Kombucha is not a new trend or a recent invention in the tea industry.
However, the growing health awareness among the general populace has lead to an increase in its consumption as kombucha is associated with several wellness benefits and it appears to contain certain healing properties.
Kombucha is typically suitable for vegans as it’s simply a drink created from fermented tea, however, it’s possible that it may occasionally contain non-vegan ingredients such as honey.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about kombucha, including which ingredients you should be wary of when picking your kombucha.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a beverage of Chinese origin that is more than 2000 years old.
It is slightly carbonated with a bittersweet and vinegary flavor, similar to that of cider, characteristics that make this drink, in general, easily accepted by consumers.
The typical production of kombucha involves using black or green tea as a base then adding sucrose (sugar) and SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), a culture of bacteria and yeast.
Kombucha can vary according to the type of tea used as the base, sucrose concentration, type of SCOBY, temperature of the tea before the addition of SCOBY (should not be higher than 20º), and fermentation period (3 to 60 days). The addition of 50g of sugar per liter of tea seems to be sufficient to act as a substrate for SCOBY fermentation.
Potential Non-Vegan Ingredients in Kombucha
While kombucha is purely made from plant-based ingredients, there are two ingredients that may be problematic, at least, according to most of the vegan population.
These ingredients are refined sugar and honey, which may be used for the fermentation process.
Cane sugar is the most common type of sugar that is used for brewing kombucha, and that’s where the problem lies because not all cane sugar is vegan-friendly.
Even though cane sugar is clearly derived from a plant source, it’s still a common practice in the United States for sugar refineries to use bone char to filter cane sugar.
Bone char is a charcoal-like powder produced by charring animal bones. It’s used as a decolorizing agent and it allows cane sugar to achieve its desirable white color.
Fortunately, not all sugar refineries use bone char to filter sugar, but at the same time, it’s very difficult to know whether a particular product contains it since it’s not disclosed on the label.
If you wish to make your own kombucha, opt for organic cane sugar, as that form of sugar has not undergone processing, so it’s always vegan-friendly.
The majority of vegans don’t consume honey, which is not surprising because honey is derived from bees, and veganism defends that you must abolish all forms of animal cruelty.
However, some vegans are comfortable with consuming honey as long as it’s produced in an “ethical” way.
In fact, there are “Ethical beekeepers” claiming that their honey is produced in a cruelty-free environment, and they only take the excess honey that bees don’t use.
This, however, is debatable and there are certainly many vegans that will beg to disagree.
“Ethical beekeeping” aside, most honey is produced in a rather cruel fashion as many methods are employed to maximize the production of honey.
Health Benefits Associated With Kombucha
The consumption of kombucha has been associated with beneficial health effects, particularly in improving the intestinal microbiota and immune system.
This benefit may be due to the presence of B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12), vitamin C, and probiotics.
The beneficial effects of kombucha are further attributed due to the presence of black tea or green tea, rich in catechins and flavonoids, two antioxidant polyphenols.
These bioactive compounds have shown benefits in reducing serum cholesterol and blood pressure (risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases), among other pathologies.
Is Kombucha Safe to Drink?
The Food and Drug Administration states that this beverage is safe for human consumption and that there is insufficient evidence to show toxicity and adverse effects associated with its consumption.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), daily consumption of 120 ml does not represent any health risk.
This figure should be respected, since this beverage may contain a high sugar content and thus contribute to weight gain. It should be noted that some studies refer to other symptoms or complications, such as nausea, dizziness, gastrointestinal disturbances, and allergic reactions to excessive consumption, especially in people with a lower tolerance to acidic and carbonated beverages.
However, there is some evidence that suggests kombucha is not safe for pregnant and lactating women.
Fortunately, kombucha is, in most cases, suitable for vegans. It’s purely made with plant-based ingredients, and there are only two scenarios in which it may not be vegan:
- If the sugar used for the fermentation has been processed with bone char;
- And if a particular brand or kombucha make replaces the sugar with honey, a non-vegan ingredient.
Other than those two scenarios, kombucha is mostly suitable for vegans.
Kombucha is also an extremely healthy beverage and it’s known to provide you with several health benefits, namely improving the intestinal microbiota and immune system.
However, do drink it in moderation as kombucha still contains sugar content.
Is Kombucha Gluten-Free?
Kombucha is always gluten-free since the production of kombucha does not include grains like wheat or rye. Kombucha is typically made with tea leaves (black, green, or oolong), which never contain gluten. Therefore, if you have a gluten allergy and wish to consume kombucha, please feel free to do so.
Is Kombucha Halal?
Kombucha contains a trace amount of alcohol, however, because the alcohol is produced as a byproduct in the fermentation of the tea – most Muslims consider kombucha to be halal.
Is Kombucha Caffeinated?
Yes, kombucha does contain caffeine because the tea leaves (black, green, white, oolong) used to make kombucha naturally contain caffeine. However, despite containing caffeine, it’s a minimal amount of caffeine, and it’s barely anything even to those that are more sensitive to caffeine.
Does Kombucha Need to be Refrigerated?
Kombucha generally has a long shelf life, however, it is important that it’s kept refrigerated while it is stored so that it can maintain its taste, and its nutritional profile as a probiotic.