The big problem with ‘kombucha’

The research about kombucha suggests drinking kombucha can

If all that’s true, why wouldn’t you run and grab some kombucha now?

You’d definitely want to work as much natural food into your diet as possible. Something has to combat the mountain of sugar in our foods, the constant battle with stress and our daily immersion in a million pollutants. Why not tasty, good quality kombucha?

Even Hippocrates knew that food trumps pharmaceuticals and he didn’t have pharmaceuticals in 350BC.

‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ – Hippocrates

While kombucha hadn’t reached Greece yet, the ancients knew that natural foods held keys to health. Drinking Kombucha might be fashionable right now, but it’s not new. Our ancestors swore by it for thousands of years and science is proving they were right.

So what’s the problem with kombucha?

As is so often the case today, the problem is with labeling. Anyone can call a their drink kombucha even if it’s as far from the real thing as muddy water.

Real kombucha is an elixir but it’s rare, even in the healthiest whole food stores.

Why is it so hard to get real kombucha?

It’s challenging to make real, good kombucha consistently

It takes expertise, time and passion to brew a consistent, well balanced and healthful kombucha. Not every hipster with probiotic facial hair and a colour tattoo collection is a kombucha master.(I am describing a third of the Kombucha Me workforce but that’s beside the point.)

SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)

Kombucha is a ‘wild ferment’, meaning that it relies on wild yeasts and bacteria forming a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Because of the wild nature kombucha, every probiotic collection is different and changes from batch to batch. If the strains are not kept in check with specific brewing practices and careful monitoring, the product changes.

Expertise can keep pure brews as consistent as possible so you know what you’re drinking when you buy the product. As well as knowing what you buy, carefully directing the probiotic strains and organic acids leads to the most beneficial drink. Without this expertise, practices such as ‘flavourings’ or sweeteners can be used to mask the drinking kombucha.

Real kombucha needs real ingredients

Pricing becomes an issue in a competitive market. An easy way out of the race is to skimp on the raw ingredients. But kombucha synergises best with wholesome, raw ingredients that compliment the intended and inherent benefits and flavours of kombucha.

When cutting costs it’s easy to turn to reconstituted juices. Reconstituted juices have been processed through evaporation and rehydration for transport and storage reasons. As you can imagine, juices lose a lot of their benefits when you do this. Instead of raw, organic whole foods giving you a (good) punch in the gut, you end up with hollow, futile “essences” and “flavourings”.

Drinking Kombucha should be enhanced by other healthful compounds, not cheapened by lesser additives.When we’re trying to create a drink for health benefits, why would we short ourselves?

Kombucha is supposed to be a ‘living elixir’ or ‘tea of immortality’ as the ancients called it. In order to truly unlock the potential of real kombucha, expertise and quality ingredients are needed.

What about the sugar?

Because of the current reputation of sugar, there’s pressure to eliminate sugar from kombucha. The problem is: no sugar, no kombucha.

Kombucha needs sugar to ferment but the sugar won’t completely ferment out of the drinknaturally. Sugar will drop to around 1% of the drink before fermentation dramatically slows down. At this point the drinking kombucha is considered vinegar.

Remember, the cultures in real kombucha are alive. They respond to their circumstances. Once they detect a lack of food,they slow their metabolism down to sort of hibernate and preserve themselves.

That’s why, you should question any drink that claims to be kombucha but has almost no sugar in it. It’s like looking at the label of peanut butter and finding out it’s almost peanut free, or ice cream that’s 1% milk. An avocado toast without avocado. It doesn’t make sense.

The sugar percentage is usually dropped down by flooding the kombucha with fillers and drowning out the sugar. These watered down kombuchas are also reflavoured with acidic ingredients that give the drink its kick, and processed sweeteners such as stevia and Erythritol. These can give back some of the kombucha taste but not the benefits.They might also include ‘natural’ flavourings, but there’s no definition of ‘natural’ in Australia,

That’s how you make a product that mimics kombucha but isn’t kombucha. It might fool your taste buds but it won’t fool your body. If you’re drinking kombucha for its health benefits, your body needs the real thing.

So what’s real kombucha?

This is the important question. There is no big problem with real kombucha. The big problem is that not everything that says ‘kombucha’ is kombucha.

There’s no standard for the quality, purity or potency of kombucha, which leaves a lot room for deception. We can’t call skim milk just ‘milk’, nor can we call regular olive oil ‘extra virgin’, but we can call a weak drinking kombucha cordial ‘kombucha’. The distinction isn’t required in labeling but to our health the difference is considerable.

The big problem isn’t with real, authentic kombucha; the problem is with ‘kombucha’ imitations, which won’t provide the same benefits as genuine kombucha.

You can read more about how to spot the difference between real and fake kombucha here.

ABOUT AUTHOR: Jack Lewis is a keen researcher, writer and health enthusiast. Jack aims to communicate evidence based, accessible strategies to optimise health for everyday people. In his spare time, Jack likes to home brew kombucha and is a competitive martial artist.