If you've taken the time to find this article, chances are you fall into one of two categories:
1) You're a Kombucha drinker and want to ensure you're not over doing it
2) You're a Kombucha drinker and want to make sure you're getting the proper daily dose for optimal immune function.
Most of us fall somewhere in between the two.
Any which way, these are fantastic questions to ask! Many of us have a tendency to start following these health trends without doing the proper research to know how much or how often we should be consuming. So what do we do?
We search the web.
And unfortunately the web is full of writers with conflicting opinions and personal research can become confusing and never-ending. So, I'm taking a different angle. I'm going to give you the facts about kombucha and everything that constitutes it so you can make a healthy, educated decision for yourself.
That way, every time you drink kombucha, you know exactly what's going into your body.
It should be noted, there isn't a daily Kombucha volume that is perfect for everyone. Hopefully by now you've come to realize how unique each person's nutritional needs are. In order to figure out what's best for you, you need to know what makes up the final product of Kombucha.
Separating the ingredients will help define how much Kombucha you should be drinking to get optimal health benefits with the smallest chance of consequences.
Let's start from the ground up.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a sweetened tea fermented by a mixed culture of bacteria and yeast called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Once fermented, it becomes a refreshing, acidic, slightly alcoholic, carbonated beverage filled with beneficial bacteria and yeast bugs. Tea leave varieties can vary, but the large majority of distributors use black tea, green tea, or a mixture of the two.
The process is actually pretty simple.
How is Kombucha Made?
The tea is brewed just like any ordinary tea. Tea bags are placed in boiling/hot water and allowed to steep for a preferred extraction time. The tea bags are then taken out and the liquid tea is poured into a jar.
Sugar is added to give the yeast something to ferment, and then a SCOBY is placed into the jar, and a cheese-cloth like
filter is rubber-banded to the top (to avoid large particle contamination). The jar is then placed in a temperature controlled room where the tea is allowed to ferment.
Fermentations can last anywhere between 7-45 days, depending on the maker's preference of the sugar/acid ratio. If you're unfamiliar with the fermentation process, you can familiarize yourself here. A 7-day fermentation will result in a more sweet, less acidic kombucha, whereas a 45-day fermentation will result in a very dry, very acidic kombucha.
The longer the yeast has to break down the sugar, and the longer the bacteria has to create their various acids, the more dry and acidic your kombucha will become. If this makes no sense to you, don't worry about it. It's not imperative to understanding the ingredients of your Kombucha.
After you are satisfied with the product, you can take out the SCOBY and put it in a slightly acidic medium to use it at a later time, or dispose of it.
Kombucha Product Ingredients
Once the fermentation process is complete, several things can happen.
1) The manufacturer can take the Kombucha, as is, and sell it over the counter
2) The manufacturer can add extra ingredients to manipulate flavor, shelf stability, or nutrition to their liking. These can include, but are not
limited to things like fruits, artificial sweeteners, probiotics, herbs and spices. They can also heat pasteurize to increase shelf-life.
In order to get an idea of how much kombucha to drink per day, it's important to know the ingredients you're consuming. My best advice to you is to research your favorite brands and see what kind of additives they use, if any at all.
For the sake of keeping this post a manageable length, I will be covering the common ingredients of Kombucha and how they ultimately effect your health (based on scientific case studies).
Tea leaves leech different variations of polyphenols, flavonoids, caffeine, and other potent ingredients into your Kombucha.
Much of the sugar is fermented into alcohol and carbon dioxide, but there is usually some residual sugar and/or added sugar to make the drink more appealing.
Alcohol is a bi-product of fermentation. Much of it is converted into various acids by the bacteria in the SCOBY, but there is still usually around 0.5% (very low).
The fermentation products are primarily acids. The majority of the acids being acetic acid and gluconic acid. The pH of Kombucha is usually between 2.5-3.5
Some variation of bacteria and yeast still remain in the kombucha after fermentation. Producers aim to use well-studied probiotics for the proclaimed health benefits.
It should be said, products of Kombucha fermentation have not been completely mapped out yet. Something to keep in mind when you're drinking it by the gallon 🙂
In the right doses, all of these ingredients can have a positive influence on the body (yes, even sugar, if it's natural and in low levels). Overdo them, and they can wreak havoc on the body's homeostasis. Let's go over what these ingredients can do for you and the recommended daily dose of each.
1) Tea Leaves:
Different tea leaves will vary in their proportions, but each has its own level of polyphenols, flavonoids, caffeine and other potent ingredients.
-polyphenols (25-35% dry weight) and flavanols:
The polyphenol and flavanol content in tea leaves are primarily where it gets its good name. Many of these leaf constituents are notorious antioxidants and help neutralize reactive oxygen species in your body. Reactive oxygen species can interrupt proper metabolism, damage cells and are a major cause of chronic inflammation (1).
With that being said, too much of anything is never good. There have been a few studies possibly connecting ECGC (Epigallocatechin gallate), one of the main polyphenols in green tea, to liver toxicity when taken in high enough doses (2).
Just something to keep in mind. You can even over-do something like tea.
- Caffeine: There is approximately 20-40 mg of caffeine in an average cup of tea (3). It's hard to tell how this transfers over to kombucha because manufacturers will dilute their products to different levels. For the sake of keeping this simple, let's assume they dilute it by half. That means 1 cup of tea per 2 cups of kombucha.
Do you follow?
On top of that, fermentation degrades a certain percentage of caffeine into other non-caffeine molecules. One study showed a 40% decrease in caffeine after a 21 day black tea kombucha fermentation (4).
That means 20-40 mg in one 16 oz bottle of Kombucha (approximately) turned into 8-16 mg of caffeine.
The mayo clinic recommends drinking no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day (5). I don't think I need to emphasize how low of a number this is. In other words, you could drink a fountain of kombucha and still not even get close to the daily maximum.
There is some highly caffeinated kombucha out there on the market. Excessively drinking these would be a different story. Read your booch labels friends!
Cane sugar is never an ideal ingredient, but it can be one of the primary ingredients in making Kombucha palatable. Some companies help sweeten post-fermentation with fruit, which is more preferred nutritionally. Check into the brewing protocol for the companies of interest.
The good ones are pretty transparent about their processes. If they aren't, probably steer clear. Sugar has gotten a pretty terrible name in the nutrition industry, but the majority of the health consequences are based on overconsumption. In small doses, sugar is relatively harmless (assuming you don't have any pre-existing health conditions that effect your blood glucose uptake).
Typical Kombucha bottles (16 oz) will contain approximately 6-25 mg of sugar. These numbers aren't very staggering considering how much sugar is in all the processed foods we eat, but it all depends on how much sugar is already in your diet.
If you are consuming fast food, candy, or processed grocery foods on a daily basis, the negative consequences of that extra 20g of sugar in your Kombucha may have unwanted health consequences on your body. For a reference to gauge how much sugar you should be consuming, the American Heart Association suggests consuming no more than 37.5 g of added sugar daily (for males) and no more than 25 g of added sugar daily (for women)(6).
Keep in mind, this is "added sugar.” If you know your Kombucha sugar is coming from natural fruits, this is not considered added sugar. So investigate your favorite brands and see how they sweeten their products.
Alcohol is a bi-product of the yeast fermentation, but the majority is eaten up by nearby bacteria and turned into other compounds. The tiny amount of alcohol in kombucha shouldn't be an issue unless preexisting medical conditions render it to.
Many competing pathogenic microbes will die off due to this alcohol content, making it a safer drink. Most commercial Kombucha contains well under 0.5% alcohol, which is legally considered a non-alcoholic drink in the United States. That doesn't mean you should ignore it. It means that unless you have a sensitivity to alcohol or have a pre-existing medical condition that makes alcohol consumption a bad idea, don't worry too much about this ingredient.
If you're pregnant or think the alcohol in Kombucha is causing negative side effects, talk to your doctor.
Some kombucha has higher alcohol percentages (usually 1-3%) and should be explicitly advertised as so. Again, if you're concerned about the alcohol, talk to your doctor to decide whether Kombucha is a good idea for you.
The acids created during fermentation, and added manually to stimulate fermentation, make kombucha a pretty acid-driven drink.
Typical Kombucha has a pH of approximately 3 (7). You can compare this to the acidity of lemon juice or soda pop.
The acid constituents of Kombucha are primarily lactic acid, acetic acid and gluconic acid. Although all acids have their fair share of positive health benefits, the gluconic acid is heavily praised for its ability to help detoxify the liver (8).
On the flip side, there have been several rare cases of lactic acidosis linked to Kombucha consumption. It should be noted, however, the majority of cases were with people who already had pre-existing medical issues (9, 10). Again, just something to keep in mind if you think you might be overdoing the daily kombucha.
Healthline states that high fat (low carb) diets, kidney failure, obesity, dehydration, aspirin or methanol poisoning, or diabetes can all make you prone to acidosis (11). In any of these cases, kombucha consumption may worsen symptoms and cause more harm than benefit. So, be mindful of your current health conditions.
Homemade kombucha pH levels should be checked prior to drinking! Ask a professional which pHs are appropriate for drinking. Anything between pH 2.5-3.5 should restrict pathogenic bacteria while not being too acidic for average consumption.
5) Bacteria/Yeast (Probiotics):
The living organisms from the SCOBY are what make kombucha such an attractive selling point in today's world. There are a lot of studies validating the health benefits of consuming probiotics. Unfortunately, we don't really understand why.
Here are some things we do know.
We know that some "healthy" bacteria in our gut can help us break down food molecules into digestible nutrients. This is beneficial for obvious reasons, but let's go over a familiar example to get the wheels turning.
Lactic acid bacteria in many yogurts can possess an enzyme called Beta-Galactosidase. This enzyme helps break down lactose and, in turn, makes it more digestible to the lactose intolerant population (approximately 65% of the population) (18). Lactose intolerant people will tend to have less of a negative reaction to yogurt than ice cream because of the help of the bacteria in the yogurt.
There are also a ton of other studies linking the gut microbiota to literally all systems of the body. It's a little scary to think about how vastly our gut effects our well-being and yet how little we know about it (12, 13).
Logically, we do know one thing. Filling the gut with healthy bacteria decreases the chance of gut colonization by unhealthy bacteria.
I know, brilliant right!
So, what is the right amount of probiotics to properly line the gut and keep the bad bacteria out?
This question would be nearly impossible to answer for everyone individually. Even for one person under a huge microscope, there are just too many variables involved.
If you take too many probiotics, you risk pouring a lot of money into products that might be going straight through your GI tract and into the toilet. Take too little, and you may leave too much room for unhealthy bacteria to come in and cause problems.
If you are reading this, and not talking to your doctor, I'm led to assume you are a relatively healthy person looking to get optimal immune function by your daily probiotic doses. In this case, 1-10 billion CFU of commonly accepted healthy gut bacteria per day seems to be a good medium.
Look on the back of your Kombucha bottle and read the quantity of bacteria it contains. Most will have a few billion CFU per bottle, and this is an awesome number. If they don't label the amount of probiotics on their bottle, maybe consider changing brands or researching their website for more information.
(If you experience any unusual bloating or gas with drinking larger amounts of kombucha, think about lowering the dose and see if the symptoms subside. Excessive probiotic intake can lead to digestion issues).
Another question arises...
which bacteria are good and which bacteria are bad?
Well, if the kombucha you're drinking is commercially made, it is allegedly free of pathogenic bacteria (emphasis on "allegedly"). The bacteria genera commonly described as beneficial for gut performance are:
Keep in mind, these are very broad bacteria groups and many of the species, sub-species, and strains of these genera can be harmful and pathogenic. This is just a list to help familiarize yourself with some of the common, potentially healthy bacteria genera.
Happy bug hunting 🙂
6) The Unknown:
Mapping out the molecules in a fermentation process can be a mind-boggling and complex task. Take beer for example; as of 2018, the MDPI recognizes that there are 1000-2000 chemicals in beer (which is a vast understatement if you ask me).
One of my professors told me of there being over 4000 compounds in beer. Not only is this a ridiculous amount of compounds to track, but why is there such a vast range between our best guesses (15)? Which is it 1000? 2000? 4000?
The bottom line:
Many of the products of fermentation are still a giant mystery to the scientific community.
We are constantly coming out with new findings, but for the time being, my advice to you is to always take everything in moderation.
There is too much we don't know, and if you don't believe me, look at any scientific journal regarding Kombucha. Every single one that I've read (a lot) bring up the fact that there is still a TON we don't understand.
The point is:
Maybe you'd do fine on 2 or 3 bottles of kombucha a day. But rolling the dice on a fermented drink that is still very early in the research process, probably isn't a good idea.
Other Common Kombucha Questions
Kombucha has become such a huge trend in the last few years, I think it's important to address some of the issues that have crept up along the way.
What is Kombucha poisoning?
There has been a lot of talk of "Kombucha poisoning" in the nutrition world and I think it's important to shed some light on these particularly rare instances. There is definitely a lot of mystery to this drink, but also some obvious mistakes people make in drinking/brewing it, too.
Here are some common mistakes that can lead to serious negative health consequences from drinking Kombucha:
1) Using a ceramic pot to brew the tea for Kombucha can cause toxic levels of lead to leech into the tea. This is not due to the ceramic itself, but the glaze applied to the pot to make it less porous (16). Make sure to use non-toxic material when brewing tea.
2) Using a non-temperature controlled fermentation room can cause temperatures to reach points that help unwanted bacteria/fungi to outcompete some of the healthier, desired microbes. This can not only cause an infestation in your Kombucha, but a complete takeover of your SCOBY.
This "bad bug" SCOBY can then be sold or reused to make more pathogenic kombucha, and the cycle carries on. This can become especially scary for people with compromised immune systems.
3) Not allowing fermentation to sufficiently carry through can cause the pH to be too high. Fermentation and bacterial metabolism produce acids, which help isolate the bugs we want in our kombucha. Not letting this fermentation carry out long enough can create a less acidic environment, which can ultimately lead to environments suitable for pathogenic bacteria.
The most common pH we refer to in food science for safety against pathogens is 4.6 or lower. This pH does not promise safety from pathogens, but works as a good baseline for determining the likelihood of pathogens in anything for that matter.
4) Incubating the Kombucha or SCOBY for too long without periodically adding proper bacteria/yeast nutrients. If your yeast/bacteria aren't being fed their needed nutrients, other microbes can come along and outcompete them.
5) Buying SCOBYs from strangers and/or unprofessionals. This isn't a good idea for obvious reasons. You don't know where its been, how its been incubated, or what kind of bacterial environment its been in. Steer clear and look for professionals. Cultures for Health sells dehydrated SCOBY cultures and seem to carry a good reputation for proper procedure.
6) Not storing the SCOBY in an acidic environment. Again, this can create an environment that harnesses unwanted bacteria.
As you can see, many of these issues stem from improper home-brewing or drinking non-commercial kombucha. Without the scientific knowledge or quality control equipment to ensure safe kombucha production, you are ultimately taking a risk that can lead to some nasty, sometimes life threatening illnesses.
With that being said, these instances are rare!
Is Kombucha Safe to Drink Everyday?
This is somewhat of a loaded question and depends on how you're getting your Kombucha.
If you're home-brewing kombucha, the chances of pathogenic contamination are higher because of a lack of proper training and equipment. So, if you're drinking home-brewed Kombucha everyday, you're brewing more frequently, and thus increasing your chance of inoculating your kombucha with pathogens.
If you buy commercially made Kombucha on a regular basis, the chances of pathogenic contamination are far less because quality control equipment and trained professionals are doing the brewing.
The CDC recommends that you drink no more than 4 oz of kombucha a day (17). This recommendation was originally based off two cases of serious adverse side effects while drinking approximately 12 oz of home-made Kombucha per day (17).
Again keep in mind, I am not a doctor and am not qualified to give you medical advice.
- Personally, if I were home brewing kombucha with limited equipment, I would hold myself to the CDC's recommended daily max of 4 oz of kombucha per day.
- If I were buying commercially made kombucha from an FDA approved facility, I would limit myself to 1-2 16 oz bottles a day.
To each their own.
Do You Drink the Bottom of Kombucha?
-What is it?
The slime at the bottom of your kombucha is essentially a mini SCOBY. It is a mix of yeast, bacteria, and some end-products of fermentation.
How does it happen?
Initially, the yeast and bacteria are "in solution" and practically imperceptible to the human eye. After a while, nutrients are depleted in the Kombucha and yeast cells will flocculate (clump together) and "drop out of solution.” This is completely normal and actually a positive indicator of a more natural, unfiltered kombucha.
Can I drink it?
Absolutely! That is to say that you are drinking properly made kombucha.
What does it taste like?
I cannot personally taste anything, but a few of my friends insist that it has a weird, musty flavor. I'm almost sure it's the mind creating the flavors based off the unpleasant texture.
What is the Best Kombucha to Drink?
If you're looking for the most natural, yet safe kombucha on the market, here's a little checklist to help you navigate the kombucha world:
I can't stress this enough. There really is A TON we don't know about kombucha. On top of that, most of the beneficial health claims have little scientific backing whatsoever. It is so complex, nobody in their right mind could give you a concrete answer as to what is right for you
but there are some things you can do to find what works for you.
1) Know the ingredients and keep everything in moderation.
2) Invest in quality products and listen to your body's response.
3) Rely on the one logical aspect of your gut microbiome we DO know. If you're not giving it good bugs, you could potentially be making space for bad ones. Try to consume some form of probiotic everyday (anything over 1 billion CFU is a good daily goal).
Diet is rarely black and white. We have a balance to strike and no two balances are the same. My journey in food science began when I stopped blindly listening to nutrition advice and started making discoveries for myself.
Take the time to know your body and know the food you're putting into it.
I hope this helps, please leave a comment below if you have any questions or feedback. I'd love to hear how other people feel about drinking Kombucha daily.
Founder of Robust Kitchen