8 Things You Didn't Know About Kombucha
Does this fermented tea live up to the hype?
Kombucha is a fizzy bottled drink you see at the health food store and have heard so much about. Heard so much about. But do you know what it actually is? No? Here you go: Kombucha is a fermented tea that is chock full of good-for-you yeasts and bacteria. It gets made using a giant culture that looks like a small Frisbee called a SCOBY, which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
Though the drink technically is a tea, (1) it tastes nothing like tea and instead has a distinct sourness similar to a Belgian lambic.
Many companies like Synergy, the largest producer of commercial kombucha, make the taste more palatable by adding all sorts of flavors to the brew. Ginger is the most popular variety, but other flavors include grape, strawberry, lemon, cranberry and Synergy’s Maqui Berry Mint, a mojito-inspired creation.
Not that the original incarnation of this drink used such crazy ingredients. The story of kombucha can be told from two sides: One goes back to Russia in the late 19th century, where they drank a tea known as Cajnyj Kvas made from chaga, a Birch tree mushroom. The other states that kombucha originated in China eons ago, and was known as the “Tea of Immortality.” No matter where this drink really came from, it’s having a heyday today in the United States.
Now that you know more about this drink, let’s dive into some facts most people aren’t aware of. For starters, according to Kombucha Brooklyn’s founder Eric Childs, (2) you can eat the SCOBY. “One of my favorite things about kombucha is that after you harvest the liquid, you are left with a gelatinous disk that you can turn into food,” he says. “It has a texture like squid and a light, fruity and slightly sour flavor.” Childs warns that you don’t want to cook the SCOBY, lest the treasured live-probiotics get killed; instead, cube it and toss it in a salad or with pasta.
If you don’t want to eat it, don’t worry—kombucha principally gets made to drink, and what better time to down than after a heavy night of imbibing. “It’s the best damn hangover cure I have ever found,” says Childs. “It has naturally detoxifying properties like gluconic acid that targets the liver.” Even better, he added, drink kombucha while you throw one back using a system Childs calls “reverse-toxmosis” and (3) never have a hangover again.
The best way to do this is to (4) use kombucha as a mixer. “Think of kombucha as a sour mix,” Childs says while listing off tasty cocktails you can make, including the kombucha-rita, kombucha sour, and the 50-50, his beer and kombucha version of a shandy.
This brings us to the actual flavor of kombucha, which traditionally remains sour, a sensation first-timers have trouble swallowing. “Our biggest challenge is to get people to take a second sip,” says Mike Schwartz of Bad Ass Organics, a company specializing in fermented food and drink. “For people used to drinking Coke, it’s scary.” Yet he found that after someone takes a couple more sips, they get hooked on its tart, refreshing taste. That’s right, (5) kombucha tends to be kind of addictive.
Mixed with the effervescence, it’s a flavor combination so appealing, people even (6) pair it with food. “Any time where you would have a beer, you can replace it with kombucha,” says Schwartz. “Sitting out at the grill with a nice, organic burger would be perfect to have a ginger kombucha with.” For Cornelius, a restaurant in Brooklyn, Childs has made a garlic-horseradish kombucha used as an oyster shooter, just one part of a program Childs hopes to grow. “It’s really nice after a meal to stimulate metabolism and digestion.”
Finally, while a lot of foods looked at as a health food trend don’t live up to their claims, both Schwartz and Childs insist that kombucha does. Separately, each state that (7) drinking kombucha made their acid reflux (a.k.a. heartburn) problems go away. And for Childs, he credits his clear skin to drinking the stuff. Either way, it certainly doesn’t hurt to drink it—though if you become addicted to this tart, fizzy brew — at around $4 a pop — it will quickly burn a hole in your pocket faster then that grande mochachino kick you were on last month. But unlike that sugary coffee drink, which also packs a whopping amount of calories, you can easily (8) make kombucha at home for next to nothing.
Or try these brands: