You may have been hearing about a new drink lately, or maybe you’ve even tried it yourself. Kombucha seems to have become the nutrition buzz word of 2014. Kombucha tea began to gain attention a few years ago, especially as the fermented food and probiotic craze gained steam. It was also touted by Dr. Oz as a way to “turbocharge your metabolism” in 2012, no doubt adding to its popularity (to read about our take on Dr. Oz check out our posts here and here). So why all the attention, and what the heck is it anyways?
Kombucha tea originated in East Asia, it is a drink made by fermenting black tea and sugar with what is known as the “Kombucha mushroom”. Not an actual mushroom, this is essentially a combination of yeast and bacteria used to ferment the tea. What you end up with is a fermented tea beverage which is fizzy and has a vinegar taste. A Huffington Post writer actually called it “vinegar soda”…yum? For those who don’t enjoy the vinegar flavor the tea is sometimes flavored with sugar or artificial sweeteners, fruit juices and other flavorings. You can brew it yourself or grab a ready-made bottle at many health food stores.
The vinegar taste aside, it is the fermented properties of Kombucha that have pulled it into the spotlight. Like other fermented foods – sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, for example – Kombucha is believed to promote “good” bacteria in the gut and improve functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Who doesn’t love a happy and healthy gut?
But it doesn’t end there. On top of the healthy gut argument, Kombucha has also been claimed as a “cure-all” drink for everything from baldness and insomnia, to arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome, even AIDS and cancer. More general claims promote Kombucha as an “anti-aging” product, and a way to “detoxify” your body.
So should we run out to the store and start brewing our own Kombucha tea? Not so fast.
The positive claims are easy to come by, the evidence to support them, however, is much trickier to find. To date, human studies completed on the safety and efficacy of Kombucha tea seem non-existent. In fact, there have actually been cases of liver damage, metabolic acidosis, cutaneous anthrax infections and even death from consumption of Kombucha tea. A systematic review published in 2003 concluded that “[the] undetermined benefits [of Kombucha tea] do not outweigh the documented risks”. The American Cancer Society also warns that the lack of evidence, as well as the possibly serious side effects, are worrisome.
So, is it a yay or nay for “vinegar soda”? While we are all for trying out new things, and love it when food can help make our guts healthier, the possible side effects associated with Kombucha tea have us worried and so we won’t be adding it to our tea collections any time soon.