This page is for the “newcomers” to kombucha. It is for those who heard much about it but wondered what that recent kombucha buzz is all about. So keep reading in case you wish to learn more about this culinary and nutritionally truly amazing beverage.
Well, even though it seems to be quite new here in the United States, kombucha (pronounced: “Kom-boo-tscha”), is a rather ancient beverage. Fermented tea beverages (maybe not called kombucha back then) has been around for more than a thousand years. While its true origins have remained a mystery, this fermented tea drink has been enjoyed by humans for centuries mostly in parts of Asia and parts of Russia.
There its consumption has been credited with numerous health benefits. While many of those claims remained anecdotal, not many people are aware, that kombucha has been studied scientifically for more than 80 years now, especially in Germany and Russia. Numerous scientific studies strongly indicate that kombucha may indeed offer a series of health benefits. According to some of those, kombucha seems to be effective in reducing hepato-toxicity induced by environmental toxins. A comparative study conducted on black tea, kombucha tea and enzyme-processed black tea has proven the efficacy of kombucha tea and attributed the liver protecting effects to its antioxidant power. Studies conducted here at Hebe Kombucha have confirmed that the kombucha the way we brew it here is indeed packed with antioxidant power, equally potent as vitamin E. According to some reports it seems to help restoring the levels of glutathione, the human body’s master antioxidant and major component necessary for detoxification.
Kombucha is also known to have relatively high levels of glucuronic acid, a compound used by the liver to remove all types of toxins (xenobiotics) by a process called glucuronidation. Numerous scientific studies exist – some going back more than 50 years – further suggesting that the probiotic kombucha has immune-stimulatory and anti-cancer properties. Compounds in kombucha, most namely glucaric acid, have been reported to be effective in preventing various types of cancer including pancreatic and breast cancer. In Asian cultures, kombucha has a long traditional use as a natural therapeutic agent helping to control the factors implicated in diabetic conditions.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha tea (or simply kombucha) is, like beer, cider or wine, a fermented beverage. But compared to beer, cider or wine, kombucha (and water kefir for that matter) contains almost no alcohol and – kombucha is a truly probiotic beverage. Probiotic means that the final kombucha product contains millions of live microorganisms and derived microorganismal byproducts, most namely vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and organic acids, offering a myriad of “probiotic” health benefits. While most beer breweries filter out the biotic component, i.e. the yeast, from their final product, we leave a significant amount of our vitamin-rich, health beneficial probiotic “living” components in our final products.
There is another big difference of kombucha to beer, wine and other fermented beverages. Because kombucha is made by fermenting natural tea leaves, which are naturally rich in caffeine, kombucha is a naturally caffeinated and slightly carbonated energizing drink. This is very different to the currently very fashionable energy drinks which are to the most extent composed using synthetic vitamins and energy boosting compounds, i.e. caffeine and taurine.
Putting it all together now, because of its remarkable complexity and complex composition, kombucha is the “queen of all fermented beverages”. It is an all natural, refreshing and energizing probiotic containing only traces of natural, tea-derived caffeine and invigorating organic acids. Compared with many other fermented beverages and fashionable energy drinks, kombucha offers it all: it is a wellbeing enhancing probiotic, naturally refreshing, and gently energizing drink. And it does it all naturally! No synthetic caffeine, taurine, vitamins or coloring dyes.
Due to its probiotic nature, and as mentioned earlier, kombucha’s proclaimed health benefits are legion, going back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Kombucha in History
According to historians, fermented tea, or kombucha, has been consumed by humans almost as long if not as long as beer. Kombucha’s ancient origin is shrouded in mystery. No one can say for certain where kombucha was cultivated and drank for the first time. But according to some sources kombucha tea was already brewed in China during the Tsin-Dynasty around 221 BC. During this time the tea was already honored for its magical powers with the claimed fame to make people “live forever”. The origin of the name of the fermented tea is also somewhat unclear, but it could come from the Japanese, where “kombu” means “brown tea algae” and “cha” stands for “tea”. The Chinese scholar Kuo-Po (324 AC) called it “Tschuan” to describe a wine-like tea, what eventually changed to “Ch’a” and evolved into “K’un-Pu-Ch’a”. According to pastor Weidinger, who was a missionary in Taiwan, “Kombucha tea is an ancient East Asiatic beverage which came out of the ocean. … I was very impressed by a beverage which was served to me by the local people which had a sweet-sour taste and was very refreshing in the hot climate of the area. Was it wine that tasted like a delicious tea or an unusual tea that tasted like a rare wine? I not only felt stronger after the long and tiresome walk, but strangely enough, felt healthier.”
Consumption of a fermented beverage was also mentioned in the Bible (Ruth 2:14) around 1000 B.C, where the land-owner Boas said to the Moabite Ruth: “Come over here and eat some bread and dip your morsel into the vinegar-drink!” From Asia, kombucha eventually made its way to Europe via Mongolia and Russia. In Russia, where kombucha is still used and revered today, the fermented tea became known and famous as “Kargasok Tea”. A truly amazing story comes from this region, whereas in the 1930s, “a Japanese woman visited the Russian region of Kargasok and was stunned to find so many healthy people who were over the age of 100. She is said to have met a man of the age of 130 who had married an old woman of over eighty who was still able to conceive children. The Japanese woman was fascinated by this and attempted to obtain the secret of the eighty-year-old woman who hardly had a wrinkle. She discovered that in every house hold, young and old alike consumed about 1 pint (or 0.33 liter) of Kombucha tea each day. To make this tea, the Japanese woman received a special yeast fungus and instructions how to use it. She took the fungus back to Japan where she started to duplicate it and to pass along friends.” In Kargasok, where kombucha has a longstanding reputation as a health elixir, cancer and high blood pressure are claimed to be unknown.
“Those who ignore the great stories and lessons of the past, are no better than a mind-less plant trying to replace its roots for the short lived splendor of its fruits …”
From Russia, kombucha eventually found its way into the Eastern and Central part of Europe. There eventually more reports about the healing effects of this “magical fungus” began to emerge in the 1920s. In 1914, a researcher by the name Bacinskaja mentions kombucha to be effective to improve the stomach-intestinal activity. In 1915 Professor S. Bazarewski reported in the “Correspondence for the Association of Nature Researchers”, that people living in the Baltic Russian provinces of Livland and Kurland prepared a folk-remedy called “Brinum-Ssene”, which can be translated into something like “Wonder-mushroom”. Historically, the people of Latvia ascribed wonderful healing power for many diseases to this mushroom beverage. From Russia, kombucha eventually made its way into central Europe in the 1920s. In Germany kombucha soon gained much attention and was given many names, including “Wunderpilz”, meaning miracle mushroom in German. It was about the same time when several German scientists started to study the properties of kombucha more scientifically. In 1917-1918, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Kobert stated that an “unfailing remedy against joint rheumatism” was made with this mushroom. In 1926, Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Henneberg reports that a drink, called “Tea-kwass” in Russia and prepared with the tea-mushroom, is a “remedy against all sorts of diseases, especially against constipation.” One year later (1927), Dr. Madaus – the founder of a German pharmaceutical company still carrying his name today – wrote in the Biologic Healing Arts, that the kombucha tea mushroom and its metabolic products, has excellent influence on the regeneration of the cellular walls and is, therefore, an excellent remedy for arteriosclerosis. In 1928, Prof. Dr. Lakowitz confirms the effectiveness of kombucha tea against digestive disturbances and states: “An extensive spreading of the mushroom-tea for the production of such Tee-Kwasses, as a remedy against digestive disturbances is desirable for all types of people.” In the same year, Dr. Maxim Bing recommends the Kombucha mushroom as a “very effective remedy for arteriosclerosis, gout, and intestinal deficiency”. He further recommends the use of fresh, good kombucha cultures to achieve favorable effect on lowering blood pressure, cessation of anxiety, irritability, headaches and pains. One year later (in 1929), Dr. Siegwart Hermann concludes from experimental results with hypercholesteremic cats – as a result from poisoning with the drug Vigantol – that feeding them with kombucha lowered their cholesterol levels. In the same year, Dr. E. Arauner reports of the anti-diabetic and anti-aging effects of kombucha and reaches the following conclusion: “In summary, one can say that the Kombucha mushroom or its extract, has proven itself as excellently prophylactic against diabetes, but especially against aging problems, such as arteriosclerosis.”
In the 1940s, Hans Irion (then Director of the State Academy for Chemists in Braunschweig, Germany) expressed the following about kombucha in his Course for Druggist Specialty Schools (1944, Vol. 2, pg. 405): “By the intake of the drink described as Tea-kwass, there happens a remarkable invigoration of the body’s entire glandular system and a promotion of the metabolism. Tea-kwass is recommended as an excellent prophylactic for gout and rheumatism, furunkulosis, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, nervousness, intestinal lassitude, and aging problems. It is also very highly recommended for sports-people and those who do strenuous mental work.”
In 1954, G.F. Barbancik publishes the first detailed description of the mushroom-tea with the title “The Tea-Mushroom and its Therapeutic Properties”. The Russian author mentions the first application of the mushroom-tea decoction as a healing remedy at the Hospital of Omsk and its successful therapeutic use for tonsillitis, inflammatory diseases, stomach catarrh, dysentery, arteriosclerosis, and high blood-pressure.
In 1961, Dr. med. Valentin Köhler published an article in the periodical Medical Practice entitled, “Glucuronic acid gives courage to cancer patients” and starts the discussion on the therapeutic usage of glucuronic acid found in kombucha tea in cancer therapy. He states: “The maximally long effect of glucuronic acid is able to bring about an increase in the body’s own defenses and, possibly, also of the Interferon-production.” Dr. Köhler also noted the “capacity of the glucuronic acid to enter into combination with both foreign and endogenic toxic substances, effectively protecting cells”. Dr. Köhler concluded from his pioneering examinations that “the processes of growth and decomposition in the human metabolism are maintained on an optimal level through adding small dosages of glucuronic acid, as contained in the Kombucha beverage.”
In 1964, Dr. Rudolf Sklenar, a well known kombucha pioneer in Germany, described kombucha in the periodical Experiential Healing Science as “an outstanding natural remedy which acts detoxifying in every regard and which dissolves microorganisms as well as cholesterol.” Dr. Sklenar, who studied medicine in the city of Prague, had his first contact with kombucha tea in a monastery. He started conducting research with his kombucha cultures during WWII and published the results of his research in the 1960s. As a result he created an increased awareness of the healing and strengthening powers of kombucha tea in the wider public. Dr. Sklenar eventually used kombucha successfully to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive illnesses, rheumatism and gout. Later, Dr. Sklenar extended the use of kombucha and integrated the fermented tea into his biological program to treat different forms of cancer. Dr. Sklenar developed his biological cancer therapy based on kombucha and other biological remedies such as Coli-preparations, which he published under the title “Cancer Diagnosis Based on Blood and the Treatment of Cancer, Pre-cancerous Conditions, and other Metabolic Diseases with Kombucha and Coli-Preparations“. Dr. Sklenar went on to state that the vitamins, lactic acid and glucuronic acid found in kombucha are effective in destroying harmful microorganisms and dissolving waste matter and toxic deposits. He claims to have been able to successfully treat gout, rheum, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, dysbacteria, constipation, impotence, nonspecific draining, obesity, furunculosis, kidney stones, cholesterol and certain forms of cancer with his kombucha-based therapy. Today, a company in Germany sells a kombucha manufactured using Dr. Sklenar’s original cultures and protocols.
In 1987, Dr. med. Veronika Carstens (the wife of a former German President) starts promoting treatment of cancer patients with kombucha and publishes her findings under the title “Help from Nature-My Remedies Against Cancer”. She has been quoted saying about kombucha: “Kombucha detoxifies the organism and enhances the metabolism; this improves the defense capacity.”
In the United States, immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe eventually introduced the kombucha fungus to the New World. In the U.S. kombucha for the first time earned major public attention in connection with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. After having been diagnosed with cancer he is said to have drank one liter of kombucha a day which was prepared from a culture he received from Japan. His cancer allegedly stopped spreading and he was able to finish his term in office. Since the 1990s, kombucha products are not only embraced by international celebrities, including Madonna, Oliver Stone and Linda Evans, but they are increasingly enjoyed by a broader, health aware and healthy life style embracing audience in the U.S.