Kombucha tea: origin, ingredients and precautions

What you need to know about this beverage and how to make it safely at home.

Kombucha tea has been tantalizing taste buds since 220 B.C. where it orginated in northeast China. It was believed that such libations possessed healing powers that brought health and longevity. Similar health claims have fueled the recent explosion of this fizzy beverage into mainstream markets in the United States.

What exactly is kombucha? Kombucha tea is a fermented beverage made with a few simple ingredients: tea, sugar, and a culture.The culture is called a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY is a biofilm layer made of beneficial bacteria and yeast.

Not enough scientific evidence exists to support health claims surrounding the tea’s ability to fight disease, stop aging, and detoxify the body. However, kombucha and other fermented foods, are a source of probiotics. Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that are important for gut health. Kombucha also contains B vitamins, antioxidants, organic acids and trace minerals. Unflavored kombucha has about 30 calories and 2-3 grams of sugar per eight ounces.

You can buy commercially made brands of kombucha or you can make your own. To make your own home-brewed kombucha make sure to follow proper food safety techniques. University of Wisconsin Extension provides food safety tips for making homemade kombucha.

  • Sanitation is the most important food safety rule. Use sterile containers and utensils. Practice proper handwashing.
  • Sugar is a key ingredient in kombucha, and table sugar is preferred. Sugar used to sweeten the brewed tea feeds the bacteria and yeast needed to produce kombucha. Add sugar at the rate of 1.76 ounces per one quart of tea.
  • Do not use herbal teas. Black or green tea should be the beverage base. 
  • Heat the tea to boiling, cool rapidly, and add the starter. Ferment the kombucha at 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-10 days; cooler temperatures (62-78 F) will also work. Do not ferment in the sun or where the temperature can rise too high.
  • Refrigerate kombucha after fermenting. Leaving kombucha capped at room temperature for periods longer than suggested could result in carbon dioxide accumulation and possible explosion of the contents.

For more information on similar topics such as basic fermentation, health benefits of tea, or general food safety guidelines, visit MSU Extension’s extensive library of articles where you can search by topics of interest. 

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