If someone told me 10 years ago that a fermented bubbly drink made out of curdled mushrooms would have put a smile on my face, I probably would have thought they were crazy or talking about something illegal.
Flash forward to 2012 and Kombucha, a Chinese drink made out of fermented mushrooms, has become one of the most popular elixirs in today's health food culture.
Pronounced kom-boo-cha, the organic drink is believed to be several centuries old and made out of living fungus. Yes, it's alive but don't let that scare you away. The symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, called scoby for short, is claimed to have a variety of beneficial effects for both body and mind, including improved liver efficiency and energy.
The scoby is also sometimes referred to as the "mother" or "baby."
It actually contains no mushrooms, a mistake that can be traced back to an erroneous translation from its original Chinese. The "mushroom" that can be seen floating in the effervescent beverage as it dangles and twirls like an underwater acrobat is actually the scoby.
Regardless, in any drink such a spectacle would be a surefire sign of a product turned bad, but in kombucha, it’s where the magic happens. Dieters can enjoy an increased metabolism while health nuts can enjoy better digestion, antioxidants and a boosted immune system.
But the advantages end don’t end there, as the funky live cultures that are a dairy-free source of probiotics and amino acids have also been credited with everything from enhancing eye sight to reducing gray hair. It can even be applied to the skin to treat eczema, making it a true cure-all.
But perhaps “enjoy” is stretching the meaning of the word—true kombucha fans relish the natural high wrought by downing a whole bottle, while newbies may not be able to get over the first sip.
Available in fruity flavors like strawberry, guava, mango and hibiscus, the tangy goodness is truly an acquired taste that is more reminiscent of beer than juice.
Due to the fermentation process, it does contain a small amount of alcohol, but I like to think of it as a healthy alternative to beer and wine that are generally drunk to the detriment of liver and life function. While I may go for a cabernet sauvignon on an evening out with friends, the next morning I’m reaching for my “other alcohol” to counteract the damage--especially since it also helps alleviate headaches.
Years after first discovering a dusty bottle straddling coconut juice and yerba mate on a shelf at Whole Foods, I’m still hooked and I notice plenty of others have joined the "Kombucha Kraze".
With several varieties, flavors and purveyors to choose from, including farmers markets and batches that can be brewed at home, the curious drink crafted from an ancient strain of bacteria has become a staple in my household.
I still love the way it makes me feel and how it seems to augment my nature-centric lifestyle. It’s great for outdoor outings since it doesn’t require refrigeration, unlike probiotic yogurt drinks.
Before heading out to hike in the nearby Angeles National Forest, reading up on homeopathic medicine or any other time I need a boost of mental clarity, physical energy and even a better mood, I’m hunting for kombucha.
Unfortunately, I don’t always find it. But it’s come along away from dusty shelves with an emergence into farmers markets and other sectors of the continuously growing health food movement.
Plus, putting a look of disgust on the faces of friends and loved ones who don’t appreciate its funky goodness is its own benefit, and one that never gets old.
Do you drink kombucha? Where do you buy it locally? Share your kombucha experience in the comments below.