What Is Kombucha, Exactly?

Kombucha tea is unquestionably uber-trendy, but does it have health benefits?

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Kombucha is an ever-growing tea trend because it promises several health benefits, plus it naturally contains a trace amount of alcohol and caffeine. But what is it, exactly?

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that's made by adding yeast and a culture of bacteria to a mixture of black or green tea, sugar, and sometimes additional flavorings or fruit juice. After you blend the tea with sugar, it becomes kombucha with the help of something called S.C.O.B.Y., which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. This live bacteria sets the stage for a fermentation process, which is what gives kombucha its slight effervescence and tart-and-tangy taste.

Some find the fruity, vinegary flavor of kombucha to be an acquired taste, so if you're sipping it for the first time be sure to sample a few different varieties—and you can see some of our favorites below. Here's everything to know about kombucha tea.

Kombucha Health Benefits

It's no magic potion or crazy cure-all, but kombucha tea offers some great potential benefits. Thanks to the fermentation process, the tea is packed with probiotics, particularly when raw or unpasteurized. These microorganisms are the "good" type of bacteria similar to what occurs naturally in our intestines. Probiotics are great for overall gut-health, de-bloating, lowering cholesterol, and help to promote a healthy immune system. Kombucha also contains B vitamins, known to promote energy, metabolism, and cell proliferation and growth (which may be beneficial for hair, skin, and nails).

Do note that most research done on kombucha thus far has been on animals, so we're still waiting for more solid studies that have been done on people. But bottom line: The research on health benefits of kombucha is very promising, and it's certainly a better beverage option than soda, juice, and other sugary drinks.

If you're looking to replace your daily coffee habit, however, take note that kombucha only contains about one-third the amount of caffeine as a cup of black or green tea (8-12 milligrams per 8-ounce serving, on average).

How Much Alcohol Is in Kombucha?

Alongside the probiotics, bubbles, and sour-fruity flavor, another result of fermentation is the production of alcohol. Kombucha contains a teensy amount of alcohol naturally, and you'll find that bottled versions contain a range of percentages of alcohol. (If you do want a more boozy kombucha drink, tons of cocktail recipes feature the tea as an ingredient.)

In order to be sold on supermarket shelves as a non-alcoholic drink, the government requires that the drink contain just 0.5% alcohol or less. You'll find options with higher alcohol content—some are as boozy as beer—at the grocery store (depending on your state's liquor laws) and you'll have to be over 21 to purchase them. Be sure to read the label before you buy so you know what you're getting into, but you'd have to drink quite a bit to get remotely buzzed. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, ask your doctor before guzzling some down.

Pro tip: Check the label for added sugars, too, as some brands are more of a sweet treat than others.

Kombucha Brands We Love

If you're interested in where to buy kombucha, browse the aisles of any Whole Foods, health food store, or even the corner deli and you're likely to find shelf after shelf of 'booch. You can make it at home, too (people have been doing it for over 2,000 years), but if you're new to the trend it's probably best to buy your first bottle. There's a wide variety of fun flavors available, but here are a few of our favorites.

  • Suja Organic Pineapple Passionfruit ($3, target.com)
  • G.T.'s Enlightened Organic Gingeraid ($3, walmart.com)
  • Health-Ade Pink Lady Apple Kombucha ($4, walmart.com)
  • Kevita Mojita Lime Mint Coconut Kombucha ($4, amazon.com)
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