April 2020 The Do's and Don'ts of Kombucha
By Alexandra Peyton
Kombucha continues to monopolize refrigerator space in stores. Why is this beverage so popular? With its refreshing fizzy flavor, numerous alleged health claims, and ease of making it at home, kombucha continues to be a choice drink for many. But is it as healthy and safe as many make it out to be? Read on to learn the health and safety nuances of kombucha.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is considered a probiotic drink. It is made from a process that involves bacteria fermentation of tea and sugar. The most common teas used to make kombucha are green, black, and oolong. Once the tea has been brewed and the appropriate amount of sugar has been mixed in, a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is added to begin fermentation. The SCOBY converts sugar to alcohol (yeast fermentation) and then the alcohol is converted to acetic acid (bacterial fermentation) to create a fizzy carbonated drink.
Is Kombucha Healthy?
Kombucha is rich in probiotics, which can help keep gut flora healthy and functioning properly, decrease inflammation, and support the immune system. Polyphenols are also present in kombucha, which are considered antioxidants. Research has shown that kombucha may have health benefits such as reducing cholesterol levels, decreasing the spread of cancer, improving liver and gastrointestinal functions, and boosting the immune system. While some studies have demonstrated these positive health effects, more clinical studies are needed before we can say these health claims are definitely true. Also, kombucha in itself cannot resolve health issues if the rest of the diet is unhealthy. Another point to take into consideration is that every kombucha is unique and the degree of benefits may vary depending on the polyphenol concentrations in the tea used. So yes, when combined with a healthy diet, kombucha is a hydrating and healthy beverage choice, but we can’t promise miraculous health outcomes with the existing research.
Safety Tips for Making Kombucha at Home
If you are hooked on kombucha, making it at home can be cost-effective. Because Kombucha is created from a fermentation process, there are food safety precautions to keep in mind to create an overall safe product. Follow this recipe and these safety tips for the best outcome.
Kombucha Recipe: Food Smart Recipe
Keep the temperature at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), or below, when adding the SCOBY
A warmer environment can lead to an overproduction of bacteria, making it unsafe to ingest.
Clean tools and workstation to prevent unwanted bacteria growth
Regardless of what you are making at home, it is always best to keep your work area as clean as possible to decrease the possibility of food-born illness.
Maintain pH level of 4.2 or lower
If the pH level goes above 4.2 during fermentation, too much acetic acid may be produced, which can put the brakes on bacteria growth. A product with too much acid can lead to adverse health effects. Use pH strips to verify pH levels in your homemade kombucha.
Pasteurize or preserve the final product
It is best to heat the kombucha to 180 degrees Fahrenheit /82 degrees Celsius and hold that temperature for at least 30 seconds to pasteurize the kombucha before it can be cooled. While pasteurization kills off most of the bacteria (good and bad), this process is recommended to prevent adverse effects from harmful bacteria. To maintain the drink’s probiotic benefits, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate are great alternatives to pasteurization because they preserve the kombucha by stopping the fermentation process.
Always keep kombucha refrigerated
It is best to keep finished kombucha at about 39 degrees Fahrenheit (average refrigerator temperature) to keep acetic acid and bacteria levels low. The shelf life of your kombucha is determined by the pH level, yeast growth, and alcohol content. The pH needs to stay between 2.5 and 4.2 and the alcohol content should not exceed 0.5%. Signs of yeast growth include mold that could be black, gray, brown, green, or even blue.
Glass is the best container for producing kombucha
Some clay containers may be safe for storing kombucha, but always check for warning labels as clay can contain lead, which can seep into the kombucha. If you are unsure if the container is safe, you can buy a lead testing kit at a hardware store.
Start with drinking a smaller portion of kombucha (12 ounces a day, or less)
It is important to start with drinking small quantities to see how your body reacts to the beverage. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that four ounces of kombucha can be safely consumed one to three times a day. Overconsumption can lead to headache, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, or ketoacidosis.
There are a few populations that should never ingest kombucha. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and individuals with liver or kidney disease, HIV, impaired immune systems, and alcohol dependency should avoid kombucha. For others, kombucha is a wonderfully refreshing beverage that has many benefits, when made safely and consumed moderately.
Get to know our author:
Peyton is a senior majoring in Nutrition and Food Science/Dietetics and Nutrition Management. She is interested in pursuing medical nutrition therapy. Specifically, she is interested in the effects that cancer has on an individual’s metabolism. Peyton hopes to find an opportunity where she can mainly work with individuals who are afflicted by cancer through opening up her own practice or partnering with an oncology-specific medical center.
For additional resources to healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!