Used for centuries in Asia, kombucha is a fermented health drink usually made from sugared black tea and a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria. Although kombucha was traditionally brewed at home, commercial products made with the kefir grain have recently found their way onto natural health store shelves.

The various health and nutritional benefits of traditional kombucha brews have been studied and debated by scientists for some time. Until now, a carefully controlled commercial version was unavailable.

Home-brewed tea

Homemade kombucha is produced by growing a kombucha culture. The “wild” symbiosis of yeast and bacteria in a homemade kombucha actually makes its own “home.” This “mother” (often called a “mushroom” although it isn’t a fungus) looks like a rubbery grey pancake that floats on top of the kombucha.

Home-brewed kombucha culture produces a “baby,” allowing kombucha to survive for generations as it is passed on to other home brewers. This domestically made kombucha is not made from an original kefir grain and changes over time, thus weakening its ability to produce significant, reliable nutrients and results.

Store-bought alternative

To be truly beneficial, kombucha should be made from a kefir grain in a controlled environment. The unique symbiosis of yeast and bacteria converts sweetened black tea into either a clear amber drink that is naturally carbonated, sweet, and refreshing, or into a more mature, sour, and highly nutritional drink.

The advantage to buying commercial products is that adequate cleanliness standards are maintained. As well the nutritional profile is higher and more dependable. Mold may grow on homegrown kombucha, and this may cause serious health problems. Commercial products come in raw and pasteurized forms and in different fruit flavours.

Nutrients galore

Chemical analysis of a true, living kombucha from kefir grain confirms that it contains an abundance of active bioavailable molecules, including enzymes; organic acids; B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, and B12); vitamin C; polyphenols; and amino acids such as L-theanine.

It is also a strong antioxidant and has been touted as a purifier and detoxifier. While many health claims have been made for kombucha as an immune booster useful for treating cancer, arthritis, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis among other conditions, these specific claims have not been verified by scientific research.

Sip and enjoy

A true living kombucha made from the kefir grain can alleviate heartburn and help calm digestive upsets. Ask your natural health practitioner whether kombucha could be beneficial for you—especially if you are pregnant.

Your best kombucha bet?

Avoid drinking home-brewed kombucha, and opt instead for one of the new commercially prepared options now available at your natural health store.

About the Author

Felix Sedin is a reflexologist and freelance writer.