What Is In My Kombucha?
With a growing global awareness of the potential health benefits of fermentation, Kombucha has seen a rise in popularity in western society. It is recorded to have been in use as far back as 221BC in China during the Tsin Dynasty. Known in ancient China as “The Tea of Immortality”, a similar sentiment remains today as to the power of this naturally fizzy drink (see our article about the history of Kombucha).
What is in “The Tea of Immortality”
The ingredients of Kombucha are incredible simple – tea, sugar, and the Kombucha ‘scoby’, which stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts’. To enhance the flavor people sometimes add fruit juice. The four most widely used teas are black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong tea. Alternative teas are sometimes used, however most recipes advise one to use the four mentioned above, all of which derive from the Camellia sinensis plant. This is caused by two reasons, one that the scoby feeds on certain nutrients in the tea from Camellia sinensis, and two that some alternative teas eg. earl grey, contain volatile oils which inhibit the fermentation process.
Below we’ll give you the exact bacterial, yeast, vitamins, lactic acid, and organic acid profile in your average batch of Kombucha.
Note that in addition, there are also the ingredients you add yourself to your brew: sugar, tea, water (and the minerals inside of you water). If you add anything during a second ferment (fruit, herbs, spices), you are also adding additional nutrients to the batch as well.
Bacteria and Yeast strains inside Kombucha
The unique flavor delivered by Kombucha comes specifically from the bacteria and yeast strains living inside the sweat tea liquid and the various byproducts released by these microorganisms as they eat the sugars and tea product. Every batch of Kombucha will have a lot of diversity in terms of the exact microorganisms found, but here is a list of some of the cultures found in scientific studies.
- Acetobacter: An aerobic bacteria that produces both gluconic and acetic acid. This strain of bacteria is in every batch of Kombucha. Besides helping produce some of the organic acids found, it is also responsible for helping construct the mushroom structure of the SCOBY.
- xylinoides and acetobacter ketogenum: these bacterial strains have been found in Kombucha. You may or may not have them.
Saccharomyces: these are a common yeast strains found in kombucha. These yeasts can live in an aerobic (oxygen) and anaerobic (oxygen free) environment and eat sugar, producing alcohol as a waste product. The Saccaromyces family of yeasts include the following: Saccharomycodes ludwigii, Saccharomycodes apiculatus, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Zygosaccharomyes, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
- Brettanomyces: This is another yeast strain you might find in your kombucha. It produces alcohol or acetic acid.
- Lactobacillus: a bacterial strain that’s often (though, not always) found inside your Kombucha. Lactobacillus is often found inside of fermented foods including cultured veggies and some yogurts. There have been many positive benefits associated with Lactobacillus on human gut health. These bacteria produce lactic acid.
- Pediococcus: another anaerobic bacteria that is sometimes found in Kombucha. It produces both lactic acid and slime.
- Gluconacetobacter kombuchae: a bacteria that you’ll only find inside of Kombucha. It’s vital to the production of Kombucha and eats the nitrogen in the tea. This bacteria produces acetic acid and gluconic acid and assists in producing the SCOBY structure.
- Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis: a yeast found only in Kombucha. It produces alcohol and CO2 (the carbonation you find when you do the second ferment). It also helps build up the SCOBY structure.
Organic Acids and Vitamins Inside Kombucha
Once fermentation takes place, the strains of bacteria in the scoby starter digest the sugar and nutrients in the tea, and the liquid starts to gently fizz. The wastes products produced by the probiotic microbes and bacteria contain a range of enzymes, amino acids, organic acids, and vitamins. Studies have shown kombucha to contain the following natural acids and vitamins:
Organic Acids in Kombucha
- Glucuronic acid: A powerful detoxifier, rare in the fact that it eliminates toxins produced by the petroleum industry which are present in food, including plastics, herbicides, pesticides and resins. Glucuronic acid also produces glucosamines, which facilitates repair and regeneration of cartilage, collagen production and the help the body to make the fluids which lubricate joints. For this reason Kombucha is widely touted as a potential arthritis treatment by advocates.
- Lactic Acid : Very important for the digestive system, lactic acid balances ph levels, one effect of which is prevention and treatment of cancer. It aids circulation, and prevents constipation.
- Acetic Acid: Inhibits the proliferation of harmful bacteria within the body.
- Usnic Acid: A naturally occurring antibiotic.
- Oxalic Acid: Acts as a stimulant to the inter-cellular production of energy.
- Malic acid: Liver detoxifier.
- Gluconic Acid: Breaks down to caprylic acid which is of great benefit to sufferers of candidiasis and other yeast infections such as thrush.
- Butyric acid: Aids in the protection of human cellular membranes and in combination with Gluconic acid strengthens the intestinal wall against yeast infections like candida.
Vitamins Inside Kombucha
While the majority of information on Kombucha states that it contains five of the eight B vitamins and a good dose of vitamin C, there have been arguments claiming that the quantities present are not high enough to compete with over-the-counter vitamins.
While these arguments may be correct, researchers have also revealed that the vitamins present in Kombucha and other products of fermentation are present in a bioavailable form, allowing for full absorption.
Health experts also claim that over time trace amounts of these vitamins build up a store within the body, and are more effective than concentrated doses, as the body is unable to absorb high quantities at a time.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Assists in the prevention of a weakened immune system, atherosclerosis, arthritic conditions, cancers, skin aging, free radical damage, strokes, and the premature ageing of brain cells
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Is beneficial in the treatment of arthritic conditions and allergies
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): Speeds up the healing process of skin tissues, and can prevent free radical damage
- Vitamin B6: Used to treat and prevent atherosclerosis, free radical damage, strokes, rheumatism, and obesity.
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Vital to the process of glucose metabolism, red blood cell regeneration, maintenance of the health of the immune system, bone marrow production and repairs of the lining of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts
Things You Do Not Want in Your Kombucha
While Kombucha is touted as a powerful health tonic by many, there are opinions stating that the scoby can be invaded by harmful bacteria, such as the candida strain. This has been combated by the retaliating argument that there has been no proof provided by studies to verify this allegation. Likely reports where people get sick after drinking Kombucha may have resulted from this.
However, a healthy SCOBY given the right ingredients (sweet tea with starter) creates a Kombucha that is toxic to other strains of bacteria than the ones listed above. As such as long as your SCOBY is healthy and fermenting the tea properly, it’s highly unlikely that foreign (and dangerous) bacterial cultures will be able to gain a foothold in your Kombucha. One preventative measure is to make sure you always put .5 to 1 cup of old kombucha or vinegar into your brand new batch, which lowers the ph balance of the liquid (which helps prevent other bacteria from getting a toehold).
As extensive testing and research has not been done as of yet on the Kombucha fermentation process, and all batches vary in microbial composition, it is difficult to say whether or not contamination is a high risk.
Another caution regarding the regular use of Kombucha is related to the thinning effect is has on the blood. While in some cases this is beneficial, it is wise to be aware of this especially if taken in conjunction with other blood thickening substances.
There are external entities which can take hold in kombucha such as mold or vinegar worms (unlikely — usually only in industrial style settings) but these are highly unlikely if you manage your Kombucha right.
Will Kombucha Help Me?
While still to be researched thoroughly, individual testimonials claim that the benefits and effects of Kombucha are extensive. Science and medicine agree, in that the components found in Kombucha have certain proven effects on the body, but do not specifically advocate kombucha as a source of these.
Kombucha’s simple list of ingredients and easy-to-make fermentation process belie the complexity of its composition. The blend of bacteria in different scobys’ vary, resulting in vastly changeable amounts and compositions of amino acids, organic acids, vitamins, microbes, and enzymes.
Treatments Kombucha Proponents Claim are Cured
Enthusiasts have claimed to have effectively treated a wide range of health problems. However the most common treatments claimed are:
- Arthritis and rheumatism
- Asthma and allergic conditions
- Bladder stones and Kidney problems
- Forms of cancers
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Constipation diarrhea and other digestion ailments
- Toxicity (eg gout)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Skin disorders (eg. acne, psoriasis, eczema, atherosclerosis)
- Acidity and problems associated with this
As you see, the list is extensive. And because of this, I advise you remain skeptical that Kombucha treats all of the above. While I love drinking Kombucha, I will be the first to tell you that many of the so called holistic healing claims are highly exaggerated.
As this article takes great detail to reveal, there are a host of positive nutrients and microorganisms found within Kombucha. While some of the exaggerated claims are likely bunk (curing cancer, restoring hair loss, curing all ailments,etc), the persistent daily benefit of adding a host of probiotics to your digestive system and giving your body a regular dose of vitamin B’s, lactic acids, and gluconic acids likely provide a serious boost to some of your body’s functions, such as your immune and digestive systems.
Anecdotally, I’ve found Kombucha greatly aids in combating irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, helps regulate bowel movement, and has improved immune system function in both myself and many other people I personally know that I’ve gotten into Kombucha making. So there are absolute benefits that you will see if you start drinking Kombucha.
Regardless of the true health benefits, while opinions differ as to the exact benefits of the regular drinking of Kombucha has on the body, this ancient tonic has persisted through the ages.