Kombucha is a beverage that many people drink for its health benefits. It is made by fermenting tea and sugar, and the result is a beverage that can taste like a sparkling cider or champagne; not your average brew!
It is believed that Kombucha originated in China, where it has been consumed for around 2000 years. Then it was known as the ‘Tea of Immortality’.
The tea has also been consumed in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Japan for centuries. The tea’s name is thought to have come from Japan. A Doctor treated the then Emperor with the tea. His name was Kombu and so this was joined to the word ‘cha’ (meaning tea). In Russia, the tea is used as a healing drink.
The tea spread to Poland, Germany, and Denmark but consumption fell during World War Two. After the war, a German Doctor used the tea to treat patients in his practice with various conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Where do the tea’s health benefits come from?
The tea’s health benefits come mostly from the ‘Kombucha culture,’ which looks like a beige, or off-white rubbery pancake. Sometimes it’s called a scoby, which stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts’. The culture is put into sweetened black or green tea and then when left to settle, it becomes a rich source of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and organic acids.
As the culture digests the sugar in the tea, it produces organic acids like glucuronic acid, gluconic acid, lactic acid, acetic acid, butyric acid, and malic acid, B vitamins and vitamin C; amino acids, and enzymes.
Ordinarily, fermenting a beverage with yeasts would produce alcohol, but in the case of kombucha, the bacteria in the culture turns the alcohol into organic acids.
The health-giving properties of kombucha tea
There are many claims that the tea brings health benefits, but unfortunately, there is not much in the way of research evidence. Though the lab tests that do exist have suggested that the tea has similar antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties to fermented milk.
In animal tests, it’s been shown to protect against stress and improve liver function. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from people who have been using kombucha tea for many years. Many of the benefits reported include improvements in energy levels, improvement of allergy symptoms, anti-cancer effects, a reduction in digestive problems, less incidences of candidiasis, reduced blood pressure, and reduced symptoms of arthritis. It’s can also be used topically for skin problems and as a hair wash.
The Organic Acids
These are responsible for many of the tea’s health benefits.
This is a detoxifier. When toxins enter the liver, this acid binds them to it and flushes them out of the body. It’s one of the few agents that can help the body to get rid of toxins from plastics, herbicides, pesticides and resins. The by-products of glucuronic acid are the glucosamines, the structures which are associated with cartilage, collagen and the fluids which lubricate the joints. This is why it is effective in reducing the symptoms of arthritis.
This acid is essential for the normal function of the digestive system. It also assists with blood circulation, and helps to prevent constipation. It can also help to regulate the blood’s PH levels.
This is a powerful preservative and it has the ability to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.
This helps to detoxify the liver.
This is produced by the bacteria in the kombucha culture. It breaks down into caprylic acid which is known to help prevent thrush infections.
Types of tea that can be used to make kombucha
Kombucha requires tea for its fermentation. But you can’t just use any tea. The culture is sensitive to strong aromatic oils, so a tea such as Earl Grey, which contains Bergamot oil, can kill or affect the culture. There are a few teas you can use, and each will produce a different taste when it is fermented with the culture.
Black tea is made from tea leaves that have been fully fermented. The leaf is spread out and left to wilt naturally, which produces a strong flavour and an amber coloured beverage.
Oolong tea is half way between green tea and black tea. The leaves are gently rolled after picking and allowed to partially ferment until the edges turn brown. Oolong is a combination of the taste and colour of black and green tea.
Green tea is made by withering the leaves, then steaming or heating them, followed by rolling and drying them. Green tea has a delicate taste, and a light green colour.
White Tea is the most delicate tea. The leaves are plucked 2 days between the time the first buds become mature and the time they open. Unlike black and green teas, white tea isn’t rolled or steamed, it is air dried in the sun, which means that it retains more antioxidants.
White tea has about 3 times as many antioxidant polyphenols as green tea.
The Health Benefits of Kombucha Tea
The tea was known as the “Immortal Health Elixir” by the Chinese and it appears that this is for good reason. As well as containing b-vitamins, enzymes, and a high concentration of organic acids (acetic, gluconic and lactic), there are beneficial probiotics in kombucha, such as Gluconacetobacter, Acetobacter, and Lactobacillus.
Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food 2014, found that kombucha can help to maintain good health mainly by 4 actions: detoxification, anti-oxidation, boosting energy, and boosting immunity.
The tea appears to be able to help the liver to detoxify. In a study, liver cells were protected from the effects of free radicals even when directly exposed to a toxin. Further research is being conducted to see whether this could be beneficial in treating liver diseases.
Kombucha tea contains high levels of probiotics and enzymes which can help to promote digestive health.
Some research has suggested that kombucha can help ability to prevent and heal stomach ulcers, and in some cases, it has been as effective as proton pump inhibitors, which are often prescribed for problems such as heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers.
Kombucha can also help to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut. This prevents an overgrowth of yeast in the gut.
Kombucha’s ability to boost energy is thought to be down to the iron that is released during the fermentation process. Iron helps the body to produce more red blood cells, which carry oxygen and nutrients around the body. The tea also contains a small amount of caffeine, and B vitamins, both of which enhance the energy boosting effect.
Boosts the immune system
The high level of antioxidants in kombucha tea can boost the immune system and reduce the damage caused by free radicals. A powerful antioxidant known as D-saccharic acid-1, 4-lactone (DSL) was discovered during the fermentation process. Researchers believe that DSL and the vitamin C in kombucha are the main reasons why it appears to protect the body from cell damage, inflammatory diseases, tumours and overall depression of the immune system. The probiotics present in kombucha are also known to boost the immune system.
It is good for joints
Kombucha can help to heal, repair and prevent joint damage. Kombucha is rich in glucosamines which protects collagen and prevents arthritic pain. In the same way it supports joint collagen, it also supports collagen elsewhere in the body, so it is good for skin in terms of reducing the signs of ageing.
It may prevent cancer
Kombucha may also prevent cancer and promote recovery from the disease. A study found that the glucaric acid in kombucha appeared to reduce the risk of cancer in humans.
It might help with weight loss
A study carried out in 2005 demonstrated that kombucha improves metabolism and limits fat storage. Further research is needed, though it is thought that it’s the acetic acid and the antioxidants in the tea that promotes weight loss.
How to make kombucha
Kombucha is quite simple to make yourself, and it might be worth giving it a try, because it can be expensive to buy the bottled version. Try this recipe:
You will need:
- 1 large glass/metal jar or bowl that has a wide opening
Avoid using a plastic jar or bowl because the chemicals in the plastic can leak into the kombucha during the fermentation process. It’s also possible that lead from ceramic pots can leach into the kombucha once the acid comes into contact with the glaze. Opt for a large metal or glass jug/jar/bowl , and make sure the opening is wide enough to allow plenty of oxygen to reach the kombucha while it is fermenting.
- 1 large piece of cloth or dish towel to secure around the opening of the jar
Don’t use cheese cloth or any cloth which easily allows particles to pass through. Even an old cooton t-shirt will suffice.
- 1 SCOBY disk
You will need to purchase a “SCOBY” disk which you can find either in health food stores or online.
- 8 cups of water (preferably filtered)
Filtered water contains less metals than tap water.
- 1/2 cup organic cane sugar or honey
Organic sugar is good to avoid contamination during the fermentation process. Most of the sugar is eaten up by the yeast, so there is little sugar left by the time you will be drinking it.
- 4 black tea bags
You can also use green tea but black is the most commonly used tea.
- 1 cup of pre-made kombucha, which you can either buy or use from a previous kombucha batch you made.
How to make it:
Bring some water to boil on the stove. Once boiled, remove from the heat and add your teabags and sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Allow the tea to brew for about 15 minutes, then remove and discard the tea bags.
Let the mixture cool down to room temperature. Once it’s cool, add the tea to the big jar/bowl. Drop in the SCOBY disk and 1 cup of pre-made kombucha.
Cover the jar/bowl with the cloth or thin kitchen towel, and keep the cloth in place by securing it with a rubber band or similar.
Allow the kombucha to sit for 7–10 days depending on the flavour you want. Less time produces a weaker kombucha that tastes less sour, while a longer resting time makes the kombucha ferment further and the taste is stronger. Some people have reported that fermenting kombucha for up to a month produces a great tasting tea. Taste it every few days until you get the taste you’re looking for.
Tips on Making Kombucha
The warmer your home is, the less time the kombucha will need to ferment. Once you’re happy with the taste, put the kombucha into small glass bottles and chill it for at least 24 hours.
As fermentation begins, you will notice that another SCOBY disk will grow. You can use the new SCOBY to create a new batch of kombucha. Store the new SCOBY in some previously made kombucha at room temperature for a few weeks so it’s ready to use when you want to make a new batch.
Making Flavoured Kombucha
You can try adding fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice; ginger root “juice” made by blending ginger and water, blended berries, fresh-squeezed orange, pomegranate, or cranberry juices to make a flavoured kombucha tea.
Do this after the kombucha has fermented and is ready to drink. Some people do add flavour to the tea a day or so before it is ready and they say that this enhances the flavour. But remember, ingredients such as berries will not last as long as the tea itself, so this will affect the time you are able to store it for.
Another thing to remember is that flavoured, bottled kombucha tends to have more sugar than the plain variety. Some brands add very low-sugar flavours like lemon, lime, or ginger juice which won’t massively affect the sugar content, but try to avoid varieties that are high in added sugar and can aggravate health problems such as yeast infections and diabetes.
Does Kombucha have side effects?
Most people can get a lot of benefits from drinking kombucha and have no negative side effects. However, there are some possible interactions and side effects to be aware of, and these tend to occur mostly in people who have weakened immune systems and digestive problems. Side effects seem to be more of an issue when making homemade kombucha because contamination is possible and the SCOBY disk and the tea itself aren’t subject to quality control like they are when they are produced commercially.
If you’re going to make your own tea, make sure that you use sterile equipment, clean working spaces and high-quality ingredients.
Some people have experienced stomach upsets, infections and allergic reactions when drinking kombucha. Because kombucha has a high level of acidity, it can cause problems for people with digestive problems like stomach ulcers, heartburn, or any sensitivity to acidic foods.
It’s a good idea to start with a small amount of tea then gradually work your way up to drinking a bit more to gauge whether you have any side effects or not. Start with around 8 ounces of tea per day to start.
People who have leaky gut syndrome, weak immune systems, and pregnant women should avoid drinking kombucha.
If You Have a Weakened Immune System
People who have compromised immunity due to illnesses like HIV/AIDS need to be cautious when consuming kombucha, since there is a chance that the yeast can grow harmful bacteria that can cause illness which usually wouldn’t be a problem for a healthy immune system. This is a particular issue with homemade kombucha, where contamination is more likely to happen if it’s brewed in an unsanitary environment or using poor quality ingredients.
Women Who Are Pregnant or Nursing
The use of kombucha hasn’t been studied much at all in pregnant women, however, as kombucha contains small amounts of alcohol and caffeine, they should avoid drinking the tea until there is evidence that it’s completely safe.
People Who Are Sensitive to Sugar, Alcohol, or Caffeine
Kombucha is brewed using black tea and sugar, which when fermented turn into alcohol, albeit in small amounts. For people with diabetes, kombucha won’t cause a problem as it’s very low in sugar but it is a good idea to monitor blood sugar when consuming the tea nonetheless. but it’s worth being careful and monitoring blood sugar nonetheless. For people with digestive problems like IBS, the low level of caffeine in kombucha is something to be aware of, since caffeine can irritate the lining of the stomach.
So all in all, kombucha can give you many health benefits, and you can make it yourself at a very low cost. What better excuse to sit back and enjoy a cup of tea?