothly. Kombucha's higher probiotic content makes it the ideal companion to a healthy, balanced diet.
It can sometimes seem like our bodies are their own worse enemies. Many processes that take place within us result in oxidation, a chemical reaction which releases free radicals. These aptly named unstable molecules can be highly damaging to our cells, leading to a variety of diseases and conditions.
Antioxidants are compounds which inhibit oxidation, thereby breaking the chain reactions that lead to cell damage. While our bodies produce them naturally, they can also be found in foods like fruits and vegetables - and Kombucha. One of the best ways to support our overall health is to maintain a diet rich in antioxidants, and Kombucha is a super tasty way of getting that extra dose in.
Vitamins and Minerals
When yeast breaks down sugars, specific vitamins and minerals are released. In the case of Kombucha, small amounts of Vitamin C and B vitamins B1, B6 and B12 are produced during the fermentation process. While it is true to say that the quantities are minimal, it's equally true to say that every little helps and we're definitely putting this one on the list. Find out more about the role played by vitamins here.
One of the primary products of Kombucha's fermentation process is acetic acid, also found in vinegar. This compound is highly effective in combatting many harmful bacteria, including infection-causing bacteria and Candida Yeast.
The beauty of Kombucha's antibacterial properties is that, while suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria, it's harmless to probiotics and microorganisms which benefit us! It's like a delicious hit-man that works only for us.
Green tea has been beloved for its medicinal properties since time immemorial(ish). If you're making Kombucha from it, you can simply add all of those to this list!
Amongst the many miracles that green tea is said to work increased calory burning, reduced belly fat, improved cholesterol and enhanced blood sugar management are but the tip of the iceberg. The many bioactive compounds it contains also have antioxidant and antibacterial properties which might be beneficial in the fight against various types of cancer, as well as, apparently, improving brain function. Green tea might also reduce the mental and physical signs of ageing. What's not to love?
A few things, it turns out.
Despite its many beneficial properties, there are a few caveats when it comes to kombucha consumption. We are, after all, dealing with cultures of live bacteria!
For this reason, Kombucha isn't recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for people with a compromised immune system.
Furthermore, for the probiotic cultures in Kombucha to survive, it has to remain unpasteurized. Unfortunately, this means that harmful bacteria can also survive if the tea hasn't been fermented in sterile conditions.
Another issue can arise if the tea is fermented for too long. Prolonged fermentation can lead to an excess of organic acids in the drink, which have many adverse health effects.
Unsterilised or over-fermented Kombucha are two of the most significant risks when home-brewing your tea. On the other hand, most commercially available brands have higher sugar content and lower antioxidant levels.
The best thing is to research the best brands available in your area and stick to them! Craft producers pride themselves on the quality, health and taste of their product, so you're sure to find something to your liking. But don't drink too much Kombucha - it remains an acidic drink. All things in moderation, right?