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Kombucha Tea 101

History, Benefits, Reviews & More

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An image of GT's Organic Raw Botanic No. 9 Kombucha in the bottle.

As the number of kombucha drinkers increases, some companies are adding "functional flavors" like bilberry, honeysuckle and red clover to appeal to serious kombucha drinkers, while others are striving to push kombucha into the mainstream.

Marko Goodwin
Kombucha is a drink with mysterious origins, lots of health claims, a loyal fan base and a surge of available flavors. Read up on kombucha's history and benefits, plus check out reviews and how kombucha is made, below.

What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is generally considered to be a tea that has been mixed with sugar and fermented in a manner akin to the way vinegar is made. On its own, it has a taste that's similar to apple cider vinegar, so it is sometimes called "vinegar tea." For wider appeal, it is often blended with other ingredients, such as fruit juice or unfermented tea.

Kombucha's History
The exact origins of kombucha are unknown, but it has been consumed in areas like Siberia, Russia, China and Tibet for thousands of years. Although kombucha is considered to be fermented tea today in the West, it may have originated with bread as its base.

After ages of use in the East, kombucha began to make its way to the U.S. It started with home brewers who were primarily interested in its health benefits. In the 1990s, brewers such as GT Dave (of Synergy Millennium) began to offer kombuchas that were brewed in a more controlled (and, thus, safer and more effective) manner. Since 2000, many more kombucha companies have opened and kombucha has shifted from being seen as a "hippie drink" to a fairly mainstream beverage. It's now available in many grocery stores' health food sections, as well as some restaurants, cafes and convenience stores. Flavors range from those with mass appeal (citrus, mango and the like) to those with more limited appeal (red clover, juniper berry and other health-centric ingredients).

Kombucha & Health
There are all kinds of health claims about kombucha. It's heralded as everything from a cure for hangovers to a cure for cancer. While these claims are largely unresearched (and somewhat questionable), there are some claims that pop up more often than others. These include:
  • Liver stimulation/detoxification
  • Blood purification
  • Digestive stimulation/benefits
  • Weight management
  • Euphoria, or other mental and emotional benefits
However, there has been some concern expressed by medical professionals (including some at the Mayo Clinic) that home-brewed kombucha poses health risks when brewed improperly. If you plan to brew your own kombucha, be sure to sanitize your brewing equipment and be careful not to contaminate your brew.

How is Kombucha Made?
Kombucha starts with tea (usually black or green, but possibly other tea types or even tisanes) that has been mixed with sugar. It is exposed to something called a "zoogleal mat," which is a symbiotic colony of bacteria ("beneficial bacteria") and yeast, or a SCOBY. The zoogleal mat looks like a mushroom, so kombucha is sometimes called "mushroom tea."

After fermentation, kombucha contains a number of probiotic nutrients. It is typically effervescent. It has a low alcohol content.

Some home brewers and many kombucha companies blend kombucha with various flavors, which are usually infusions of tea, herbs and/or fruit, but sometimes also fruit juices and other ingredients. A few kombucha companies (such as Kombucha Wonder Drink) also pasteurize their kombucha to stop fermentation, reduce the alcohol level and (ideally) eliminate the chance of any harmful bacteria occurring in their brews.

Once again, if you plan to brew your own kombucha, be sure to sanitize your brewing equipment and be careful not to contaminate your brew.

Kombucha Reviews
Although flavors were very limited just ten years ago, there are now kombucha flavors to suit a range of palates. Check out this growing list of kombucha reviews to find the one that suits you best:
* These drinks have been pasteurized, which means their alcohol level has been stabilized at 0.5 percent or lower. Some say that raw kombuchas have more health benefits than pasteurized kombuchas due to a higher presence of active, live cultures. However, some raw kombuchas have been pulled from shelves due to their higher alcohol content.

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