Everything You Need To Know About Kombucha

Stomach irritation seems to happen at the worst times; before an important meeting, after a stressful day or on a Saturday morning. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you may want to consider adding kombucha to your drink list. The first time I tried one, I thought it tasted terrible and I figured that was it for my kombucha drinking life. Not until years later when Whole Foods introduced the cold case by the front registers and lured me in.

I liked the packaging on GT’s the best at that moment.
I liked the packaging on GT’s the best at that moment.

I don’t work for a kombucha company and I don’t think it’s for everybody. Before writing this, I didn’t know much about it and was curious and wanted to learn more. It has been around for quite some time - there are ancient Chinese stories dating it back to 220 BC - only in this last decade has it made its way to the mainstream. Kombucha is a drink rich in probiotics that’s made from fermented tea and has supposed health benefits.

According to an article by CNN, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization stated the definition of probiotics as: “live microorganisms which administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.”

The biggest kombucha company on the market, GT’s, says their drink was started after the founder’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer and found a tumor believed to have been in her body for about four years. The doctors told her the tumor had likely caused cancer to spread throughout her body. Surprisingly, after running tests, the tumor was found to be dormant. The doctors asked the mother if she had done anything differently in the last four years. She said she was a long-time vegetarian and for about the last four years had been drinking a “very pungent, homemade tea” she believed to be healthy and “just made her feel great.”

GT’s ingredients label on the back of the bottle.
GT’s ingredients label on the back of the bottle.

I’m surprised the doctors didn’t pinpoint her longtime vegetarianism as the reason for the cancer to not have spread. I’m not a doctor, but I have had cancer, and so I’ve done some research on the subject. I wonder if the tumor outcome would have been different if GT’s mother were a meat eater? It’s all a mystery to the doctors. According to U.S. News, medical schools in the United States offer a mere 19.6 hours of nutrition education, across 4 years of medical school. Consulting with a Physician Nutrition Specialist on this matter would probably have been a good idea.

Hey, maybe it was the kombucha? If I could I would probably drink it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, as it’s an acquired taste, it’ll take me time to get to that point. From my own experience, it’s cleared up many an achy stomach of mine. There aren’t many medicines that taste good though and as far as making vitamins taste good, that’s a challenge as well.

Humm kombucha on the other hand, “is made for more of a mass market consumer,” according to Torah Torres, NY Territory Manager for humm. She also says, “it’s the least acidic and is less carbonated than the others.” There are people who absolutely love the taste of all kombuchas by the way, so it could just be a matter of opinion. I have to admit, I am starting to like it.

If you’re on the fence about trying kombucha, maybe try this one first to get used to it before moving on to the more pungent
If you’re on the fence about trying kombucha, maybe try this one first to get used to it before moving on to the more pungent ones. I’ve drank all the kombuchas pictured in this article, plus more.

To make kombucha you have to start with SCOBY (“symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts). It’s a rubbery-like substance that you may have accidentally made in your vinegar bottle (as vinegar is made from a colony “mother” as well). It’s the shape of a mushroom head and if this rings a bell, it must have been a shock to discover it growing in your cupboard. If you don’t have one, no need to fret, you can buy it online or make it from scratch using raw kombucha and sugary tea.

You add the SCOBY to sugar tea and let it ferment (SCOBY “eating” the sugar) for about two and a half weeks. Not only will you make kombucha, you’ll also make alcohol (and probiotics for that matter). The longer you ferment, the more alcohol you’ll make. For a beverage to be considered non-alcoholic, the alcohol level can’t exceed 0.5%. Lite beers have 2.4% alcohol by volume for example, so no, you can’t catch a buzz off of kombucha.

You can find the full kombucha recipe online if you’re inclined to make a batch.

With your new fizzy, sour liquid (kombucha), you can add fruit flavors or artificial sweeteners (whatever floats your boat) to taste. The probiotics in your new batch of kombucha, add to the good ones found naturally in the gut. You may have heard of prebiotics, these are non-digestible fibers that feed the live microorganisms (probiotics) you just lined your gut with. There are no prebiotics in kombucha, I only mention it as it’s impossible not to when talking about probiotics.

Other foods rich in probiotics are yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso soup of all things. The best example of a prebiotic is raw chicory root. You may not have known this but it’s added to foods we already eat, such as: cereal, oatmeal and breakfast bars to name a few. Other foods full of prebiotics aren’t very exciting and easy to eat, such as: raw garlic and raw onion. Banana has prebiotics too, so I think I’ll go that route.

Living a healthy lifestyle ensures longevity. The “kombucha community” is a strong believer in this. Collectively they’ve put out a “7 day challenge,” which is drink one-a-day for seven days. This could very well be a marketing gimmick; however I went ahead and took the challenge to see if it would make me feel any different.

I’ve had a self-diagnosed ulcer for years. I got it from working in the liquor industry for a long time. I brought it up to my doctor to see if she could fix it. She said I would need to have a tube with a camera at the end inserted into my throat and down to my stomach to verify it, but I was too chicken to do it. So for the past five to seven years, even drinking one glass of wine would irritate it. After taking the 7 day kombucha challenge, I’m happy to report, my ulcer seems to have cleared up. It’s a miracle to me really. I can now go back to enjoying wine and other acidic foods and drinks free of worry.

Raw chicory root.
Raw chicory root.

So that’s the skinny on kombucha. After reading this, I hope you have a slightly better understanding as to what it is, why you hear a lot about it and why it’s considered a health aid. Taking care of our gastrointestinal system is not high on too many people’s list of priorities. However, the more probiotics and prebiotics we add to it, the more regulated and better we will feel. Feeling good is definitely high on my priority list. Also, if you’ve ever experienced a bloated or achy stomach, then maybe grab a kombucha and feel it subside within minutes.

Can it cure cancer and other infectious diseases? That is yet to be determined.

Check out more of Fabiola’s writing on her blog and her Huff Post author page.

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