Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pink is the new Kombucha

This trendy Hollywood drink has been floating around alternative health circles for years: Kombucha (kom-BOO-cha), a vinegarish 'tea' of suspect origin (signs point more to Russia than China, depending on who you read) is said to harness the powerful energies of the fungus cultures used that live off black tea and sugar beds.

Not for the faint hearted, the pretty jewel toned bottles on shelves and in ads reveal something more sinister up close: sinewy strands of, well, live yeast & bacteria. That's suppose to be a good sign. Each batch of Kombucha is started when the original culture doubles in size. The 'Mother' gives way to babies that must be culled, and are used for new batches. Synergy, the most popular bottled brand on the market, uses cultures of the original batch from 1995, when the founder's mother was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. As time passed, doctors were astonished the cancer had not progressed to the lymph nodes and bones, as was typical of the type she had. The only thing they could remotely consider to be stunting the spread was her use of Kombucha. Doctors encouraged her to keep drinking it, and today, combined with the help of the chemotherapy and radiation treatments she accepted, she is considered cancer free.

There is no question this is an inspiring story, but is there any weight to it? There has been talk in recent years that adjusting the alkaline/acid levels in the body can help with cancer resistance, as the cells simply cannot live in this type of environment. We're open to seeing more studies.

Purely from the point of tastebuds, Kombucha's potency will vary depending on what stage it is at. It can start at light and refreshing and go all the way to pure vinegar (if it has been bottled too long). You will find the fermentation will cause greater amounts of carbonation in some bottles vs others. And because it is live, culture growth will vary greatly. Above is a bottle of GingerBerry, quite lovely in a shade of pink I couldn't get to show up in the film. You can see the sediment and floaties. Pretty tame compared to what was in the below Multi_Green version. I'm not even showing you the Rapunzel braids clinging to the inside of the lid...

I will attest to the fact that there is a rather calming influence this drink has. I'm not sure if it is because it is so opposite of colas, even fruit drinks, that it truly does help detoxify the body, or that the body just celebrates the lack of sweets.

A word of caution: avoid going overboard. Recommendations are 4 - 8 ounces a day, though many people claim to drink more. I felt like I had heart palpitations hours after consuming a full bottle and won't try it again. And there have been reports linked to deaths were Kombucha was the only common denominator (people drinking as little as the 4 ounces a day). Just do your research and don't go crazy.

Final note, the stuff can get expensive. I purchased mine at Whole Foods Milwaukee, on sale, for 2/$10. (on a side note, I was shocked to see many items priced higher than my beloved Columbus Circle store in NYC, but that's another rant). It seems many pay at least $3.00 a bottle. You can try a do-it-yourself homebrew via Google, but take care on cleanliness and toss if any bad mold should appear. No one needs a home grown bacterial infection.

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