Miracle health drink or uniquely tasty addition to cocktails and mocktails? We have the answers to your kombucha questions.
Known to ancient cultures as the “tea of immortality”, kombucha is thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. It was introduced in Japan as a medicine in the fifth century AD, and then spread from there through Russia to Europe via age-old trade routes. Today, it’s enjoying commercial success as the fastest-growing product in the functional beverage market, and is one of the world’s most popular low-alcohol fermented beverages. But what exactly is it?
How is kombucha made?
Kombucha is a fermented, carbonated drink made by brewing black, green or oolong tea and sugar with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Typically, the process takes between seven and 10 days. However, this can be extended to create “hard” kombucha with an alcohol content similar to artisanal beer. All kombucha contains ethanol, although usually the alcohol content is negligible. What makes it special is the inclusion of live microorganisms.
Health benefits of kombucha
The presence of these microorganisms has led to kombucha being advertised as a probiotic, a stimulant of the “good bacteria” needed for a healthy gut microbiome. However, the extent to which these bacteria are actually beneficial has not been scientifically proven. Human studies relating to kombucha’s medicinal properties are limited in general – but anecdotal evidence is rife. Fans of the fermented drink claim that it helps with detoxification, improves digestion, reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, boosts the immune system and improves liver function.
Certainly, non-human research suggests that the drink has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. And, especially when green tea is used in the initial recipe, it’s high in antioxidants, the benefits of which are well known. They range from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer to aiding weight loss and helping to control blood sugar levels. There are some groups of people who should not drink kombucha, however, including the immunosuppressed (due to the live bacteria) and those who wish to avoid even minute amounts of alcohol.
The rise of kombucha in Europe
Potential health benefits aside, many people simply enjoy the fizzy, sweet-and-sour taste of kombucha – either on its own, or increasingly, as a chic addition to cocktails and mocktails. Its unique flavour profile adds a much sought-after tartness and effervescence, and is especially effective when combined with sweet or citrus flavours or used to replace the carbonated mixer in highball drinks.
This trend has particularly taken off in Europe, where the value of the commercial kombucha market is estimated to reach $730.33 million by 2026 (up from $244.17 million in 2021). In Southern Europe, France and Spain are considered the driving forces behind the industry’s rapid growth, with younger consumers in particular gravitating towards naturally functional food and drink as part of a post-pandemic shift towards healthy living choices.
Next time you’re out for dinner or after-work drinks, ask to try the fermented tea, and become part of the kombucha generation.
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