Breaking Down the Kombucha Craze

You probably have at least one person in your life raving about kombucha. And if not, statistically speaking, there’s a good chance you are that person.

Whether you’re a proud proponent of this ancient Chinese health elixir or wondering what exactly the hype is about, here’s what you need to know about the fermented mushroom tea known as kombucha (it really has nothing to do with mushrooms).

What Exactly Is Kombucha?

Advertised largely for its health benefits (and sometimes for the taste, depending on the one you get), kombucha is a slightly bitter, slightly sweet fermented tea containing sugar, yeast and the “good bacteria” known as probiotics. Kombucha is loaded with these tummy-loving immunity boosters, which is undoubtedly why it’s being touted by nutritionists, influencers and your health-conscious friends alike. While black tea is most commonly used as the base ingredient, kombucha can also be made with green tea or oolong tea – just not herbal tea, as it’s not conducive to the health of the SCOBY (more on that in a second).

How Is Kombucha Made?

The key ingredient in kombucha is, for lack of a better descriptor, a blob-like mixture called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). And while no mushrooms are involved in the process of making the SCOBY, it’s the fungal element (again, no more flattering synonym available) that likely created the mushroom association – that, or the fact that the Chinese words for mold, fungus and mushroom happen to contain the same character.

Once the SCOBY is set, it’s added to a mixture of tea and sugar and left to ferment for a week to a month, at which point the product is transferred into bottles and refrigerated to slow down the carbonation and fermentation process. Because fermentation involves converting sugar into alcohol, kombucha naturally contains a small amount of alcohol, which is why slowing down the process is crucial to preventing the ABV from creeping up too high.

Health Benefits of Kombucha

Evidence of the specific health benefits of kombucha is limited, but because the tea is rich in good bacteria, some research suggests it may offer some of the more studied benefits of probiotic supplements.

Whether founded or myth, many swear by kombucha for its digestive and immune-boosting qualities – and that’s nothing new. In fact, the purported health benefits of kombucha date as far back as the fermented tea drink itself, thought to have originated in Northeast China around 220 B.C. In addition to its more widely regarded benefits, people have credited kombucha with treating some pretty serious ailments, from high blood pressure to AIDS and even cancer. These claims, while intriguing, are purely anecdotal.

Is Kombucha Dangerous?

Not only do we not know much about the health benefits of kombucha, but some experts believe it may actually be harmful if certain precautions aren’t taken. Because the tea is often brewed at home, there is the potential for contamination due to improper handling, especially since you’re dealing with raw, fermented materials. If you get a bad batch (the smell of which may or may not tip you off), you’re probably fine if you drink a glass of it, but much more could lead to tummy trouble or a more serious allergic reaction. All things considered, it’s probably better to just buy kombucha than to make it yourself.

For commercial production of kombucha, the FDA has suggested several good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to promote product safety and has issued specific regulations around the alcohol content, mandating an ABV limit of 0.5 percent for commercial sale as a non-alcoholic refrigerated beverage. If the ABV exceeds 0.5 percent, the product must be labeled with the health warning statement required by the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act of 1988.

Going Kombucha Crazy in California

While kombucha likely originated in ancient China, we had a feeling its resurgence had roots in SoCal – and turns out, we were right. The first-ever hard kombucha bar opened in San Diego’s North Park just last year, and a quick search of kombucha in San Diego turns up nearly a dozen cafes, tap rooms and retail locations serving the super drink.

Miss the kombucha train or just not quite on board with it yet? Check out San Diego Restaurant Week January 20th-27th to find your 2019 #foodlove. And for more foodie insights, be sure to follow us on social media @SDRW.

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