Kombucha - Functional Drink

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All you need to know about kombucha

Kombucha, a fermented sweet tea, is a delightful umami taste fizzy drink. The name kombucha is actually Japanese, and it literally translates to 'kombu kelp tea', or tea made from kombu kelp, a seaweed which has umami flavour and is rich in minerals. The fermentation begins when the microorganisms from a mother SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) are added to a mixture of tea and sugar. Yeast and bacteria consume the nitrogen from the tea and carbon from the sugar to produce an easy drinking “tea vinegar”. Unlike vinegar fermentation, the aerobic fermentation of Kombucha is shortened to make its flavour profile more complex and palatable.

Kombucha is praised for its broad flavour profile as well as for the health benefits. Worldwide and for centuries, Kombucha has been consumed for medicinal purposes and has been called “The Tea of Immortality” and “The Tea of Long Life” by those who cultivated it. Nowadays, as consumers seek more minimally processed and nutritionally-dense options, kombucha sees its renaissance. This drink falls into the category of functional food (a food or beverage that benefits one or more target functions in the body) because its nutrient profile includes water soluble vitamins, acids, minerals, and beneficial microorganisms.

Kombucha promotes gut health. Fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or tempeh), along with fermented drinks like kombucha and kefir, in general, have been accepted by the public and the scientific community as functional foods. Fermentation, a process in which bacteria feed on the food's sugar and starch to create lactic acid, is an age-old tradition for preserving food. Fermented food contains naturally occurring beneficial bacteria known as probiotics, which are thought to improve digestion. Having a proper balance of bacteria in gut improves digestion, blocks dangerous organisms that can cause infections, and boosts the immune system. It also helps the body absorb vital nutrients from food.

Kombucha is rich in antioxidants. As known, antioxidant compounds are naturally produced by the body but also may be supplemented through diet. Foods with antioxidants have the specific compounds that protect against the oxidative damage that leads to the onset of age- and diet-related diseases. Oxidative damage caused by free-radicals can cause inflammation and impair the metabolism of proteins and lipids. During the fermentation process, the symbiotic microorganisms in kombucha break down complex carbohydrates, aka the sugar, and convert them into organic acids. For example, such acid can be a precursor to vitamin C. The specific types of bacteria in the brew makes a difference in how and which antioxidants are formed. The microbes are key to enhancing the nutritional profile and flavour of kombucha.

Another contributor to kombucha’s functional food status is tea. Tea (Camillia sinensis) is naturally rich in polyphenols, a group of plant-derived active compounds that have been well-documented for their antioxidant properties. Active compounds like polyphenols protect your organs from damage and cell death. Studies show the concentration of tea polyphenols increase during fermentation. The free radical scavenging abilities of Kombucha increase anywhere from 20 – 200% after 15 days of fermentation depending upon fermentation conditions. Different teas contain differing amounts of polyphenols. Kombucha fermented with green tea has the highest increase in free-radical scavenging ability when compared to black tea or powdered tea demonstrating that whole leaf teas yield a more nutritious product. Many kombucha producers, including Namu Kombucha, use a blend of different teas in order to take advantage of these natural differences and to create unique flavour profiles.

Without having a notion of “antioxidant” or “functional foods” our ancestors intuitively and lovingly cultivated foods and beverage that were nutrient dense. Unpasteurised, artisan type of kombucha is indeed a delicious elixir of fizz and function.