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Kombucha: here’s what you need to know

Is this fermented tea all it’s made out to be? We found out.

One small thing: If you like the taste of kombucha, then make sure you drink a reputable brand and limit your intake to no more than about ½ a glass two to three times a day.

Some people enjoy making their own bread or yoghurt, while others brew kombucha, a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Even though there is little scientific evidence available, people all over the world have drunk kombucha for centuries believing it has health benefits, such as improving digestion, and preventing cancer and the effects of ageing.

Food writer Emma Christensen describes the taste of kombucha as “tart green apple and sour stone fruits with an underlying sweetness that keeps it all together”. Other than enjoying its quirky taste, people drink kombucha as a way to get more fermented foods into their diet. Fermented foods contain gut-friendly bacteria or probiotics that are known to aid digestion and boost your immunity.

How kombucha can benefit gut health

The lining of your gut is covered in bacteria, which create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. What you eat and subsequently feed your microbiome has a big impact on its health. The healthier the microbiome, the healthier you are, which is why it’s important to maintain a healthy balance. You can help the microbes already there by either feeding them foods they like (prebiotics) or adding living microbes to your system (probiotics).

But beware of the health claims

As kombucha’s popularity has grown, so too have its alleged health benefits, but the Mayo Clinic warns that “valid medical studies of kombucha tea’s role in human health are very limited”.

Torey Armul, a registered dietitian and nutrition spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the US told HealthDay that although kombucha is a good source of probiotics, it’s yet to be seen whether the drink lives up to all of the hype.

Make your own kombucha

The fermented tea is fairly simple to make. You’ll need a SCOBY (or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, which looks like a mushroom), brewed black or green tea, and sugar. After the brewed tea and sugar cools, you add the SCOBY, plus a little kombucha tea from a previous batch and leave the mixture to ferment in a glass jar. The SCOBY eats up most of the added sugar and ferments the tea into a drink that is relatively low in sugar.

Easier and safer than making it yourself, readymade kombucha is sold in the refrigerated sections of some grocery and health food stores. No one brand of kombucha tastes the same as another and finding one you like is a matter of personal preference. Many have added flavouring that reduce its vinegary taste.

Everything in moderation, including kombucha

The general consensus is to drink kombucha in moderation. The American Nutrition Association recommends that for most adults, about 125ml of kombucha twice or three times a day is probably the maximum amount of the tea that should be consumed.

Kombucha also contains FODMAPs (or fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) – these are short-chain carbs that are difficult to digest and may cause digestive issues, especially if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.

Kombucha – a healthier alternative to fizzy drinks?

This fermented tea is definitely an acquired taste. But since many beverages (sports drinks, sodas and sweetened tea and coffee) are high in sugar, drinking kombucha rather than other sweetened drinks may actually help you reduce your total sugar intake.

A can of soda has about 39g of sugar, while the same amount of kombucha has between 3 and 8g. Just make sure you check the nutritional information, as many brands of kombucha are sweetened with fruit juice or cane sugar to make the taste more appealing.

PnP dietitian Juliet Fearnhead says, “The bottom line is if you enjoy kombucha, then make sure you drink a reputable brand and limit your intake to no more than about ½ a glass two to three times a day.”

Don’t like the taste? “There are many other foods and drinks that have probiotics,” she says. “Try sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and yoghurt for probiotics, or drink green tea for tea-related health benefits .”

Other uses for kombucha

Want to get some of the probiotic benefits of kombucha but can’t stomach the taste? You don’t need to drink it; you can also use kombucha in the following ways:

  • Swap vinegar in a salad dressing for kombucha.
  • Use kombucha to marinade meat such as pork, chicken or beef.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.

References:
https://foodandnutrition.org/blogs/stone-soup/how-to-make-kombucha/
https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-kombucha-tea-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-173858
https://newsarchive.heart.org/news/its-called-kombucha-but-is-it-good-for-you/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/kombucha-tea/faq-20058126
http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/kombucha-tea

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/kombucha-side-effects#section8 https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/10-ways-kombucha-is-better-for-you-than-soda https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a20705895/kombucha-health-benefits/ https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fodmaps-101