The Following is a guest post by Mari Hoiland
By now, most health-conscious consumers are somewhat familiar with the bubbly, vinegary beverageÂ known as kombucha. Lining the shelves of every decent health store refrigerated section and toutedÂ as a â€œmiracle tonicâ€, the ancient fermented drink has made a comeback in the 21st century thanks toÂ an impressive list of purported health beneï¬ts and immune boosting properties.Â Kombucha has enjoyed a long history — over 2000 years, and yet the recipe for the drink has stayedÂ relatively similar throughout. Kombucha was originally developed in Northeast China, (1) and isÂ made from a combination of black tea, sugar and a living culture called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast).
The SCOBY resembles a large mushroom – the solid you may have seen ï¬‚oating in many of theÂ commercially available kombuchas. A kombucha SCOBY is made up of Acetobacter sp. (whichÂ convert ethanol to acetic acid), and one or more yeast species. Black tea provides nitrogen, minerals, andÂ ideal (low) pH necessary for the health of the SCOBY, while the yeast feeds on the sugar, creating ethanolÂ and carbonation (2). During the fermentation stage, the SCOBY produces a potent detoxifying substances such asÂ glucuronic acid (3).
Glucuronic acid is normally produced in the liver to neutralize toxins and clear unwanted excess chemicals, but when our livers become overburdened, our natural cleansingÂ process can become sluggish and less effective. The glucuronic acid in kombucha is thought to easeÂ the burden of the liver aid in the overall detoxifying process.Â In addition to this powerful detoxifying agent, consuming the living microbes present in kombuchaÂ may help contribute to the health of our gutâ€™s microbiome. Humans historically ate a diet rich inÂ fermented foods– however, since the appearance of processed foods in the last century or so, theÂ consumption of these probiotic-rich foods has steadily declined. Researchers have theorized that aÂ lack of beneï¬cial bacteria in our foods compounded with the heavy use of antibiotics has resulted in aÂ lack of diversity in the microbial population in the human gut and and impaired immune function.Â When ingested, the beneï¬cial bacteria produced during kombuchaâ€™s fermentation may help combatÂ the overgrowth of aggressive unwanted bacteria, resulting in a more balanced gut microbe populationÂ and better GI function. Skeptics argue that the eubacteria found in living foods are unlikely to surviveÂ the varying pH of the human GI tract, however, kombuchaâ€™s SCOBY is known to thrive at the pHÂ found in the stomach, which is deadly to many microbes.
Recent research has explored another compound present in kombucha, glucaric acid, as a cancerÂ preventing agent (4).While proponents of the ancient drink claim that kombucha contains properties that assist in curingÂ everything arthritis and depression to cancer, these strong claims remain limited to studies ofÂ individual compounds found in kombucha and anecdotal evidence. There has not yet been aÂ deï¬nitive, controlled study on the speciï¬c effects of drinking kombucha. Regardless, we know for aÂ fact that kombucha does contain a wide array of enzymes and antioxidants that have positive effectsÂ on overall health.
Mari Hoiland is currently a Food Policy Intern at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability in Portland,Â Oregon. In her spare time she enjoys pickling and fermenting all kinds of weird stuff and geeking outÂ on bizarre nutrition facts.
Links to Studies Referenced in this article: