What the Heck is Kombucha?
I just returned from the Institute of Food Technologist (IFT) annual show in Las Vegas and the trend of fermented foods is large and continues to grow. In fact, at IFT, Innova Market Insights identified there was a 35 per cent rise (2016 compared to 2015) in US food and beverages that claim to use a fermentation process. You know I’ve been an advocate of a happy gut = a happy you and my research on probiotics goes back to 2004 when Health Canada was deciding how probiotics could be added to food. Today the grocery store shelves are stocked with ferments including sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. What the heck is kombucha? Let’s explore this fermented beverage and its potential health benefits.
Kombucha (pronounced, kom-BOO-cha) is a living drink prepared by fermenting sugared black tea with a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria, resulting in a fermented blob that resembles a mushroom (1). From the fermentation process, acetic, lactic, gluconic and glucuronic acids, ethanol, and glycerol are formed (2). The taste is something like a vinegary sparkling apple cider and the smell is heavy on the funk from the fermented blob. In addition to buying it at your local grocery or specialty food store, you can home brew it. American celebrities are endorsing kombucha as the next silver bullet gut health go-to. Let’s check out the potential health benefits.
Potential Health Benefits
The potential health benefits kombucha is sporting include immune health, digestive health and acting as an anti-cancer agent. However, numerous credible sources state that there are limited human trials to back up these claims. These claims are based, mostly, on personal reports, animal studies, and in vitro as well as in vivo studies (1-3). Nevertheless, these types of studies show potential health benefits of kombucha.
It has been claimed that kombucha can inhibit the growth of unwanted bacteria, also called pathogens. Two studies by Sreeramulu et al. involved preparing kombucha samples and analyzing the activity of different pathogenic organisms added to the samples over a period of time (4-5). According to the authors, this antimicrobial activity is primarily due to the production of acetic acid during the fermentation process. They state that acetic acid can inhibit a number of pathogenic microorganisms (e.g., Shingella sonnei, Escherichia coli, Salmonella enteritidis, Salmonella typhimurium, and Staphylococcus aureus).
According to an article by Kozyrovska et al., kombucha tea is not only a probiotic, but acts as a symbiotic (a combination of prebiotic and probiotic). The authors mention that kombucha provides probiotic bacteria and yeast, as well as microcellulose which is a prebiotic (6). Both are beneficial for your gut microbiome.
It has been proposed that kombucha even has anticancer properties. This is expected because it is made from black tea. A study conducted in 2011 prepared kombucha tea (fractioned with chloroform, ethyl acetate and butanol) and tested the fractions for their anti-cancerous properties (7). The results showed that the fraction that contained ethyl acetate (at a concentration of 100 micrograms per mL) caused cytotoxic effect on two cancer cell lines (i.e., human osteosarcoma and human renal carcinoma)
Today’s Dietitian, and other sources, gives the potential health risks associated with home-brewed and unpasteurized kombucha as well (due mold contamination). According to the CDC, drinking 4oz (1/2 cup!) or less a day is considered safe. Also, it may be safer to purchase it from a reputable company with food safety protocols, rather than making it yourself.
Kombucha Bottom Line
More human clinical trials need to be completed to accurately identify the health benefits related to the amount of kombucha consumed. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of eating foods that promote digestive and immune health, there is not one silver bullet food that will cleanse you of a poor diet and lack of a healthy lifestyle. If you like it, include a half (125 mL) to a full cup (250 mL) kombucha in your overall healthy dietary pattern, along with a fitness plan and adequate restful sleep to promote daily wellness.
Are you part of a business wanting to explore the fermented foods trend? Contact Jane today to understand how her business can help your company get into this trend!
- Watawana MI, Jayawardena N, Gunawardhana CB, Waisundara VY. Health, wellness, and safety aspects of the consumption of kombucha. Journal of Chemistry. 2015; 2015: 1-11.
- Dufresne C, Farnworth E. Tea, kombucha, and health: A review. Food Research International. 2000; 33: 409-421.
- Today’s Dietitian. For your information: The wonders of kombucha tea- is it healthful or hazardous; 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060415p20.shtml
- Sreeramulu G, Zhu Y, Knol W. Characterization of antimicrobial activity in kombucha fermentation. Acta Biotechnol. 2001; 21(1): 49-56.
- Sreeramulu G, Zhu Y, Knol W. Kombucha fermentation and its antimicrobial activity. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2000; 48: 2589-2594.
- Kozyrovska NO, Reva OM, Goginyan VB, de Vera JP. Kombucha microbiome as a probiotic: A view from the perspective of post-genomics and synthetic ecology. Biopolymers and Cell. 2012; 28(2): 103-113.
- Jayabalan R, Chen P, Hsieh Y, Prabhakaran K, Pitchai P, Marimuthu S, Thangaraj P, Swaminathan K, Yun SE. Effect of solvent fractions of kombucha tea on viability and invasiveness of cancer cells- Characterization of dimethyl 2-(2-hydroxy-2-methoxypropylidine) malonate and vitexin. 2011; 10: 75-82.
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