Kombucha (Mushroom)

Kombucha (Mushroom)

kombucha culture

Find out how this unusual superfood rivals green and black teas for health benefits

In the Complex hierarchy of beverages, few drinks have been able to beat the long-standing giants: breakfast lattes, postworkout smoothies, before-bed teas. But one enigmatic beverage could soon challenge these iconic brews for their long-held positions of supremacy. Part healing elixir, part ritual, mysterious kombucha — which is really nothing more than fermented tea — has fostered a cultural trend that's slowly wending its way into mainstream America.

Hardly new, kombucha is said to hail from either China, Japan, or Tibet, depending on whom you ask. It was probably in 19th century Russia where kombucha as we know it was developed. It slowly spread to the United States where, for years, it was available only through a network of people who brewed their own, or in a handful of mom-and-pop health food stores.
What's the Secret Ingredient?

Despite its now widespread availability and growing acceptance, kombucha remains something of an enigma. It's said to spring from a mushroom, but in actuality, there are no mushrooms or fungi of any sort involved. Instead, kombucha begins with a starter culture, much like that used to make sourdough bread, composed of acetic acid bacteria and various yeasts. The starter is then added to a mixture of strong-brewed black or green tea and sugar, and left to slowly ferment for a week or two — a process that's said to account for many of the beverage's health benefits.

These starters, which account for a great deal of kombucha's mystery, are said to hail from points as far-flung as Tibet. They can be obtained Stateside through a network of kombucha home brewers who are usually delighted to slice off a hunk of their culture, which unfortunately, resembles a cross between a jellyfish and a pickled human organ floating in a glass jar.

Because kombucha is really nothing more than sweetened tea and a mass of microbes, it can, theoretically, be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria that produce a range of unhappy results. Thus, it's best to buy your kombucha commercially brewed and bottled. Some manufacturers combine it with fruit juice and add carbonation for a little extra zing. Thus prepared, it's still bracing, but very palatable. It tastes sweet and slightly tan. Inexperienced home brewers might end up with a flat, sour drink that tastes more like apple cider and bad feta cheese.
Kombucha: A Modern-Day Panacea?

Kombucha aficionados say the drink makes them feel relaxed, happy, and uplifted. Because it's made from tea, kombucha contains a little caffeine, though it never produces the jittery effects of too much coffee. And while kombucha probably isn't a panacea, published studies show some compelling and impressive benefits: Kombucha is a fairly potent antioxidant and antimicrobial that helps boost immunity, battle stress, reduce lipid peroxidation, and protect the liver. Apparently, it also enhances sleep and pain thresholds in rats.

Kombucha yields the same benefits as green or black tea, including a reduction in the risk of heart disease, cancer, and possibly diabetes and osteoporosis. Arid because it's fermented, it is said to contain glucuronic acid, which theoretically binds environmental and metabolic toxins, and escorts them from the body via urine.

A good kombucha with a lovely fruit essence and a mild fizz is a better alternative to sodas, a more interesting choice than sparkling water, and at least as healthful as a mug of green tea.

Now, if they could only make kombucha from coffee.
DID YOU KNOW?

GT's Synergy and Raw Kombucha and Wander Drink Sparkling Kombucha are among the best-selling beverages at health food stores. All are low calories and come in various flavors.

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By Lisa Turner

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