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The 'cha' in the name is a clue to the basis of this ancient drink – 'cha' means tea and kombucha is based on green or black tea. The beverage is then lightly fermented by the addition of a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), a mother of combined yeast and bacteria that creates a very small amount of alcohol and effervescence. It is usually served lightly sweetened.
Kombucha is credited with being a probiotic aid, which means it is considered helpful to the digestive process, and other claims have been made about its health benefits. As with many such traditional products, there is much debate about these. On balance it seems the health benefits are hard to quantify, but there is evidence that drinking more than a pint, daily, can be harmful. If you've never had it before, give your body some time to adjust – 4 fl oz/120mls a day is fine to start with.
Increasingly available ready-made and bottled, but if you buy a mother SCOBY online, you can make it at home.
When buying commercially, avoid unnecessary additives and artificial flavourings. When making at home, pay strict attention to advice about fermentation temperatures and the type of container used.
There are websites that will sell kombucha ready-made and you can also buy a starter, which might arrive dehydrated. As with all fermented products, absolute hygiene is necessary as well as controlled temperatures. Take careful note of advice about the type of container used for brewing and storing.
If you ferment your own kombucha, the brewed liquid must be poured off the mother SCOBY, usually after 2-3 days, and then be refrigerated. It will not deteriorate rapidly but will eventually grow another SCOBY, so best to drink it when freshly made. That also means making only small amounts.