You may have seen noticed kombucha available everywhere from large grocery chains to local corner stores and wondered what the deal is. Is it a tea? Is it a sparkling soda? Is it a healthy drink? Why do I want to drink live cultures anyway? And importantly, if it has alcohol, is it basically a summer cocktail? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha isn’t just a trendy drink in a bottle, it’s been around for centuries. Simply, kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. It’s made by combining tea and sugar with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY), which kind of looks like a big mushroom top and is a fungus (but not technically a mushroom). It’s then fermented over a period of time, where the cultures break down the sugar and you’re left with a carbonated drink with probiotics and just a touch of alcohol.
Even though all kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol, a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, “the amount of alcohol is similar to what you’d find in unpasteurized fruit juice,” says Hannah Crum, president and founder of Kombucha Brewers International. She says most commercial kombucha contains less than 0.5 percent ABV, though you can find 21+ and over options with higher amounts such as hard kombucha or kombucha beer. Either way, you’d probably have to drink a lot of kombucha to feel the effects of the booze.
Kombucha also has caffeine, though the amount varies depending on what type of tea used, steep time, and other factors. Crum says, “typically properly fermented kombucha contains less caffeine than the tea that was used to make it!”
If you’ve ever cracked open a bottle or can of kombucha, you’ve probably taken a whiff of its… distinctive smell. That “kombucha smell,” says Crum, is “typically a vinegary aroma that tells you acetic acid is forming. You want this distinct smell present as it is one of the five signs of a healthy brew!”
Is Kombucha Safe to Drink Every Day?
“Kombucha is a very nutrient-dense beverage containing living probiotics, healthy acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants,” says Crum. “For most people, kombucha can be enjoyed every day.” However, “just like with other food and drinks, it really depends on the person and how their body reacts. It’s important to listen to your body and what feels right for you.”
Is it safe during pregnancy? This is a question for your doctor to answer as it relates to you specifically. “If your primary caregiver permits, pregnant women have been known to benefit from drinking kombucha if their system tolerates it because it may alleviate constipation, reduce nausea, and support the additional nutritional needs of the mom and baby,” says Crum.
Kombucha Health Benefits:
Although there are limited studies, kombucha has healthy components, such as probiotics, which can help with gut health, and antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from free radicals.
Crum says that kombucha can help “increase energy, aid in digestion, support healthy liver function, and enhance overall health and wellbeing. It doesn’t just taste good; it makes you feel good!”
One unexpected benefit is that if you’re a soda drinker trying to cut back, kombucha can be a lower sugar alternative while still satisfying that carbonation craving. Speak to your own medical professional about health benefits and opinions as they may pertain to you.
How to Make Kombucha at Home:
Getting kombucha can be as simple as buying it from your local grocery store or ordering it online. Crum says, “Store bought Kombucha is more refined than what will be brewed at home. Often wanting to please a soda palate, store bought Kombucha may also have a sweeter flavor, though some pride themselves on being fiercely sour. Plus, they are often filtered or may have probiotics added to them to enhance their nutritional properties.”
But you can also make your own at home. ‘When making it at home, you have control over what goes in your kombucha,” says Crum. “Even when flavored with some juice, we find homebrew to be more flavorful while remaining less sweet. This is because when you make it at home, it is incredibly fresh, and you control the sweet/tart factor. “
“Making Kombucha at home is a safe and fun activity to do with your kids – think of it as a science experiment,” says Crum. “It isn’t as difficult as many claim, but it’s important to learn what the proper steps are for brewing safely at home.” To brew a batch, you need a SCOBY, a gallon of purified water, 4-6 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea, one cup of sugar, and 1-2 ups of strong starter liquid. You can also add other juice, fruit, or flavors depending on your taste. According to Crum, here are the key mistakes to avoid:
- Don’t use water with chlorine. It kills the bacteria and we love the bacteria in our SCOBYs!
- Don’t brew with stevia, raw honey, or herbal teas. Instead, brew with organic, fair trade sugar, and tea.
- Don’t store in direct sunlight, in a closed cupboard, or in a cool location. Instead, select a warm location with good airflow.
- Don’t use soap when washing your hands before starting. Instead, use filtered water or vinegar. Again, we want that bacteria to stay in there!
- Never store SCOBYs in the refrigerator.
- Don’t use flavored teas or tisanes to brew the base tea.
Ready to get your booch on? Ahead are some kits for making your own or brands you can have delivered straight to your door.
Kombucha Home Brewing Kits:
This Kombucha Kamp kit will have even beginners brewing their own kombucha at home in no time. It includes one large SCOBY and one cup of starter liquid with yeast strands, enough to make one gallon of kombucha. With proper care, the culture can be reused to brew a lifetime supply of kombucha. The kit also has reusable muslin tea bags, organic evaporated cane juice sugar, an upcycled cotton cloth cover and rubber band, an e-handbook with continuous brew instructions, and Hannah’s Special Tea blend, an organic blend of black, green, whie, Rooibos, and yerba mate teas. All the ingredients are organic and fair trade as well. Kombucha Kamp also has a larger kit (two SCOBYs and two cups of starter liquid, to make two gallons).
One reviewer said, “Perfect for anyone wanting to start making there own kombucha. Amazing blend of tea, Amazing beautiful scoby. Amazing simple instructions. Love this kit.” while a repeat brewer said, “The SCOBY was in perfect health, my first batch and all the rest have been awesome! I absolutely love it.”
The Kombucha Shop Brewing Kit is another great option for homemade booch. It includes an organic tea blend, kombucha culture and liquid starter, organic evaporated cane juice, brewing instructions, a post-brewing guide, a one gallon glass jar to store your kombucha, and more. For those who really want to get into the chemistry, the kit also includes a temperature gauge and pH strips to help measure how acidic your brew is.
One reviewer said, “I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making kombucha for a few years now but was afraid of making it wrong and becoming deathly ill. Also, I admit, the Scoby kind of freaked me out. One of the blogs I follow recently reviewed this kit and I decided to go for it (and besides, paying upwards of $3.50 per bottle at the store was getting ridiculous). I am so happy I bought this kit! I’m currently brewing my second batch as my first batch came out awesome! I made a ginger/orange flavor and a strawberry/lemonade flavor from that first batch and they taste even better than what I can buy at the store. And no more fear of the Scoby! I actually enjoy looking at it daily to see what new changes have occurred overnight. I think its safe to say I will never buy store bought kombucha again!”
Kombucha Brands to Try:
Health Ade kombucha is handmade in small batches and fermented in all glass to prevent metal and plastic leaching. There are no artificial flavors and the ingredients are organic, such as cold-pressed juice from organic fruits. The Health Ade variety pack includes 12 16-ounce bottles of their three best-selling flavors: Pink Lady Apple, brewed with organic Pink Lady apples; Bubbly Rose, which has flavors of hawthorn berry, mangosteen; and pink rose; and Pomegranate, which has cold-pressed pomegranate juice. You can also buy a 12-pack of any of their other delicious flavors, including Ginger Lemon, Cayenne Cleanse, Blood Orange Carrot Ginger, and more.
One reviewer said, “This is THE best kombucha you can buy via grocery store/market/amazon. It tastes far better than the others and is made in small batches so it’s extra healthy for your gut. All of the flavors are delicious. The packaging was also super impressive- a cold cooler box with multiple ice packs to keep them nice and cool. I’ll definitely be purchasing again!!”
Looking for a tasty, low-sugar, carbonated beverage? Humm Kombucha Zero is free of refined sugar but still full of the probiotics and B-12 vitamins you want in your kombucha. Humm’s fermentation process gets rid of all the added sugar, and then natural flavors and sweeteners like monk fruit and allulose (a sweetener found in foods like figs and maple syrup) are added for taste. Each 11 ounce can of Humm’s raw kombucha is made with organic ingredients, is non-GMO, and is 10 calories. The variety pack comes with four different flavors, including peach tea, blood orange, raspberry lemonade, and ginger lemonade.
One satisfied reviewer said, “Super happy someone finally took out the sugar and didnt take out the flavor! Big fan of these and so are my kids. I feel much better about letting them drink these than soda or other sugar filled drinks. Big Fan of Humm, highly recommend.”
Brew Dr. started as a teahouse before they started brewing and bottling kombucha using their loose leaf tea blends. Their teas are all organic, fresh, and fair trade, and the teas are combined with organic botanicals like spearmint, jasmine, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, sage, orange, and lemongrass before it gets fermented. The variety pack has four fun flavors: Superberry, a combination of oolong tea, raspberry, and blueberry; Love, made with jasmine, lavender, and green tea; Clear Mind, which has rosemary, mint, sage, and green teal and Ginger Lemon, a blend of Peruvian ginger, lemon, and green tea. The cans are convenient for a grab-and-go beverage, but if you prefer to drink your kombucha from a glass bottle, Brew Dr. also has a variety pack of three 14-ounce bottles, which includes the Wildberry Ginger, Island Mango, and Watermelon flavors.
Family-owned GT was the first brand to start selling kombucha commercially (and has been in Whole Foods since 1999). GT’s kombucha uses a sweet tea made with black tea, green tea, and kiwi juice (instead of sugar) and after it’s fermented, organic and raw ingredients are added to make 30 different flavors. The Gingerade flavor has fresh pressed ginger to add a spicy kick to your booch. The Enlightened Kombucha flavors like this one have 98 percent Kombucha and two percent juice. If you want something with a little more fruit flavor, the Enlightened Synergy Kombucha flavors, including the Mystic Mango, is made of 95 percent Kombucha and percent juice or fruit puree.
One reviewer, who likes the “strong and tasty tangy flavor,” said “This is mine and DH’s favorite flavor of booch. It’s a real kick in the pants (in a good way!) to wake you up in the morning as a coffee alternative. I’ve also found that my acid reflux has gotten better since I started drinking kombucha, but that’s just my experience and YMMV.”
Australian-based Remedy Raw kombucha is made with organic tea and all-natural ingredients. It’s made in small batches and long-age brewed for 30 days, and because of the brewing process, it naturally contains no sugar. The raspberry lemonade flavor is a grown up version of your childhood drink, and it’s vegan, organic, and gluten-free to boot. The carton has 24 cans, which can be enjoyed chilled or straight out of the box (because there’s no sugar, there’s no risk of refermentation so it doesn’t require fridge storage).
One reviewer said, “I have been drinking kombucha for years and this is the best since the sugar content is ZERO and it still tastes great. Hoping more flavors will be available soon, right now I am loving the raspberry lemonade. I am definitely addicted and the price is fair as compared to other kombucha brand. Bigger benefit is that it is NOT loaded with all the sugar!”
KeVita was founded by an organic winemaker and holistic nutritionist in Ojai, California, and it’s still fermented and bottled in southern California. KeVita kombucha is certified organic, non-GMO, and made with live probiotics and proprietary fermented cultures. It comes in a variety of flavors, including this tropical pineapple peach version that will almost make you feel like you’re on vacation. In addition to kombucha, KeVita also makes other gut-friendly beverages, such as sparkling probiotic drinks and apple cider vinegar tonics.
Says one reviewer, “I initially thought that I didn’t like kombucha, then I found the ginger flavors which I really like, this is also very delicious so it’s nice I can drink more than one flavor. Drinking kombucha has helped me feel better when I’m having digestive issues or generally just need a reboot”
Better Booch is a small craft kombucha that only uses premium loose-leaf teas, herbs, and botanicals to make its nine different flavors. There are no added juice, syrups, or sweeteners. Better Booch also tries to make a good impact on the world by supporting non-profit organization City of Hope, using recyclable packaging, and working with local farmers to use post-brew teas as compost. The 12-pack includes six different flavors: Morning Glory (peach and black tea), Ginger Boost, Golden Pear, Citrus Sunrise, Cherry Retreat, and Rose Bliss.
One reviewer said, “Delicious! Absolutely the best-tasting organic, whole-culture kombucha on the market. Other brands I have tried are either terribly flat and/or artificial-tasting, and many other brands remove the organic probiotic culture as part of their processing, while shockingly still claiming to be selling you a live-culture product. Better Booch is not only a better product, although it certainly lives up to its name in so many outstanding ways…I discovered multiple flavors of this brand to call my favorites, and nothing boring. (Hint: Cherry Retreat, Morning Glory, and Golden Pear are three of my favorites.). Highly Recommend!!!”
Check out our home & kitchen picks for more great products to try out from the comfort of your house.