I’ll take the occasional CrossFit class, try my hand at making a smoothie bowl or even commit to a meal prep, but I’ve never pledged complete allegiance to a superfood or a food trend. This is because information about wellness trends, to a large extent, is ever-changing and contradictory.
“Should you eat dinner before 7pm or have your first meal after 1pm?”
“Is apple cider vinegar the fat-burner you need?”
“Are small meals the key to stoking your metabolism?”
Most importantly, the phrase ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ seems appropriate when describing the hottest new health fad. So, when I was introduced to Kombucha, I was intrigued, confused and skeptical of this ‘miracle drink’. The slightly sweet, mildly tart, fizzy beverage with a history that spans 2,000 years was unlike anything I’d tried before and I was unsure it would ever achieve the everlasting fame that avocado has. However, I made its acquaintance a year ago and, since then, it feels like India has grown accustomed to what is definitely an acquired taste.
Having made its great Indian debut, Kombucha is rapidly gaining popularity and is easier to access than ever before. You can pick up a bottle from a grocery store near you (provided you live in the bigger cities) from local producers, or order it off the menus at artisanal cafes and restaurants in the most hipster neighbourhoods. The bubbly brew that promises gut health, better skin and a whole host of other benefits has also been plagued by some unregulated claims, concerns over its alcohol content and a back-and-forth related to how much sugar goes into a bottle of Kombucha. Love it or hate it, kombucha is here — but whether or not it will survive the food trend wave it is riding, is something that only time will decide. In the meantime, is Kombucha all that was promised to you? The answer lies somewhere in its lost history as well as with the people bringing the ancient Chinese tea to India’s F&B industry.
An Ancient Chinese Tea…That Can Cure Cancer?
Rewind to Manchuria (the region now called North-East China) circa 200 BC where the ‘Tea Of Immortality’ was first brewed. Kombucha derives its name from a Korean physician, Dr. Kombu, who famously whipped a pot of this fermented tea as a cure for Japan’s Emperor Inkyo in 415 AD. From there it travelled westwards, most notably to Russia (where it was called ‘Kambucha’) and Germany as ‘Kombuchaschwamm’. Its production died down during World War II but there was a renewed interest in the slightly vinegary fermented tea drink when people heard of the German doctor using it in his practice to “treat cancer patients, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure and diabetes.”
While floating rumours of Kombucha’s alleged superhero powers, as a cure for cancer and even HIV, have stood the test of time and are passed around even today, it’s important to note that these are still unsubstantiated, with little to no evidence. Nitin Gandhi, founder of Bombay-based Kombucha company Bombucha, elaborates that its benefits include “promoting healthy gut bacteria, boosting metabolism to support healthy weight loss, improving digestion, relieving headaches, migraines and joint pains, and reducing blood pressure” in addition to just making you feel a lot better, a lot lighter.
Bringing the brew to Mumbai’s growing community of conscious eaters and fitness enthusiasts, Bombucha shook things up when they started delivering bottles across the city in April last year. Available in flavours like Apple Spice, Chamomile and Date, Bombucha is available at Green Sattva cafe as well as online. Speaking to Nitin on why he decided to set up his Kombucha company, he says, “I wanted to start something new in the F&B industry since I had a restaurant before but I wanted to create a health-focused product.” Having chanced upon Kombucha, with a bit of luck, his Polish girlfriend (and co-founder) Monica Pawlowska taught Nitin the careful art of brewing this probiotic drink.
However, the procurement of SCOBY was then the first step to building Bombucha.
Yeast, Not A Mushroom
SCOBY or a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria And Yeast is the magic disc that turns tea to Kombucha. A rather standardised, formulaic recipe for Kombucha is available quite easily and it involves preparing a “sweet tea solution and then cooling it. Once it has cooled down you place the kombucha mother ‘SCOBY’ in the solution which feeds on the sugar and tea, and converts it into various beneficial enzymes, bacterial acids and probiotics,” Achintya Anand, founder of Krishi Cress and Khukrain Kombucha, tells me.
While SCOBY can be purchased online, Nitin received an extremely small SCOBY via a friend in the States and Isha Sawhney (founder of Delhi-based brand Bhu Kombucha) first got her hands on a spongy SCOBY from her cousin. However, she believes that her Kombucha might taste different from the pot you’re tempted to brew because “fermenting things has a lot to do with energies and maybe I had the right energies at the right time.” She believes that the process is quite intuitive, personal so that no two Kombucha are the same. Khukrain Kombucha, for instance, is infused with the “health benefits of various different flowers, fruits and vegetables grown at our farms,” Achintya explains.
Stirring Up Controversy
One of the common misconceptions that are associated with Kombucha, Achintya tells me, is that Kombucha is a mushroom. “Since the SCOBY looks like flat-headed mushroom, it is often confused to be one.” Scoby is simply a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that is integral for kombucha-making.
Another widely held misconception with regards to the fermented tea that is full of antioxidants, amino acids and probiotics is that the sugar content is also extremely high. Achintya, Isha and Nitin were quick to clarify that the addition of sugar is for the “bacteria, not for you.” By the time kombucha is done fermenting (anywhere between 7 to 31 days), the sugar level has reduced massively since the culture feeds on it. “Well-fermented Kombucha is usually with less sugar anyway,” Nitin clarifies.
“It has such a miniscule percentage of alcohol, that is produced as a byproduct of fermentation,” Isha says debunking another Kombucha myth. An inspection at a Whole Foods store in Portland, in 2010, led to widespread concern about how much alcohol is actually present in Kombucha. While Isha estimates the alcohol content at less than 1%, it’s safe to say that it ranges between 0.5% to 2.5% and that this definitely can’t replace the G&Ts you chug at cocktail hour. While Isha advises drinking no more than 250ml a day, Achintya believes you should test the way you feel with just 125ml of Khukhrain’s Kombucha a day, and slowly work your way up, while pregnant and lactating mothers should strictly refrain from drinking it entirely.
A Guide To Buying ‘Booch’ In India
So, who’s drinking Kombucha anyway? Nitin tells us that Bombay has been very receptive of this drink and “most of the people who order from us have serious gut issues and have really benefited from it.” In his experience, serious kombucha-drinkers come looking for it, after discovering its benefits through independent research. His clientele ranges from middle-aged customers who order it quite regularly, as well as a lot of young people who drink it for health reasons. However, Isha believes that the true benefits of Kombucha manifest only from drinking it on a regular basis. “You can change your gut flora permanently,” she says by adding a glass of Kombucha to your daily diet.
Tempted to try it? Khukrain’s Kombucha is available at all three Blue Tokai outlets in Delhi and order it online here, while Isha’s Bhu Kombucha can be sampled by Ping’s, Greenr Cafe and Coast Cafe. You can also drop her a message at +919999064200 and order a batch at home. Bombucha is shipping across Mumbai and you can place orders by dropping them a message at +91 7400081781 or emailing them at [email protected].
Achintya is confident that Kombucha is here to stay, because its health benefits are extremely perceptible.
We’ll drink to that.
If you enjoyed this article, we suggest you read: