The Peaceful Feast


Feel the ‘Booch — Keep Kombucha Wild
January 12, 2010, 10:51 am
Filed under: food sensitivities, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Yesterday, I participated in a kombucha taste test panel. Kombucha (or ‘booch as I call it), is fermented tea. Uh … yum? Not. It actually tastes like carbonated vinegar. So why drink it? There’s only one reason that I can see, and that’s for the digestive benefits. Kombucha is teeming with prebiotics, probiotics, active enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants and polyphenols. It’s a superfood.

I got hooked on the ‘booch last summer when I was undergoing a course of some gnarly antibiotics to get rid of the h. pylori bacteria that was found in my small intestine during an endoscopy. The gastro said this was causing inflammation of my stomach lining that could lead to stomach cancer down the road. The course included high dosages of two antibiotics and prevacid for acid reflux — the condition which had led me to the gastro in the first place. The antibiotics were hardcore, much stronger than any antibiotic regimen I had ever tried — even for pneumonia. The first few days on it, I couldn’t eat at all, even after adding some megadosages of probiotics to my diet.

One day about a month after finishing the course of antibiotics for h. pylori, I was at my sister’s place and plopping down on her couch announced that I was feeling “dyspeptic”. She had just finished handcrafting kombucha and offered me some. My initial response was fermented tea? No way, ick. She urged me to give it a try and so I had a couple tentative sips of the tea, making sucking-on-a-lemon faces all the while. A few minutes later my dyspepsia was gone and I felt okay again. I went out and bought a bottle of kombucha that day and ever since then I’ve kept it on hand to help me out of gastrointenstinal distress. I drink a swig or two a day, mainly before bedtime, and find that it gets rid of upset stomach and bloating better than most anything. It even helps a little with the IBS, although not so much with symptoms of the colon.

My reliance on kombucha for stomach health is how I ended up taste testing a local beverage company’s upcoming kombucha line. The company making the kombucha is very respected in middle America and if anybody can make Kombucha popular nationwide it is this company. There were about a dozen of us in a little classroom tasting the products. Based on looks alone, I’d say we represented a wide cross-section of Boulder — students, Latinos, working professionals, hippies. The woman sitting next to me was dressed in casually expensive clothing. Very Boulder chic. As I said, the beverage company is very respected across the nation. But how do you make kombucha palatable to Middle America without losing it’s boochiness? Is kombucha still boochy once you get rid of it’s wild culture?

With us were two harried beverage company employees running back and forth providing 2 oz samples of each of the five kombucha flavors in development. Without giving too much away, let me just say some flavors were better than others but that there were some good products in that mix. And the stuff that was not so great tasting the company can easily tweak for better flavor. What I found particularly interesting is the company’s addition of a particular set of vitamin/pre or pro biotic/anti-oxidant supplements to each kombucha flavor without a corresponding increase in price. The company is clearly trying to differentiate its product from those currently on the shelves while opening the market up to those who would never consider drinking kombucha.

The company wanted to know what were the top 3 priorities I need for a good kombucha experience, and I listed digestive health, organic, and natural ingredients. The casually-expensive looking woman sitting next to me asked me during a brief break in between sampling why I drink kombucha and I told her for my stomach. She nodded and said that is why she drinks it, too. I like kombucha because I need it. But would I drink it if I didn’t need it? No.

The question I was left with after the taste test is this: Would adding a lot of flavorings and supplements to this new line of kombucha be enough to appeal to those who would not normally drink it? I’m not sure. In fact, I was a little suspicious of whether, after all of its tweaking and tinkering, this company had left enough of the beneficial stuff in the tea to make it worthwhile to drink for digestive health.

For instance, I noticed that each sample was fizzy but not too fizzy the way kombucha usually is. Oxygen from the live bacteria give kombucha its crazy over carbonation. The live bacteria is what makes kombucha good for the stomach. You take away that, you take away the digestive benefits of kombucha, benefits that supplements don’t provide, no matter how much you add back in. I’m very interested in how this will pan out for the beverage company. But I wonder if the finished product will appeal to anyone. Can kombucha be made palatable enough for the non belly-achers, while keep the medicinal benefits that we need? I doubt it.

As for me, I love my ‘booch as is and the thought of some big beverage corp. smoothing out its rough edges makes me cranky. In fact, I am toying with making my own kombucha. You’ve seen the bumper stickers that say “Keep Boulder weird?” Well, my bumper sticker slogan would be “Keep Kombucha wild.”

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