What you should know about kombucha

Not so long ago, most people would turn their noses at the sight and smell of fermented foods. But recently, this food category has undergone a surge in popularity, primarily because of its proposed health benefits.

When food and drinks are fermented it means that they have gone through a process of converting the carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar, into alcohol or acids with the help of microorganisms like yeast and bacteria. Historically, this process was used to preserve foods and enhance the taste and texture. Along the way, scientists discovered these food products also contain high amounts of probiotics, positively impacting GI health.

Kombucha is one of the newest drink categories in the fermented food space. The drink, which originated in Western China, is actually fermented black or green tea that is lightly carbonated. While its history dates back more than 2,000 years, the drink did not take hold in the US until about 2010, according to Forbes Business Insights. Today, the global kombucha market size stands at about $1.84 billion and is projected to reach $10.45 billion by 2027.

Its list of health benefits

Like most fermented foods and drinks, kombucha contains high amounts of beneficial bacteria, such as lactic acid bacteria, according to Nutrients Journal. Research has shown these types of microorganisms can generate compounds that can help boost the immune system, aid in digestion, and improve blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure. They can also reduce toxins and antinutrients, which may be helpful for those with functional bowel disorders, as reported in a 2016 study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

Despite the growth of the fermented foods industry and the health benefit promise, many of these products have not undergone large scale, randomized clinical trials, which helps produce objective data. While there are some convincing in vitro findings, more studies will need to be done for nutritionists/dietitians and physicians to recommend them to patients.

What kombucha tastes like

Don’t expect it to taste smooth like a yogurt drink or tart like cranberry juice. Kombucha has a “distinct” taste — and smell. Some have compared it to apple cider, slightly tangy and vinegary. Some also contain bits, like grounds swirling on the bottom. These pieces of symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) are safe to ingest.

There are as many varieties as there are brands. Some offer low sugar, more fizz, or include alcohol. Some mix fruit juices, spices, caffeine, or plants like hibiscus. The key is to find one that appeals to each individual’s the taste buds. Some popular brands include Humm, Health-Ade, Brew Dr., and GT’s Enlightened.

Still interested in sipping one?

While kombucha is a great alternative to soda, alcohol, or coffee, it’s important to not get overzealous and immediately add large quantities into the diet. Some fermented foods (e.g., pickles, sauerkraut, Greek yogurt) are FODMAP friendly. Kombucha is not. If you’re following a low FODMAP meal plan, IBS Life editors suggest talking first talk with the nutritionist/dietitian. Certain kombucha brands also contain small amounts of alcohol and/or caffeine, which can be triggers for some people with IBS.

Want to learn more about probiotics? Here’s a link to an article about it. To learn more about kefir, check it out here.