With the exploding popularity of fermented foods, it’s likely that kombucha has ended up on your radar or even in your fridge. But is this drinkable fermented tea worthwhile?
A concoction of tea, sugar, fruit juice, bacteria and yeast are combined to create a pungent and slightly fizzy beverage. Homemade and store-bought versions require a jelly-like substance known as the “mother” or “scoby,” which introduces bacteria and yeast into the flavored liquid that’s then allowed to ferment. This drink is often touted for its tummy-pleasing probiotics plus numerous B vitamins. Some blends also include additional fiber and Omega-3 fats from add-ins like chia seeds, greens, herbs and algae.
A potential downside of these drinks is the wide range of nutritional variation. Depending on the ingredients, calories can range from 60 to 160 per (16 fluid ounce) bottle. The fermenting process also creates a small amount of alcohol. Though they are desirable for their probiotic content, these beneficial bacteria are destroyed by pasteurization. Unpasteurized or “raw” varieties are available but could pose a food safety risk, as potentially harmful bacteria could grow in the liquid. For this reason, folks with weaker immune systems, including young children, elderly people and pregnant women, should steer clear.
The taste of these drinks also gets mixed reviews and often is described as sour, earthy and vinegary.
If you can stand the pungent flavor of these drinks, there’s nothing wrong with swigging certain types of kombucha. It’s wise, however, to check nutrition facts before sipping.
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Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.