The Kombucha Craze
If the number of brands and varieties in our markets these days is any indication, kombucha is definitely gaining popularity, and you may just be wondering, "What is it?"
Kombucha tea is a lightly effervescent beverage. You may find bottles of brewed kombucha in the markets as well as beverages that are a mixture of kombucha tea and fruit juices or other flavorings. Kombucha tea itself is made by fermenting sweetened black tea with a flat, pancake-like culture of yeasts and bacteria called the "kombucha mushroom." It is not actually a mushroom, but is so called because of the shape and color of the sac that forms on top of the tea after it ferments. The culture used in kombucha tea varies but consists of several species of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts. It is primarily these cultures which cause many people to confer health benefits on the drinking of kombucha.
But is kombucha really a health drink? It is widely believed that probiotic-rich foods like kombucha can have a beneficial impact on digestive health, as it delivers a handful of strains of "beneficial" bacteria. Beyond that, many health claims are unsubstantiated and overstated.* The FDA suggests that drinking commercial varieties of kombucha in quantities typically consumed (about 4 oz. daily) should be fine for healthy persons; however, the potential health risks are unknown for those with pre-existing health problems or those who drink excessive quantities of the tea, in particular home-brewed versions.
If you are interested in trying kombucha, you'll find all the most popular labels and a wide offering of flavors at Kowalski's. GT's Synergy, Unpeeled and KeVita are among the leading brands. Look for cold bottles in the Dairy and Deli Departments.
*The American Cancer Society website reports the following:
"This product may be sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must be tested before being sold), the companies that make supplements are not required to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that their supplements are safe or effective, as long as they don't claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease. Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Since the potential health risks of kombucha tea are unknown, anyone with an immune deficiency or any other medical condition should consult a physician before drinking the tea. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use this tea."
Contributed by Sue Moores, M.S., R.D., Kowalski's Nutritionist.