Kombucha is a fermented and slightly carbonated tea drink originating in ancient Chinese medicine over 2000 years ago. Sweetened tea is fermented with a colony of bacteria and yeast which produces a mushroom in the liquid. In fact in the Chinese language Kombucha is called “chajun” which translates to tea mushroom.
The beverage is acidic, tart, vinegary, and slightly alcoholic. 8 ounces typically has 30 calories and contains B vitamins as well as probiotics, bacteria, and other chemical compounds.
Unpasteurized kombucha can ferment and develop an alcohol content to the level of some beers. In fact Whole Foods pulled kombucha from its stores due to concerns of fluctuating alcohol content beyond the legal limit of 0.5%. Pasteurizing stabilizes the fermentation process and makes the beverage safer to consume allowing Whole Foods to carry the beverage again.
Many health claims include improvements in digestion, liver detoxification, cancer prevention, and stimulation of immune function. To date there is no scientific evidence to support these health claims.
There have been several documented cases of serious adverse effects from drinking kombucha, particularly when home-brewed and unpasteurized. The FDA warns of a high risk of contamination from home-brewing kombucha which could result in toxic reactions and death in some reported cases.
In the late 1990’s Kombucha became commercially available, and when pasteurized, is much safer to drink than home-brewed varieties. The bottom line is that kombucha is not a magic cure-all elixir. Science is not substantiating the health claims but if you do believe in the health benefits drink it in moderation and be careful with your selection to ensure safety.