So here’s a gross thing that I bought today: It’s a kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and it’s used to turn regular black or green tea and sugar into kombucha.
Though folks have been drinking it for thousands of years, I have only very recently gotten into the whole kombucha craze, and since I’m very frugal (read: super duper cheap) and don’t do things by halves, I decided – why buy bottles when I can brew my own?
Kombucha – it’s fizzy, it’s fermented, it’s a fad. But is it good for you?
This naturally effervescent, fermented treat makes some pretty hefty health claims – Mother Earth News has a laundry list of ailments that kombucha allegedly helps with, including: Arthritis, Asthma, High Blood Pressure, Bowel Problems, Bronchitis, Yeast Infections, High Cholesterol, Colds, Chronic Fatigue, Constipation, Diarrhea, Fluid Retention, Gout, Impotence, Kidney Problems, MS, Prostate Problems, Psoriasis, Rheumatism, Sleep Disorders, and Tonsillitis.
Basically, health-foodies claim that because kombucha is fermented, it’s full of probiotics, which encourage better gut health and immunity. They claim the enzymes boost metabolism, and help the body “detoxify”. The theory follows that since the enzymes are helping out our digestive processes, we have more energy.
The yeast inside the weird-looking SCOBY eats the sugar that’s been added to the brewed tea, ferments and cultures the kombucha, and grows a colony of microorganisms – ideally comprised of the “good bacteria” that we call “probiotics”.
Here’s the thing – there have been basically no studies done on the alleged benefits of kombucha. There’s a lot of anecdotal rhetoric on both sides of the fence, but no peer-reviewed hard facts.
Probiotics, at least, have had some studies done on their efficacy, and have been shown to potentially confer health benefits – but it’s been difficult to nail down exactly how, why, and what since everyone’s dietary system varies.
The way I see it, we’re full of gut bugs and it’s important to have a healthy balance. All sorts of products will claim to “restore balance” or “detoxify your system” or “neutralize your digestive enzymes” – but our bodies are pretty great at doing that naturally, that’s kind of what they’re built for. I’m not a big believer in cure-alls and inflated health claims, and I don’t buy that drinking kombucha will fix all my ills. You’ve heard it before with beer, wine, coffee, green tea and so on – we like to believe our delicious beverages are good for us too. If you like a product, and you feel it’s giving you a health benefit – go for it, but go in with your eyes open.
So why did I buy a gross, rubbery bacteria pancake?
Here’s why: I like the taste. It’s like a tea spritzer – a little boozy, a little sparkly, totally customizable. It’s summery and light, and feels like something I can enjoy on my patio. Also, I’m a tea granny, so this appeals to my 86 year-old soul.
AND when compared to my other favourite patio beverage, Pabst Blue Ribbon (I told you I was cheap), it comes out looking pretty good.
PBR (350mL) – 144 calories, 12.8g carbs, 4.74% alc/vol., no protein, fat, sugars, cholesterol, fiber, vitamins
GT’s Raw Kombucha (a great commercially available kombucha) (240mL) – 30 cal, 7g carbs, 0.5% alc/vol., 2g sugar, no protein, fat, cholesterol, fiber, vitamins, includes a bunch of probiotic cultures.
If you have a hankering for a porch beer (or porch wine), maybe spice up your routine with a kombucha – it might not save your soul, cure your hurts, and make you poop rainbows, but it’s not a bad summer drink. It’s weird, but good weird. If you’re buying it commercial, buy a raw variety (like GT’s). If you want to try brewing, be safe, and find a hippie who’ll guide you through the process.
I’ll let you know how my first batch turns out!
For further reading: While it’s not quite PubMed, here’s a more scientific look kombucha’s claims. The author doesn’t inflate or demonize what kombucha is or can do, just puts it out there and lets you make your own call – I like that.
Here’s a link to the e-book that she references.