A trendy drink all around the world, kombucha is part of the "probiotic diet" that is taking over wellness philosophies. Made by brewing together sugar, black or green tea, some liquid from a previous batch, and the SCOBY - short name for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast", or simply "mother" as it reproduces during fermentation - kombucha doesn't seem appealing by this description, but this drink has been growing rapidly in popularity since the beginning of the 21st Century.
And more than 2000 years before the contemporary trend, kombucha was a therapeutic beverage drunk in Japan, Korea, and China, considered as a "tea of immortality". Reaching Russia, where it's known as "kvass", the tea began to spread to Western Europe, linked to medicinal purposes in the treatment of several illnesses. In the 1920s and World War I years, kombucha was a folk remedy, spreading through prisoners from Eastern Europe, reaching North Americans.
Consumption of kombucha is now peaking in the USA, with a growing consumption since the 1990s. Now, the States of California and New York are the largest producers of industrialized kombucha in the world. After them comes Canada, Australia, Mexico, Spain, New Zealand, and a variety of other countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. This proves how kombucha is being consolidated as a "soft drink", alongside flavored and mineral waters, and other carbonated options.
With a market being able to reach 3.5 to 5 billion USD by 2025, kombucha is a profitable industry getting boosts from other trends, such as the Cannabidiol. A CBD-infused kombucha is now very popular by combining two wellness trends, the "probiotic" and the "neurotherapeutics." How to market kombucha was a well-constructed thing. It's seen as a very healthy beverage, but also hip and fun.
Some keywords you can find in bottles are "natural", "healthy for your gut", "live culture", "raw", "non-dairy probiotics", with fresh designed labels. Brands are very diverse, and in some countries, it can even be a way to empower small producers. Laura Rebecca, owner of "Queen Kombucha" from Raseborg, wanted to honor her mother and the feminine. "Most of the kombucha brands in Finland are owned by men, and also often have masculine names, and I felt it would be empowering to have a strong feminine name", she says. Laura started making kombucha in 2017, taught her mother the craft, and the product became very popular, so it was a natural process to become a company.
Besides the billionaire market of the industrialized kombucha, small producers are a great part of the popularization of the beverage. As a "club" in which people share recipes and even their "Mothers", people can try fermenting their own tea at home. Kombucha-making is a gateway for many people starting on fermentation methods and helps them understand why it's called "probiotic". As a living organism, the Scoby needs feeding to release alcohol and microorganisms.
Kombucha can be high in antioxidants (to fight infections and free radicals) and may be probiotic (to protect your gut and improve your digestion), but it can also elevate your sugar and acidic levels if drank in excess, and cause other problems if not stored (and produced) correctly and safely. It may be a delicious and refreshing beverage, but it needs all the care as other many fermented foods. So, if not producing it yourself, be aware of the safety measures other producers have.
With the growing trend of fermented foods and their benefits, it's hard to say if kombucha can be considered therapeutic besides the contribution to a healthier gut due to the lactobacillus produced. But the real fact is: being a growing and profitable food industry, it will be heavily marketed as healthy and natural. What is important is to support the good artisans, the ones that are concerned with safety. For those, it's not a matter of going big, but to keep quality and to respect the product.
Photo: Queen Kombucha