Kombucha tea is a new health drink that is sweeping the nation. This fermented drink can be a little bit mysterious, but many studies have found that it can have amazing potential health benefits, including antioxidant and antibacterial properties
What Is Kombucha Tea?
Kombucha tea has been around for ages and was known as “The Tea of Immortality” in China in 221 BC, but what is it? Kombucha tea is a black or green tea that is brewed with sugar and strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast. The tea is brewed for several days allowing a SCOBY to form on top of the tea in the form of a disc. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY allows for the tea to become carbonated and rich with probiotics and antioxidants that potentially have health benefits. The tea tends to be tangy, fizzy and can have a unique smell. Kombucha tea can be found in health food stores and even in regular grocery stores now that it has been gaining immense popularity. It can also be brewed at home!
Potential Benefits of Drinking Kombucha
A study found that Kombucha tea has antibacterial effects against pathogenic gut bacteria including Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholerae, Shigella flexneri, and Salmonella typhimurium. Pathogenic bacteria are agents of sickness and typically cause diarrhea, fever and other infections. They believe that the phenolic compounds and flavonoid molecules found in the Kombucha are the reason for the positive antibacterial effects that can aid in digestion and help prevent illness.
Despite its potential antibacterial actions, Kombucha should NOT be used as a treatment when an infection with a dangerous bacteria has set in. Instead, prompt medical attention should be obtained and Kombucha should NOT be used as a treatment for active infection. Severe infections need to be treated medically and can result in death if proper treatment is delayed.
Kombucha tea is packed with flavonoids, polyphenols and other antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize molecules called free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress (damage) to cells. Some polyphenols actually contain more antioxidants than vitamin C! Other possible benefits of antioxidants include reduced inflammation and prevention of cancers caused by oxidative stress (however, there are no studies in humans yet).
Alter good and bad cholesterol
One study found that Kombucha tea helped to reduce the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol) in mice. The scientists determined that the Gluconacetobacter bacteria may be one of the bacteria responsible for the health benefits in Kombucha through the production of a sugar known as D-saccharic acid-1,4-lactone. Another study, also in mice, showed that Kombucha could increase the high-density lipoprotein (HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol). There have not been any studies in humans.
Stabilize blood glucose
A study in mice shows that Kombucha tea can decrease blood glucose levels. Kombucha tea decreased blood glucose levels and decreased lipase activity in diabetic rats. Lipase is an enzyme that increases the breakdown of fats to fatty acids and other substances. It may also suppress another enzyme that increases the breakdown of starches to simple sugars, which would decrease blood glucose levels.
Protection of the stomach
Another benefit explored in studies with mice is that Kombucha may protect the stomach against stomach acid secretions.
There are some possible risks that go along with drinking Kombucha tea. The drink can become quite acidic. It turns out that Kombucha can also be toxic to some species like rats, but is not harmful to mice. If Kombucha tea is not brewed in proper containment, it can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast that can cause illness. Being that it is a fermented drink, Kombucha tea can also contain alcohol if brewed for too long. In particular, people with weakened immune systems (examples include those with HIV, on chemotherapy, or with autoimmune diseases) should be especially careful.
If you are purchasing Kombucha tea in a store, make sure to be careful and pay attention to the label because alcoholic Kombucha teas are often on the same shelf as nonalcoholic tea. Alcohol could potentially be harmful to individuals with liver problems and should not be given to minors. Some of these problems can be avoided by purchasing Kombucha tea from a store but keep reading if you plan on trying to brew some yourself!
Tips for Brewing Kombucha at Home
Start brewing tea as you normally would
- Combine hot water, sugar and tea bags or loose tea in an unleaded glass jar.
- Allow for the tea to steep, let the sugar dissolve and then let cool to room temperature.
- Remove tea bags or strain the loose tea.
- Place the SCOBY on the top of the tea and then add white vinegar or starter tea from a previous batch.
- Top off batch with more filtered water.
- Fruit and seasoning like ginger can be added to change flavor!
- Cover the glass jar with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Make sure that the glass jar is thoroughly cleaned before you fill it with the Kombucha tea to be.
- Allow the Kombucha to brew for around 10-14 days but no more than 20 days. A study found that Kombucha that brewed for 14 days, versus 7 days, exhibited higher antibacterial properties.
- Make sure to use unleaded containers to prevent lead poisoning.
- Rinse off all utensils and supplies with white vinegar to kill off any harmful bacteria. Using soap may leave a residue that might kill off beneficial bacteria in the tea.
- Rinse hands with white vinegar before handling the SCOBY to prevent contamination.
- Store in a dark and warm location for brewing, such as above the fridge, in the pantry or in a cabinet.
- Make sure to throw away any batches or SCOBYs that mold. Information on how to identify molded Kombucha can be found here on the Kombucha Kamp
- If preparing starter liquid for a new batch, always remember to take from the top!