By: Carol Kirkpatrick
Remember when the produce section of the grocery store was simple and straightforward? You wandered over there if you needed basic things like carrots, celery and bananas. Truthfully, it was pretty boring and uninteresting.
Today’s produce section has exotic produce with names like cherimoya, pummelo and chayote squash, and the vibrant piles of dark leafy greens and ripe fruits always inspire the amateur cook in me. When I have time and feel adventurous, I pick out something new and take it home to try. This week I discovered the case of kombucha.
I had recently read something about kombucha, and how it is good for gut health. Because I have IBS-D, I am always looking for ways to support my gut with probiotics. I decided to give kombucha a try. The flavors ranged from blueberries and lemon to basil and ginger. Some teas were clear, and others had chia seeds suspended in them. Upon closer inspection, they all had something floating around in the bottom. I picked up the most benign sounding bottle, Cosmic Cranberry, paid at the register and drove home to try it.
Sitting in my kitchen, I unscrewed the top of the kombucha. A pleasant sweet, vinegary smell wafted out. The first sip was eye-opening. It was tangy and fruity, like a mixture of cranberry juice, carbonated water and a bit of vinegar. I liked it a lot! I drank about half of the bottle, and then put the remainder back into the refrigerator and sat down at my computer to research kombucha. I have since learned that kombucha is fermented tea. It has been around since 221 BC and was known in China as “The Tea of Immortality”. More importantly, it is full of probiotics that will aid my digestion and support my immune system.
Kombucha is made by adding a mix of bacteria and yeast cultures, called the SCOBY , to sweetened tea. This concoction is left to ferment. The fermentation process allows the yeast to break the sugar down into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. This naturally occurring gas is what gives kombucha its fizziness. The bacteria then begin to break the alcohol down into acids resulting in a vinegary taste. Some alcohol does remain, but commercially available kombucha has minimal alcohol (0.5%) and is not considered an alcoholic beverage.
What was most striking online were the myriad of health claims listed for kombucha. It is touted as a cure for everything from arthritis to acne. Some sites claim that kombucha will help with weight loss, while others claim that it will detox your liver. The fact is that kombucha is not a miracle cure. However, scientists are beginning to understand that adding fermented foods and beverages, such as kombucha, to our diets could provide much needed probiotic support for our guts. When there are sufficient beneficial bacteria in the gut, digestion occurs more effectively with less gas, bloating and diarrhea.
If you do choose to try kombucha, remember these few things:
- Start out slow. Some people find that the acidity of kombucha upsets their stomachs. So it is better to start with a few sips and see how your system handles it, rather than chugging a whole bottle the first time.
- Kombucha, even that sold commercially, does contain trace amounts of alcohol.
- Do not drink homemade kombucha unless you are completely certain of the sterility of the brewing environment. Kombucha is made with live bacteria, and unsterile equipment could cause serious illness.
- Do not shake it. Kombucha has a slight naturally occurring fizziness that acts like carbonation. If you need to mix your kombucha, just gently turn the unopened bottle upside down for a few moments.
The bottom line for me is that I like kombucha. I find the taste to be refreshing, and it is a healthy way to get probiotics into my gut without setting off my IBS symptoms. I am going to make kombucha a regular part of my gut health.