It’s the “new soda” that everyone’s talking about.

Move over diet coke, Topo Chico and La Croix: If you want a flavored beverage alongside your lunchtime salad at Whole Foods, or something instead of coffee at Thunderbird Coffee, grab a kombucha tea.

Like green juice, bone broth and bulletproof coffee, kombucha is a tea has seen a surge in popularity over the past several years. In fact, five years ago, only a handful of varieties existed, but today, dozens of brands are available at most grocery stores nationwide—all with labels proclaiming a “rich source of probiotics.”

While kombucha may be the trend of the moment, kombucha is nothing new.

It’s a drink that’s been around for at least 2,000 years (if not more), dating back to ancient China (221 B.C.) when it was known as “The Tea of Immortality”—due to its “gut healing” properties.

How does kombucha become such a “gut healer” in the first place?

Kombucha is sweetened black tea fermented by a mixture of yeasts and bacteria. Over time, this fermentation process creates a chemical makeup of bacteria in the drink that packs a powerhouse punch of probiotics (“good bacteria” to counteract any bad gut bugs in your gut).

In addition to probiotics, fermented foods, like kombucha, are also connected to other digestion-improving benefits, like:

  • Detoxing your liver
  • Boosting your immune system
  • Increasing energy
  • Boosting your metabolism
  • And improving your mood

Seriously?! All this from a fermented tea drink?

Sounds too good to be true…Is kombucha the real deal?

Answer: Yes. And no.

It depends.

 Kombucha: All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Like any “health” food, kombucha can fall victim to clever marketing—the same way your fat-free Dannon yogurt boasts “good source of probiotics” or your Cheerios market being “heart healthy.”

(News flash: Dannon yogurt is NOT a “good source” of probiotics—as most conventional yogurts are highly processed and over-heated—and processed foods, like Cheerios, is linked to inflammation not anti-inflammation).

No one is regulating marketing terms, and kombucha walks a similar fine line.

While kombucha is a GREAT fermented food (if you get a legit kombucha source), kombucha is also a high sugar juice if you choose a mediocre or un-fermented source.

Some research (Ernst, 2003) has examined the bacteria and yeast in kombucha, finding content can vary considerably, based on the geography, climate, and local bacteria and yeasts used, as well as the process itself (i.e. the tea was not fermented long enough, or chemicals and synthetic ingredients were added to “speed up” the process).

Back in 2010, Whole Foods also pulled every single kombucha product off its shelves when findings of poor processing, citing concern that the alcohol (fermented yeast) levels in kombucha had surpassed the legal limit of 0.5 percent. It was eventually released back to shelves, but instances like this, have also caused kombucha drink makers to produce more watered down versions of the drinks.

While too much fermentation is not a good thing (i.e. the tea turns alcoholic in nature), too little fermentation or over-processed kombucha is also not beneficial for the “gut healing” properties the drink boasts.

How do you tell the difference in a quality?

Choosing the Right Kombucha

 Here are 7 Things to Look for When Choosing a Kombucha:

  1. Naturally Fermented. Look out for the phrase ‘naturally fermented’ or ‘all stages of fermentation’ when choosing a formula for you.
  2. Brewed (and served) in Glass. No plastics please. BPA Free!
  3. No Probiotic Count. Names of probiotics on the label mean probiotics have been added (synthesized). Kombucha naturally is brewed and ferments to produce these probiotics—and there is no minute calculation of those species in the process. Avoid brands that have probiotic supplements added.
  4. 100% Raw. No pasteurized or processed formulas. Pasteurizing actually kills naturally occurring probiotic. Choose raw.
  5. 4 Main Ingredients: Water. Sugar. Live Cultures. Spices or herbs may be added as well, but no other additives.
  6. Low Sugar. Your serving should have no more than 3-4 grams of sugar (I’ve seen bottles with upwards of 12-15 grams per serving!).
  7. How You Feel. Be your own experiment. I can tell a difference in the probiotic content of my tea of choice namely by how i feel. The “souped” up sugary, processed versions of kombucha shine through when I feel more bloated, get headaches, or no difference at all in intestinal cleansing and digestive ease.

Thrive recommended brands?

Hands down Health Ade is my top brand of choice (and they don’t pay me to say that). The company stands upon quality organic, non-GMO, raw ingredients and fermentation. Try the Ginger-Ade! KTonic Kombucha gets a close second. Try it today and let me know your thoughts!