Everything You Need to Know About Kombucha
Kombucha (pronounced kom-BOO-cha) is a fermented tea beverage that has been around for thousands of years and offers an impressive list of health benefits. Not only does it provide the particular benefits of whichever tea it is prepared with (green, black, etc), but it is also rich in probiotics, like all fermented foods.
Kombucha tea is thought to originate in Japan or China and has made a major comeback in recent years among health enthusiasts…and for good reason.
You’ll learn how to make your own kombucha tea below and exactly what goes into the process, but here’s a brief overview. Kombucha is generally made using black tea, but green and white are options, as well. It is fermented using some type of sugar (cane sugar, pasteurized honey or even fruit), and becomes carbonated after the fermentation process has been completed.
The end product is an acidic, fermented beverage that is rich in probiotics, digestive enzymes, and B-vitamins, and it is usually flavored with fruit or even herbs.
5 Facts About Kombucha 
- Kombucha can vary in appearance from clear and light-colored to cloudy and very dark.
- Kombucha also goes by such names as Manchurian Tea, Russian Tea, and Kargasok Tea.
- Some say kombucha smells like beer and tastes like a fizzy apple cider.
- Although it’s sometimes called kombucha mushroom tea, there are no mushrooms in it.
- Some of the unproven but alleged benefits of kombucha include the restoration of hair color and the dissolution of gallstones
History of Kombucha
The exact origin of kombucha is somewhat unknown, but it is thought to have originated in China or Japan over two thousand years ago. We do know that during the Chinese Qin Dynasty, kombucha tea was called “the tea of immortality.”
Since then, it has been used across cultures, particularly in Russia and Eastern Europe. Russians called kombucha (whose name is Japanese) “tea kvass,” and this nutritious beverage has gone on to spread through countries such as Germany, Poland, and Denmark, and has even been used to support and treat conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. 
Nutritional Facts for Kombucha
First, we’ll look at the basic nutrition facts of kombucha, but then break it down into important information and components that aren’t typically included on a nutrition label.
One serving of kombucha equals eight ounces, and that contains between 30-50 calories, zero calories from fat, between three and seven grams of carbohydrate, zero protein and (hopefully no more than) two grams of sugar. Be careful, as some, store-bought brands of kombucha tea have added sugars, so always choose one with a low sugar count. 
In terms of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), this will vary somewhat depending on the type of fruit and/or other ingredients used to prepare the tea, but you can usually count on Vitamin C and B-vitamins and plenty of friendly gut bacteria (probiotics).
Other nutrition components of kombucha, post-fermentation, include:
- a small alcohol content (but more on this later)
- acetic acid (what gives it that vinegary smell)
- lactic acid (a byproduct of any fermentation process)
- lactase (a digestive enzyme)
- certain acids that all hold their own health benefits (such as gluconic acid that aids liver detoxification)
- a small amount of caffeine
- other flavoring agents such as ginger, fruit juice and/or herbs 
Health Benefits of Kombucha
This is where it really gets interesting, as kombucha health benefits are vast. Ideally, various types of fermented foods will be part of your daily diet (other excellent sources include raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, kefir, yogurt, and miso), and kombucha tea should certainly be in the mix for the following reasons:
One of the Best Sources of Probiotics
Kombucha tea is started by a “scoby” (SKOH-bee), which is a laboratory culture that looks kind of like a brownish-beige, rubbery pancake. Scoby stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts and is the base of the fermentation process.
As the scoby begins to digest the sugar, this is where the vitamins, acids and probiotic bacteria are formed. Alcohol is also formed in very tiny amounts (but more on this later).
Probiotics are of specific importance when looking at the health benefits of kombucha tea, as they are the “friendly” bacteria necessary in your gut for proper digestion. They have also been shown essential in supporting weight loss, immune health and inflammation. 
Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that fight excessive free radical damage, which has been shown to damage your cells and potentially cause various degenerative diseases.  It is best to obtain your antioxidants from natural sources (foods and beverages), as opposed to supplements, as the body is best able to assimilate them. Especially if you use green tea to make your kombucha (or buy one made with green tea), you will benefit from powerful antioxidant properties.
In fact, studies have shown that drinking kombucha tea can reduce liver toxicity by up to 70 percent that is caused by chemicals, thanks to its antioxidant content. 
Natural Antibacterial Agent
Acetic acid is the same substance that gives certain vinegar (especially raw apple cider vinegar) the same anti-bacterial benefits that are found in kombucha. This acid has been found to be a natural killer of harmful microorganisms and bacteria (such as candida), and kombucha teas made from black and green teas are most effective in this regard. 
Promotes Heart Health
Other studies have found that drinking kombucha tea can improve blood cholesterol levels (both HDL and LDL), which are top markers of heart disease risk. Green tea kombucha is especially beneficial for this. 
Regulates Blood Sugar
Research shows that kombucha tea can slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, which is key in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.  However, be careful to not choose a store-bought brand that is high in sugar (ideally, no more than 2 grams per 8 oz), as this can undermine kombucha’s blood sugar-regulating benefits.
Kombucha Alcohol Content
One newer concern about kombucha tea is its alcohol content. Any fermentation process does produce some quantity of alcohol, although very small. Generally, the kombucha alcohol content is no more than 1 percent by weight. However, this is the case only if the process of making kombucha is correctly and carefully followed. If something goes amiss (more on this below), the alcohol content could potentially be too high. Store-bought kombucha tea with alcohol levels above 1 percent are actually classified as alcoholic beverages and should not be consumed by minors under 21 years of age.
Most Popular Kombucha Varieties/Brands
At PreventionMagazine.com, the editors tried ten different varieties of kombucha. Here are their favorites:
- Health-Ade (they tried Pink Lady Apple, Beet, and Ginger-Lemon, 4-6g sugar per 16 oz. bottle)
- GT’s (4 g sugar per 16 oz. bottle – they tried Original, Trilogy, and Gingerade)
- High Country (4g sugar per 16 oz.—they tried Wild Root and Elderberry Hibiscus. 
HealthyEater.com also chose: Health-Ade, GT’s, High Country, and added B-tea (4g sugar per 16 oz., live culture amount unknown) and Canadian brand Tonica (6g sugar per 16 oz). 
All the above are low-sugar varieties. There are many others out there as highly recommended, but much sweeter.
Best Places to Purchase Kombucha
Fortunately, kombucha is widely available now in all health food stores, and even many conventional grocery stores. Make sure to read the ingredient list carefully and choose products that contain (ideally) no more than 2 grams of sugar, and have as few added ingredients as possible. Be aware that some brands are flavored/sweetened with white sugar instead of fruit.
Or, you can make your own.
How to Make Kombucha
- As discussed earlier, you will need a scoby (also called culture or a starter). which allows you to begin your batch of kombucha. Scobys are actually colonies of bacteria and are living, so must be acquired from another person who is also making kombucha. If you have a friend who already brews their own tea, you can simply ask for an extra scoby, as every batch of kombucha produces extra. Or, you can purchase one from an online source, such as Kombucha Kamp. The good news is that once you obtain the scoby, the rest is easy!
- You will need a large, glass gallon mason jar with a wide neck. Make sure it is completely clean. You can purchase these at your local health food store, a container store, or online. (Amazon has several kombucha starter kits that include a jar and everything else you need to get started—including a scoby—prices start at $29.99)
- To begin the brewing process, you will need to brew about one gallon of tea with sugar added (the sugar allows the tea to ferment). For each gallon of water, add one cup of sugar. You can use any type of sugar, though using raw honey is not recommended because it contains its own set of bacteria and the combination could be hazardous. But pasteurized honey is okay.
- The type of tea you decide on depends largely on your taste preference. A green or black is ideal, but if you’d like it to contain less caffeine, opt for a white tea (still contains caffeine, but a very small amount). You can do a plain green or black tea and later choose to add other flavors, or you can choose an already flavored tea, such as chai. Remember, most health benefits are reaped from using green tea.
- Add one gallon of water to a big pot, and begin to boil. Once your water is boiling, add 8-10 regular tea bags and one cup of sugar (7/8 cup honey if using). Stir the sugar so that it dissolves completely, and allow the tea to steep for about ten minutes, and then turn off the heat and allow tea to cool completely. Remember, adding hot tea to your scoby will kill the living bacteria, so patience here is key.
- Once the tea is cooled, add it to the glass mason jar, also adding about one cup of pre-made kombucha (either from a previous batch or from a store-bought version).
- Next, wash your hands and place the scoby into the jar. It might float or sink to the bottom, either way, is fine.
- Using a clean cloth (even an old t-shirt works), cover your mason jar and secure it tightly with a rubber band.
- Place your tea in a warm part of your house (ideally around 70-75 degrees, but if this isn’t possible, it shouldn’t be a problem), and allow it to sit for about one week. If your house is cooler, it might need more time, and if it is warmer, it might be done sooner. To test, simply take a sip through a straw. Your tea should taste slightly sour (acidic), but also somewhat sweet.
Once your tea is done, remove the scoby and use it to make the next batch (if you’d like, or share with a friend), and the remaining tea is ready to drink. Remember to keep the scoby tightly sealed (press the air out of a Ziploc bag before closing).
For Flavored Kombucha Recipe:
Once your kombucha tea is done fermenting and the scoby has been removed, you can choose to flavor it with either fresh fruit or fruit juice (preferably fresh, not from concentrate). If you want to flavor your tea, you probably want to opt for a plain tea option in the beginning.
Fresh or frozen fruit: Use 70 percent kombucha and 30 percent fruit (less if you prefer a more mild taste). (3 cups fruit + 7 cups kombucha)
Fresh fruit juice: 80 percent kombucha and 20 percent fruit juice (8 cups kombucha + 2 cups fruit juice)
Get creative! The options are limitless when it comes to flavoring kombucha. Feel free to start out simply using a flavored tea, and begin experimenting with your own flavor combinations once you’ve mastered the process.
Adding kombucha tea to your diet is not only healthy but makes for a delicious and satisfying treat. If you are craving a sugary or fizzy beverage (like juice or soda), kombucha makes a perfect alternative. Be sure to follow the directions carefully if you decide to make it at home, or choose your brands wisely. Bottoms up!