With annual sales hitting £350million in the US, it’s no surprise kombucha is now popping up in Britain’s health-food stores and hipster bars. But what is it and why is it so good for you? Stylist investigates...
What is kombucha?
Don’t flinch, but it’s fermented tea, created by adding tea, water and sugar to a live culture of bacteria and yeast (similar to a sourdough starter). The culture feeds off the sugar, releasing antioxidants, B vitamins and traces of alcohol to create a sweet-and-sour, lightly sparkling soft drink. Kombucha’s roots go back more than 2,000 years to China, but it has only been commercially brewed in the US and Europe in the last decade.
Why is it good for you?
There are many outlandish health claims attached to it, but it can improve digestion and boost your immune system. “Like any fermented product, kombucha contains beneficial bacteria that the body relies on,” explains nutrition consultant Alice Mackintosh. “For busy people who don’t always eat the right things, it’s a natural way of boosting the levels of good bacteria in the body, which in turn will support immunity and aid digestion.”
What does it taste like?
“It’s a bit tart, a bit sweet and a bit vinegary,” says Adam Vanni, who runs London’s first kombucha tap room, Jarr Bar in Hackney Wick. “It’s an acquired taste but one that is part a flavour profile that we’re moving towards right now, which is drier and more sour than sickly sweet.” During the Stylist office road-test, the response was mixed. “Like cheesy vinegar,” commented one staffer. Although many found the smell off-putting, it didn’t stop them consuming the whole bottle. Cider drinkers will enjoy the scrumpy-style tang of the original, but the flavoured versions went down best.
Where can I try it?
Jarr Bar has three varieties on tap – original, passion fruit and ginger – as well as kombucha cocktails (try the passion fruit bellini). Vegan café Anna-Loka in Cardiff also has a kombucha bar. If you’d rather try it at home but don’t live near WholeFoods, you can order online from Love Kombucha – the blueberry flavour makes for a gentle introduction – or try Go! Kombucha’s delicate green brew.
Illustration: Holly Wales at MP Arts
Words: Jenny Tregoning