Kombucha tea has been getting a lot of attention these days and has been praised as an elixir that can cure and treat an array of health conditions. Its origins can be traced back to ancient China where this ‘super-tonic’ was believed to have detoxifying and energizing powers. Are these claims true…?
What is kombucha tea?
It’s a fermented, fizzy, slightly sweet yet vinegary tasting drink. Fermentation occurs in a yeast and bacteria culture, which is commonly known as ‘SCOBY’ (short for ‘Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeasts’), ‘mother’ or ‘mushroom’. The fermentation process naturally produces a small amount of alcohol, which can vary depending on the length of fermentation. You may not see alcohol listed on the label because the amount in kombucha tea is lower than what is required for declaration by Canadian labeling laws.
Are there health benefits to kombucha tea?
Kombucha tea claims to offer health benefits for people with a variety of symptoms and diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, AIDS and high blood pressure. It is also thought to improve digestion and overall health. To date, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support these claims.
How is kombucha tea made?
‘SCOBY’ and a small amount of previously brewed kombucha tea is added to brewed black, green or herbal tea and sweetened with sugar. This starts the fermentation process. It takes about seven days (or longer) of fermentation until you have kombucha tea.
The type of tea used and the length of fermentation affects the flavour of the final product. Commercially produced kombucha tea has a similar acidity to distilled vinegar and cola soft drinks. Manufacturers may add flavours (including extra sugar) to reduce the tartness of kombucha tea.
Is it safe to drink store bought kombucha tea?
Commercial kombucha tea producers are responsible to make sure their products are safe to drink. There are currently no specialized standards or regulations for commercial manufacturing of kombucha tea. While there is no evidence that commercially produced kombucha tea is unsafe, the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control recommends limiting the amount you drink to no more than 110 mL (just under ½ cup) per day. The recommendation is based on several reports that have linked the beverage to poor health outcomes.
Most kombucha tea you find in stores is not pasteurized (pasteurization is a heat process that kills bacteria in food that can make you sick). It’s best that children, elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems avoid unpasteurized foods. And, because of the alcohol in kombucha tea, pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant, and children and individuals with conditions where alcohol is not advised should also avoid it.
Is it safe to make kombucha tea at home?
Making kombucha tea at home can be risky because harmful bacteria, fungus and moulds can grow and are difficult, if not impossible, to detect before they make you sick. The fermentation process also produces acid which can cause chemicals to leach from the containers used to brew or store kombucha tea (such as lead from glazed ceramic) and contaminate the tea.
Keep in mind that some kombucha tea found in stores are sweetened, adding to your calorie and sugar intake. Some brands have as much as 4 teaspoons of sugar per 250 mL (one cup), which is almost as much sugar as half a can of regular pop. If you enjoy drinking kombucha tea, choose ones with less sugar by comparing their Nutrition Facts tables. You can also cut the sugar and tart taste by diluting it with sparkling water.