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Heard of Kombucha? Is it really a miracle superdrink or another weird wellness fad?

Kombucha is a tea made through a fermentation process involving bacteria, yeast, and raw sugar. The fermented beverage has been hailed as a cure for all imaginable ailments. But what is it exactly, and is it good for you at all?

fitness Updated: Nov 10, 2017 09:54 IST
Sanya Panwar
Sanya Panwar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kombucha,Kombucha Benefits,Kombucha Online
Kombucha is a fermented, probiotic tea that’s tart, lightly sweetened, and slightly effervescent.(Shutterstock)

If you haven’t heard of kombucha, now is the time: The fermented tea has been hailed as the miracle superdrink that can do everything: From being the healthy alternative to wine, to warding off infections, treating arthritis, fighting cancer, and even helping in weight loss.

While some still doubt the effectiveness and the holy grail-type reputation of the mysterious drink, fans - including celebrities, such as Hollywood actors Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan and Halle Berry -- swear that downing a bottle of kombucha is beneficial. Once a product with a small following, kombucha has surged so much in popularity that you can even buy kombucha kits and tea bags online in India.

But before you jump on the kombucha bandwagon, there are a few things you must know about the buzzy beverage. We spoke with nutritionist and practising dietician Ayesha Khan of Live Well Holistic Centre in Kolkata and Ayurveda doctor Pratham Das to learn if kombucha is actually good or bad for you?

Kombucha is jam-packed with natural tummy-taming probiotics. (Shutterstock)

What is kombucha?

The short answer: Kombucha is a fermented, probiotic tea that’s tart, lightly sweetened, and slightly effervescent.

The long answer: Whether homemade or store-bought, kombucha gets its characteristic tang and effervescence from a fermentation process somewhat similar to brewing vinegar, says a report in Healthline . Tea, sweetener, a SCOBY (short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and flavour additives like fruit juice or ginger are combined and fermented in a process that lasts about 10 days.

The part of the kombucha that really packs a punch bacteria-wise is the Scoby. Yes, we know, what on earth is a Scoby, right?

“Scoby is a more technical term for the ‘mother’, a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast,” Khan says.

“I don’t want to overstate or understate anything about kombucha, but we know how good it is to consume fermented foods,” she adds.

Could someone get drunk off kombucha? (Shutterstock)

Is it alcoholic?

Though made with yeast, kombucha is only mildly alcoholic -- most brews are no more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. That’s about one-eighth the alcohol content of a light beer, reports CNN.

Kombucha is believed to have been first made around the time that tea plants were first cultivated in ancient China. (Shutterstock)

Where is it originally from?

Kombucha is not a new drink, by any means, with people making and drinking kombucha for thousands of years throughout Asia, reports Livescience. Despite a relatively recent surge in popularity, kombucha is believed to have been first made around the time that tea plants were first cultivated in ancient China. It spread to other regions of Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia, where it’s called tea kvass. Some consume it for its purported health benefits, while others enjoy it purely for its fizz and mouth-watering acidity.

Kombucha is jam-packed with natural tummy-taming probiotics. (Shutterstock)

Is it a probiotic?

Just like yogurt, kombucha is loaded with beneficial bacteria. It is jam-packed with natural tummy-taming probiotics, which are known to ease digestive issues, ward off parasites, and restore good bacteria in the body, and can even boost your immunity and your mood, says a report in Health.

“Healthy gut bacteria has so many different processes in our bodies. They helps us digest food, help us produce vitamins and help us absorb minerals, like calcium. They can have an effect on our metabolism, mood, energy levels, rate of ageing and brain function,” Khan says.

“We need these healthy bacteria if we want to thrive. If you want your best health outcome, you really need good, healthy bacteria in our guts,” she adds.

There are many kombucha brands on the market offering up a diverse roster of exciting, bold and flavours. (Shutterstock)

Does it have different flavours?

Kombucha is available in a wide range of flavours and degrees of acidity to please different palate. There are many kombucha brands in the market offering up a diverse roster of exciting, bold and flavours. Lovers of the zesty fermented tea can enjoy concocting batches of their own brew with kombucha kits sold online that can includes flavours like mango, raspberry and blueberry ginger. These recipes on a popular blog might interest you.

None of the purported health benefits of kombucha can be backed with scientific evidence in human populations. (Shutterstock)

What are the health benefits of kombucha?

The benefits listed on the bottles are endless - Kombucha seems to cure just about everything.

Cell-based studies and those conducted on animals have shown that kombucha helps protect the liver, combats yeast infections and fights the free-radicals that are associated with the ageing process. Researchers have also found potent antioxidant effects as well as stimulation of the immune system in animal populations with limited toxicity.

But Das warns that the full extent of the effects of the fizzy tea are still unknown. “Fans should be aware of the potential health risks before indulging too over-zealously in the drink,” he says.

“Kombucha may be touted as a superdrink that’s rich in antioxidants and acids, but there’s no guarantee that these features directly translate into actual health benefits, or even that drinking it will make you feel great,” Das says.

In fact, cell-based studies and those conducted on animals are inconclusive, warn a report in Daily Mail. Clinical studies in humans are seriously lacking, so there is no direct scientific evidence to back up the health claims found on the bottle.

Bottom line: None of the purported health benefits of kombucha can be backed with scientific evidence in human populations, so hopefully someone will study this soon. The fact that a not-so-pleasant tasting, slightly acidic drink has been around since hundreds of years suggests some folks truly find it beneficial. So drinking it can’t really hurt you, but do be wary.

Follow @htlifeandstyle for more

First Published: Nov 10, 2017 09:53 IST