What is kombucha and what are its health benefits?
What is this drink, and why is there such a wild craze about it?
Kombucha is a fermented, fizzy soft drink. There's recently been a huge boom in interest in fermented foods, after reports suggested they can benefit your gut.
It usually consists of sugar, cold filtered water, black/green tea (bags or loose leaf) and a SCOBY, which is short for 'symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast'. The bacteria and yeasts convert the sugar into ethanol and acetic acid.
Wine is also fermented
The acetic acid is what gives kombucha its slightly sour taste. Although the original birthplace of kombucha is unknown, its recipe can be traced back thousands of years to ancient China, Tibet and Japan.
Are there any health benefits?
Where soft drinks like Coca Cola and 7 Up are normally carbonated with gas and sugar, the way kombucha gets its fizziness is via fermentation – which means kombucha is naturally living. Fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut contain living microorganisms, which are called probiotic bacteria.
These probiotic bacteria help to balance the gut microbiome (the community of micro-organisms living together in a particular habitat) in humans, and improve digestion. Despite the known and proven health benefits of probiotics, studies show that kombucha doesn't have enough beneficial bacteria to be considered an effective probiotic.
Milk is high in vitamin B12
Because the fermentation process requires yeast to break down sugars, kombucha provides you with a small dose of vitamin C, and B vitamins B1, B6 and B12.
Kombucha is also said to improve bone health, digestion, weight loss and inflammation. There's no scientific research to back this up, but anecdotes and animal studies have shown it to be true.
Is kombucha high in antioxidants?
Blueberries are believed to have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures. Tea (chiefly, green tea) is high in antioxidants, and it belongs to a very rich antioxidant group called polyphenols – hence why one of the main ingredients used in kombucha is green tea.
Are there any side effects?
As with any food item, too much kombucha is bad for you. Kombucha is not recommended for pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, or those who have a compromised immune system.
Furthermore, excessive consumption of kombucha can lead to side effects like stomach ache, nausea and dizziness. It is advised that a pint of kombucha daily could be harmful.
There have not been many human clinical studies to prove kombucha's safety and efficacy – but many major drinks companies are investing in kombucha-making facilities, and it's now being sold in major supermarkets around the world.
UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's collaborated with former England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson to release NO1 Kombucha. Wilkinson said, "this is designed to genuinely make kombucha accessible to all and provide a delicious alternative to fizzy pop".
If you are ever concerned about introducing kombucha to your diet, you can always ask your GP or a health professional should you have any questions.
Here's the BBC Good Food kombucha recipe: