Kombucha: fermented tea to keep your gut happy

Is it just a fancy fad or is there something more to this fizzy fermented drink called kombucha? Let's find out

bottles of kombucha, fermented tea

Fermentation of food is old news, about 4000 years old according to some history books. This practice was first discovered by the Indus Valley Civilization to conserve food for use during the harsher weathers. Fermentation not only improved the shelf life of food but it was also observed that the health quotient of the food increased as well. So what exactly is fermentation? It is the process by which the sugar content in the food is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. In today’s times fermentation is used to leaven breads and make sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, cheese, kefir, and so on. It is used to make alcohol such as tadi, sake, and vodka. And of course, fermentation is also used to make kombucha.

So what is kombucha?

Legend says, kombucha originated in South East Asia, most probably in China, where a lazy bar worker forgot to empty an earthen pot of sweet tea after the sale and realized after a few days that it had developed into a tasty and not too alcoholic drink. Slowly, kombucha became popular and travelled to Japan when Dr. Kombu took ‘the elixir of life’ to treat Emperor Inkyo. With the rapid boom in trade, kombucha travelled to Eastern Russia. After WW-II, the soldiers took it back to France and Germany where it became increasingly popular as ‘funkochinese’. In the 1960s, Switzerland reported that the benefits of kombucha were similar to yoghurt and the popularity soared.

An interesting study was conducted by the Central Oncological Research Institute in Russia, which was ordered by none other than Stalin himself as he was worried about the rising number of cancer cases. It turned out that the residents of the towns called Solikamsk and Beresniki reported no cases of cancer except a few residents who had recently moved there. It was observed that the constant in both the towns was kombucha. The people of these towns had been drinking kombucha for ages; it kept them healthy and increased their life span even when the industrialization caused major land, water, and air pollution.

So essentially, in easy terms, kombucha is a fermented tea which is brewed for 7-10 days using a SCOBY [Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast]. Sugar is added in the beginning of the fermentation process to provide food for the SCOBY, which in turn discharges beneficial acids, enzymes, and carbon dioxide. Here, the yeast is primarily responsible for the fermentation while the bacteria uses the alcohol produced by the yeast as food and gives out all the beneficial stuff. The small amount of alcohol acts as a natural shield against molds and moisture. The contents of a palatable kombucha tea are probiotics [gluconacetobacter and lactobacillus], vitamin B1, B6, B12, vitamin C, polyphenols, antioxidants, lactic acid, amino acids, gluconic acid, and glucuronic acid.

Why you should be drinking Kombucha

Although it has not been backed by a lot of research, here are some observed health benefits of drinking kombucha

Probiotic

  • It improves gut health by aiding better digestion and absorption of food.
  • It helps in healing the lining of the intestines that prevents toxins from crossing over into the body
  • Increases release of the happy chemical serotonin

VitaminB1

  • Helps in producing new cells
  • Has anti-stress properties

Vitamin B6

  • Helps in controlling arthritis
  • Produces serotonin and melatonin
  • Regulates blood levels of amino acids

Vitamin B12

  • Produces red blood cells and haemoglobin.

Vitamin C

  • Cleanses the body.
  • Increases immunity.

Polyphenols

  • Has a calming effect on the body.

Antioxidants

  • Fight oxidative stress that causes cancer and other lifestyle diseases.

Lactic acid

  • Fuels both brain and body by regulating the carb utilization and catalyzing the liver glycogen formation.

Amino Acids

  • Contains essential amino acids that are the building blocks of our body

Gluconic acid

  • Helps in better carbohydrate metabolism and aids digestion.
  • Increases calcium and iron absorption while regulating body’s pH level [homeostasis].

Glucuronic acid

  • Also called the toxin patrol as it helps the liver to get rid of toxins.
  • Synthesized into glucosamine that provides strength and lubrication to the joints.

The why and what of this love affair!

He is a Marine Engineer and she is a psychosocial support facilitator. He likes to talk light while she likes deeper conversations. He likes to travel and she likes to relax. He likes to cook and she likes to eat. He likes to dance and she likes to train dogs. Both like to explore and on one such adventure of a delayed honeymoon to Asheville, USA [the hotbed of sustainable living] they were introduced to the world of kombucha. Vikram and Meenakshi are community oriented and intend to build a community of kombucha lovers hence the name Comm-Bucha. They aim to make social drinking healthy, one city at a time with their flavoured brew. Their brews are handcrafted with love and passion using seasonal fruits. CommBucha can be enjoyed at any time of the day, after a yoga class, over a game of scrabble, while watching a movie, or even at a party. Some of their flavours are Ginger Buzzer, Jamun, Water-Melon Rosemary, Apricot-Cinnamon, Kokum, etc. We seek encouragement in this journey while you enjoy this Miraculous And Vital Indulgence.

Homebrew Vs Market Buy

Although kombucha can be brewed at home and has been done for hundreds of years, it has its short comings. It involves procuring a healthy culture and then following the process of brewing tea, adding sugar, and then adding the culture to the sweet tea and leaving it undisturbed for the next week or so. A good brew can be obtained after a few batches but ensuring high quality of culture, utmost hygiene, and trouble-shooting can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. The culture is susceptible to mold, vinegar eel, etc. and needs to be taken care of. This process will give you plain kombucha [aka 1st ferment or 1F] which then needs to be infused with the fruits and savories for flavoring and taste enhancement called as 2nd ferment [2F]. For brewing kombucha, hygiene is the most important thing followed closely by the quality of ingredients. Since kombucha is acidic and has a low pH, it causes leaching of the brewing vessel material. That’s why kombucha can be brewed only in vessels made of glass and stainless steel grade 304 and higher. The pH level will have to be monitored as temperature and ambient conditions can change the brewing pattern.

Advantage of store-bought kombucha

  1. Readily available
  2. Indefinite number of flavours
  3. No dependency on brew and raw material
  4. No need of buying pressure-rated bottles or a bigger refrigerator for storage
  5. You help small businesses.

Wait, why are we not talking about the alcohol content and acidity?

Any fermentation process results in the production of alcohol, whether it is yoghurt, kimchi, sourdough, idli batter, or kombucha. But with other food the quantity consumed is so little that the alcohol content hardly matters unlike wine, beer, or whiskey. In kombucha, however, as we mentioned earlier the alcohol is used as food for the bacteria, thereby keeping the alcohol limits lower than 0.5%. You would be surprised to know that a ripe pineapple may contain more alcohol than a similar serving of kombucha.

The acidity is because of weak organic acids that help in maintaining the body’s pH level like lemon and honey concoction. In fact, kombucha is known for curing high acidity, acid reflux, and indigestion.

Can everyone have kombucha?

People of all ages, including and especially, people on chemotherapy or antibiotics should use kombucha as the probiotics in it improve gut health and refurbish the gut flora/fauna. The antioxidants in it help fight free radicals and detox the body. However to be cautious, it is not advised for:

  1. Pregnant women
  2. Lactating moms who are not used to drinking it
  3. Children under 3 years of age

Kombucha is a fun and fizzy drink with a lot of natural carbonation and taste. It can be had daily- in the morning it is known to improve energy levels, around meals for better digestion, and in the evening to just relax for a good night’s sleep and a great tummy flush the next day. It is a great mocktail as well as a great mixer for cocktails. Personally, we have never felt better with our stomach, skin, and energy levels. It has also reduced our sugar cravings. If you are new to drinking kombucha your body may show signs of detox or a healing crisis where you may feel light-headed or have a flare up of a fungal infection but this usually subsides in a day or two and can be controlled by moderating your intake [start with 100 ml and increase it over the week] while the body gets used to the ‘Elixir of Life’.

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