Kombucha tea is growing in popularity and there are plenty of recipes floating around the Internet teaching people how to make it from home. Sounds like a fun DIY project but is homemade kombucha the same as store bought? Is it safe? We gathered some articles from reputable sources to get to the bottom of whether you should strap on that apron or leave the brewing to the professionals.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is evidence to suggest kombucha tea may offer health benefits, such as boosting the immune system and preventing constipation. Their suggestion comes with a caveat, however. “Kombucha tea is often brewed in homes under nonsterile conditions, making contamination likely. When improperly manufactured ceramic pots have been used for brewing, lead poisoning has occurred - the acids in the tea can leach lead from the ceramic glaze.”Even with meticulous preparation, it is difficult to sterilize home kitchens. In a recent story on the Today Show, a microbiologist and college professor nicknamed Dr. Germ found the following germiest places in a kitchen:
The results of all of this bacteria, says Mayo, can cause stomach upset, infections and allergic reactions.Fermenting is a science and safe fermenting requires knowledge. A single spore of bacteria can ruin a batch of kombucha, yet most DIYers won’t know until their health suffers. Not only does the kitchen need to be completely sterilized, but so do the utensils, pots, equipment, jars, lids and the hands making it.
WebMD agrees with the Mayo Clinic, providing home brewers with a few warnings. “Making kombucha involves letting bacteria grow in a liquid you’re going to drink. Much of the bacteria are considered probiotics, but if it’s not prepared properly, the drink can grow harmful bacteria or mold...If you’re going to make it at home, experts recommend using glass, stainless steel, or plastic containers. Keep everything sanitary, including the equipment and your hands.”
Examine.com is an education organization that analyzes existing nutrition research. This article gets a bit more scientific as to why home brewing can be risky. “What sets kombucha apart from other potentially dangerous food products is how little is known about the strains of toxic bacteria and fungi that make improperly brewed kombucha dangerous. Unsanitary kombucha can cause death, organ failure, and there’s even been one report of cutaneous anthrax. Only purchase kombucha from sanitary producers with properly trained staff.”A little scary, but it hits home the dangers of brewing kombucha at home. For some, the risk seems remote, but it’s hard to feel good about a beverage when there’s so much potential harm.
We loved this Lifehacker article because it was so informative about the microbiology of kombucha. The article made it easy for anyone to understand why home brewing can be such a problem. “Microorganisms grow rapidly with moisture, nutrients (sugar, fats, and protein), temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and pH levels between 4.5 and 10. Unfortunately, your fermenting kombucha ticks all of those, so it’s easier to contaminate than you may think. The catch-22 here is, the same environment that pathogens love is necessary for the friendly bacteria and yeast to work their magic to produce kombucha.”The article does go on to provide important tips for people who choose to produce their own kombucha. It’s worth the read if you are still wanting to brew at home.
Brit + Co is a media company with the goal to “inspire, educate and entertain real women” and has become one of the largest digital media companies for women, with more than 175 million viewers. Here, we found an article with several experts quoted. A registered dietitian nutritionist cautioned home brewers of kombucha to proceed with extreme caution, saying, “Without great food-handling practices, you can find your homemade kombucha to begin containing bad bacteria instead of good.” She also points out that sterilization is but one concern. “When a batch is brewed for too long, it may become overly acidic or see an increase in its alcohol content.”A board-certified gastroenterologist featured in the article informs us that there have been cases of lead poisoning related to the home-brewing process, likely from the type of pot used, as cited by the Mayo Clinic’s report.
There are many people who safely create home-brewed kombucha. Clearly, doing so requires skill and experience. If you choose to ferment your own beverage, be sure to get educated before you begin. Your town may offer brewing classes at a culinary school or you may be able to find trustworthy YouTube videos showing you how to brew at home.It is obvious from the articles above, sterilization is a must. Be sure you sanitize anything that will come into contact with the kombucha, from start to finish. This includes you, the brewer. As noted before, bad bacteria can be just as easily added or grown in your brew as the good kind you wanted to introduce. As the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the bunch, so be sure the only bacteria in your kombucha is the healthful ones.
While you can make your own and get good results if you follow good protocols, it is likely safer to purchase your kombucha from a reputable company you can trust implements the strictest safety standards. Commercial brands must adhere to FDA guidelines and their facilities are inspected on a regular basis. These brands can’t afford to deliver a harmful product; the ramifications are too risky and the success of their company depends on a clean product.You can find kombucha most anywhere these days, making it a convenient option that can give you peace of mind your kombucha is all that you wanted and nothing you didn’t.