Kombucha: Magic or Marketing?
A few years ago, I discovered kombucha. It wasn’t love at first sight, but somehow, between that virgin taste at a San Francisco Whole Foods (where they serve it on tap) and today, a mild obsession took hold. I now drink this bacteria-yeast combo often enough that my toddler recently asked me if I was having it for breakfast; and I don’t even blink an eye when the slimy, ballooning cultures slide down my throat.
It amazes me that something as unsightly as kombucha (just do an image search on the web and you’ll see what I mean) has taken off with the vigor that it has, regularly showing up alongside other “functional drinks” in health food stores, gym coolers, and healthy restaurants (at least here in California). It’s suddenly so mainstream that even Williams-Sonoma is selling homebrew kits as part of its “Agrarian DIY” line.
There’s nothing new about kombucha. According to Wikipedia, it’s been around for ages, originating in Northeast China or Manchuria during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), spreading to Russia sometime before 1910, reaching the rest of Europe sometime thereafter, and entering the English vernacular in 1995. Initially viewed as “a beverage with magical powers enabling people to live forever,” (Harald W. Tietze, 1995, Kombucha” The Miracle Fungus, Tietze Publications), kombucha is often said to stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer, boost energy, and improve digestion and liver function. However, aside from the fact that it’s rich in B vitamins, there is limited scientific evidence to support health claims.
So why are we all drinking it: blind faith…marketing genius…taste…peer pressure? Here’s why I’m willing to shell out $2.99 a bottle:
- It tastes good. I like it, and unlike some other things I like, it’s most likely not bad for me (as long as I buy it from a reputable bottler, reducing the risk for contamination)
- It’s refreshing. To be honest, drinking kombucha feels a little bit like drinking a good beer (minus the buzz). It’s got a taste that is all its own, making me savor the taste. It feels strangely decadent (without the guilt)
- The calorie-to-volume ratio is great. A bottle of kombucha usually has about 60-70 calories per 16 oz bottle…a big bang for a little (calorie) buck
- It feels “healthy.” Yes, I’m buying into the marketing. I feel like I’m drinking something healthy when I drink it, although I totally understand that there isn’t any scientific evidence for it. But, for me, the fact that it feels healthy is enough because healthy eating (and drinking) breeds more of the same (kombucha and ice cream don’t go very well together). When my diet feel clean, I’m motivated to keep it clean.
I’m not going to bet my future on it, but I am going to hope for the best! Maybe science will come through and show that this stuff really does have magical powers, and if it doesn’t, I’ll take kombucha at face value — an enjoyable way to try to get to my 8 glasses of water a day. What’s your take — yay or nay on kombucha and other “functional foods?” Are they worth it? Do you believe in them? And are you willing to pay for them?