An increasing number of people have been striving for a healthier lifestyle in recent years. As a result, there's been a surge in the demand for health-boosting beverages. One of the most interesting (and at times controversial) beverages out there is kombucha.
Sometimes called "combucha,"1 or "kombucha tea," the market for this carbonated (but potentially alcoholic) beverage is said to be growing by 25 percent every year.2 According to a report from MarketsandMarkets, from 0.6 billion dollars in 2015, the global kombucha market is estimated to grow to 1.8 billion dollars by 2020.3
But what exactly is kombucha, and why can it offer potential benefits, despite having alcohol content? Discover more about this beverage by reading this article.
The most basic definition of kombucha is "fermented sweet tea."4 It's made by fermenting sugared black or green tea5 with yeast and acetic acid bacteria.6 The fermentation process can take one to two weeks,7 and the end product is a fizzy beverage with a sour and acidic flavor.8
To make kombucha, scoby is needed: This stands for a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast."9 The scoby appears as a rubbery, disk-shaped blob that forms a new layer and thickens with every batch.10 It may seem unappetizing, but the appearance of the scoby is a sign that the microorganisms in the beverage are hard at work.11
When the fermentation process occurs, the sugar in the tea is broken down by the scoby and releases probiotic bacteria. Fermentation is also responsible for the fizzy nature of the drink,12 as well as its slight alcohol content.13
There are numerous accounts of how kombucha came to be. Some say it was made for Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi during the Qin dynasty, while he was looking for an elixir to help him achieve immortality. Others credit the discovery to a Korean doctor named Kombu-ha-chimu-kamu-ki-mu, who produced the beverage for Inyoko, a Japanese emperor who was dying due to an unknown illness. The good doctor supposedly prescribed this tonic and healed the emperor.14
These are just two theories on the origin of this beverage, but whichever of them may be true, one thing is for certain: Kombucha has been appreciated by humankind for a very long time.
Many people remain doubtful over whether kombucha is good for you, mainly due to the possibility that it can possess a level of alcohol comparable to beer or wine. What sets kombucha apart is that its alcohol is self-limiting, unlike beer and wine which are intentionally brewed to have higher alcohol level.15 Hence, drinking kombucha that has very low alcohol content could potentially let you reap health benefits.
So what is kombucha good for, and why can it potentially deliver positive effects? You can thank the bioactive microorganisms in the drink for these benefits. According to a study published in the Journal of Food:16
"The beneficial effects of kombucha are attributed to the presence of bioactive compounds that act synergistically. Bacteria contained in kombucha beverage belongs to the genus Acetobacter, Gluconobacter, and the yeasts of the genus Saccharomyces along with glucuronic acid, contribute to health protection."
Below are four potential benefits that kombucha tea may have for your health:
• Helps eliminate pathogenic microorganisms, including Candida — A study published in 2011 examined the antibacterial and antifungal activities of kombucha made from green and black teas, and the results exhibited their antimicrobial potential against Candida species, except for Candida krusei. The highest antimicrobial potential was also seen in green fermented tea.17
• May contribute to optimal gut microflora — A 2014 study identified some of the bacterial and fungal populations in kombucha, and these include Gluconacetobacter, Acetobacter and a prominent Lactobacillus population.18 There are studies highlighting the antimicrobial properties of this beverage,19 which also suggest its potential to influence human gastrointestinal microflora.20
• May have liver-protective effects — Studies conducted on rats found that kombucha tea may have hepatoprotective properties and may help revert liver toxicity.21 A 2003 study published in Biomedical and Environmental Sciences found that its immunomodulating and antioxidant properties may help against lead-induced oxidative stress.22
• May help protect against prostate cancer — A study published in Biomedicine and Preventive Nutrition found that kombucha may have protective effects against prostate cancer cells. The researchers noted:23
"Our study demonstrates that kombucha significantly decreases the survival of prostate cancer cells by downregulating the expression of angiogenesis stimulators. These findings suggest that kombucha may be useful for the prostate cancer treatment/prevention."