Thursday, February 27, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Kombucha

     About a month ago, I found myself in Canton, Ohio—the city with the name inspired by the famous Chinese city, which houses the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  While there I decided to check out an organic supermarket.  I felt a little out of place there (as readers may have guessed, my typical diet is staunchly omnivorous, and chock full of non-local, heavily processed, highly preserved, artificially colored and flavored, and decidedly non-organic foods).  But I bought a few items here and there, including a couple of vegetarian sandwiches (sadly dry and mostly tasteless) and some seaweed snacks (delicious).
     I washed these down with a beverage that was new to me—kombucha.  I didn’t know anything about it, but the store had many different choices, so I took a representative sample of three, and took them back to my hotel.  Once there I did my usual superficial research, and learned what it was I planned to imbibe.
     Kombucha is made with sweetened black tea which has been lightly fermented in various symbiotic bacteria and yeasts.  Other types of tea are sometimes used, but black tea appears to be the most common.  This beverage began in China, and spread from there to Russia, and then to the rest of the globe.  But otherwise many aspects of kombucha are controversial.  Starting with its development—some historians claim it’s an ancient beverage, thousands of years old, while others maintain it’s only one or two hundred years old at the most.  Then there’s the perceived health benefits.  Some, especially those who advocate traditional and alternative medicines, say kombucha boosts the immune system, offers relief for PMS, joint pain, and arthritis, prevents or lessens the affects of aging, prevents disease in general, or even treats or cures cancer and AIDS.  Science, meanwhile, disputes these claims pretty much across the board, at least based on what studies have been done so far.  The American Cancer Society, for example, contends that there is no evidence for kombucha as a treatment or cure for any type of cancer.  It’s also pointed out that the drink can actually be hazardous, for those with certain allergies or conditions (such as those undergoing hormone replacement).  Additionally, the bacteria in it are evidently tricky to get right, sometimes leading to contamination, especially during home brewing.
     But, clearly these disputes are bigger in scope for my little blog, so let’s get to my impressions.  As usual, I’ll go worst to first for these carbonated libations.  First up is Millennium Products GT’s organic, raw kombucha, citrus flavor.  It listed various probiotics, B vitamins, and antioxidants among its ingredients.  It tasted very lemon-y, but decidedly too strong.  It was also kind of astringent.  Overall, pretty unpleasant—I won’t be buying this one again.
     Next was Live Soda’s organic raw kombucha, Dr. Better flavor.  This one was yellow in color.  Again, rather disappointing.  I assumed from the name that it would have a “Dr. Pepper” type flavor to it, but it didn’t at all.  Instead it was citrus-y.  Better than the first one, but not by much.  Not good enough for a revisit, anyway.
     Finally, there was Reed’s organic live cranberry ginger kombucha.  Again, didn’t detect the advertised flavors much.  I perceived a little ginger tinge, but not the cranberry (except for the reddish color).  It was mostly citrus-y yet again.  On the plus side, this was the best of the bunch by far, and I might consider purchasing it again, every once in a while.
     Just for the record, I didn’t notice any health effects, good or bad.  Obviously this was not a scientific, double blind test of any sort, and it was an incredibly small sample size, etc., but still, just to throw it out there.  I didn’t even notice any stomach/digestive discomfort.  But whatever the real story is about kombucha, healthwise, it certainly seems that you should know what you’re doing before you try making it yourself.  Also, kombucha does have a small amount of alcohol in it, since it is fermented.  This varies upon how long the drink is left to ferment, but usually ranges between .5 to 3%.  My store-bought ones were .5%, meaning a person my size (or really, pretty much any adult) would probably burst their bladder before they even got so much as a buzz.
     Finally, I’m intrigued by the “probiotic” listing on kombucha’s ingredients.  I’m tempted to buy another, and drop in an antibiotic pill, and see what happens.  Who would win this Biotic Battle?  And would the resulting clash cause a fountain to erupt out of the bottle, like Mentos in Diet Coke?  I’d like to think so.

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