What Is Kombucha?

Functional beverages were undoubtedly the biggest wellness trend of 2016. We’ve seen a major influx of matcha tea, adaptogenic mushroom drinks, and kombucha. While we’ll always be big coffee devotees, there’s definitely room in our life for some fizzy kombucha. We love it’s crispness and tart bite; it pairs perfectly with our lunches or mixed in a cocktail. Frankly, though, we don’t know much about the drink or how it’s made, which is why we turned to HealthAde Kombucha’s CEO and co-founder Daina Trout. She graciously answered every question we had and then some; read below for the ultimate insider’s guide to kombucha…

How would you describe kombucha to someone who has never heard about it or tasted it? 

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage, naturally rich in probiotics and healthy organic acids. For those who’ve never tasted it… it’s delicious and slightly effervescent while being naturally low in sugar. It’s kind of like a sparkling apple cider vinegar, but sweeter. 

Why should we drink kombucha? What are the health benefits?

I am a firm believer in the health it takes to be happy, meaning – if it makes you feel good it’s probably good for you as well. Kombucha is a natural food, not a medicine or a supplement, and as such it hasn’t been specifically researched at large for any functional benefit. I believe we should be looking at kombucha like like a bag of carrots. It’s a REAL food that’s full of good stuff that our bodies need, like probiotics and healthy acids. So the benefit is, it makes you feel good and doesn’t weight you down. We like to say it’s your body’s best friend.

Where does kombucha come from? We’ve heard it’s a fungus – is it made from mushrooms?

That’s a question I get asked all the time! Kombucha does not come from a mushroom—it’s actually made using four ingredients: sugar, tea, water, and the SCOBY. The SCOBY is the kombucha culture, similar to what’s used in yogurt, kefir, or sourdough, and like those cultures is classified as a fungus. Basically, “Fungus” means that it contains or was derived from yeasts. It’s as much a mushroom as bread. 

Can you make your own kombucha? How long does it take?

Absolutely! Making kombucha is simple but definitely an art— you have to tend to it and support it. Kombucha is made using four ingredients: Tea, sugar, water, and the SCOBY. The SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, and it’s what turns the sweet tea into kombucha. Basically, you start with sweet tea, add the SCOBY, and allow the liquid to ferment over time, and flavorings can be added at any point in the process. After somewhere around two to three weeks, the probiotics have eaten most of the sugar, and converted the sweet tea into delicious and slightly effervescent kombucha. I have been making it for a long time, even before I started Health-Ade. 

How much kombucha do you have to drink in order to reap the health benefits? 

Kombucha is not a supplement or medicine, so there is no set amount of kombucha you have to drink in order to experience the health benefits. When made the real way, kombucha is simply put a REAL food—so drink as much as makes you feel good!

What makes kombucha effervescent? Is it like soda/does it have any of the negative side effects of carbonation?

It depends. In REAL kombucha—how Health-Ade makes it—the effervescence comes naturally from the fermentation process. During this process, the SCOBY eats the sugars found in the sweet tea and makes bubbles. These bubbles are WAY different than those that come from forced carbonation. Forced carbonation usually uses phosphoric acid and has been tied to a lot of negative side effects that natural effervescence doesn’t appear to be subject to. Unfortunately, in order to shorten fermentation time, most kombucha’s on the shelf now force carbonate. We’re very proud to be made the way nature intended at Health-Ade, so we don’t force-carbonate.

What are your favorite ways to use kombucha?

I love mixing kombucha with different spirits to make delicious cocktails. You can get really creative and make anything from a kombucha bloody mary to a kombucha mimosa… yum!

How did you first become interested in the kombucha business?

I should make it clear that we didn’t start out knowing we’d be running a kombucha company. Health-Ade started because my husband, best friend and I were simultaneously feeling unfulfilled and knew we had something more to offer the world. We started an entrepreneur club where we met to discuss what our big (and cheap) idea could be, while sipping on my Kombucha (which I started brewing in grad school). Everyone thought we were crazy to leave our comfortable jobs, but we knew it was time to follow our guts. 

Justin, my husband, was told he was losing his hair, so he was personally motivated to find a solution. We began working on what could regrow hair, and learned that the SCOBY (or culture) used to make Kombucha was sometimes used  for hair growth. We thought- that’s it! I knew SCOBY, Vanessa knew sales and Justin would be our guinea pig! I started to tweak my recipe in order to have a stronger and healthier SCOBY. Soon, something magical occurred. After all the tweaks to the SCOBY, my kombucha started to taste downright amazing. By far, better than what was on the shelf. Here’s the follow your gut portion of the story… and Vanessa called it- let’s make kombucha! The next week we started selling in the Brentwood farmers market, we were sold out in an hour and we’ve never looked back.

How do you make Health-Ade kombucha?

Health-Ade is the best tasting and highest quality kombucha you can buy. Honestly there are so many things that we do to be that. For starters, we are the only commercial kombucha fermented in glass to prevent plastic and metal leaching. We brew in super small 2.5 gallon batches for premium quality and we flavor with only the highest quality ingredients like cold-pressed juice from organic produce. We believe mother nature knows best, and ferment 100% the all-natural way. So, we don’t pasteurize, force-carbonate, add engineered probiotics, and we wait for the brew to tell us when she’s ready. We’re proud to make real food and real kombucha all the way.  

Which flavor is your favorite?

They’re all delicious, but Pomegranate always hits the spot!

What do you like to pair kombucha with, food-wise?

Anything! Kombucha pairs well with most meals because it’s light, bubbly and refreshing. I personally love it at the 3pm lull all on its own. 

How can we get more probiotics in our daily meals/snacks?

I always recommend consuming more fermented foods to those looking to get more probiotics in their diet. From kombucha to sauerkraut, anything that is NATURALLY fermented will supply you with a healthy dose of gut-friendly probiotics.

What’s your ideal food day?

What a fun question. Ok, if time was on my side it would start with Noosa yogurt and homemade granola, topped with some kind of organic berry. Then for lunch I would HAVE to have a caesar salad. And, please…the good croutons. For dinner—a beautiful glass of wine (or two) and some kind of Italian food. Somewhere in there I would drink a kombucha and a turmeric juice. I would finish it off with a Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup. And maybe another glass of vino.

How do you like to start your mornings? What’s your favorite breakfast?

I’d love to start every morning with a workout, although that’s been tough since having a new born. That’s ok, I’ll get back to it someday 🙂 Breakfast is usually yogurt, granola and berries. I also love to start my day with a good family snuggle sesh.

Besides having a glass of wine, how do you relax during the work week?

Kombucha. Massage. Hip hop dance class. Not necessarily in that order. 

How do you practice beauty from the inside out? 

I feel most beautiful when I am most balanced. When I work out four times a week, eat delicious food that is real and mostly plant based, limit alcohol during the week, get enough quality time with husband and baby, make some wins at my CEO job, and get a massage—I’m pretty much in nirvana. Reality right now is this doesn’t usually happen all in one week. So I compromise and give myself a shot of compassion—and maybe an extra coat of mascara. In a way, beauty is a discipline of balancing effort and compassion.

Read our guide to probiotics or check out our tips on how to not get sick