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To Your Health: Kombucha, the old energy drink

March 30, 2011

To Your Health!

By Richard S. Gubbe

Perhaps the most intriguing product to jolt the holistic marketplace in recent years is a blast from the past—Kombucha.

Kombucha, the old Red Bull, is a fermented tea that is said to have tremendous health benefits, the foremost of which is an abundance of energy without the megavolts of caffeine.

Real or myth, the beverage is flying off the shelves in places like Woodman’s, Choices Natural Market and Nutrition Works. Some stores sell the “culture” for use in home brew.

Research is limited on this far-less-dangerous energy drink that has been touted for centuries. The history of Kombucha may have originated in China, where it was supposedly known as “Godly Tsche” (tea) during the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE).
Do we really need research, or are centuries of anecdotal evidence enough?
Kombucha can be easily made at home by fermenting black tea or green tea using a yeast-like substance referred to as the “mushroom” or “mother,” and with the help of bacteria, forms the Kombucha.

The mass is stored in a ball jar that is best topped with cheesecloth instead of a lid to allow the safest growth. The glass jar is kept on your countertop away from direct sunlight, constant vibration or temperature change.

The “culture” (often compared to sourdough) mainly contains a symbiosis of acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and one or more yeasts. The culture itself looks somewhat like a giant scallop growing sideways and acts like a mushroom or “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.” It slowly expands and can be split into additional jars and used for more tea or cheap gifts.

All you do is get a culture in a jar, and when the juice is ready to be harvested in a week or two, leave a little in the bottom. Then, make enough brewed black tea or green tea mixed with sugar to replace what is taken out. Store the Kombucha blend in a dark bottle in your refrigerator.

The addition of flavored teas is helpful to defray the vinegary taste. Kombucha juice is often mixed with fruit juices to soften the taste. Keep the culture covered in tea and split it by separating the layers and creating a new jar. The contamination rate by the home brewer is low.

Those who suffer from immunosuppression should consume commercial Kombucha beverages. The porous cloth on top prevents contamination by bugs, dust and other bacteria while allowing the jar to breathe. Liquid from the previous batch will preserve some of the culture.

The bacteria and yeasts in Kombucha may also produce antimicrobial defense molecules, and this all-day energy brew also detoxifies the body—hardly anything magical about it. Those who can’t tolerate acidic drinks, beware.

Kombucha contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol, which classifies it as a non-alcoholic beverage. Older, more acidic Kombucha might contain 1 percent alcohol and fizz, depending on brewing time and higher proportions of sugar and yeast.

Lindsay Lohan made the alcohol content famous when she was filmed drinking it while being court-ordered to abstain from alcohol. Kombucha was pulled from store shelves for several months to change labeling to reflect its mild alcohol content.

The return of this holistic monster drink was a welcome boost to thirsty retailers and convinced consumers.

For more info about how to obtain a raw Kombucha culture, e-mail me at rgubbe@ameritech.net.

Richard Gubbe is an award-winning journalist, public relations specialist and Reiki Master Teacher. He is a longtime Rockford resident who has taught at Rock Valley College since 2003.

From the March 30-April 5, 2011 issue

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