Kombucha (pronounced kom-boo-cha) is a fermented "mushroom tea" that is a nutrient-rich tonic, as well as a refreshing beverage drink. It is cultured from a thick "gelatinous mat" that rests inside a jar of liquid, a blend of tea and sweetener.
This mushroom culture is not technically a "mushroom", but a round, firm jelly-like structure, called a "scoby" or "mushroom mother", a membrane of beneficial yeasts and bacteria.
As it feeds off of the caffeine and sugar, it creates a sour drink containing B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and antioxidants. When it is completely fermented there is some caffeine, about half of the amount it was made with, but very little sugar content remains in the tea when it is cultured to maturity.
The scoby floats on the top of the jar where it continues to grow and eventually produces another layer. After it doubles in size, it can be peeled apart to create two mushroom cultures. These new layers can be used again to make more gallons of fermented tea.
process takes between 10 to 14 days and the end result produces a
slightly fizzy, tangy vinegar-like drink that is best when served
We first began making and drinking kombucha in the early 90's. Back then there were no commercial brands available, homemade versions were the only options. Today, it is widely available and produced on a large scale by many companies. The brand "GT's", was one of the very first mushroom tea products sold in the U.S., retailing more than a million bottles in 2009 and has quadrupled sales since then.
If you are new to this beverage, give it a try in small doses. We have noticed that it does not agree with some people, so it is important to test it first and see how it feels to your individual constitution.
"Kombucha is neither a panacea nor peril. Like any ferment, it contains unique metabolic by-products and living bacterial cultures that may or may not agree with you." Sandor Katz
The fermented drink is believed to have originated in Manchuria or China, where the mushroom was referred to as haomo or jiaomu. It became a rather well known health drink in the 1950's and 1960's among the Chinese population and was made homemade in large quantities.
In the early 1900's it made its way to Eastern Russia, where it was called chainyj grib or chainyj kvas, and further spread throughout Europe and Germany.
The scoby or mushroom culture contains bacteria and strains of yeast that allow for the fermentation of the sweetened tea blend. However, not all cultures include the exact same varieties or amounts.
Two specific components unique to the kombucha mushroom are the Gluconacetobacter kombuchae bacteria and the Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis yeast. Other species types usually present within the scoby are Gluconacetobacter xylinus, Acetobacter xylinoides, Acetobacter ketogenum, Saccharomyces, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. (Source)
Although there are some possible differences from one scoby to another, they all produce gluconic acid and acetic acid necessary for creating a probiotic rich beverage high in various nutrients and vitamins.
Kombucha can actually contain small amounts of alcohol, so beware of that if you are trying to avoid consuming it, even in small quantities. The level of alcohol depends on a number of factors.
Shorter ferments are known to contain more alcohol than mature ones.
Also, if more sugar is added at the end and allowed to sit in an
air locked jar to increase fizziness, this will also increase the alcohol percentage, which may average between 0.5-1% alcohol content.
All commercial brands are now required to state if the alcohol content is above or below 0.5% and are actually categorized as an alcoholic beverage if it is above the legal limit of 0.5%.
Some companies, like GT's, offer both non-alcohol (below the legal limit) and alcoholic versions to satisfy a range of consumer taste buds and preferences.
Most mushroom tea drinks are labeled accordingly:
(For those avoiding alcoholic beverages (even trace amounts), try our refreshing, fermented rejuvelac beverage, for an alternative to this mushroom tea.)
Because this fermented drink is full of live active enzymes it is an excellent digestive aid that can help break down the foods we eat and more efficiently convert them to energy. Many people today could use more enzymes in their diet especially those who consume high amounts of cooked foods, dairy and animal proteins.
Our digestive functions naturally provide saliva and digestive enzymes, but over time eating foods low in enzymes reduces one’s own digestive enzyme reserves.
Consuming raw living foods as well as fermented foods, like raw cultured vegetables, kombucha and miso, can be a valuable asset to overall health and helpful for processing the leftover waste material that can result from an enzyme-less diet.
Another great benefit to drinking a cold refreshing glass of mushroom tea is that you are taking in billions of tiny probiotic microbes beneficial to a balanced intestinal ecosystem. These microorganisms are produced as a by-product of the culturing process.
May include any of these probiotic organisms:
Additionally, kom-boo-cha is an alkaline forming food and helps to ensure acid/alkaline balance in the body by promoting tissue and blood alkalinity.
The cultured mushroom tea is the perfect energy drink and a great alternative to highly caffeinated sodas, tea or coffee. It contains a number of nutritious elements including amino acids, polyphenols, vitamin C and is known to be high in B vitamins.
B vitamins are natural energy boosters and the average kombucha drink contains close to 20% B2, B6, B1, B3, B12 and folic acid per serving. Adequate intake of B vitamins is known to reduce anxiety and depression as well as increase cognitive functions.
One of kombucha's claims to fame is that it helps to increase immune health. This is in part due to the enzymes, nutrients and friendly microbes present, but also because it is quite high in various antioxidants which naturally benefit the immune system.
These antioxidants include EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) and Vit. C in addition to the organic antimicrobial acids: glucuronic acid, lactic acid and acetic acid.
Moreover, drinking and eating food high in enzymes also helps to substantially increase immune response and counteract the immune lowering side effects of denatured prepackaged foods and chemical ingredients.
The drink is a known detoxification aid for its effects on the digestive system, which helps to release the burden on the liver. The cultured beverage also contains the ingredient called glucuronic acid. It is this compound that binds with toxins in the body and safely eliminates them.
Many health experts believe that the detox components of the drink are helpful for such conditions as arthritis, joint ailments and gout.
Many people who drink kombucha are often concerned that they are taking in the caffeine and sugar content that is used to ferment it.
While virtually all the sugar and caffeine used to make the end result are consumed and transformed by the mushroom culture, it is now known that some caffeine content does remain. This level is roughly about half the amount of the tea it was created with.
The general rule is that after you make four batches of tea, using black tea and cane sugar, and develop a strong mature scoby culture, you can then experiment with herbal teas or other types of tea lower in caffeine content. However, it is commonly recommended to use at least 25% tea from the Camellia sinensis species when substituting these types in recipes.
As far as the sugar content goes, the culture feeds off of the sugars and converts most of it into acids, like lactic acid, necessary for the fermentation process. When appropriately "ripe", right before it turns to vinegar, it actually contains very little sugar.
When home brewing your own, this phase is usually between 10-12 days or when it is slightly vinegar-like in taste, but not overly so. Most people prefer some sweetness and this can be achieved through shorter fermentation times or alternatively adding other low glycemic sugars, like coconut sugar, after this process.
Once you have a strong thick mother scoby, created from using black tea and cane sugar, you can then begin to experiment with other types of natural sweeteners, like combinations of honey, maple syrup or a quality agave.
(See our kombucha mojito recipe for a energizing cocktail replacement.)
Making kombucha is similar to the process used to make other ferments like vinegar, jung and kvass.
The tea is relatively easy to make once you get down a few basics. All you need to start your own is:
Where Can You Buy It?
You can find commercial brands (there are quite a few now) at most health food stores and even some larger chain markets. We always recommend buying high quality, raw organic kombucha as the next best option to making your own homemade version.