Putting the Fizz in Fitness: Kentucky Kombucha

By & | April 20, 2018
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Paul Haney of Kentucky Kombucha with their line of Kombucha flavors. Photo: Mark Corley

Kentucky Kombucha, pronounced kom-BOO-chah. 

What is it? 

In short, it is lightly fermented sweet tea made with tea leaves, sugar (preferably organic cane sugar) and a specific culture of bacteria and yeast (more on this later). 

What does it taste like? 

Some liken it to cider due to its sweet and tart profile. For us, a well-crafted kombucha is a balance of sweet and tart accompanied by a subtle effervescence: refreshing, hydrating, nutritive and, so one would hope, palate friendly. But like most all else, some like it, some do not. 

Where does it come from? 

No one knows for sure how kombucha was discovered and when. There is much speculation as to its ancient Oriental origins but the oldest written accounts only go back a few hundred years. That’s not to say it isn’t as old as the hills, as credible accounts of tea and cane sugar being cultivated and consumed exist from third century AD Some stories even go back as far as 2727 BC, to the discovery of tea, but are unsubstantiated. 

I like a good story as much as the next person, but it is just that: a story. Kombucha is only new in its commercial availability, which dates to California in the mid 1990s. Nearing 200 commercial brewers in the United States today, we were the first kombucha maker in the Commonwealth when we started our business in 2013. 

Why do people drink it? 

The current trend is largely a response to the purported health benefits of kombucha. Is this reputation warranted? Yes and no. 

To understand this one must realize that kombucha production is now a billion-dollar a year industry. So, broadly speaking, it has become big business. One national brand is even traded on the New York Stock Exchange. And as with any industry, particularly burgeoning ones, there are always bad actors that see an opportunity to exploit a situation for monetary gain by manufacturing inferior products, attaching a good story to it and selling it at inflated prices to a ready public. I know of at least one national brand of kombucha that doesn’t have tea in it! Think bourbon without corn, wine without grapes, and sake without rice. Accordingly, such a kombucha will have questionable health benefits. 

Another challenge with the kombucha industry is the lack of a standard definition of what kombucha is. In our experience with various brands, flavors run the gamut from toe-curling vinegar to overpriced sparkling fruit juice. So, as the first commercial producers of kombucha in the Commonwealth, we felt obligated to put Kentucky on the kombucha map by making an authentic artisanal kombucha. 

Kentucky Kombucha 

We brew Kentucky Kombucha for health: the health of the microbes in solution and that of the end consumer. We adhere to small-scale brewing methods intended to optimize the beneficial nutritive components of fermented tea (namely probiotics, antioxidants, organic acids and digestive enzymes, among others). We call this a tea-centric process of manufacturing. 

We use a multitude of organic teas from several countries on two continents. Teas are like wine grapes: They have a terroir, a sense of place, which is often unique to that area. For us, the idea of using only one tea—like oolong, which is used by most commercial kombucha producers and is a good tea in its own right—is like painting with only one color. Instead, we strive to mix and match the various nutritional profiles of black, green, red, yellow and white teas to create a more nutritionally diverse kombucha with nuanced flavors unique to our brand. 

Photo: Aaron Borton

No fake news here 

We test Kentucky Kombucha for the presence of naturally occurring beneficial probiotics, antioxidants, organic acids, amino acids, et al. We utilize the services of independent, third-party licensed and accredited food science labs for our testing. So when we say on our bottles “Live active cultures,” this is a substantiated claim affirmed by a microbiome analysis conducted at one of these labs. 

Currently, we are working with a lab in Wisconsin to determine approximate counts (amounts) of these helpful microbes, like lactobacillus, which is found in dairy products. While I don’t consume dairy due to an allergy, I benefit from these same microbes in our vegan kombucha. We will be sharing our results on our website in the coming months. 

Health claims 

A multitude of fantastic anecdotes claim that kombucha is a cure-all of sorts, a magical potion. Truth is, there is no magic, though there is still much mystery. Kombucha does not cure a thing. What it does do is help the body help itself by regulating the body’s pH levels (acid/alkaline) toward a slightly more alkaline state, which our bodies prefer. This helps our body operate at an optimal level, thus maximizing our potential to best assimilate and metabolize the nutrients we take in though our regular diets. By continually inoculating our gut with beneficial microorganisms found in fermented foods like kombucha, we are keeping our inner warriors well fed and happy so that they in turn keep us healthy. 

Additionally, groundbreaking research is being conducted in the field of psychobiotics. These are live bacteria that, when ingested, confer mental health benefits through interactions with commensal gut bacteria. New data demonstrates a positive correlation with healthy gut bacteria and positive outcomes regarding our emotional and cognitive health. The area of research concerning the gut-brain axis is a new frontier in human health and science. 

How much to drink? 

A good question. Being that brands are of differing strengths regarding nutrients, each brand’s formula determines how much one should drink. Kentucky Kombucha is meant to be enjoyed a bit at a time, a bottle or two a week. No need to gulp an entire bottle, though many do, including us when the mood hits. Rather, we brew our teas to extract maximum nutrition and impart it in the final product so we get more mileage out of our kombucha. One national brand says on its bottle that a person should drink one a day. At four bucks a kombucha, that adds up. 

If you are new to kombucha we suggest drinking a two to three ounces after each meal or snack. See how your body responds. Ferments generally have a detoxifying effect and it varies depending on the individual. So build up to a level that is comfortable to you. We also work with athletes who swear by kombucha after workouts, and yoga practitioners whose clients note the regenerative effects of kombucha. 

What is that blob in my bottle of Kentucky Kombucha? 

The SCOBY (rhymes with Toby or Adobe) is an acronym for Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast. Scientist refer to this community as a zoogleal mat, which is a complex community of microorganisms — bacteria and yeast — that form a thin cellulose membrane, or mat, on top of the liquid they are introduced to. A comprehensive explanation readily exists in the world of the internet for readers eager to learn more about it. 

In short, the best explanation I’ve come across likens the SCOBY to the “mother” of vinegar. In my home growing up, all of our vinegar was cloudy with a bit a sediment in the bottle. My grandparents would claim that was what made it good. To filter this out would not only remove significant flavor but also nutrition. As such, we do not. Relish it, ignore it, chew it, or use it to make your own batch: It’s the SCOBY that makes kombucha, kombucha. 

In the end, trust your gut. 

We brew five flavors that you can find in bottles throughout the Bluegrass: Ginger, Lemongrass, Jasmine, Red and Black (rooibos red tea and black tea) and Green and Black (our take on a traditional kombucha with green and black teas). Additionally, we feature a dozen rotating flavors on tap, such as Lavender/Chamomile, Hibiscus/Vanilla, Pineapple/Cayenne, Apple/Raspberry. 

We’ve been amazed at the numerous cocktails and mocktails being made with kombucha. In fact, bars specializing in kombucha-based drinks are opening from coast to coast. Google “kombucha cocktails” and you will see what we mean. 

Buy locally 

Kentucky Kombucha is available at Douglass Loop Farmers’s Market and at many regional retailers like Blue Dog Bakery and Red Hog, Proof on Main, The Wine Market and Rainbow Blossom in Louisville and Good Foods Co-op in Lexington.

For a full list see www.KentuckyKombucha.com

Article from Edible Louisville & the Bluegrass at http://ediblelouisville.ediblecommunities.com/drink/putting-fizz-fitness-kentucky-kombucha
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