In recent years, Kombucha has been steadily gaining popularity in India. Marketed as a beverage that provides multiple health benefits such as better gut health, increased metabolism and improved immunity, this fizzy alternative has been capturing the imagination of fitter India.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink made from green or black tea (or both), sugar, yeast and bacteria, and is believed to have originated in China about 2,000 years ago. Kombucha is made by brewing together sugar, black or green tea, liquid from a previous batch and the Scoby, short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast which contains a host of probiotics. During this process, bacteria and yeast form a mushroom-like film on the surface of the liquid. This is why kombucha is also known as “mushroom tea.”
After weeks of fermentation, the resulting brew is then blended with artisanal herbs and flavours to create variants such as ginger, lemon lavender, guava chilli and mango among others.
Is Kombucha Good for You?
The increasingly popular “tea of immortality” has evolved into a 475-million-dollar industry in the United States and India is catching up with a host of homegrown Kombucha brands such as Atmosphere Kombucha, Bombucha, Bucha Bar and Borecha.
While containing significantly less sugar is in itself a huge advantage, I’ve delved deeper to understand the veracity of Kombucha’s other health benefit claims and analyse potential risks.
‘Kombucha Improves Gut Health’
As kombucha is produced by fermentation, a number of probiotic bacteria which can help to balance the gut microbiome in humans and improve digestion is present in the drink. Although there is still no evidence for the probiotic benefits of kombucha, it contains several species of lactic-acid bacteria which may have probiotic function.
However, multiple studies have been unable to confirm whether kombucha contains adequate amounts of beneficial bacteria to be deemed an effective probiotic drink.
‘Kombucha Increases Immunity’
Kombucha is believed to contain a host of minerals such as vitamin C and B vitamins B1, B6 and B12 that are essential immunity boosters. When made with green tea, it also appears to have antioxidants that can improve cellular and organ health.
Studies in rats consistently find that drinking kombucha regularly reduces liver toxicity caused by toxic chemicals, in some cases by at least 70%.
However, extensive human studies have to be undertaken to understand the correlation between kombucha and immunity in humans.
‘Kombucha Aids Weight Loss’
The presence of probiotics and acetic acid seems to suggest that Kombucha would be effective in aiding weight loss. Probiotics reduce the number of calories absorbed from food and affect hormones and proteins related to appetite, fat storage, and obesity by increasing healthy gut bacteria count. Acetic acid has been proven to curb hunger, reduce bloating, and reduce overall body weight by preventing your body from processing food into fat.
Although kombucha is claimed to be beneficial for weight loss, there is almost no clinical evidence available to prove the claims. Most of these claims are either anecdotal or have come from animal studies.
- Kombucha is not advised for pregnant or breastfeeding women or those who have a compromised immune system
- Drinking too much kombucha can lead to unpleasant side effects, such as stomach ache, nausea and dizziness
- Potentially harmful to those with kidney or lung disease, who are at risk for acidosis, a condition in which there is too much acid in the blood
- It is also possible for kombucha to become contaminated when not made in a sterile environment at home and contain high levels of alcohol
While there are inadequate human studies to prove some of the health benefits claimed by Kombucha proponents, it is definitely a healthier alternative to the sugar-laden aerated drinks available in the market. The age-old practice of moderation is key when it comes to kombucha.
Unless you are susceptible to some of the health concerns outlined above, I strongly recommend Kombucha for all your fizzy beverage needs. However, remember to look at the label for the sugar content before purchasing your favourite “Booch”. Unless you’re a professional brewer, it’s safer to buy Kombucha than make it at home.
Bonus: Favourite Kombucha Mocktail
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 300 ml ginger flavoured kombucha
- Lemon slices and a sprig of rosemary to decorate
Scrunch up a sprig of rosemary and place in a tall glass. Add lime juice and ice and stir well. Top up with kombucha and give it one good stir. Garnish with a sprig of rose you used in the mocktail and a lemon slice.
(The author is a lawyer turned business intelligence consultant turned chef. He also designs weekly and monthly meal plans for clients and conducts baking and cooking workshops. The article is based on the author's personal experiments and research.)