Definitions

kombucha mushroom

Kombucha

Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a "kombucha colony," usually consisting principally of Acetobacter-species and yeast cultures. It has gained much popular support within many communities, mentioned by talk show hosts and celebrities. The increase in popularity can be seen by the many commercial brands coming onto the retail market.

Biology of kombucha

The culture contains a symbiosis of Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and yeast, mostly Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. The culture itself looks somewhat like a large pancake, and though often called a mushroom, or by the acronym SCOBY (for "Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast"), it is clinically known as a fungus.

History

The recorded history of this drink dates back to the Qin Dynasty in China (around 250 BC). The Chinese called it the "Immortal Health Elixir," because they believed Kombucha balanced the Middle Qi (Spleen and Stomach) and aided in digestion, allowing the body to focus on healing. Knowledge of kombucha eventually reached Russia and then Eastern Europe around the Early Modern Age, when tea first became affordable by the populace.

Russian "tea mushroom"

The process of brewing kombucha was introduced in Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 1800s, and became popular in the early 1900s. The kombucha culture is known locally as chayniy grib, (чайный гриб - 'tea mushroom'), and the drink itself is referred to as grib (гриб - 'mushroom'), "tea kvass (квас)" or simply "kvass (квас)", although it differs from regular "kvass (квас)" which is not made from tea and is generally fermented only with yeast and not the other bacteria which ferment tea to form kombucha.

Components

Kombucha contains many different cultures along with several organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids, and polyphenols.For the home brewer, there is no way to know the amounts of the components unless a sample is sent to a laboratory. The US Food and Drug Administration has no findings on the effects of kombucha. Final kombucha may contain some of the following components depending on the source of the culture: Acetic acid, which provides much anti-microbial activity; butyric acid, gluconic acid, glucuronic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, oxalic acid, usnic acid, as well as some B-vitamins.

Due to the alkaline fermentation process used in its brewing, Kombucha contains ethyl alcohol in amounts that vary from 0.5% to 1.5%, depending on anaerobic brewing time and proportions of microbe. Commercial preparations are typically 0.5% for distribution and safety reasons.

Health effects

A review of the published literature on the safety of kombucha suggests no specific oral toxicity in rats, although other reports suggest that care should be taken when taking medical drugs or hormone replacement therapy while regularly drinking kombucha. It may also cause allergic reactions. It is common for urinary samples to obtain a chemical like scent due to the fermenting process of kombucha which releases into the liver. If this is the case, take another urine sample. If it continues to smell, consult a local physician to be checked for liver complications.

Kombucha is also low in calories, and thus a good alternative to other (fermented and non fermented) beverages such as beer, lemonade, and fruit juice . Because of this, home production of kombucha is increasing in popularity.

Claims

Advocates believe that kombucha helps by competing with endogenous microbes without toxic constituents, when it is cultivated carefully. Increased glucuronic acid conjugates in the urine after kombucha consumption may support this hypothesis.

Early chemical analysis of kombucha brew suggested that glucuronic acid was a key component of it, perhaps assisting the liver by supplying more of the substance during detoxification. But more recent analysis of kombucha offer a different explanation, as outlined in the book in Analysis of Kombucha Ferments by Michael Roussin. Roussin reports on an extensive chemical analysis of a variety of commercial and homebrew versions of kombucha, and finds no evidence of glucuronic acid at any concentration.

But Roussin suggests that another component may have health benefits

D - glucaro -1,4 lactone, also known as glucaric acid. It serves as an inhibitor of the beta-glucuronidase enzyme, a bacterial product from the gut microbiota that can cleave the glucuronic acid conjugates and send bodily wastes back into circulation, thus increasing the exposure time before the waste is ultimately excreted. Therefore, the active component of kombucha likely exerts its effect by preventing bacterial disruption of glucuronic acid conjugates and increasing the detoxification efficiency of the liver. Glucaric acid is being explored independently as a cancer preventive agent.

Reports of adverse reactions may be related to unsanitary fermentation conditions, leaching of compounds from the fermentation vessels, or "sickly" kombucha cultures that cannot acidify the brew. Cleanliness is important during preparation, and in most cases, the acidity of the fermented drink prevents growth of unwanted contaminants. If a culture becomes contaminated, it will most likely be seen as common mold, green or brown in color.

Safety and contamination

As with all foods, care must be taken during preparation and storage to prevent contamination. Keeping the kombucha brew safe and contamination-free is a concern to many home brewers. Key components of food safety when brewing kombucha include clean environment, proper temperature, and low pH.

In every step of the preparation process, it is important that hands and utensils (anything that is going to come into contact with the culture) are dish soap clean so as not to contaminate the kombucha. For safety reasons, Kombucha should be brewed in food-grade glass containers only. Kombucha should not be brewed in lead crystal, ceramic, plastic, painted, or metallic containers including stainless steel, as the acidic solution can leach by-products into the finished product. Keeping cultures covered and in a clean environment also reduces the risk of introducing contaminants and bacteria.

Maintaining a correct pH is an important factor in a home-brew. Acidic conditions are favorable for the growth of the kombucha culture, and inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria. The pH of the kombucha batch should be between 2.5 and 4.5. A pH of less than 2.5 makes the drink too acidic for human consumption, while a pH greater than 4.5 increases the risk of contamination. Use of fresh "starter tea" and/or vinegar can be used to control pH. Some brewers test the pH at the beginning and the end of the brewing cycle to ensure that the correct pH is achieved.

If mold does grow on the surface of the kombucha pellicle, or "mushroom," it is best to throw out the batch and start over.

See also

References

  • Tietze, Harald W.: Kombucha - The Miracle Fungus. Gateway Books. ISBN 1-85860-029-4.
  • Dipti, et al. Lead induced oxidative stress: beneficial effects of Kombucha tea. Biomed Environ Sci. 2003 Sep;16(3):276-82.
  • Ernst, et al. Kombucha: a systematic review of the clinical evidence. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd / Research in Complementary and Classical Natural Medicine 2003;10:85-87.
  • Pauline, et al. Studies on toxicity, anti-stress and hepato-protective properties of Kombucha tea. Biomed Environ Sci. 2001 Sep;14(3):207-13.
  • Teoh, et al. Yeast ecology of Kombucha fermentation Int J Food Microbiol. 2004 Sep 1;95(2):119-26.
  • Frank, Günther W.: Kombucha - Healthy beverage and natural remedy from the Far East. Its correct preparation and use, Ennsthaler Gesellschaft GmbH & Co KG: 1995, ISBN 978-3850683371

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