Excerpted from The Big Book of Kombucha (c) Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory. Photographs by (c) Matt Armendariz. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.
Expert advice on the secret to the best–and healthiest–kombucha
Kombucha is not always love at first sip. For some it is an acquired taste, while others may never learn to love the tart, effervescent beverage. But for those who do incorporate the tonic into their diet, it can be a thirst-quenching accompaniment to everything from pizza to Eggs Benedict or light lunch salads, and it comes chock-full of health benefits.
Kombucha is fermented tea, often flavored with herbs, spices, fruits and syrups, resulting in a tangy, carbonated drink. “Being a lightly acidic ferment, it will have a natural tanginess that may feel foreign at first, but quickly becomes a sought-after flavor as the body readjusts away from sugary drinks and foods,” says Hannah Crum, coauthor of The Big Book of Kombucha (Storey Publishing), which offers step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting guides and more than 250 flavor combinations for the home-brewer.
Purported as everything from a cure-all to snake oil, kombucha is, in reality, neither, says Crum. Rather, it is a healthy elixir that promotes overall health in a variety of bodily systems, including the digestive, metabolic, immune and cellular, which can be attributed to stress relief, increased energy levels, improved eyesight and more. Once essential to human survival as a way to preserve foods, fermentation is experiencing a much-deserved renaissance thanks to the beneficial bacteria—probiotics—that live (literally) in these pre-digested foods.
Because the human microbiome is comprised of 10 trillion human cells and 90 trillion bacterial cells, balance in the gut microbiome is fundamental to overall health. Crum and co-author Alex LaGory have run Kombucha Kamp —a one-stop shop and online resource center for all things kombucha—since 2004. They have a motto: “Trust your gut!”
When purchasing kombucha at the store, is there anything we should be aware of?
Most kombuchas in the market today are unpasteurized because many of the health benefits are derived from the living bacteria and yeast in the beverage. So look for the term “raw” or “unpasteurized” on the label.
Also, all kombucha uses some form of sugar for the fermentation process, so don’t let those that don’t include “sugar” on the label fool you into thinking there wasn’t any used in the fermentation process.
Unfortunately, just like yogurt, in order to produce kombucha on a larger scale, certain aspects of the fermentation process are changed, which means they often aren’t as microbially diverse as a traditional culture or they may have other non-native probiotics added. Many brands are also certified organic, so look for the organic label to confirm. The benefit to choosing organic kombucha is that there are less pesticides used for the cultivation of tea which is beneficial to both human and planet.
What is your advice for someone who is trying kombucha for the first time?
Kombucha can have a fairly immediate impact on a digestive system unaccustomed to living foods. Everybody has different sensitivities, so consuming it on an empty stomach will allow the body to feel how it is working in the system.
Many people do report a craving for it. The reality is that the body is eager to receive nutrition in a living form, including the organic acids and B vitamins, so it may be that the body is attempting to rebalance or renutrify after a long time of not receiving that nutrition. Over time, as the body rebalances, those cravings are reduced and consumption levels may taper off depending on what the body needs.
Is kombucha difficult to make at home?
Almost everyone reading this today has the necessary ingredients for brewing their own kombucha at home in their kitchen: tea and sugar. What most people do not have is the kombucha culture. Called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), this unique matrix of bacterial cellulose and yeast strands, along with sufficient starter liquid, transforms the tea and sugar into kombucha with just a bit of warmth and patience.
Some people will grow a culture from a commercial product and one that yields a SCOBY is a great way to test if it is truly a raw or vibrant product.
A reputable supplier will include a full-size culture, plenty of starter liquid (at least 1 cup per gallon), detailed instructions and support. Also, since the culture reproduces, provided you care for it properly, you only need to buy one. Or grab one from a trusted friend!
Some of Our Favorites
It isn’t hard to brew kombucha at home, but here are some store-bought brands we love.
Brewed in small, 2.5-gallon batches, it is100 percent fermented in glass (plastic or metal can leach into the beverage). It is USDA certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, raw, vegan and kosher–and absolutely delicious! health-ade.com
Features exotic dragonfruit lemongrass, lavender melon, pineapple peach, and mango habanero, and is handmade, starting with reverse-osmosis filtered water with organic, non-GMO ingredients. kevita.com
Consists of four different lines with over 20 flavors. Classic varieties may contain more than 0.5 percent alcohol (you must be over 21 years old to purchase), while the Enlightened collections are lighter and smoother. synergydrinks.com