Ultimate Guide to Kombucha - Taste, Recipe & Buyer's Guide
Kombucha is now the undisputed king of fermented drinks, with nearly $5 billion in sales this year alone. But what is it, how do you make it and is it actually that good for you? Well, in this guide we look at everything as we take a journey into the world of fermented tea!
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So, kombucha...what do we all think of it?
Well, The Onion, a satirical newspaper, ran this headline recently…“Tom Brady Awakens From Week-Long Kombucha Bender To Discover He’s A Tampa Bay Buccaneer”.
And then the Queen herself, Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones, dissed it even harder with this zinger.
Wow! Here we have poor little kombucha being branded the liquor of choice for the Peter Pan of the NFL, Tom Brady. While also being associated with lonely teenagers sitting in their bedrooms.
So we got to ask the question...Is kombucha on the way out? Or does it still reign supreme as the most popular probiotic beverage in America?
Well...our research team did a bit of digging. And guess what...kombucha sales are actually on track to reach nearly five billion dollars this year, making it one of the fastest growing functional beverage products!
So with the news that kombucha is still a favorite fermented beverage for millions of people - myself and our research team at Essential Stacks, decided to see what all the fuss is about, and take you on a journey into the world of kombucha.
What is kombucha?
So at its simplest, kombucha is just fermented tea. And I know at first that doesn’t sound right, since most of us probably think of it as more of a soda. But as we’ll look at in a minute, it is actually made from an ancient brewing tradition that has likely been done for over 2000 years.
What does kombucha taste like?
Some people think it tastes like vinegar. Others say it is more like tasting a fizzy tea. There are just so many different opinions on it.
In fact, when we were searching for people's description of the taste, we even came across another Game of Thrones actor talking about kombucha. So bear with me for a few more seconds while we stay in the world of Westeros…
...you see, the actress LENA HEADEY, who famously portrayed the brutal Cersei Lannister, recently had this to say about the taste of kombucha “I usually bring along a bottle of kombucha, thinking, 'This will be really good for me.' But I never actually drink it. The fermented MUSHROOM-Y flavor is too intense for me.”
Unfortunately, this description of the taste is off the mark. Because, while the SCOBY used to ferment kombucha...you know, that weird JELLYFISH-LOOKING thing that floats in it....is sometimes referred to as a tea mushroom...the actual flavor produced in the drink itself, never comes out tasting like mushroom.
In fact, I have some freshly brewed kombucha. I made it myself and I haven’t actually added any flavors to it. And I’ll do a taste test for you right now.
It tastes a bit like sparkling cider. There’s hints of sweetness in there, but big sour notes too, along with some lovely bubbles. Meaning, there is a nice balance and exactly what a correctly brewed kombucha should taste like.
Now, admittedly kombucha can take some getting used to. For example, here is the MEME-STAR HERSELF, the Kombucha Girl, taking her FIRST SIP of kombucha…
Hmmmm….. now that’s one way to describe it.
Thankfully, though, it is possible to flavor kombucha during a Second fermentation You can use fruits, herbs, spices, whatever you like. And not long after Kombucha Girl likened the drink to a…public bathroom...she tried some of GT Dave’s kombucha.
And let’s see what she thought then…
How is kombucha made?
So the way kombucha is made is pretty simple.
- First, you brew some black or green tea. Or if you want to up your game, you can do a mix of black AND green tea. Interestingly, this mixed approach is the one most big kombucha makers like GTs favor.
- Anyways, once you’ve got your tea all ready, you mix in some sugar, remove the tea bag or leaves, and let it cool down.
- Once it's at room temperature, you add in a SCOBY, as well as some kombucha from a previous batch.
- And now all you need to do is cover it with a breathable cloth and let it ferment away at room temperature.
- Your kombucha should then be ready to drink in 1 to 2 weeks. It is not as fast as making kefir (which is typically 24 hours), but not as slow as making other fermented foods like apple cider vinegar (which can be more like 4 weeks).
By the way, if you are a bit of a fermentation freak like me, and want to see how kombucha compares to all the other fermented foods (like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut), then check out our fermented foods compared tool.
I think you’ll love this tool, because you can finally
- Work out whether kombucha is really good for you
- See exactly how kombucha stacks up against other fermented foods in terms of health benefits AND probiotic content!
- Plus you can learn our quick and simple way to make kombucha at home.
Where did kombucha come from?
Looking into the history books we had to laugh when we read “Kombucha is thought to have first originated in CHina…”. I mean, this is a tea based product, and the ancient Chinese pretty much invented everything, from paper to alcohol. AND they loved to ferment things.
Here’s a fun fact...they even invented sauerkraut!
So yeah, we can pretty confidently add kombucha to the list.
In fact, some historical records suggest it was first created around 2000 years ago in Northern China. We even read stories about how it was prized by the Emperor of China for its apparent detoxifying benefits. And also how not long after it became known as the ‘Elixir of Life’ or ‘Tea of Immortality.
But let’s be honest…given there is no “Kombucha Bible”...these are just fun stories. And probably best reserved for the marketing department of the billion dollar kombucha brands.
Now, with that said, the kombucha we enjoy today in the USA, is far departed from the way it would have been made 2000 years ago. Indeed, thanks to our hipster friends like GT Dave himself, we now enjoy much bolder and innovative kombuchas. They’re tastier...they’re fizzier...AND...they’re just much more fun!
Best ways to enjoy kombucha
While companies selling kombucha will tell you there are 101 ways to enjoy it, from adding it to salad dressings to marinating meat with it, let me save you some disastrous home experiments.
You see, kombucha is simply not acidic enough for these sorts of things. Yes, it might have up to 0.5 to 1% acetic acid, but that is a long way shy of the acid content you’ll find in say apple cider vinegar.
So when it comes to consuming kombucha, it’s best to concentrate on enjoying it as a refreshing drink. A great low sugar alternative to soda.
What to watch out for when drinking kombucha?
The main thing to watch out for when drinking kombucha is the potential alcohol content. You see, while most commercial kombucha will have less than 0.5% alcohol, the same can’t be said about homebrewed kombucha...which will normally have more like 1 to 3 percent alcohol. Hello light beer!
The other big thing to consider is that kombucha can contain a considerable amount of residual sugar...being the sugar that is leftover after the brewing process. If you’re drinking commercial kombucha, be sure to check the label and look for brands that contain less than 1g of sugar per 1 fl oz / 30 ml.
And if you’re really concerned about sugar, try a sugar free kombucha like Humm Zero or Remedy. They’re interesting as the brewing process removes the sugar, but adds in flavorings like monk fruit, stevia etc.
So it really depends on what you think is best for your body. There are other issues to consider when deciding whether to drink kombucha - such as FODMAP & histamine intolerances - and so if you want to dive deeper into the potential issues, check out our Fermented Foods Compared tool.
Or if you’re really keen...check out our kombucha dangers article.
How much kombucha should you drink?
Now, while GT Dave apparently likes to drink up to 2 gallons...or 9 liters...of kombucha…a day...which makes me think he must be made up of 80% kombucha...the CDC recommends you limit your serving size to 4-12 oz or 120-360 mls/day.
It is worth noting, that this recommendation was arguably born out of incomplete research and handed down during a time when several homebrewing mishaps occurred...this was back in the 1990s.
It is also not a regulated or enforced limit either. In fact, if you look at most commercial kombucha drinks, they come in 12 to 16 oz OR around 350 to 500 mil bottles. So take it as a conservative guidance.
With that said, if you have IBS or FODMAP intolerances, it can be worth sticking to a low daily serve...around the 4 - 6 oz or 120 - 180 mls/day level.
The Buyer’s Guide to kombucha
If you’re going to buy kombucha from the store, you need to study the label like a fermented-crazed Sherlock Holmes. The big questions to ask...
- Is it unpasteurized?
- Is it unfiltered?
- Does it use organic ingredients?
- How much sugar does it contain?
- Are there any extra flavorings added...and how healthy are they?
- And lastly, what probiotics does it contain & just as importantly, how many?
An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.
- Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
- Randomized controlled trials
- Controlled trials without randomization
- Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
- A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
- A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
- Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
- Animal research
- In vitro research