FOOD

What You Should Know Before Drinking Kombucha Again

Tip: always go for 'raw' kombucha.

16/01/2017 7:59 AM AEDT | Updated 17/01/2017 8:24 AM AEDT

For kombucha lovers, trying all the different flavours and brands (and even your home brew) is a treat. It's like soft drink that's actually good for you.

If you haven't yet hopped on the kombucha bandwagon, now is a great time, with more and more varieties being made in Australia. The fermented tea is packed with powerful probiotics, which helps promote gut health, immunity, digestion and more.

"[Kombucha] is a naturally detoxifying and energising living drink that's produced through the aerobic fermentation of green tea, black tea and sugar," Matt Ball, co-founder of Wild Kombucha by Ballsy and eye surgeon, told The Huffington Post Australia.

Here are four kombucha health benefits your gut will love you for:

1. It's alive

"A recent study published in the Journal of Food Microbiology found kombucha tea contains a host of gut-friendly bacteria and live yeast that can help balance your intestinal flora and support good bowel health," Ball said.

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2. It helps support immune health

"Along with acetic acid, kombucha contains forms of gluconic acid, a precursor of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which has antioxidant properties," Ball explained.

"Other water soluble vitamins (B1, B6 and B12) have all been independently isolated."

3. It's a probiotic

"Kombucha is a living drink, which theoretically makes it a probiotic," Ball said.

"The article published in the Journal of Food Microbiology established that the following probiotics make up this health elixir: gluconacetobacter, acetobacter, lactobacillus, zygosaccharomyces, and this cocktail interacts together to produce some amazing health benefits."

4. It's anti-inflammatory

"Well brewed traditional kombucha should taste like cider with a slightly tart finish to it. This reflects the production of acetic acid by gluconoacetobacter, one of the main bacteria in the culture," Ball explained.

"This lowers the pH of the product and, in a similar way to apple cider vinegar, has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gastrointestinal system."

But before you do drink kombucha again, it's important to know the following three things, which impact the quality of kombucha.

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Alcohol content

"As kombucha is becoming more popular, it's imperative that consumers are aware that not all kombuchas are created equal," Ball told HuffPost Australia.

"A major problem with manufacturing kombucha is that each batch of kombucha varies in taste, sugar and excessive alcohol content. No two batches are the same, even with the most sophisticated brewing technology.

"While a small level of alcohol is normal during fermentation, the true level is difficult to accurately measure and can easily increase if too much residual sugar remains in the living brew."

Some companies use gas chromatography to measure the alcohol levels as accurately as possible within every single batch. If alcohol content is a concern for you, be sure to get in touch with your favourite kombucha company and ask whether they accurately test alcohol levels.

"This is of high priority to the Balls as kombucha is sold as a nonalcoholic beverage and there is virtually no existing legislation to protect consumers who might unknowingly consume a high-alcohol product before driving, among other risks," Balls said.

Pasteurisation

The second issue which impacts the quality of kombucha is the way the fermented tea has been treated.

"When reading the label, check to see if the product is pasteurised. Many companies use pasteurisation to save time and money when it comes to bottling and storing kombucha, but the truth is, the pasteurisation process compromises the probiotics," Ball said.

SCOBY quality

If you're a keen kombucha home brewer, the third factor to be wary of is the quality of your SCOBY.

"The biggest problem for at-home brewers is the quality of the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). If it has been stored in excess heat or cold, or come in contact with a culture that was treated with vinegar, the fragile microorganisms will be damaged and the SCOBY will be weakened," Ball said.

"Producing a traditional SCOBY-fermented kombucha is paramount to the success of it, with the biggest challenge being achieving a consistent final pH, residual sugar and legal alcohol content. In fact, last year in Melbourne the government cracked down on a number of brands due to quality control reasons and illegal alcohol levels."

How to tell between a good and not-so-good kombucha

  • Investigate the company -- If possible, try and learn the ethos of a kombucha brand and stick with it. It's important to know how the product is made and if the company is committed to monitoring the sugar and alcohol content of its kombucha.
  • Go raw -- Read the label and check to see if the product is pasteurised. Look for 'raw' to get the most probiotic benefits.
  • Check the texture -- Finally, make sure the beverage is lightly carbonated, which is a sign of healthy fermentation.

How to make a basic home brew kombucha

Makes approximately 3.5 litres.

YOU WILL NEED

  • 14 cups of filtered water
  • 6 standard size tea bags (preferably organic, and best to start with a black tea)
  • 1 cup of cane sugar (preferably organic)
  • 1 cup of starter liquid (also know as kombucha. If buying a commercially brewed kombucha, be sure to use an unflavoured and definitely an unpasteurised one)
  • SCOBY

METHOD

  1. Heat four cups of filtered water. For ideal temperature, it depends on what tea you are using -- for black tea 90-95ºC is perfect.
  2. Once water temperature is correct, steep tea bags for 15 minutes.
  3. After 15 minutes, remove tea bags.
  4. Add one cup of sugar to the hot tea mixture and stir until dissolved.
  5. In a new container, add the hot tea and sugar liquid with the remaining 10 cups of (cold) water. This will cool your brew down, as you don't want to be adding your starter culture and SCOBY to hot liquid -- this will kill your starter and SCOBY.
  6. Transfer the cooled sugary tea into your fermentation vessel, ensuring your vessel is clean and sterilised.
  7. Add starter to fermentation vessel.
  8. Add SCOBY gently to the liquid in your fermentation vessel and place a clean cloth or tea towel over the top of the vessel.
  9. Store your fermentation vessel out of direct sunlight, ideally in a warm and familiar location -- don't hide it in the back of the cupboard and forget about it.
  10. In 1-2 weeks your brew (or booch) will be ready for tasting. Brew to taste. For some taste buds this is two weeks and for others four weeks or longer. Remembering the longer you ferment for, the more vinegary your brew will become.

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