[02:22] About Hannah Crum
[04:52] Why Bacteria in the Gut is Important
[07:34] People Would Feel or Experience if their Bacteria is Out-of-Balance
[08:52] Why Bacteria in Kombucha?
[14:36] What is Kombucha?
[17:51] Basic Recipe for Kombucha
[28:00] Is Kombucha Alcoholic?
[34:16] Can We Drink Too Much Kombucha?
[36:12] Thoughts of Hannah with Regards to Kombucha If You have Bacterial Overgrowth and Candida
[40:23] Why Kombucha at the Grocery Store Taste So Much Sweeter
[48:00] Biggest Mistake People Make When they’re Making their Own Kombucha at Home
[52:26] Hannah’s Recommendation for People Who Want to Make Kombucha
[59:02] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks! It’s Ben Greenfield here and as I’ve talked about a few times before on podcasts and my articles, I drink kombucha. I actually drink kombucha, I would say, probably, almost every day as long as it’s around and in the pantry. I personally don’t actually get kombucha from the store and we’ll probably talk a little bit about why in this episode, but my wife actually ferments kombucha at home with a home kombucha fermenting kit and then she adds things like blueberries and ginger and all sorts of things that make it taste good and add a few antioxidants to it and also, just basically, enhance the health properties that are already in kombucha.
But there are a lot of myths and there are a lot of mistruths out there when it comes to kombucha. If you don’t pick your poison wisely when it comes to this stuff, you can wind up getting fat or throwing your blood sugar out of balance, or doing a lot of things that really aren’t healthy despite it being on the shelf of just about every health food store out there. So, you can call that kombucha confusion, if you will, and I know a lot of folks wonder, like: is this stuff alcoholic, can kids drink it, is it dangerous to make, can you get toxins and things like that if you make bacterial-rich kombucha at home, does it affect candida or bacterial overgrowth in your gut, what kind should you choose at the grocery story if you’re going to get it at the grocery store, how should you feel after you drink it, all sorts of things!
So today, we’re going to answer all those questions and more because I have a guest who goes by the title of the Kombucha Mamma and her name is Hannah Crum. Hannah is the founder of something called Kombucha Kamp, which is actually the most visited website in the world for kombucha info, kombucha recipes, kombucha advice, and pretty much everything you need to know about kombucha. She’s what you call a “master brewer” which I didn’t actually know existed until I started to research Hannah- and she mentors thousands of folks who want to become kombucha brewers or just learn a little bit about kombucha.
So, she’s the founder of Kombucha Brewers International, which is this non-profit association that promotes botted kombucha around the world and she’s actually got this really cool kombucha instructional video series over at Expert Village on YouTube. It’s got over a million views and in just a second I’ll tell you the URL where you can go check out all this stuff. She’s a leader and featured speaker in the California Real Food Movement and she uses what she calls the “Kombucha Lifestyle” as an introduction to fermented foods, and gut health, and the human microbiome, and bacteriosapiens, and some of the things we’ll also talk about on today’s show. So, she has kits, she has kombucha brewing packages, she has kombucha do-it-yourself guides as well. So, her video series, her website, her free guides, all of that, I’m going to put all of that in the show notes for today’s episode which you can find over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Kombucha.
So, Hannah, thank you for coming on the call today!
Hannah: Thanks, Ben! Thanks for having me! I’m excited to hear that you’re a kombucha lover.
Ben: I am a kombucha lover! And, you and I met at the Ancestral Health Symposium this year where there are plenty of healthy ancestral foods around and of course one of the things that we talked about at that symposium is the human gut, where bacteria fits in when it comes to the human gut. I think that might be a good place to jump in before we even start to talk about kombucha: why bacteria is important, why you kind of have this mission to heal the world with what you call to “heal one gut at a time” on your website? So, can you get into bacteria, the gut, and why that is important?
Hannah: Absolutely! This is one of my favorite topics. And you know, to be honest, Ben, I didn’t really know much about this topic until I started drinking kombucha, learning about it, and it’s kind of lead me to this journey to discovery to what I call what it means to be a human being. That sounds like a really huge topic to tackle, maybe very philosophical but essentially, what I’ve kind of derived from my studies and attending Ancestral Health Symposiums, and these other great informational websites like yours and the others out there, is that we are bacteria powered organisms. Every single cell in our body relies on bacteria to exchange DNA information, to create, to be catalysts for process that literally fuel every single cell in our bodies. So, when I discovered that, that was such a revelation because what it meant to me is that we are, being bacteria-powered, that’s our force field! And it makes so much sense when we see how much the levels of disease, of autoimmune disease have risen the farther away we’ve gotten from being in touch with our bacterial brethren.
Ben: So, is that what “bacteriosapiens” means when you use that term?
Ben: Did you make that up or is that an actual word?
Hannah: Yes! It’s a made-up word. “Bacteriosapiens” because it encapsulates our relationships to bacteria, I think.
Hannah: As human beings, we literally cannot function without them – the good ones of course that are helping to support our functioning. In fact, some of the bad ones – candida albicans, e coli, h pylori that live in our body, but when they’re in balance, when they’re in the right amount, they serve a very specific function that actually supports our health. It’s when we get out of balance that we end up with a lot of physical issues. Things like candida. It’s not that candida itself is bad, but when it gets out of balance and it overgrows in your system and it literally takes over and starts telling you to eat sugar, starts controlling your mind and convincing you to eat foods that help support the growth of that bacteria or yeast rather than what is going to support your optimum functioning, that’s when we kind of see just how powerful this relationship is!
Ben: So that’s one sign or symptom of a bacterial overgrowth or a bacterial problem would be the sugar cravings and… I know that alcohol cravings are another thing that can go along with the candida overgrowth. What are some of the other things people would feel or experience if their bacteria is out-of-balance?
Hannah: General feelings of “not good”, basically. When our bodies are out of balance, we experience gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis manifests in a variety of different ways and this is why kombucha and many of these other fermented foods seemingly perform these near miraculous functions because they help with so many different symptoms. So, for instance, in terms of gut dysbiosis: IBS, not being able to digest our food properly, poor bowel movements, constipation, all of this is one of the aspects of gut dysbiosis. Then you have things like autoimmune such as: eczema, psoriasis, the ways in which the skin reacts to the things that are disrupted in the body and how those manifest physically. So, when we realize that the root cause of disease is diet and stress, it makes a lot more sense why something like kombucha, why a kefir, why a kvass, like a sauerkraut can come in and create this almost near immediate benefit to the body because it’s helping to being that balance back into a body that’s out-of-balance.
Ben: Interesting! So, when it comes to bacteria and introducing bacteria to your body, why is it that kombucha is one of the things that you’ve chosen to focus on? What is it about the bacteria in kombucha? I know we’ll get into what is kombucha in a little bit, but why kombucha?
Hannah: Kombucha is an entry point. It is not a destination. It’s a way into this bigger word that is all around us – this bacteria world. For me, it happened, I call it “kombucha kismet.” I had a moment of encounter with kombucha that I had no idea was even going to happen. I was visiting a friend from college in San Francisco. We got a tour of the very groovy places back in 2003, and one of the stops on the tour was this box, and in the box were jars, and the jars were covered with towels and they’d go “that’s the kombucha.” Never heard of it! Didn’t even try it. It wasn’t ready to drink or anything, but I came back to LA and there’s a Whole Foods and they had kombucha all over the place back then in LA. I grabbed a bottle of gingerade and it was love at first sip! I mean, I can still remember the moment as if the light from heaven shown down upon me while I was drinking this. Of course, in my imagination, that’s how I remember it, but really, there was an instant resonance with the flavor. It was sour, it was something that I really liked, and it reminded me of the pickle juice I used to sneak out of the pickle jar growing up, my mom would always admonish me for that. There was a vibrancy to it that hooked me to it.
Here’s the funny thing about it, I was not into cooking; I was not the kind of person who would normally take on this kind of project. So, for me to adopt this culture, and raise it in my home and nurture it the way that I have for so many years, was really a first step outside of my normal comfort zone. And that’s why I’d like to think of kombucha as an entry point into these bigger things such as: understanding process, understanding that good things come to those who wait and you reap what you sow, and I know these are trait aphorisms, but when we get down to the truth of what they’re saying, it really is true. We’re kind of programmed the opposite to have an expectation of instant gratification or instant healing, or “here! Take this pill and now you’re cured!” But, that’s not how our bodies works and that’s not how the world works. So, by engaging in a process that helps to get back to that type of trusting the cycles and going with that flow and knowing that what you’re putting into something will reap rewards down the road, is just an exciting process to engage in!
Ben: Yeah. The guide is like a garden, right? So, by me drinking kombucha every day and introducing, you know, I do a wide variety of fermented foods, I suppose you probably do too since you know the importance of bacteria – kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and even different strains of kombucha, different varieties of probiotics, and I also do kefir and you mentioned kvass, and I drink kvass and that’s I think, that’s one of the keys to understand, if you wander out to your garden, you don’t necessarily have to plant just one variety, you plant a wide variety of different things that you can eat and you don’t expect them to all pop up all at once. Right? You grow, you nourish, you feed that garden and it gradually begins to thrive. I think that’s one of the things people need to realize about bacteria is I know the human gut can begin to change within one day of changing your diet! It’s crazy! Have you seen this about the microbiome and how it adapt so quickly?
Hannah: Absolutely. I love this metaphor you’re using with the garden because here’s the thing, Ben, and we know this instinctively, but we don’t always remember it consciously is that nature loves diversity! You never go outside even when you walk out your front door. I’m in a major city, Los Angeles, there’s palm trees, there’s grass, there’s roses, there’s bugs, there’s birds. Nobody lives in a place where there’s only one thing.
Hannah: Because nature loves diversity! And so, in talking about the soil and the gut being the human soil, right? We need to plant the bacteria that help nutrify our organisms so it can function properly. Just like we put fertilizers or something into our garden that’s going to help nurture the soil and nurture the bacteria in the soil, again, that’s how plants eat too, literally, our entire planet is bacteria-powered! Plants uptake nutrition by bacteria passing nutrition through the little roots they have off of them. Just as we are nutrified by the bacteria that live in our gut and create those catalytic reactions.
To speak to diversity, there’s over 500 different types of bacteria that live in our gut alone! And it varies from person to person! It’s like a fingerprint in a way – the type of signatures that they’re uncovering through this research is really exciting to know that there’s this level of diversity not only within my gut but in everybody’s gut.
Ben: Yeah! I like it. So, obviously there are a lot of reasons out there to introduce bacteria-rich foods into your diet and to nourish your body just like a garden to be patient, and to be in this for the long run as you change the bacterial balance in your gut. Now, I think it’s going to be fun here to jump into brass tacks and start off with this question, Hannah, what is kombucha?
Coz I know there are some people listening in with this mysterious beverage they grab off the shelf at Whole Foods and drink, and know it’s supposed to be good for them, but have no clue where it comes from. So, what is kombucha?
Hannah: Kombucha is fermented tea. So, just like when we make beet kvass we’re using beets and a little bit of starter. The starter is on the skin of the beet, just like a sauerkraut, the bacteria come from that.
In case of fermenting tea, we use a starter culture. Similar to a sourdough bread or a kefir grain, these are cultures that we place into a substrate or medium; it then ferments that into a healthy beverage. In the case of kombucha, we are putting it into tea. Now, tea which is camellia sinensis, it’s a specific plant. I know we have a tendency to think peppermint tea and chamomile tea, those are actually herbal teas, but the tea plant itself, from which green, black, white, yellow, all the other types of tea come from has very specific antioxidants, and polyphenols that help support optimum functioning in the body.
When we expose that tea to the fermentation process with the kombucha culture, it makes those elements even more bioavailable. It breaks them down into smaller components that are easier for our bodies to absorb. So, we’re receiving nutrition in a living form, we’re receiving nutrition in a form our bodies have evolved to recognize, and we’re receiving nutrition that can be instantly utilized. So, a lot of times when people grab a kombucha off the shelf, the thing we hear people say most often is “it just makes me feel good.” When you realize it’s the bacteria, the probiotics from the bacteria, it’s the yeast present with all the b-vitamins in a living form, and granted these are in very trace amounts, so this isn’t something where you’d be looking at the back for your RDA of all of your b-vitamins, but again, being in that living form is something crucial because, as you know, Ben, from studying fitness, you know, our bodies are kind of like puzzle pieces in that the chemicals, the nutrition, the vitamins, et cetera are in specific shapes and when those shapes plug in, our body can uptake and instantly know what to do with those. The reason people have a problem these days is there are so many shapes in our food that our bodies don’t recognize and any of those shapes it does not recognize like GMOs, artificial sweeteners, or artificial colors the body assumes it’s being attacked by these things.
So, when we consume products that aren’t in a whole living form or have a lot of additives to them, our body does not know what to do with it. This is why we see such a huge incidence with autoimmune disease especially the more we consume it. If you eat a GMO bag of chips once, you’re probably going to be okay, it’s not the end of the world. But, if you’re eating them on a regular basis, it’s that cumulative effect that throws the body out of balance and it works to keep up as much as it can until all of a sudden you have an illness or all of a sudden your body has to send you a much large message to get it through that “hey this stuff you’re putting in your body isn’t working and we’re not functioning anymore.”
Ben: So, on a very, very basic level, if somebody wanted to make kombucha, what would be the most basic recipe that they would use? Where would they get the ingredients, what ingredients do they need, and what is the process to go from that tea you talked about to fermenting it and then having a final batch of kombucha in a bottle or jar?
Hannah: You know, here’s the thing, Ben. If you can brew a cup of tea, you can brew kombucha. It is literally that easy! Basically, instead of brewing one cup of tea, we’re brewing a gallon of tea. So, we’re using three to five teabags or three to five teaspoons of loose leaf tea per gallon, we soak that in our hot water for about 15 minutes, we remove the tea bags, add one cup of sugar, so it’s one cup per gallon as our basic ratio. Now, that’s a lot of sugar, but when you taste the final product, you’ll notice that it has a sweet tart flavor and that’s because the sugar is broken down through the fermentation process. So, one cup of sugar with our three to five teabags. We stir that up and then we add a kombucha culture…
Ben: Can I interrupt you for just a second?
Ben: When you say the sugars are broken down by the fermentation process, does that mean that if excessive sugars aren’t added, that the bacteria have actually consumed and metabolized that sugar rather than you consuming and metabolizing that sugar?
Hannah: Correct! The sugar is not for you. The sugar is for the yeast and the bacteria. So, the yeast are breaking down the sugar from a… sucrose is a polysaccharide, right? It’s a disaccharide; so, it’s fructose and glucose that create the sucrose molecule. So, the yeast start consuming the sucrose and cleaving it into fructose and glucose. Those then become fuel sources for the bacteria which create gluconic acid, glucuronic acid. So they need that glucose molecule present in order to create those healthy acids that help detoxify the body and bring it back into balance gradually. Then the fructose is also utilize by the yeast, so by the time it ends up to you, even if you’re looking at the grams of sugar listed on the label, it’s not equivalent to say, teaspoons, or if you had table sugar, they’re not equivalent because, although there’s still some sugar present, it’s in a form that’s much easier on the body, it has a lower glycemic load and in fact, there’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence as well as some research showing that diabetics and people who can’t handle a lot of sugar provided that they’re doing a longer fermentation process, in fact, it helps them to balance their blood sugar levels.
Ben: Okay, gotcha! So, that sugar you’re adding as you’ve brewed the tea before you bottle this stuff up, it’s basically not something you need to worry about from a glycemic index standpoint?
Hannah: Exactly right!
Hannah: What we always tell people is, look, every body is different. As we’ve just been talking about, my microbiome is different from yours, is different from someone else’s. So, how kombucha affects my body is going be potentially different from how it affects your body. This is due to a variety of factors such as the state your body is in already, what else is going on, do you have other health issues.
So, for instance, some people when they drink kombucha, they feel like they’re having some kind of reaction to the kombucha. More often than not, this is what we call a Herxheimer reaction, or a “healing crisis”, and this occurs any time you start some sort of detox protocol where basically, the body gets into a stage where it’s ready to release the toxins. As it releases the toxins, those toxins in your body, before they’ve ben flushed, you experience those symptoms as if you had, for example in candida you might have a flare up where it seems to get worse before it gets better, and that’s because these are organisms that you’re trying to kill off and that compete by putting other organisms in there and they’re fighting for their lives and they’re going to try to hang on for as long as they can. This is where we bring it, not just our gut and how it feels, but also our brain and our knowledge and education. When we combine those two things, we’re able to engage in a more full feedback process. So…
Hannah: When we start to connect what goes in my mouth with how it makes my body feel and start to connect the dots on that, that’s when people are able to make real shifts because they can recognize “oh, when I eat that, that actually makes me not feel so great. Maybe I should cut down on that.”
Ben: So, I interrupted you, as you were going into the part about adding sugar into the tea, can you finish with the kombucha recipe?
Hannah: Absolutely! So, we have our tea, we have our sugar, then we add our culture. Your kombucha culture is always good to source one from a quality, reputable source. Reason being, you don’t know what kind of conditions they’re grown in. You want to make sure it’s something clean and not potentially contaminated. And more than that, and because kombucha has quite a few defense mechanisms, it support! So often, think about this, if you were making yoghurt at home, would you ever be afraid of the yoghurt or the sauerkraut. I know you’re a fermentationist, Ben, but there’s something about kombucha that inherently freaks people out. Because they’re just not used to seeing this funky little culture. It’s bacterial cellulose, basically what the bacteria do is they throw out these nanofibers of culture that then bond together and as they bond together, they create a very tight layer, and that’s your SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.
Ben: Really? I never actually knew that’s what SCOBY actually stands for. So, S-C-O-B-Y, Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.
Hannah: You got it!
Ben: I always thought it was just a shortening of whatever the scientific term is for that big clump of fiber that floats on top of the jar.
Hannah: Well, it used to be called “mushroom tea.” Like, we think of kefir grains, but they’re not actually grains. Mushroom was more of a descriptor that described, it looked kind of like a mushroom cap, right. If you can imagine, it’s all white and thick and that’s what people identified it as. SCOOBY is a term that is obviously more accurate but certainly is an acronym. So…
Hannah: Lots of things can be SCOBY, but SCOBY was the term invented for kombucha.
Ben: Okay! Gotcha! So, is that it for the kombucha recipe once you’ve got all this stuff bottled up?
Hannah: Right, so then you throw your SCOBY in there. The important thing is starter liquid. You need to have one cup of very strong starter liquid. Starter liquid is simply fermented kombucha. When you’re making your next batch, like when your wife is making her next batch, she probably reserves a cup of liquid right off the top.
Hannah: And that becomes the starter for her next batch. You always want to take it from the top.
Ben: In the very first starter that she used, she just bought a bottle of kombucha from the grocery store and used that as the starter.
Hannah: Well, in some kombuchas you can do that with. Now, here’s the issue that we’ve run into because of what happened in 2010. In 2010, several brands of kombucha were removed from the shelves because kombucha is a fermented product, it can contain trace amounts of alcohol, although we don’t see it typically any more than, say, a glass of fruit juice or something like that. However, whenever we add fruit to our kombucha, what we’re doing is reactivating the fermentation process. So, the yeast, now that they have a sugar source present again, starts converting the sugars from that. It also starts to pull all of the healthy elements you’re infusing into it. So, say blueberries, you’re getting your antioxidants, your flavonoids, all that good stuff and that’s why it’ll turn your kombucha to a really lovely purple color because it’s just pulling all that good stuff right out of there. The problem is though, if you have that in an anaerobic environment, and you don’t give it time for the bacteria to consume the ethanol created, you end up with levels that are potentially outside of what the current legally allowed limit is.
So, in response to that, the companies had to change their process and how they make kombucha. So, this is very similar to what we see in commercial yoghurt. Commercial yoghurt has a couple of strains that have been defined as specific strains for yoghurt, but they’re not nearly as diverse as when we make yoghurt at home with a true yoghurt culture which has 30+ strains of bacteria present. So, oftentimes we are able to potentially grow a culture or create a starter, but many people say that subsequent batches simply don’t have the same flavor and over time, aren’t as delicious as when you procure a starter from either a reputable source or a good friend or you know, something like that.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. I want to ask you a little bit about where we get some of these things like the starter and the culture, but before I do that, you talked about how once you’ve got your tea and sugar, you add your starter, and then what’s the next step?
Hannah: Give it a week.
Ben: One week?
Hannah: Seven days. In our ideal brewing condition, the temperature is 75-85 with 78-80 being our sweet spot. So, kombucha does like it on the warmer side, but if we’re in that one gallon at those ideal temperatures, about seven days is about what it takes to turn it into something that most people find delicious. So, it’s going to be a balance between sweet and tart.
Everybody’s taste preference is different, and that’s what’s great about making it at home, you decide when it has the flavor you like, you get to add the flavorings at the end that you prefer best, and you can get so experimental crazy. People come up with lots of fun stuff! One of the wackier flavors I made was “baconbuch”- we did a maple bacon buch. We took actual pieces of bacon, infused it into the kombucha with a little bit of maple syrup and it’s pretty tasty stuff!
Ben: Wow! Do you have that recipe posted on your website?
Hannah: I don’t, but it’s pretty simple! We have a book coming out in 2015, my husband and I are co-authors on that. We’re also partners at Kombucha Kamp, so, we’re really excited about that coming out next November.
Ben: Cool! Okay, so I want to do a few rapid fire questions to you.
Ben: Because I get a lot of questions about kombucha and since you’re the expert, I want to hear what your thoughts are. You talked on this a little bit just now as far as alcohol content goes, but of course there’s that whole Lindsay Lohan story where she got pulled over and she blamed the fact that she bought a kombucha, from Whole Foods, for the fact that her blood levels of alcohol we’re above the acceptable limit for driving. Is kombucha, if you buy kombucha from the grocery store or you make it yourself, is it alcoholic? If so, how high?
Hannah: Sure. As I mentioned, kombucha is a naturally fermented beverage and as such it does create trace amounts of alcohol. See, these fermented drinks, Ben, are the original “soft” drinks. Right, there’s hard liquor and soft drinks because all the water kefir, milk kefir, all of these have trace amounts of alcohol naturally present.
That alcohol serves a very specific function. This is something we’ve lost sight of in post-prohibition United States alcohol culture, is that alcohol is medicine first and foremost. It is what we infused herbs into that created our first tinctures, that we see derivations of in things like Jägermeister and what not that have these very strong herbal flavors to them. But originally, these are very specific medicinal functions. So, kombucha certainly has nowhere near the alcohol levels you’ll find in a hard alcohol. So, all of these kind of soft drinks, right, your root beers, your ginger ales, all these naturally fermented beverages topped out at no more than 2%.
So, the alcohol levels in kombucha are self-limiting because the bacteria consume the ethanol produced by the yeast, thereby reducing the ethanol and increasing the healthy acid content. So, this makes measuring alcohol in kombucha incredibly difficult because a lot of the machinery… There’s no litmus test where we can just put a little piece of paper and okay this has that! It’s a much more complex process than that. But, sufficed to say, because of the reformulation, now there are companies out there… All the companies out there selling an under-21 product, they are within that legally prescribed limit.
There are brands of kombucha that are called “over-21” and in fact, GT’s has both an under- and over-21! Those, you might have to be carded for, but the funny thing is, they don’t tend to have more than that 2% alcohol. So, in terms of inebriation, which is what you were asking about, can it get you drunk? I mean, it just depends on your body. First of all, the way in in which FDR tried to end prohibition was he said that beer, which had a 3.2 alcohol by weight, was considered not inebriating and therefore could be sold! And this is what then allowed them to sell other alcohol and end prohibition. So, the government already set up a standard that that is an acceptable limit that is considered non-inebriating.
Other people have reported that when they take B-Vitamin shots, the feeling of euphoria that they get is very similar to drinking a kombucha. Remember we mentioned earlier that there’s yeast in kombucha and it contains all of the b-vitamins in a living form. So, is the “buzz” people getting due to alcohol, is it due to b-vitamins? I think it varies person to person. Some people who are very sensitive to alcohol may report feeling a sensation of it whereas others never feel any type of “buzz” ever.
So, most people find that drinking kombucha is not something that’s going to impair them, in fact, almost 100% of people would find that. But, everybody is different, and we like to allow for individuals, but for the most part we find, it’s something that people give to children, they do perfectly great. Do your kids drink kombucha, Ben?
Ben: They do drink kombucha. That was actually my next question now that we’ve got the alcohol issue out of the way, should kids drink it? Is it okay?
Hannah: Absolutely! See, here’s the thing about all those fermented beverages that I mentioned before, they were also called “small beers” and they were given to children. Again, we live in an anomaly in history where we have this very puritanical attitude towards alcohol in that we treat it like a controlled substance and unfortunately that’s how it ends up in our culture as being viewed, instead of something that we evolved with. We evolved with alcohol, with all these bacterial fermentations, and it provides a very specific benefit.
So, we call this “healthy low alcohol” just to cast it in a more positive light. Numerous studies point to moderate consumption of alcohol as lengthen life and it’s also something that we see in other countries where even after a woman gives birth, she’ll be given beer because unfiltered beer, again, contains all those b-vitamins, it relaxes the mother, it allows for the breast milk to flow, and so there’s a lot of health benefits to it that we simply don’t totally understand in this country.
So, children love it, pregnant women can drink it, again it’s listening to your body. I’ve had friends who were pregnant and they loved kombucha; they got pregnant and they couldn’t stand the smell of it.
Hannah: Listen to your body.
Hannah: I’ve had other women tell me they drank it, it helped their breastmilk flow, they craved it all throughout their pregnancy, they loved it. So, it really is trusting your gut.
You are the captain of your ship; you are in charge of what goes in; you are the one who experiences how everything reacts in your body. So, it’s really up to you to make that decision and see if kombucha is something that fits for me, is it something that’s going to work for me. Cause, here’s another interesting study that recently came out. I don’t know if you’re following these, Ben, but there’s a bunch of bacteria studies coming out. One of them showed that alcoholics who had poor diversity of bacteria in their guts, had a harder time recovering from alcoholism versus those who had a more diverse microbiome. So, kombucha is something that many people have reported that curbs their alcohol cravings. So, it could be, through getting the healthy bacteria that we need, we then aren’t craving….
Hannah: what we think we need in a more toxifying format, especially when consumed in higher doses.
Ben: Okay, got it. Next question. Can we drink too much kombucha? And I ask this question because it seems that whether I am drinking kombucha from the grocery store or I’m drinking my wife’s homemade kombucha, if I drink more than about a decent size bottle’s worth, I tend to get some bloating and some gas. Is that because I’ve overdone it on kombucha or is that just coincidence?
Hannah: You know, it’s again, trusting your gut. If you feel the two are connected, I would sense that they are. Kombucha is a tonic, so it’s something that’s best consumed in small, frequent doses. So for instance, four to eight ounces first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is a great way to start. It allows you to feel how the kombucha is working in your body. From there, you do that one to three times a day. So, drinking a bottle from the store that’s 16 ounces, there’s two potential servings right there. Having more than that, maybe your body naturally tops off at that level.
I’m the kombucha Mamma and I don’t even drink kombucha every day. I do almost most days but then there’s some days my body just doesn’t crave it. I listen to my body. Then there are times I don’t have it for a little while and then I’m like “oh my gosh! I gotta have a kombucha! I’m dying for that nutrition!” So, you know, it really is that observation of your body and trusting that you’re able to interpret the information correctly.
Ben: Right. Okay. Gotcha. So, kind of on the same vein of gas and bloating, we’ve talked about candida a few times, and I’m sure you’ve gotten this question before, there are people out there in the healthosphere that say that kombucha is something you shouldn’t drink if you have bacterial overgrowth or if you have candida. What are your thoughts on that?
Hannah: I mean I hate to harp on it, but trust your gut, and here’s why. Kombucha does contain specific acids that are known candida sites. It creates phenylethyl alcohol, it creates caprylic acid. So these things are already known to have an anti-candida effect. It also creates other antimicrobials and things like that.
Here’s the problem, as I mentioned before, sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. People who are not prepared to go through the process of a die-off situation or who don’t know what’s happening in that situation, may incorrectly interpret those, you know, it might be gas, bloating, it could be cramps, it could be headache, it could be feeling out of sorts, any of those symptoms can be misinterpreted as “the kombucha is making me sick”. And it’s by listening to your body, trusting the information you’re getting, and also applying your conscious brain to “hey what’s going on with my body? What is it I need to correct?”
Oftentimes, people who have out of control sugar cravings and alcohol cravings, can’t stand the taste of sour when that’s exactly what they need to get their bodies back on track. So, for some people, when they take that first sip, they think “oh this is blegh.” But, their bodies will bring them back around to it because instinctually, the human organism knows, this is something that’s good for me and I want more of it. And this is why we’ll see, when people first start drinking kombucha, crave a lot of it. Their bodies are missing something! So, by listening to what your body needs, you’re able to flush.
Now, people who experience a Herxheimer reaction, as I mentioned before, the simplest thing to do: reduce the amount of kombucha you’re drinking, increase the amount of water you’re drinking. Flushing is going to help get those toxins out of your body and then gradually add it back in as you’re able to. Now some people find that adding kombucha right from the top isn’t going to work from them, and that’s when going back to a lacto-ferment, like a kefir or kavas or something like that, is going to be a little gentler. It’s a higher pH, it’s a different type of organism, it allows the gut to heal in a different way first before then adding the detox properties of kombucha as well as the acidic acid that comes from it being an acidic acid ferment.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Cool. So, essentially what you’re saying is, when you feel symptoms like if you have candida or bacterial overgrowth, it is probably just a detox, Herxheimer, die-off reaction and not the fact that you’re feeding a bunch of the candida and yeast and fungus with the kombucha.
Hannah: Now, let me make a caveat here. If you’re brewing it at home, and you’re not allowing it to ferment long enough, then you might be inadvertently feeding your body sugar.
Ben: Yeah, because the bacteria hasn’t had a chance to eat all the sugar, so you’re eating all the sugar.
Ben: It’s feeding the yeast and fungus in your gut.
Hannah: Exactly right. So, for candida sufferers and diabetics and people who have sugar sensitivity, we need to be conscious that we are fermenting it long enough. So, in that case, that same gallon of kombucha we mentioned was ready in seven days, we’d give it 10 to 14 days for someone like that.
Now, if they find that the kombucha is too sour for them to drink for their palette, dilute it with water! It’s like a little bit of lemon in your water, you still get the probiotic benefit. That’s also a great trick to help people who are addicted to soda to get off of soda, is to start sneaking the kombucha in with the soda. They are at least going to start receiving some of that probiotic benefit and some of that stuff that will signal their body “hey, time to let go of this addiction” and incorporate a healthier beverage into their lifestyle.
Ben: Okay. Next question, when I buy something like GT’s kombucha, or some of these other kombucha strains at the grocery store, they taste much sweeter than what we make at home and they seem to have a relatively high calorie count when you look at the nutrition label- like 35 calories and that’s per serving and there are two servings in a bottle or sometimes as high as 70 calories. So, you’re getting, basically, as many calories as a can of soda, when you drink one of these kombuchas that are at the grocery story. Now, is that sugar that has not been fermented by the bacteria because it didn’t ferment long enough? Is it sugar that they’ve added after they’ve made the kombucha? Why is it that these taste so much sweeter and have such a high calorie count?
Hannah: Well, you’re hitting on the nation’s current addiction to sugar which has been created by the processed foods industry. We think of sodas and things like that as simulacrum, basically these are imitation foods designed to imitate natural foods that give a nutritional benefit and yet these foods deliver zero nutritional benefit. For instance, carbonation. Carbonation is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process that instinctually humans understand means that b-vitamins are present because yeast is present. And, when we look at soda, soda has added carbonation. Kombucha has healthy acids that detoxify the body; sodas have fake acids that destroy the body because it removes healthy elements from the body. So, on the surface of it, if you tested the pH or something like that, you might think “oh these things are identical.” But, the fact that the sugars are predigested, that you have bacteria in a living form, and that you have these trace amounts of vitamins and minerals I a living form, it far outweighs any kind of calorie count you’re looking at on the can itself. That’s the first thing I would say.
Ben: So, wait. So you’re saying is, when they list sugars or calories on the label, does that mean that they’re listing sugars and calories that were added as a process of fermentation?
Hannah: Well, so, there’s a couple different things that might be going on with commercial kombuchas and not all commercial kombuchas are made the same way. It’s very similar to craft beer. You can have how many different kinds of [0:42:15] ______ and they’ll all taste different. Kombucha is similar product in that way as it is a craft product, it’s brewed, it’s fermented.
What we see in this natural variation in sweetness is because they’re trying to create a product that fits a mainstream palette. Not everybody is ready to dive into the, you know, apple cider vinegar sour end of the kombucha spectrum. So, having these bridge brands that help with a slightly lighter or slightly sweeter profile, allows people to get into the habit of kombucha, to get accustomed to the healthy bacteria present in what most people find, especially if they’re making it at home, is that whereas before they liked it on the sweeter side, over time, they tend to make it more and more sour because that is actually what the body craves. We crave sour, we crave bitter. These are the things that keep our body functioning properly. The sweets are just supposed the be the little sprinkles on top, but unfortunately, the way our system is set up, those sweets have become pervasive and that’s part of what is creating so many digestive issues. So, the sugar calories you’re seeing on those commercial bottles, sometimes those are coming from things that are added after like stevia after the fact to make it more palatable. Most times, especially if it’s unflavored, those sugars are simply reflecting the remaining sugar from the fermentation process. Again, it’ll look sweet.
Ben: The remaining sugar wasn’t actually fermented by the bacteria?
Hannah: Well, and here’s the thing, Ben. Do you know much about food labels or how they’re made?
Ben: Uh, yeah.
Hannah: Well, so they don’t actually test the product itself for those components. They look at the ingredients list and they pull known quantities and make a calculation based on that. So, if in kombucha, we list out that it’s made out of tea, sugar, da-da-da-da-da, there’s no accounting for the fermentation process and so you may be seeing sugar counts, sugar grams that are higher than what is actually present in the bottle because it’s not testing that specific product.
Ben: So, they’re getting a list of all the ingredients that went into, say, GT’s kombucha, one really popular flavor, like the trilogy – GT’s kombucha, they’re seeing what they put into that? They’re seeing that they put x amount of sugar in here to ferment the bacteria, they’re putting that amount of sugar in a nutrition label, but much of that sugar you see on that nutrition label might actually be fermented.
Hannah: I can’t say from one brand to another, how exactly their labels are made, but, what I can say is that there’s not a uniform lab that everything goes to and those exact values is what’s passed onto the label.
Ben: Okay, got it. So there’s…
Hannah: Unfortunately…. It’s kind of nebulous.
Ben: I’m wondering… It would be interesting to see someone do this experiment. If you’re listening, you may want to do this: figure out how to burn calorie or some other way you can just take a bottle of kombucha off the shelf and test how much of the sugar is really truly presented as sugar versus how much of it is just stuff that has already been fermented by bacteria.
Hannah: This is like lab type stuff where lots of testing…
Hannah: … has to be done. It has to be centrifuged out and figured out and the weight of this and that. So, it’s a very complex process which is why you don’t see it done very much. My point being, let’s not get hung up over the sugar grams on the kombucha bottle. Let’s be excited that we’re drinking a kombucha and not a soda and not a sugar-laden juice that might be pasteurized, you know what I’m saying. You’re reaching for something that’s good for you. If it tastes good to you too, provided your body is having a positive reaction to it and you’re not seeing your health get out of control, I think it’s safe to assume that those are things we don’t need.
Ben: Are you pretty familiar with all the different brands out there, out in the grocery stores?
Ben: Okay, so….
Hannah: You mentioned Kombucha International is a non-profit trade association that Alex and I cofounded to bring all of the kombucha bottling companies together to strategize to have a safe space to talk about the issues that concern the kombucha industry.
Ben: So, if you we’re going to go to the grocery store and get kombucha, and it wasn’t something you’d made yourself at home, what would be your top brand/brands if you were just going to buy one from Whole Foods or Sprouts or Nuggets or some other organic grocery store?
Hannah: Well, first of all, I always love to find out what the local brand is. So, whenever I’m travelling somewhere, if I hit the local health foods store or the co-op or whatever, I want to grab what’s local because, you know, living in LA, I have a lot of access to different kombuchas, but because it’s that craft product, you know, every brand tastes different. So, I always love to taste what’s local.
In terms of favorite brands, like here in LA, I really like Health Aid, they do farmer’s markets juices, they do a beet kombucha; I really like the savory flavors. In Wisconsin, I really liked nessalla kombucha. If I’m in the Southeast, I like buchi, it has a little more of the tang to it. I have to admit, I’m a sour girl, so to me, the more tartness, the better! At least for my taste buds, that’s what I like.
Ben: Okay, got it. So, you like to look for the local, you like to look for the tart.
Hannah: And if I don’t find it, GT’s is great to reach for. I particularly like the over-21 brand, with the black labels, but in a pinch, the under-21 stuff is good too because more often than not, if I can grab a kombucha, there’s almost nothing else on the shelf that doesn’t have added sugar in it even iced tea seems to have sugar in it wherever I go.
Ben: So, just a few more question for you. Number one, what is the biggest mistake that you see people make when they’re making their own kombucha at home? Is it not sterilizing the equipment properly so you set yourself up for some kind of infection or food poisoning? Is it not fermenting long enough? Adding too much sugar or not enough? What is the biggest mistake that you see?
Hannah: There’s a couple of them. The first one would be trying to use one culture in too large of a batch of sweet tea. So, just like when we scale our cake or cookie recipe, or whatever recipe we’re making, we need those ingredients to remain in the correct ratio or we end up with a baking disaster. The same is true with kombucha. If we put one culture, that’s intended for one gallon, into two gallons of sweet tea, there’s an off chance it might survive, but you’re asking that culture to do an awful lot of work in converting all that sugar and acidifying the brew before other microorganisms colonize. So, not having the correct amount of kombucha starter liquid is one mistake.
A second mistake is not adding enough sugar. As you said, people will just reduce the amount of sugar and then it won’t have as much sugar, but the problem is, the sugar is not for you! And if you don’t the yeast and bacteria what they need, they can’t then create the healthy acids that make you feel good.
And then the third things I would say is heat. That temperature range is very specific- that 70-85, with 78-80 being our sweet spot, all of the information for the quantity of the sugar, the temperature, all of this comes from the numerous amounts of studies that have been done on kombucha since the 1850s.
So, kombucha has been very prolifically studied for hundreds of years, for 150 or so, but a lot of those studies take place outside of the United States. And so, the information that often gets quoted is “oh, there’s not studies on kombucha.” Which just isn’t true! A lot of this information comes directly from those studies in terms of what those ideal conditions are. You want to have enough culture and starter liquid, you want to give it the right amount of sugar, and you also want to make sure it has the right temperature.
I just want to address the issue, because you mentioned a couple times about is it dangerous, can you contaminate yourself, things like that, because sometimes there is that misinformation that goes around kombucha.
So, kombucha has several defense mechanisms that makes it very easy to make at home. First, let’s look at it from a logical perspective, how could something like this funky little pancake get passed around for hundreds of years if it was so easy to make you sick? It simply wouldn’t! People wouldn’t be handing it out to their friends if it was something they might get sick from. So, some of the defense mechanisms are…
The first one is the pH. The pH of kombucha is very acidic. It’s a 2.5 to 3.5 is what we typically see for kombucha. Even according to the FDA’s website, something with a pH of 4.6 or lower is considered a very safe food because there’s never has been a case of botulism. So, it’s a very safe food for that reason. Also, there have been studies showing its antimicrobial properties. So, it’ll kill things like e coli and salmonella on contact just because of the acids and they’re able to break those cell membranes. So, that low pH is really important and that’s why our starter liquid coming from the top is really vital because that’s what helps to acidify the brew and protect it.
The second defense mechanism, is the SCOBY itself. It creates a lid. Not only does it prevent other microorganisms from trying to land in this huge pot of sweet tea that any organism would want to consume, and as the layer grows across the top, it literally grows so that it covers the entire surface. So, your wife may have started with a starter that was very small, but if she moved it to a larger vessel, the SCOBY would grow to a larger size of the vessel. So, that lid also prevents evaporation and creates an anaerobic environment for the other fermentation process to occur.
So, its low pH, the SCOBY itself, and the trace amounts of alcohol are naturally antimicrobial and act as a preservative. So all of those things working in concert make kombucha very safe and very easy to make at home.
Ben: Wow! And that’s kind of the last thing I wanted to mention was making the stuff yourself and all of the resources that you have and obviously I’m going to put a link to all of this stuff over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Kombucha. But tell me about some of the kits and packages that you have for people who want to start making their own kombucha. What would you recommend as far as the different things you have on your kombucha webstore?
Hannah: Well, here’s what I have to say. If you know that you love kombucha and you’re serious about making it, go to Continuous Brew. It might feel like a large investment, but it’s the same as if you were getting your dehydrator or Vitamix. Once you pay for the specific equipment, it makes the process a lot easier. So, the continuous brew process is the easiest, safest, healthiest way to make kombucha. It’s easy because you pour everything out of the spigot. So, instead of having to handle the culture all the time and potentially contaminating them, you’re exposing them to more risks by handling them more often, now we don’t touch them at all except once every three to six months when we clean the vessel. It’s easy in a sense that when you drain some of that kombucha off, you top it off with your sweet tea, then it only takes a couple of days for that to turn into kombucha you can drink. So, it’s fast once the vessel is set up, that fermentation process happens in a much more rapid schedule.
The additional benefit to the continuous brew process is by leaving that 75% of kombucha in the vessel, there are other healthy acids created later in the fermentation process at the 15-day mark and then again at the 30-day mark we see those acids peak. Now, if we were doing 30-days in our gallon jar, you probably wouldn’t like the way that tasted, and that would have defeated your purpose, but in the continuous brew process, because we’re tempering it with the sweet tea, we get the full benefit of those healthy acids expressed, plus we’re moderating the flavor with a little bit of that sweet tea, so you have a delicious drink full of good health benefits and it’s just a lot easier. It streamlines the whole process. So, instead of having to lift your jars and pour them into the funnels and this and that, everything comes out of a spigot and it’s super easy.
All of our vessels are going to make delicious kombucha, the only one that will have a different flavor is the oak barrel. So we have modern porcelain vessels, stainless steel with stainless steel spigots, and yes, they’re corrosive resistant and they’re perfectly safe for brewing kombucha. We also have the oak barrel in two sizes which lends a lovely flavor to the kombucha, it mellows the acidic bite a little bit and many people comment they love the oaky flavor.
Hannah: And then there’s a handmade stoneware vessel with an all wood spigot. We try to accommodate a variety of people’s needs. Some products are made in the USA, some are handmade, some have wood spigots. So, we’re trying to offer a selection of products so that anyone can be successful with this hobby.
And then, if you found that kombucha is not where you want to start, we have other culture. We have water kefir greens, milk kefir greens, and we also have Jun. Have you ever heard of Jun, Ben?
Ben: No, what’s Jun?
Hannah: Or Jun or Jun tea is sometimes how they call it.
Ben: How do you spell it?
Hannah: J-U-N. Rhymes with “fun” is how we call it.
Hannah: But basically, it’s a raw honey green tea ferment. So, the kombucha culture is uniquely adapted to work with tea and sugar and if you expose it to raw honey, the naturally occurring bacteria will compete with your kombucha culture and you end up with off flavors and, frankly, it just smells gross.
Jun is a culture that looks very similar but behaves slightly differently because it’s a different colony of bacteria in yeast. But it feeds off of green tea and raw honey and creates this very light, floral, lovely alternative to kombucha. So, if people find kombucha a little too intense, you might want to try the jun. If you find that both of those are too intense for your gut at this time, start with the lacto-ferments, then ease your way into the acido-facto ferments.
Ben: Wow. This is so cool! Alright. Well, I’m going to put a link to all of this stuff over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Kombucha. If I can twist Hannah’s arm into sending me that maple bacon recipe, I would freakin’ love to have that published exclusively at BenGreenfieldFitness.com. And if she sends it- nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Hannah- I will also put that in the show notes as well over as BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Kombucha. Now the pressure is on, Hannah.
Hannah: Oh my gosh. (laughs)
Ben: (laughs) Everybody is going to wait for it with bated breath! Okay, so, Hannah thank you so much for coming on the call today and sharing all this stuff with us.
Hannah: Well, thank you, Ben! It’s always fun to talk to a fellow fermentation foodie!
Hannah: How many Fs can I fit in there?
Hannah: Fun, fit, fellow! So wait, do you feel bacteria powered, Ben?
Ben: Fun, fit, fellow, fermentation, foodie!
Hannah: Exactly! Do you feel like the bacteria powers you up?
Ben: Yes! And when I’m travelling, because I’m a little but more careful about drinking fermented beverages and eating fermented foods from which I’m unaware of the actual source, I can feel a difference. And I really don’t just like popping a probiotic pill versus just eating all these ancestral fermented food. I know for those of you listening in, it could seem like a drag to make your own stuff, but you know what, getting in touch with nature, getting in touch with your environment, getting in touch with you microbiome and how you’re actually feeding that rather than relying upon your local grocery store to determine what your microbiome is going to be like, I think it’s really cool to take all of that into your own hands. Our household has certainly been a lot more healthy since we started doing it.
Hannah: I’m beaming; I’m excited; I love this!
Hannah: Yes, yes! (chuckles)
Ben: Well, Hannah, thank you so much for coming on. Folk, if you’re listening in, head over to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Kombucha, that’s K-O-M-B-U-C-H-A, kombucha for the show notes. Until next time, this is Ben Greenfield and the Kombucha Mamma signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com.
I drink Kombucha almost every day. My wife usually ferments a batch with a home Kombucha fermenting kit, then adds things like blueberries and ginger to it. But there are a lot of myths and mistruths out there when it comes to Kombucha.
Call it “Kombucha confusion” if you will…
Is Kombucha alcoholic?
Is Kombucha dangerous to make yourself, and if not, how do you do it?
Does Kombucha cause Candida or bacterial overgrowth to occur in your gut?
Are all brands of Kombucha at the grocery store created equal?
How should you feel after you drink Kombucha?
We’re going to answer all these questions and more on today’s special podcast interview with The Kombucha Mamma herself: Hannah Crum.
Hannah is the founder of Kombucha Kamp, the most visited website in the world for Kombucha information, recipes and advice, and her mission is to “heal the world, one gut at a time.” Hannah is also an industry journalist & Master Brewer, directly mentoring thousands of new and experienced Kombucha brewers and providing consultation services for Kombucha start-ups since 2007.
She co-founded Kombucha Brewers International, a non-profit trade association dedicated to promoting bottled Kombucha around the world, and her Kombucha instructional video series with E-How/Expert Village has racked up over 1 million views. Hannah is also a leader and featured speaker in the Southern California Real Food movement, using the “Kombucha Lifestyle” as an introduction to other fermented foods, gut health, the human microbiome, “bacteriosapiens” and more.
Hannah ships freshly grown, full-size Kombucha starter cultures to more than 10,000 people worldwide and offers kits and Continuous Brew Packages, the ultimate in convenient homebrewed Kombucha, via her webstore. She also has a Free “Do-It-Yourself” Kombucha Guide with brewing, bottling & flavoring tips you can click here to grab.
During our discussion, you’ll learn what exactly Kombucha is, how to make Kombucha, what kind of Kombucha is best, which Kombucha to avoid, when you should and shouldn’t drink Kombucha and much more.
Click here to get Kombucha or a Kombucha Starter Kit on Amazon, and leave your questions, comments and feedback about Kombucha below!