Kombucha: Is the Fermented Drink Healthy?

As a young gal who was desperately looking for a dietary change and good wholesome foods, I stumbled upon kombucha. How, I don’t exactly remember, but if it was fermented and good for the gut, I wanted it! After doing my own research on sourcing a “starter,” I found myself walking into the local health food store. After being assured the amber glass bottle contained unpasteurized kombucha, I plunked my $20 down on the counter, wondering in the back of my head if it was worthwhile. Twenty dollars for a 500 ml (2C) jar of liquid is a hefty price indeed! 

I’m pleased to say, it worked! In no time at all, I had several ferments going. I began experimenting, first with sugar amounts which resulted in differing strengths of brew, moved from black to green tea, then a mix of herbal varieties.

It was during my health journey that I discovered more about sugar and the side affects of spiking the blood sugars so often. I broke away from granulated sugars and began using raw honey in my ferments. Interestingly enough, I learned I could cut way back on the sugars needed! It produces a milder, less sweet ferment. I was hooked. In fact, I loved it so much that we served it at our wedding! When sealed up in swing-top or corked wine bottles, the liquid would carbonate. When mixed in with fruit juice? Sparkling juice, anyone?

Because I love experimenting and because I love being healthy and feeling good, I’ve come to approach kombucha in a different light than I did at first. I have questions about the best way to use kombucha, have questions about its health benefits.

How Healthy is Your Kombucha?

When using granulated sugar, at what point is it mostly consumed by the yeast? Traditionally, most folks drink the stuff 14-21 days after the fermentation process begins, while the liquid is still good and sweet. As someone who ferments lots of vinegar, I can hardly believe it possible that most of the sugar has disappeared in such a short amount of time! What about the caffeine? 

To the best of my knowledge, kombucha needs caffeine for the process to work. How long before that is consumed by the yeasts (or is it?). Suddenly, I realize it: sugar and caffeine? Doesn’t sound healthy, does it?!

Interestingly enough, a jar of kombucha will continue to ferment for up to 6 months (depending on the sugar content and room temperatures), being similar to the vinegar in that regard. If left until all action ceases, the end result is often a product even stronger than apple cider vinegar. And much like vinegar, it isn’t exactly pleasant to sit and sip!

I’m a fan of using raw honey in my ferments, primarily because I believe we are consuming sugar when we drink kombucha! Though unproven, my theory is if it tastes sweet, there are still sugars present! I personally changed over to raw honey because of its many benefits for the body. Add in some ginger and you’re set with a good old ginger ale!

Some think raw honey shouldn’t be used in ferments because it ‘may’ carry bacteria. Perhaps this is a legitimate concern. I wouldn’t give raw-honey kombucha to children under 1 yr of age. As for the rest? Mead (an alcoholic beverage) has been made for centuries and contains only honey and water. Its considered safe to make in your home without pasteurization. In my books (and experience) paying attention to your kombucha is the best way to avoid pitfalls, whether using honey or sugar!

I have questions. I don’t necessarily have answers. But I do know this: many of us consume kombucha while its still very sweet, as if was a sugar-free soda pop! In most cases, you’ll still be getting that blood sugar spike. In fact, if you struggle with candida or need to limit your sugar intake, I highly recommend avoiding kombucha! There are warnings out because of its sugar content.

So what is the answer for health conscious folks? Do we throw out our starter, the jars you may have fermenting in your pantry? Is the stuff worthless, good for nothing? Is it actually damaging your health instead of strengthening it? As with most things, I think kombucha can be a valuable tool, but we must learn how to use it! And that is exactly what we’re going to do!