Kombucha has been on my study list for a long time now. I research all kinds of diet and nutrition topics and I’ve brewed kombucha myself. It’s very easy.
This is a confessional. I’m not telling you that I am a kombucha expert.
I have known a little bit about kombucha for several years without ever truly investigating it, which is cheating.
Please join me on the journey.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage from Manchuria, with many reported health benefits.
The word ‘kombucha’ is Japanese, but misapplied.
The Japanese do have a fermented tea but it is called kōcha kinoko, fungus tea or tea mushroom.
Kombucha is a Japanese word, but it refers to a type of kelp which is used to make tea.
We don’t know how this word was appropriated nor how kombucha came to the U.S., although we will later guess that this happened in the 1960’s or 1970’s.
There are 39 known names for kombucha.
Kombucha is fermented tea made with Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY).
SCOBY is also called tea fungus although is not a fungus.
Manchurian records of kombucha as we know it seems to date back to 220 BC when it was traded under the name “Mo-Gu.”
According to Wikipedia, “A kombucha culture is…similar to mother of vinegar, containing one or more species each of bacteria and yeasts, which form zoogleal [sic] mat[…] known as a “mother.” 
According to Science Direct, “The Manchurian mushroom…[SCOBY]… however, is not a mushroom but rather a poorly defined consortium of yeasts and bacteria.” 
As a side note, I recently researched mother-of-vinegar, which is very similar to a SCOBY, and science doesn’t know what that is, either.
I found MOV defined variously as: substance, scum, and slimy membrane by three reputable sources.
Scientists haven’t settled on a word for ‘we still have no idea,’ but we do know that fermented foods and beverage have health benefits, even if we’re not sure why.
Scientists worldwide have proven that kombucha health benefits abound, at least in animal studies.
Folklorically it is credited with many cures around the world. Kombucha’s mechanism remains unknown, and its history in the U.S. has been haunted by controversy.
Exceedingly easy to make at home, kombucha has brewed more than a few problems.
A Brief History of Kombucha in America
Clarifying kombucha’s place in U.S. lore can’t be done without understanding its peculiar timing. When you study kombucha, it is important to pay attention to the dates of the research and to try to put the times into context.
Most likely the hippie generation somehow ‘discovered’ kombucha.
It had quietly become a bit of a thing among the hard core alternative health care set by the late 1970’s.
We found a story of Russian immigrant first tasting the beverage and recognizing it as the ‘tea kvass’ his grandmother had made for health.
The scope and scale of HIV/AIDs in the 80’s and 90’s is hard to conceive today.
It was like a nuclear bomb had dropped.
All of us knew people who died. Health care workers often refused to touch their patients, who were also socially ostracized, and there was no cure.
Somehow, someone decided to try curing HIV/AIDS with kombucha.
To say that the sudden attention turned on the beverage was controversial is to seriously understate the matter.
Hopes were raised and scientists were confounded, confronted by both a mysterious and fatal epidemic with no cure and a weird hippie substance made by a process no one understands.
Sadly, I have found no reports of kombucha successfully curing AIDS, and this tragic era gave kombucha a black eye, which conventional medicine saw as a life-threatening disappointment and the worst type of snake oil.
To this day there seems to be a reluctance to conduct human studies on Kombucha, despite the evidence that kombucha is in itself harmless.
Time went on and a new generation matured.
Alternative medicine became more popular and kombucha as a tonic beverage became fairly well accepted.
Conventional medicine took it’s usual line and discredited it.
On the surface, this isn’t unusual, as ‘conventional medicine’ often goes out of its way to discourage people from using unknown therapies, while ‘alternative medicine’ sometimes waxes too poetic about the latest trends.
But, the conflict about kombucha is different because it involves the ease with which people can make kombucha tea.
The brew potentially could become contaminated by outside yeasts and bacteria and some home brewers used decorative ceramic pots for their brew, causing isolated cases of lead poisoning.
The kombucha of the 1980’s until the early part of the 2000’s was largely home brewed, but it still gained popularity.
It began to show up in health food stores regularly.
In a quick search about kombucha today, one is as likely to find articles about the business potential of marketing a kombucha drink as one is to find scientific evidence about it, although evidence abounds.
Pepsi Co. bought into kombucha in a big way in 2016.
Enthusiastic marketers declare that it is the ‘new yogurt’ and it has made headlines in investment magazines ever since.
Is Kombucha Alcoholic?
Yes, some kombucha can be alcoholic, which is why it was temporarily pulled from the shelves in 2010.
As a product, it was marketed as an effervescent, fresh kombucha drink.
But, when fermentation is allowed to continue kombucha can reach alcohol levels comparable to that of beer. 
As the story goes, an alert employee at noticed that some of the bottles of kombucha in the stock room were fizzing. 
Unaware that kombucha can become increasingly alcoholic at room temperature; the company was selling strong kombucha to all ages and technically breaking the law.
It isn’t clear if there was any intent to mislead on the part of the kombucha manufacturer.
The government took note and grocery store kombucha can now only contain 0.05% alcohol.
There is also a new market for selling alcoholic kombucha ‘beer.’
Some people believe that pasteurization, which is a technique used to stop fermentation, kills kombucha’s beneficial biology.
If kombucha’s natural fermentation process is not halted, it can become as alcoholic as beer. 
Kombucha Heath Benefits
It’s frequently claimed that there are ‘no studies about kombucha,’ but we found promising studies on the following topics published globally and in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013.
Notably, all of these studies are on animals or human cells, which is apparently the justification for discounting them.
Some clinically studied kombucha health benefits are:
- Hypoglycemic Activity (lowering blood sugar)
- Antioxidative stress against chromate (antioxidant)
- Antistress activity against cold and hypoxia (anti-stressor)
- antioxidative stress against lead (chelation)
- Prevention of weight loss in diabetics
- Prevention of postoperative adhesion formation (wound healing)
- Protection against chromosomal aberrations caused by radiation*
- Hypocholesterolemic effect (lowering cholesterol)
- Healing property [for] gastric ulceration (healing ulcers)
- Protection on phenol-induced cytotoxicity (detoxification)
- Protection of mitomycin C-induced genotoxic effect (genetics)
- Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties (lowering cholesterol)
- Protective effects against oxidative stress in diabetics (anti-stressor)
- Attenuation of oxidative damage in electromagnetic field exposed rats
*This may have been conducted as kombucha was used as a cure after the Chernobyl crisis.
All of the above studies were in animals and took place between 2000 and 2013.
Why is Kombucha Good for You?
How Does Kombucha Work?
Kombucha tea is a powerful antioxidant, which superficially accounts for some of the benefits.
In all, we can’t completely classify kombucha, because it belongs in several categories of health tonic.
An 8oz serving of kombucha contains:
- Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086: 1 billion organisms
- S. Boulardii: 1 billion organisms
- EGCG 100mg L(+) Lactic Acid 25mg
- Acetic Acid 30 mg
- Folic Acid 25%
- Vitamins B2 B6 B1 20%
- Vitamins B3 & B12
- Glucuronic Acid 10mg
- Lactic Acid 25 mg
- Acetic Acid (vinegar) 30mg
Kombucha also contains many things that we don’t understand yet but that are thought to be beneficial.
Western medicine is still trying to understand toxins and gut flora, which kombucha seems to address.
There are many unknowns in the world of health and nutrition waiting to be discovered.
A fundamental concept of alternative medicine is that toxins (stressors), which include emotional stresses, affect our health and can make us ill.
Preventing stressors from overwhelming your system is important in maintaining health and to your daily well being.
One caveat is that while not everyone is reactive to the same stresses, certain compounds seem to enhance stress tolerance in everyone that uses them. Kombucha is one of these tonics.
If you want outside examples, exercise and meditation are two of them. Stress remedies of this kind benefit people regardless of the stressor and the individual’s vulnerability to it.
Immunity is a way of expressing our reaction to stressors. Kombucha is said to strengthen our immune system and it certainly packs the nutrients to do it.
Kombucha may aid joint health, as it naturally contains glucosamines, which enhance production of hydrualonic acid.
Kombucha has been shown to lower glycemic levels in diabetics and to heal livers and aid liver function.
Several kombucha uses have been successfully tested for benefits including joint health, liver healing, and strengthening the immune system. 
Kombucha has been proven as the cause of allergic reactions and lead poisoning in rare and isolated cases.
In Iran, topical kombucha use was associated with a single case of dermal (skin) anthrax.
In a small town in Illinois in 1995, two cases of poisoning reported to be attributable to kombucha were reported:
“Samples of the mushrooms and samples of the tea consumed by both case-patients were sent to FDA for analysis…”
An editorial note (no date) adds “…The Kombucha “mushroom” is a symbiotic colony of several species of yeast and bacteria that are bound together by a surrounding thin membrane…” 
The ‘mushroom’ was found to be harmless.
After this event some kombucha warnings were published, often citing ‘fungal infections’ and ‘acidosis,’ which is a real condition but not a result of consuming acidic foods.
Of course, it is possible that the batch of kombucha both women had consumed was contaminated.
Acidosis may be present in cases of renal or liver failure, which may lead to warnings about taking kombucha in the case of liver disease, even though kombucha is proven to heal livers.
The major and most important warning about kombucha is that when it is made at home it is a kind of X-factor and this reasoning is somewhat plausible.
The counterargument is that all kinds of fermented foods can be produced at home safely, including sauerkraut, sourdough, beer, pickles, wine, vinegar, and yogurt.
Our best take away is to consider the source when buying kombucha, as you would when buying any food or beverage, and to apply the rules that you are comfortable using in general.
If you like artisanal foods, there is no reason to worry about homemade kombucha.
Kombucha Side Effects
Despite the above warnings, there are no reported kombucha side effects.
Packaged kombucha may discourage people who are pregnant, nursing, or have compromised immune systems from drinking it out of an abundance of caution.
Bloating has been mentioned anecdotally, but such a side effect doesn’t outweigh kombucha benefits.
The only legal labeling laws that apply to kombucha are about alcohol content if the level is above 0.05%.
Kombucha does not have side effects or known interactions with medicines. 
How to Make Kombucha
Most kombucha recipes are similar.
Make 1 gallon of tea using black tea or a mixture of black tea with green or white tea.
- Add 1 cup of sugar and stir. Don’t use honey, as it may contain outside bacteria. Artificial sweeteners do not work. Turbinado sugar is okay.
- Let the tea cool and place in a sterile 1-gallon glass jar.
- Add 1 cup of brewed raw kombucha (or 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar).
- Float the SCOBY on top of the tea.
- Cover the jar with a piece of organic cloth and a tie it with a ribbon (to keep bugs out).
- Leave the mixture to ferment at room temperature for 5-12 days.
The original SCOBY, the Mother, produces ‘babies.’
You can drink your kombucha and keep brewing more all based on the original SCOBY, and give some starter to your friends.
For what to do after you have produced your kombucha, I recommend consulting the internet.
You can bottle it in various ways, flavor it, and even age it.
Now that you know how to make kombucha, you may want to add some flavors.
Here is the creative backbone of kombucha brewing and what distinguishes one brand from another on the market.
If a fizzy finished drink is desired:
- Pour finished kombucha into mason jars
- Add organic juice, spices, or fresh fruit
- Add 1 part to 4 parts kombucha
Ginger root is said to work very well in kombucha, but again you should consult the web.
Ginger root contains a spore of its own called ‘ginger bug.’
Hence ginger beer and ale, which when natural is naturally carbonated.
It’s beyond our scope here to tell you how the two spore type substances interact.
But, plenty of information about this and other brewing techniques is available on the internet.
Is Kombucha Good for You?
Potentially, particularly in diabetics. Kombucha has effects on metabolism, cholesterol and blood sugar, at least in animal studies.
This preliminary research has focused more on diabetes than general weight control.
Kombucha is also seen as a healthy substitute for soft drinks, as it has a pleasant taste and natural fizz while containing much less sugar.
Cutting soft drinks from the diet is a recommended diet tool. This was a large part of kombucha’s appeal to PepsiCo.
The Bottom Line on Kombucha
Our opinion is that consuming kombucha may be very beneficial.
Mass marketed products may be ineffective and unknown home-brews can be suspect, so go ahead and make your own in your clean kitchen.
Discard any kombucha that appears moldy or smells bad, no matter where you source it.
Summer Banks, Director of Content at Dietspotlight, has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with doctors specializing in weight loss and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University. full bio.