Kombucha (kawm-boo-chah) is fermented tea. It is basically sweetened tea left to ferment or sit out in room temperature for a few days with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as the kombucha mother.
Kombucha has been called many different names over the years in different parts of the world. It has been known as the “tea of immortality”, the “elixir of life”, mushroom tea or tea kvass and is generally produced from a mixture of sugar, brewed tea (typically black) and symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or scoby. Some kombucha drinks also have fruit juice added to them.
How is kombucha made?
The process of making kombucha starts with steeping tea leaves or tea bags in boiling water. The SCOBY plus a small portion of previously-fermented kombucha are then added to the sweetened tea.
A kombucha tea "SCOBY" is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
That mixture is then placed into a jar, covered and left to ferment, usually for seven to 10 days. The kombucha is then ready to drink, either unflavored or juices, herbs or fruit can be added.
What are the health benefits of kombucha?
Kombucha is touted as doing everything from helping with weight loss to lowering blood pressure and helping to prevent cancer.
Research on the health benefits of kombucha though has been conducted mostly on animals, not humans, according to a 2019 review published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Kombucha does contain probiotics, live bacteria that are considered good for the body. Probiotics come in any type of food that is fermented, from yogurt to sauerkraut and kimchi.
Both Bauer and Feller recommend probiotics in a diet for overall gut health but pointed out that they should come from a variety of foods, not just a drink like kombucha. "If you’re looking for the nutrition benefits, I don’t counsel to get them solely through a drink," said Feller. "What really maintains healthy gut flora for the average person is paying attention to what you eat on a regular and consistent basis, having a good mix of prebiotics and probiotics and if there’s an unwanted change in your gut health, getting individualized attention from a qualified healthcare provider."
Does the sugar in kombucha matter?
The sugar in kombucha is a by-product of the fermentation process, but there will be additional sugar if the kombucha is sweetened with a fruit or fruit juice.
The amount of sugar in kombucha depends on the brand and the ingredients. While the sugar is naturally-occurring, dietitians advise consumers to still pay attention to it. "I would say be mindful of which brand you get and make sure you get the lowest sugar one," advised Bauer, creator of The Food Fix weight loss plan. "If you pick a brand that has 20 plus grams of sugar and you’re having four bottles a day, it can add up."
What do you need to make Kombucha?
Tea. Tea is the most popular drink on earth. To make kombucha, you must use authentic tea or leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. There is black, oolong, green and white tea, with varying levels of processing and oxidation. It is important to get organic tea and avoid those that contain oils that may harm your culture.
Water. Use dechlorinated water. Kombucha is a living drink, you don’t want chlorine in your water which can harm the good bacteria. If you don’t have a water filter, let your tap water sit out for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate. Don’t use distilled water as it lacks minerals.
Sugar. Sugar is the food for the bacteria and yeast and gets converted into the beneficial acids found in kombucha. It is best to use organic cane sugar or white sugar. The longer you ferment your kombucha, the less sugar will remain in your final brew.
SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) + Starter Tea. This is the kombucha mother or the blob that will convert your sugar tea into kombucha. You can buy your SCOBY online or get one from a friend. You’ll also need some starter tea or plain raw kombucha to start your brew. If you purchase your SCOBY, it should come with at least 1 cup of starter kombucha. Or you can use plain raw commercial kombucha in a pinch. The starter tea keeps your brew acidic to prevent the formation of mold.
How do you brew Kombucha?
This is the batch brewing method of making kombucha. The following recipe uses a 1.9 L or half-gallon mason jar (brewing jar). This size jar is easily available anywhere you can buy canning supplies. If you have a gallon vessel, just double the recipe.
Avoid using antibacterial soap when cleaning your equipment and when handling the SCOBY. You don’t want to kill any of that good bacteria. Just use hot water and (non-antibacterial) soap.
Are there any risks with drinking kombucha?
Kombucha is not advised for pregnant women or children, according to both Bauer and Feller. The reason is that the drink carries with it a small amount of alcohol because it is a fermented drink.
Alcohol is a by-product of any fermentation process but alcohol levels in kombucha can vary depending on how the drink is made.
Kombucha sold in stores must have less than .5% alcohol in order to be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage, according to U.S. government regulations.
Both Feller and Bauer see kombucha as an acceptable drink for people who like the taste and want to drink it, but not a drink that people must have in order to be healthy.
In other words, drink it if you like but don't blow your budget thinking you have to buy $4 bottles of it daily to have good health.
"If you’re drinking it because you’re looking for the purported health benefits associated with kombucha, I would urge you to think twice," said Feller. "If you want to have it, have it and enjoy because it was an intentional beverage choice."
Bauer said the phrase "moderation is key" applies to all foods and drinks, including kombucha.
"People go crazy on things and nothing is designed to be consumed excessively," she said. "You can’t drink coffee or Diet Coke all day either.
Basic Kombucha Recipe
2 + 3 cups water
4 organic black or green tea bags
½ cup organic cane sugar
1 cup starter tea or raw plain kombucha
1 SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)
Bring 2 cups of water to just about boiling.
Add the tea bags. Steep for around 5 minutes, then remove the tea bags.
Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Let the sugar tea mixture cool to room temperature.
Transfer sugar tea mixture to the mason jar.
Add the remaining 3 cups of water.
Add starter tea.
With clean hands, place your SCOBY on top of the liquid.
Cover the jar with the cloth and use the elastic to hold it in place.
Place the jar away from direct sunlight, away from the stove, any vents or temperature fluctuations.
Allow your brew to ferment for 7-10 days.
Start tasting your kombucha on the 5th day, use a straw to push the SCOBY aside. You’ll know when your kombucha is ready when it is not too sweet or too acidic. Taste it every day until you find the right balance.
When your kombucha is ready, set aside 1 cup of the fermented tea, this will be your starter tea for your next batch. Set the SCOBY aside as well. You may place tea and SCOBY is another glass container.
You can bottle your kombucha now or do a second ferment if you want to add more flavors.
To bottle your plain kombucha: Get a clean bottle. Place the funnel and small plastic sieve on top. Carefully pour the kombucha tea into the bottle. Leave about a couple of inches of air space at the top. Close the bottle. Store in the refrigerator.