The Cultural Revival of Kombucha
Fermented foods have been rising in popularity, and if the Internet has anything to say about it, they are definitely here to stay. But as they say, if you’re not on the kombucha bandwagon, you’re missing out on culture! Here’s what you should know about this beverage.
It would be the understatement of the year to say that we live in very interesting times. Emerging from lockdown hasn’t been the easiest for many, and many of us have turned to tradition and ancient home remedies to provide what mainstream medicine can’t. Amid this, an ancient fermented beverage that is ‘supposed’ to support immune function has become very popular and trending.
From influencers to wellness gurus, many people vouch for the goodness of kombucha. As an ancient Chinese beverage, it has been a part of Chinese culture for generations and has become popular globally within the last two decades in other countries. But along with its popularity, there has been a lot of misconception about what kombucha is made from, its alcohol levels, and more.
To provide better insight into the blossoming kombucha industry in India and what it means to be a sustainable business in today’s generation, we spoke with Rebekah Sood, one of the co-founders of Atmosphere Studio. Atmosphere Studio is a business focusing on health-boosting products based in New Delhi.
How to Make Kombucha
Before we understand how kombucha is made, it’s crucial to understand what it is. “Kombucha is a sparkling probiotic beverage that’s made by fermenting tea,” says Rebekah, continuing into their brewing process, “at Atmosphere, we use an Assam green tea to make kombucha. The tea is brewed with sugar and kombucha culture (essentially liquid kombucha), and scoby is added to the sweet brewed tea.”
Scoby, in essence, is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast consisting of lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, and yeast. After the brewing occurs, the tea has to then ferment. “This is fermented for a week, up to two to three weeks. It can be made at home, and we even sell a making kit so people can make it themselves at home.”
While kombucha can be brewed with any type of tea, if you’re making it at home, you can decide on what type of tea you prefer, whether it’s black, green, white or any other type that’s available.
Kombucha can be flavoured through various means, and you can use flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables, or basically anything edible to flavour it. The longer you leave the flavour inside the beverage, the stronger the flavour. Typically, whatever flavour you want to infuse into the beverage should be done before the second fermentation stage (where the kombucha is carbonated).
According to Rebekah, “the quality of the fruits can really determine how the kombucha tastes.”
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The Comeback Everyone Was Waiting For
While kombucha is a beverage that has a large influence on Chinese culture, it is somewhat surprising to see the beverage today in many supermarkets, not just in India but globally. But what brought this ancient Chinese beverage to global attention? Artisanal drinks might be all the rage today, but that wasn’t the case a decade or two ago when this beverage started becoming mainstream (at least in the US).
Kombucha first made an appearance in China, or so it’s speculated. While the exact originations of it remain unclear, many believe that it started spreading to other areas along the Silk Route. It became popular in Russia (kambucha) and Germany (Kombuchaschwamm) when trade began expanding to Europe and further.
Initially, it became popular in the United States during the 1990s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was at its peak. People mistakenly believed that consuming kombucha could increase T-cell counts and even support a compromised immune system. However, while various studies have been conducted to judge the health benefits of kombucha, no conclusive results have been shown thus far. “There are many things that people will know for generations that later become scientifically validated and proven. Kombucha is one of those things that people have been drinking for generations, and experiencing the health benefits of this beverage,” says Rebekah.
While the popularity of kombucha should have kept increasing, it faced a few obstacles in the early 2000s when government agencies in the US took several kombucha brands off shelves due to alcohol presence of over 0.5 per cent. Rebekah believes that the rising popularity of kombucha in India could have something to do with western influences, “the kombucha market in the US took off a decade or so before it launched in India. There has been a growth in kombucha interest in India; people are looking at the global market and trends. There are a lot of people who travel abroad and come back, wanting to have kombucha here as well. There are a lot of kombucha brands in India, spreading awareness and interest in the beverage. A lot of people now already know what kombucha is, and people drink it now because they want to be healthier, for better gut health, and so on.”
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Is It Bad For Me?
There’s quite a bit of misconception about the presence of alcohol in kombucha, and it’s not entirely unfounded. As Rebekah explains, “the legal amount of alcohol permitted in a non-alcoholic beverage is less than 0.5 per cent. Our kombucha does have some trace amount of alcohol in it. But you also must consider that alcohol is a natural by-product of fermentation. A ripe mango or banana fermenting in Indian summer temperatures would also have 0.5 per cent alcohol in it. It doesn’t have any negative effects on your thinking or ability to do things. That small amount of alcohol is not enough to get you tipsy.”
“There aren’t really any risks involved with drinking too much kombucha. When preparing kombucha, you do have to be careful that the fermentation is done correctly and that there’s no mold or anything growing while it is fermenting.”
Just like any other food or beverage, while consuming it in normal portions, there aren’t bound to be any risks to your health. But overdoing it or constantly drinking kombucha (or substituting water for kombucha) can be harmful to your health over time.
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Spicing Up Your Kombucha
There’s no denying that kombucha is a great alternative to soda, tonic water, and even cocktails. When you want to cut down on processed drinks or sugary drinks, kombucha is the ideal solution. Take a leaf out of Rebekah’s book when you want to spice up your kombucha, “my favourite way to drink kombucha is to drink it in flavoured variants. Our kombucha infused with shredded ginger is one of my absolute favourite kombuchas to drink. I find it very healing, especially if I’m feeling really bloated.”
If you’re planning to make your own kombucha, here are some additions that can really elevate the taste and its health benefits:
- Lemon and ginger
- Peach, honey, and vanilla extract
- Blueberry and lemon
- Mint and lime (mojito style)
- Pineapple, basil, and honey
- Black pepper and ginger
- Rose and hibiscus
- Orange and grapefruit
- Apples and cinnamon
Finding fruits, flowers, and even herbs in season will ensure that you can extract the most flavour from them. Try looking for organic produce that can minimise the amount of chemicals you are exposed to. Each ingredient is bound to have a different health benefit like lavender is known to be calming, so you can mix and match according to your needs and tastes. You can even spice up your kombucha by adding chia seeds, which aid in digestion and bloating.
Here is a festive ginger and lemon kombucha that will blow your mind away with it’s fresh flavours:
- Ginger-lemon kombucha
- Mint leaves (ideally 4 or more)
- One fresh lemon
- Crushed ice
Step 1 :
Begin by crushing the mint leaves at the bottom of the glass/jug. Add crushed ice along with the lemon into the glass/jug. Pour over kombucha and it’s ready to serve!
Additionally, if you are looking for a healthier option, we’d recommend trying out these wellness shots, and incorporating kombucha into them. For example, in the anti-inflammatory beetroot shot, along with the fresh beetroot, ginger and lemon, adding ginger-lemon kombucha would be ideal (instead of water).
Related story: Five Nutritionist-Approved Drinks To Improve Gut Health
Get The Booch, Please!
No in-depth scientific study has been conducted to thoroughly verify claims that kombucha has anti-inflammatory properties, can strengthen the immune system, and be instrumental in fighting cancer, among other benefits. It’s no secret that fermented foods can help bolster anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activity (2019 study published in National Library of Medicine USA); as kombucha falls under the fermented foods and beverages category, these benefits apply here too.
“Kombucha is a great addition to a healthy lifestyle; it’s full of antioxidants from the green tea, and it has acetic acid in it, along with probiotics. Our infused kombuchas also have other ingredients that help with detoxification, rebalancing your gut health, and much more. It’s ideal when you want to kick a bad soda habit or just want to focus on your health,” says Rebekah. If you’re looking to adopt healthy habits any time soon, we’d suggest grabbing a bottle of kombucha or, better yet, trying to make it yourself at home!