Kombucha has become one of the hottest trends in natural health, and sales of the fermented beverage have been booming.
At the same time, there are many people getting their hands on some SCOBY and trying to brew their own kombucha at home.
So is kombucha safe to drink? And is this something that presents any risks when you make your own?
There has been a bit of controversy surrounding kombucha – both for homemade and commercially produced versions of the drink. Here’s what you need to know…
What is Kombucha Anyway?
Kombucha is basically a fermented form of black tea or green tea often flavored with other spices or fruit juices. It is effervescent – meaning it’s bubbly and fizzy – which makes it an alternative to drinking carbonated soda.
Kombucha is made using SCOBY. That stands for a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY forms a funky-looking substance that floats on top of the liquid as it ferments. Kombucha has a slight vinegary flavor, and it may be an acquired taste for some people.
The origins of kombucha are unclear, but it does appear that different civilizations have been making fermented tea beverages for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Potential Kombucha Safety Concerns
Because it is a fermented beverage, be aware that kombucha will have some alcohol content in it. It is usually quite low, and in most cases, you would have to drink a ton of it to actually become intoxicated.
However, that is where some of the controversy comes from. In 2010, concerns over alcohol content found in kombucha being sold in stores prompted a nationwide recall from Whole Foods.
Now federal regulators are again taking a closer look because kombucha is becoming more mainstream. But kombucha makers are also asking for standardized federal tests to help them follow the law.
One risk of making it at home is you won’t know the exact level of alcohol in your fermented tea. An article on kombucha safety found on WebMD indicates some homemade kombucha could have alcohol levels similar to some beers, depending on how long it is fermented.
Another kombucha safety concern is contamination, which is more of a problem for homemade versions. Kombucha is supposed to provide “good bacteria,” but there is the possibility that harmful bacteria can be introduced during the fermentation process as well. That “bad bacteria” could make you sick.
An article from Mic.com explains how this might happen:
“Another potential problem is a bacteria called Aspergillus, a toxin-producing fungus that can appear when the acidity levels in home-brewed kombucha, the ones that prevent ‘bad’ bacteria from surviving, are too low – something an inexperienced brewer might have a hard time detecting.”
Still, reports of adverse reactions to kombucha, or poisoning from consumption of such drinks, have been very rare.
Potential Health Benefits of Drinking Kombucha
The biggest reason people believe kombucha tea can benefit your health is because it’s considered a probiotic beverage.
In order for kombucha to keep live cultures (or probiotics) alive, the beverage cannot be pasteurized. That’s part of what raises the risk of contamination.
Probiotics, as a refresher, are good bacteria, not the harmful kind. We now know beneficial microbes in the gut can promote healthy digestion, support the immune system and may even contribute to maintaining good mental health.
There are people who feel kombucha supports healthy energy levels, helps them think clearly and stay focused. Of course, if it’s made with black tea, it will contain caffeine. Others say the probiotics found in fermented tea help them better-absorb nutrients from healthy food.
Some natural health experts, like Dr. Josh Axe, praise the potential of kombucha for aiding digestion and helping with gut issues like candida. There are even claims that it can prevent very serious health problems. Other experts, like Dr. Andrew Weil, are more hesitant to endorse kombucha. Weil notes that while there may be benefits, there have yet to be any clinical trials scientifically proving the health effects of kombucha.
The Bottom Line on Kombucha Safety
Kombucha safety should not be a major concern if you are purchasing a commercially-made product from a brand you trust.
There may be some kombucha safety risks if you’re brewing your own at home. Be careful when serving it to younger children, elderly individuals and pregnant women. Before you start, it may be best to get advice from someone who’s had experience. (See the video below to get some tips for beginners.)
The most important thing to keep in mind is to avoid contamination. Safety tips from KombuchaKamp.com include suggestions like using pure, filtered water and not tap water. You should make sure to sanitize your hands and kitchen with natural cleaners, but do not use bleach, as that would kill off the beneficial bacteria.
Always use glass to ferment your kombucha. Don’t use plastic or ceramic containers. Starter liquid for a new batch should be pulled from the top of an existing batch not the bottom. And you should never try to salvage a batch of kombucha that becomes moldy.
Kombucha certainly seems to have some impressive potential. Many people find it enjoyable, refreshing and invigorating. When you compare it to sodas and juice drinks that are packed with refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, kombucha could be an ideal alternative.
Natural Healthy Concepts offers the book Kombucha Revolution, which you can order with free shipping. It offers many more kombucha safety tips and suggestions for home brewing. For example, you can find out how to infuse different flavors into your fermented tea. Kombucha Revolution is full of different recipes to try.
You can also check out our probiotic supplements to potentially get some of the same health benefits kombucha may provide. Get it all with free shipping!
If you’re a local customer, we now offer Tapuat Kombucha (from Door County, Wisconsin) in our Appleton retail store!