Reading this title, you probably fall into one of two camps: the ‘what the f*** is that?!’ camp or the ‘I can’t live without it’ camp.
Kombucha has taken over the shelves of many supermarkets, health food stores and is available in some restaurant chains across the West.
For those of you still in camp ‘what the f*** is kombucha?!’
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink, which is common in Asia and is believed to have originated in China. It is used by some to treat and alleviate the symptoms of many illnesses, including cancer, HIV and AIDs.
However, kombucha’s popularity is growing in the West and here it is better known for its reputation as a probiotic, which helps to keep our gut bacteria happy.
When I tried kombucha for the first time, I was pretty surprised by the taste. It was sweeter than I thought it was going to be, albeit a little vinegary, and extremely fizzy.
I began to wonder, is this tasty drink really a health food?
I learned that there is a lot of variability in the many different bottles of kombucha available to us, depending on the scale of production and the way they have been stored. This is also true for the health benefits that come with these different varieties.
To try and get into the nitty gritty of how kombucha positively impacts gut bacteria, I looked at lists of all the different bacteria that are present in kombucha, all with complex names that look like they might have Latin origins.
It seems that kombucha in the UK, America, Canada and Ireland contain higher levels of Lactobacillus, but without the help of a microbiologist, all I was really able to conclude is that this type of bacteria is found in healthy guts and that it is difficult to isolate the effects of specific bacteria.
What I found after I started looking into the science behind kombucha
There has been plenty of research singing kombucha’s praises, confirming its anti-cancer properties through the anti-microbial bacteria contained within it. However, these have mostly been with animals, including chicken and mice.
Furthermore, few studies account for kombucha’s sensitivity to its environment when drawing conclusions on its effectivity to our health.
For example, due to the sensitivity of probiotics, to ensure the bacteria reaches our guts, a CFU/mL measure of 106 and 107 is necessary at the time of consumption.
CFU/mL stands for colony-forming units per millimetre or gram of food.
This measure can be taken at various points in a bottle of kombucha’s lifetime and has shed light on the effects of storage conditions on probiotic lifespan.
A very recent study in December 2020 suggested there were notable positive effects on increased safety and the reduction of alcohol content from storing kombucha away from light and for a period of 14 days or longer.
However, it cannot be ignored that the impact of temperatures above 25 degrees celsius and storage of 28 days or more have the capability to decrease the probiotic bacteria that kombucha is known for.
Are you still convinced kombucha is a probiotic power tool for your gut bacteria?
In order to comply with the Microbiological Standard in Food Regulations, foods with probiotic properties must have a microbial count of no more than 105 CFU/mL in order to be deemed safe, meaning that there is no bottle of kombucha that is 100% guaranteed to have a positive effect on our gut bacteria, as we cannot be sure that the bacteria will reach our guts.
It is for all of these reasons that we can conclude that kombucha has no clinically proven probiotic benefits for humans.
I speculate that the types of kombucha we see in the UK at the moment may be more likely to undergo pasteurisation, in order to uphold food standards in compliance with government guidelines in a post-Brexit nation.
If kombucha is pasteurised then it is very likely that the probiotic bacteria will not survive.
Will you continue drinking kombucha?
If you are drinking kombucha because you want to improve your gut bacteria then it might be worth ensuring that you’re definitely choosing a brand who do not pasteurise their products in order to reap any possible health benefits.
How about Left Field Kombucha?
Better yet, why not try to make it yourself at home?
As with most things, there are risks involved in doing this so make sure you do your research first, for example, you should choose to ferment your tea in a glass container, as opposed to an aluminium one to avoid poisoning your kombucha and in turn yourself.
Alternative ways to promote your gut health
Remember, there are many other ways to improve your gut bacteria, starting with vegan foods that naturally contain probiotics, such as non-dairy yoghurts, sourdough bread and even peas!
You can also improve your gut health by actively reducing your levels of stress and sugar consumption. You could also try to increase your intake of prebiotic foods, which are foods that help probiotics to flourish and these can include garlic, onions, apples and bananas.
With all that being said, who am I to say that kombucha isn’t the perfect way to get through Dry January?! (Just make sure you pick a non-alcoholic one!)
Read about the benefits of going alcohol-free.
If you are hangover-free like we are, then kombucha may be the perfect way to keep you off the drink. So we want to share with you our favourite kombucha brand:
Buy from The Vegan Kind Supermarket
And if you are looking to give your kombucha that extra kick, how about mixing it up with an alcohol-free spirit?
While I understand the potential lack of health benefits to pasteurized kombucha, I wonder if you make your own, if it has more bacteria that is good for your gut?
I tried it once… it wasn’t for me