20 September 2009

Giving Up On Kombucha

So, after trying it around 10 times, I am giving up on kombucha (also spelled komboucha).

The fermented tea, made from a polyculture of bacteria and yeast growing in a jar of black tea and sugar, first caught my attention when I noticed the rather large refrigerated display of a few brands at Whole Foods Market. With a wide variety of flavored options and a long list of health claims, I figured it was worth a try. I previously wrote about my experience with the GT's Raw Organic Komboucha Multi-Green flavor.

There was no particular health benefit that I was seeking, but I did note that an obscure product claiming so many things would be something to be skeptical of. I noticed proponents of kombucha would make reference to the Chinese and/or Japanese tradition of the special tea going back thousands of years, as sort of proof that the product was both effective and safe, although the Wikipedia listing indicates the product is really of 19th century Ukrainian and Russian origin.

I've since tried many of the other GT's and Synergy flavors, including Mango, Gingerberry, Strawberry, Triology, and Botanic No. 3, 7 and 9. Some were better than others. At best, I would call the drinking experience just "accessible", while at worst, it was like drinking vinegar with a pinch of sugar. The question frequently arose, "why am I drinking this stuff if it tastes like that?!"

There was a stretch of about 5 days when I drank it every morning, wondering if I would sense any physiological effect. For sure, I had to go to the bathroom at least three times within 90 minutes, because of a definite diuretic effect, probably from the tea. I also noticed being a bit more talkative, again perhaps from the tea's caffeine. Besides that, I didn't notice any other effects.

I decided to double check what various opinions there were on the web about the health benefits and risks. Surprisingly, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends not consuming kombucha, even though he is a strong proponent of many alternative remedies. Same with the Mayo Clinic. Some of the concern is based on the risk of severe contamination with the fairly popular practice of home brewing "The Blob". Other concerns include a possible antibiotic effect, which would be counterproductive for a healthy consumer. Anecdotal claims over the years of helping AIDS and cancer patients had no scientific evidence to support them.

The product is popular enough to be mentioned frequently on Twitter.

One day, I brought a chilled bottle to work. The label says "shake gently" but I didn't realize that the level of carbonation varies from bottle to bottle. I guess the bottle had already been shaken sufficiently on my way to work, because when I got to my desk, gave it a gentle shake, and opened the bottle, the stuff exploded and erupted all over. My desk calendar was soaked. My office smelled terrible with hints of vinegar. I lost about 20% of the product out of the bottle. That wasn't fun.

Well, I finally put it all together: a strange and sometimes difficult tasting bottled beverage, with dubious health claims, specific recommendations to avoid the product, and a rather steep price tag of $3.00-$4.00 a bottle.

I'm done with kombucha.