Have you heard the talk about kombucha? All of a sudden this ‘alternative’ fermented beverage has hit the mainstream. And for good reason! Kombucha is refreshing. It tastes great and it has health benefits beyond your average soft drink.

You may have never heard of kombucha or have tried it and are curious to find out more. If so, read on to find out the story and benefits of this drink. We’ll also let you know where to find it.

The history of Kombucha

Kombucha itself has a somewhat mysterious past. It isn’t known for sure exactly where or when the beverage originated. Northeastern China is one possibility, around an area known as Manchuria. It may have also come from somewhere in Russia.

Linguistically, the word Kombucha actually has links to Japan. Some legends tell of a Korean doctor named “Dr Kombu” bringing a magical potion to the Japanese Emperor.

Wherever the truth lies, Kombucha seems to have been around for more than two centuries before the birth of Christ.

Kombucha’s Russian roots are strong. A home-brewed version of the drink remained popular until the end of the last century. It was a staple until the 1990s, when the introduction of Coca-cola set back the drink’s popularity. In the 1990s, young Russians wanted to drink American soft drinks. Poor old kombucha became known as a ‘grandmother’s drink’. In more recent years though, Russians are embracing Kombucha again. It is enjoying a revival as a traditional beverage with ties to traditional Russian heritage.

Kombucha seems to have first made its way out of the east around the Second World War. Apparently, a German doctor saw Russians using it to aid injured soldiers. He took it back to his native Germany to share the benefits. Over the years, Kombucha’s popularity spread further and further west. It is now readily available in many countries and you no longer have to make your own.

What is Kombucha?

The concoction itself is made from tea, either black or green, which is sweetened and then fermented. A special culture called a ‘scoby’ ferments the tea. This process produces a mildly alcoholic drink that is further sweetened or flavoured with juice or spices. A slightly fizzy beverage, many describe the taste as ‘acidic’ or vinegary’. It’s almost like a tangy, carbonated drink of black tea.

The alcohol levels of kombucha vary depending on the preparation. You’ll find most commercially available kombuchas have a very low alcohol content, if any at all.

Modern techniques have streamlined and altered the production of kombucha. However, the drink we enjoy today is not all that different from that consumed over two thousand years ago. Cheers to that!

The rise of kombucha

Over the past few decades, multiculturalism has seen a growing interest in international foods and beverages.

Not all that long ago, foods like sushi and even pasta were considered exotic and strange in Australia. The years since the Second World War, however, saw a turn to multiculturalism. These days, we seek more and more variety. More and more flavours and products are easily available, making it easy to try something new. Not so long ago, few of us had heard of couscous or quinoa (let alone had any idea how to pronounce the latter). Now, they are common on menus and in supermarkets across the country.

Kombucha has more recently reaped the benefits of this revolution and now appears commonly in big chain supermarkets. Ironically, at the time when kombucha’s popularity waned in Russia, it began to appear in the US and gained a loyal cult following.

The popularity of kombucha grew based on the health benefits and the intriguing ‘home-brew’ methods used to produce your own. In 2010, there was a brief crisis when US authorities found that the alcohol content in some Kombucha was questionable and new regulations were enacted. Ironically, this led to extensive media coverage as well as new avenues for alcohol-free production. The result was a journey even further into the mainstream consciousness.

As is often the way, what was once seen as alternative is now more commonplace. Kombucha has its place alongside yoga, acupuncture and naturopathy as a popular lifestyle and wellness accessory.

making kombucha

Kombucha in Australia

As with many products, as kombucha’s popularity grew in the US, so did it emerge here. Australian consumers began to learn the process to make fizzy tea. Some entrepreneurial types realised it was an opportunity to launch a business.

Many Australians are seeking a healthier, lighter and more beneficial drink. They don’t want the sugary soft drinks that have been the standard for so long. Kombucha fits this niche perfectly, being sweet and pleasant. It is not full of artificial flavours and colours like so many of its competitors.

Now, there are several beverage companies offering ready-made kombucha. The stuff you find in bottles is often less ‘tart’ than what you would produce at home. There are plenty of flavours to explore and enjoy.

Health benefits of kombucha

The health benefits of kombucha are a somewhat thorny subject. In its early days, it was touted as a cure-all for everything from HIV to asthma, insomnia to cancer.

Generally, anything promoted as a cure-all is a red flag. If you come across literature claiming miraculous health benefits, by all means give it a try. However, you should consult with your doctor about any serious medical issues.

The health benefits of kombucha are partly a lack of added sugar. You’re consuming far less than your regular soft drink. For example, Choice magazine shares that “A drink must have 2.5g sugar or less per 100mL to be considered low sugar, according to the Food Standards Code. The sugar content per 100mL of the bottled kombucha products we came across started from less than 0.1g (Remedy Kombucha)”.

Kombucha is a good source of vitamin C. This means Kombucha is a good alternative to the more sugar-filled orange juice.

Less sugar in your diet is good for your waistline and your overall health. This is one reason to drink kombucha. It means you’re consuming less sugar in your beverages.

Choice magazine also shares the following benefits of kombucha:

  • It contains a live culture of bacteria and yeast, which acts as a probiotic. Studies have shown probiotics can improve digestion, help protect against disease and enhance immune function.
  • The fermentation process produces organic acids (including acetic acid), which among other benefits have been shown to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria including Salmonella, Bacillus cereus, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Kombucha is made from tea, which contains a particular variety of polyphenols (naturally occurring plant chemicals) known as catechins. These have strong antioxidant properties to protect or act against cancer, tumours and unwanted genetic changes.

Further benefits

As many kombucha drinks are made from green tea, they also contain green tea’s benefits. Green tea has benefits for mental alertness. It is possibly beneficial against some forms of cancer, hypertension and even Parkinson’s disease.

Further research into kombucha’s health benefits and some studies on rats are proving promising. As shared by Medical News Today, these tests have found that kombucha can prevent heart disease and diabetes in rats. Until further studies are carried out on humans, however, we must wait to see whether these benefits are what we hope.

Should children drink homemade kombucha?

One of the beauties of kombucha is that it’s easy to brew it yourself at home. However, there have been a few instances where home-brewed kombucha has made people sick.

Anything made at home runs the risk of unwanted bacteria or other nasties getting into the mix. It is not recommended that pregnant women or children under the age of four drink kombucha at all.

If you do wish to introduce your children to the drink, seek advice from your GP. Some children may have adverse reactions like bloating, diarrhea and lightheadedness among others. For children, stick to store-bought kombucha products and to stay away from homebrew.

How Kombucha is made

Now that you know a little about kombucha, find out more about how it is produced. As shared above, it is made from sweet tea, fermented with a product called Scoby. Scoby stands for  ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’.

This scoby comes usually comes in the form of a rubbery looking disc. It’s not the most pleasant thing to look! This foundation ingredient is added to the mix of water, tea and sugar and left to ferment for up to a week. Once the mix has time to ferment, it is poured into an airtight container and some more sugar is added. It is then left in this container for a few more days. The longer the kombucha is left, the fizzier it will be. Finally, once it is as fizzy as desired, further spices and flavours are added to make the perfect flavour.

Commercial producers and home-brewers use this process. Purchase your Scoby online or through local distributors. You may be able to get some kombucha scoby from a friend.

Complete instructions are easy to come by online. Remember, as when preparing anything at home: hygiene is important for safety.

Tips for making kombucha safely:

  • Use glass containers and disinfect them thoroughly before use.
  • Use very hot water to brew your tea.
  • Make sure you use plenty of sugar.
  • Don’t ferment for too long. Ten days is a safe maximum.

When it comes to making your own, Choice magazine also adds that “Kombucha is considered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) a traditional food. It doesn’t require pre-approval and there are no specific quality controls or manufacturing practices for it, other than the general requirement under the Food Act that it is safe and suitable.”

homemade kombucha

Benefits of Kombucha: myths and misconceptions

As stated earlier, kombucha runs claim to a myriad of health benefits. Some people swear by the product. Others find drinking kombucha makes little difference to their overall health.

Think of kombucha as a tasty, enjoyable drink with some great benefits. It is not a magic health drink that will cure all that ails you. Having said that, there are a few negative misconceptions which are incorrect.

Kombucha is somewhat alcoholic, but generally, even at its strongest, only mildly so. General retailers have to abide by strict regulations when it comes to alcohol content. Store bought kombucha will not get you drunk!

Many also believe kombucha is a form of mushroom, as it is sometimes known as ‘Mushroom Tea’. This is incorrect. It is made from bacteria and yeast: no fungi are harmed in the making of this product.

Being made from tea, Kombucha is slightly caffeinated but not highly. It has the same levels of caffeine as the tea that it is made from. Kombucha does contain sugar though. Without this it is very tart, bitter and probably undrinkable.

Some find drinking kombucha eases an upset stomach. Others claim it helps reduce the impact of allergy symptoms. Overall, kombucha is a trendy and tasty option for those who wish to try an alternative soft drink.

Want to try kombucha?

Are you intrigued and ready to try something new? Come to Hastings Coffee Co at the Westport Club and try our new range of kombucha beverages.

Remedy Kombucha is the tastiest and healthiest kombucha going around. It contains no sugar, naturally, and is chock-full of all the right stuff. This includes live cultures, organic acids and antioxidants that are good for your gut and overall well being.

While you’re at Hastings Coffee Co, grab a tasty snack to enjoy in-house or on the go.

Remedy Kombucha’s I Quit Sugar Tick of Approval: “All Remedy drinks contain no sugar, naturally. We’ve even got an official tick of approval from I Quit Sugar (IQS) Recommends to prove it. The IQS Recommends program was created by Sarah Wilson, who has been one of our biggest and most long-standing supporters. Like Sarah we believe that you shouldn’t have to forgo taste for health and we’re proud to work together to help people kick the sweet stuff!”