Kombucha tea is a fizzy, refreshing and slightly alcoholic beverage made by fermenting tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast – known as a SCOBY.
While kombucha has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years – as a healthy probiotic drink – the process of brewing kombucha is actually quite old – believed to have been used in East Asia for its healing, detoxifying and energizing properties during the Tsin Dynasty, as early as 220 B.C.
The tea was thought to have later been brought to Japan, to cure the digestive problems of the Emperor Inkyo. As trade routes expanded, it found its way to Russia and then into other eastern European areas, appearing in Germany around the turn of the 20th century.
Italy’s passion for the beverage – affectionately called “Funkochinese” – peaked in the 1950s. In the 1960s, scientific researchers in Switzerland reported that drinking kombucha was similarly beneficial to eating yogurt – and kombucha’s popularity increased.
Today, kombucha is commonly home-brewed and is also sold, worldwide, in a limitless variety of flavours.
Not only does it have the same traditional health benefits as tea – containing natural antioxidants – but it can kill harmful bacteria and may help fight disease. Many drink kombucha to aid in digestion, increase stamina and boost energy. Research has found evidence that it promotes liver function, stimulates the immune system and, in some, it has been found to help facilitate weight-loss.
Generally black, green, or oolong tea are used as a base and sugar is incorporated to feed the SCOBY – the environment of bacteria and yeast that transforms the tea into kombucha. When brewed at home, kombucha can sit for 7–14 days, though some studies have recorded kombucha brewing up to 30 days.
A longer brewing time can result in a less sweet, more vinegary-flavored beverage. Temperature will play a role in how quickly the kombucha cycles through its process.
The Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research, conducted a study into the potential of kombucha to help reduce the negative effects of certain forms of fungal activity in humans. “The results provide support for the use of kombucha tea as a potential antifungal source against human pathogenic fungi.”
Traces of certain fungal and viral presence in the body are often considered a precursor to illness and disease. The benefits of kombucha’s vinegary nature made be similar to those derived from drinking apple cider vinegar – which has also been found to kill types of harmful bacteria and improve digestion.
According to a study: A Review on Kombucha Tea, conducted in 2014, “Anticancer properties of kombucha tea might be due to the presence of tea polyphenols and their degradation products formed during fermentation.”
The fermentation process itself may provide health benefits. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, cheese and milk, have a reputation for being beneficial – especially as more studies focus on ‘gut’ health and the potential of probiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms intended to provide health benefits when consumed – generally by improving or restoring our natural gut flora.
The link between healthy bacteria in the digestive tract and our immune system is currently receiving a great deal of clinical attention. If the probiotics in kombucha improve gut health, they may also strengthen the immune system.
Most studies suggest the positive effects of kombucha are as least as good as those found in black and green tea. They also state for those who make kombucha at home, attention should be paid to proper sterilization of glass jars, fermentation time, water source and the housing of the SCOBY.
The commercially sold kombucha follows a strictly regulated process and meets a certain standard. As with any product made for consumption, it will affect everyone differently.
Catherine Knott is a journalist, health professional and reiki councillor. You can reach her at email@example.com.