What is Kombucha?
Kombucha has been called a health elixir, the tea of immortality and a nectar of the gods. For some people it’s a way of life, for others it’s a tasty and healthy treat. But just what is kombucha (and why is everybody talking about it?)?
Stated simply, kombucha is a lightly-effervescent fermented tea made by combining sweet tea with something called a SCOBY (Symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast – more on this later).
The result is a yummy, sometimes sweet, sometimes tangy drink that makes you feel great! Kombucha is known for its health benefits. It’s a natural source of energy and is full of probiotics, B vitamins, vitamin C, antioxidants and helpful enzymes and amino acids.
While people still enjoy crafting home brewed kombucha, many stores now stock a wide and wild assortment of flavors from a variety of professional brewers.
Fermented foods and drinks such as kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi are high in vitamins and good bacteria and help contribute to overall digestive health. Kombucha helps balance your body, and simply put, when your body is in balance, you feel better!
The Science of Kombucha
The SCOBY, also called a pellicle, bio-film or bacterial matrix, and often inaccurately described as a mushroom, is the key to creating kombucha, which leads to yet another moniker; kombucha mother. It’s called a “mother” because every few fermentation cycles it divides into two SCOBYs – mother and baby. Let’s be honest, SCOBYs aren’t pretty, but they’re pretty amazing!
The SCOBY is the source of the power that puts the fizz in your kombucha. It covers the tea during the fermentation process, protecting it from any unwanted organisms, then the yeast and good bacteria in the SCOBY become part of the finished beverage. A piece of a friend’s SCOBY, or an unpasteurized unflavored kombucha like Humm’s Original, can be used to start your own batch of kombucha. All that good yeast and bacteria found in the SCOBY is also found in raw kombucha
Similar symbiotic cultures are used in the production of vinegar, kefir, jun and ginger beer.
The Origin of Kombucha
Kombucha is an ancient beverage, long treasured in China and Japan for its restorative properties. Homebrewers have produced kombucha in the US for decades and, today, breweries of all sizes are thriving and creating kombuchas with a wide variety of flavors and attributes.
Though nobody has a definitive answer to the question “Who made the first kombucha?,” a popular theory holds that it was first imbibed during the reign of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China (he ruled from 220 to 210 BCE), and that at the time the elixir was known as the Tea of Immortality.
Even the etymology of the term kombucha is lost to history (and the drink has more than 80 names around the world today). One history of kombucha maintains that a Korean doctor named Kombu (with “cha” being the word for tea in much of Asia) brought it to the Japanese Emperor Ingyō in 414 CE, where it purportedly became popular with samurai, who carried it into battle for the energy boost it provided.