Kombucha craze: A miracle tea?

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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ORLANDO, Fla. - Kombucha, a fermented tea that is often flavored with fruits and berries, is popping up at Organic grocers, health food stores and specialty coffee and tea shops.

The internet is scattered with photos of Lindsay Lohan toting a bottle of a nationally marketed brand of Kombucha, and other celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry apparently can't get enough of it.

In the past few years, two Kombucha brewing businesses have set up shop in Central Florida.

Farm Boy Produce started bottling and selling the drink in 2012 and Living VitaliTea put their product on the market a little over a year ago.

While it's enjoying it's newfound fame and abundance of availability, the drink itself is certainly not new. It originated in China in 220 BC where it was regarded as the 'Divine Che' and renowned for its detoxifying and energizing properties.

"The health benefits are quite extensive. In my own personal experience, as I have become a human experiment for Kombucha consumption, I have not even had the slightest instance of being sick in the past two years," said Farm Boy owner Mark Bevilaqua.

While purveyors and enthusiasts of Kombucha promote it for a wide array of health benefits and detoxifying properties, mainstream science classifies it just like any other probiotic.

According to Tara Gidis, the nutritionist for the Orlando Magic and Run Disney, Kombucha aids in digestion, helps the immune system and could help fight off infection.

"To me the benefits are its a probiotic, its good bacteria but the risks are there could be some bad bacteria that's fermented with it depending on where you are getting it from," said Gidis.

She recommended buying the Kombucha from a reputable source rather than trying to homebrew it or get it from a friend.

Daniel Koenigkann, the owner and creator of Living VitaliTea Kombucha, actually wants people to learn how to brew it themselves.

He conducts workshops to teach people how to make their own Kombucha.

Koenigkann lost 35 pounds after he started drinking it and after he saw how easy it was to make at home, he decided to make it a business.

"The most important thing is to make sure everything is clean, if you start out with a clean environment and clean hands then everything else is safe," he said.

According to Farm Boy brand's owner, contamination is actually next to impossible.

"The beauty of the biology is that it is almost impervious to foreign pathogens and contamination. This is because of the acid levels, ethanol, the biological symbiosis, and the cellulose layer that forms on the surface of the fermentation vessel," said Bevilaqua.

Kombucha is made by brewing organic tea leaves and then sweetening it.  Once cooled, the sweetened concentrated tea is added to a bacteria colony known as a scoby.  Water is added to the mixture and then it has to sit for at least a week.

The scoby, which stands for a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast, feeds off the sugar to ferment into a probiotic liquid.

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