You might pick up a bottle when stopping in at Whole Foods, you might really love the slight effervescence and its sweet-tart flavor reminiscent of a green apple, but do you know what kombucha actually is? Considering the fact that kombucha has reached multi-million dollar industry level, it's high time we all get to the bottom of what this drink is made of.
Kombucha is fermented sweet tea that has been enjoyed throughout Asia for centuries. It is most commonly made with black, oolong, green or white tea and is sometimes mixed with juices for additional flavor. The sweetened-with-sugar tea is made by adding bacteria and yeast to it and letting it sit for about 2-4 weeks to ferment. The final product is not sweet, the sugar is added just to aid in the fermentation process. During fermentation a scoby is formed. This is a scoby:
We know, it looks gross. But it's this gelatinous layer that makes kombucha that fizzy, vinegary beverage we can't stop drinking. Scoby is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. (The stuff floating around in store-bought kombucha is basically a scoby beginning to form.) Not only is it responsible for fermenting tea into kombucha but it also protects the tea from bad bacteria trying to get in from the outside. The scoby often time sits on top of the tea, and serves as a natural seal. It also sometimes sinks to the bottom or floats around in the middle. Kind of like this:
The pictures above are of home-brewed kombucha. It is this stuff, not the store-bought kind, that has sometimes given kombucha a bad rap. While kombucha is easy enough to make at home -- the scoby too -- it does involve working with bacteria which can be dangerous if one's not careful. Basically, homebrewers have to make sure to use squeaky-clean ingredients and follow directions to a tee. (Pun not intended). If not, the drinking of home-brewed kombucha can pose some side effects ranging from upset stomachs to infections.
But folks drink and brew kombucha nonetheless, many because they believe that it provides alternative health benefits. Believers think kombucha can stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer, and improve digestion and liver function, but no medical evidence can yet support those claims.
So, in sum, brew at your own risk, drink for pleasure and revel in the fact that you finally know what kombucha actually is.
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