Move over, matcha—kombucha is now taking the lead as the “It” tea in town.
The bubbly brew is made of four ingredients: black tea, water, sugar, and SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), a collection of microbes that help turn the tea into a fermented beverage that’s bubbly and slightly sour. From there, fruit juices, herbs, and spices can be added to give the kombucha extra flavor.
Like many fermented foods, kombucha is rich in beneficial probiotics and antioxidants, says dietitian Keri Glassman, R.D., founder of Nutritious Life. According to a report in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, fermented foods have digestive, immune, and energy-related benefits. Kombucha specifically, though? Popular brands like GT’s Organic Kombucha and Health-Ade say it promotes healthy digestive and immune systems and detoxification—and a review recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Food supports the brew’s believed detoxification, antioxidant, energy, and immune-benefiting properties.
If you’re not into yogurt, kombucha is a great dairy-free, low-calorie way to get your fix of fermented foods, says Glassman. It’s no wonder so many of us are drinking the kombucha Kool-Aid!
If you’ve never tried kombucha before, start with just four ounces (half a serving) per day to gauge how your body reacts, since fermented foods can upset some people’s digestive systems, especially at first, says dietitian Kelly Kennedy, M.S., R.D. If all is a-okay after a few days, you can start to sip more until you hit a full serving size, which is eight ounces. (Keep in mind that most bottles you buy at the store contain 16 ounces. That’s two servings, not one!)
While there’s no scientifically-proven limit for how much kombucha you can drink in a day, there are a few things you should be conscious of, says Glassman.
First, added sugar. While there’s some sugar in all kombucha— bacteria and yeast need to feed on sugar in order for fermentation to occur—some brands add extra sugar to their drinks after fermenting to sweeten them up. A healthy kombucha should have five grams of sugar or less per eight-ounce serving, says Kennedy. If you drink two servings of a super-sweet kombucha per day, you can easily rack upwards of 17 grams of sugar.
Second, gas. As delicious as kombucha may be, too much can cause gas and upset your belly, says Glassman. The bubbles from fermentation (and any added sugar) may contribute to increased flatulence, burping, or even diarrhea, says Kennedy. If your kombucha habit has been bothering your stomach, limit your daily sips to one eight-ounce serving and make sure to drink slowly, she suggests.
And, third, alcohol. Technically speaking, kombucha is alcoholic—though barely. You see, during the fermentation process, the SCOBY (bacteria) feeds off the sugar also added to the pre-kombucha tea, and produces some alcohol. Most brands contain about 0.5 percent alcohol per serving, says Kennedy. To put that in perspective, you’d have to drink eight servings (or 64 ounces) of kombucha to match the amount of alcohol in a standard lite beer. That said, it is possible for that alcohol percentage to sneak slightly upward as the kombucha continues to ferment in the bottle, according to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. So if at any point you feel woozy or unusually giddy after guzzling your kombucha, consider cutting your serving size.
The Vitamin Shoppe now sells kombucha in select stores—call your local store to see if they’ve got it!