Kombucha, a type of fermented tea, has been around for millennia, but it's only recently caught on in America. A few years ago, you had to know where to look (in a health store, maybe on one of the coasts), but now you can find then in gas stations and Wal-Marts across the country.
But, for the uninitiated, kombucha can be intimidating, and it may have a lot to do with how the fermenting process happens. Tea, sugar, and water are left to ferment with SCOBY, an acronym, that stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. If you've ever looked at a picture of SCOBY, it can look like a creature of the deep from a low-budget horror movie. And, despite the fact that we eat a lot of fermented foods without thinking about it, "fermented tea" may 'bucha beginners pause.
To learn more about kombucha, and why it's not nearly as scary as it sounds, we chatted with Daina Trout, the founder of Health-Ade Kombucha. Trout started the business in her own home, brewing kombucha first for her friends and neighbors, then for friends of friends, and eventually selling out at a local farmer's market. Today, Health-Ade is still made the same way you'd make kombucha at home: in a glass jar, fermented for up to three weeks. The fermentation process makes the drink naturally fizzy as well, and the different flavors (like Trout's favorite, pomegranate) are added at the end with fresh juices. In fact, Trout says she like to think of the process as closer to farming the kombucha through fermentation, versus making it — like you might with a beverage like soda.
As a long-time kombucha evangelist, Trout is used to talking to newbies about the beverage, and shared some common misconceptions about the brew, below.
Myth 1: SCOBYs Are Scary
Somewhere along the line, many of us got the idea in our head that bacteria = bad. Blame all the times we were told to wash our hands in elementary school. But a SCOBY helps create good bacteria, the kind we also love to get from yogurt as well as fermented foods like kimchi and pickles. While Health-Ade is filtered, some kombuchas are not, and may even include bits of the SCOBY, something that Trout says is harmless.
Myth 2: It's A Medicine
A common question Trout gets? "How much kombucha should I take?" While many kombucha devotees love to talk about the health benefits of the beverage, Trout says that it's is a food, not a medicine. She compares it to how we think of carrots or other fruits and veggies. You don't go to the store to pick up your weekly dosage of bananas, you just grab however many you like to eat during the week. Trout thinks of kombucha the same way. Some people like it first thing in the morning, some people like it as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. "You should drink as much kombucha as makes you feel good," she says.
Myth 3: It Can Make You Sick
The idea of growing your own bacteria in your home may frighten some people. But, while store-bought kombucha may seem safer, because of the acidity of the drink, it's hard for anything to grow (like mold) that could actually hurt you. The only risk, Trout explains, would be if the SCOBY failed to ferment at all for some reason, something that would be evident immediately by appearance or taste.
So if you've never had kombucha, consider picking up a bottle — or maybe buying a SCOBY of your very own. It's something you don't need a green thumb (or a plot of land) to "grow" in your very own home.