Kombucha, which is fermented tea, has been growing in popularity in the United States recently. But the practice of fermenting food dates back millennia—both as a method of food safety and food preservation. Fermented foods are a staple of many cultures. Sauerkraut is German, kimchi is Korean, natto (fermented soybean) is Japanese, Kombucha is Chinese (maybe – kombucha’s origins are unclear), and the list goes on and on. The reason for the recent popularity? Gut health. The fermented tea includes live probiotic strains like Lactobacillus.
Recently, researchers and nutritionists have been shouting the health benefits of probiotics from the rooftops too (see: buzzwords like “gut health” and “good bacteria”). Certain living bacteria is good for your digestive tract, and your digestive tract is the foundation of the immune system. In fact, fermented foods seem especially promising when it comes to helping prevent many Western diseases, such as heart disease and obesity, likely caused by our broader reliance on pasteurized and processed foods.
Such diseases continue to rise. But at the same time, consumers continue to get more educated and more concerned about the effects of different foods on their health. No wonder the market for fermented foods is expected to grow at a healthy pace of about 25% per year until 2020.
Fermented tea may be especially popular right now for the mere fact that it’s a beverage. It’s literally easier to swallow for folks who are new to the world of fermented “foods” and it’s inherently more convenient. You can grab a bottle of kombucha and go, and you’re serving your body well with just a few swigs. Plus, if the taste doesn’t suit, it can be easily (and healthily) flavored with fruits or fresh-squeezed lemon, just like any other tea.
There are also plenty of recipes that mix kombucha with alcohol. I think it seems like an odd combination, as the health benefits of the former are arguably cancelled out by the latter. But hey, to each their own.
The fact that we’re now pouring alcohol in our kombucha, though, perhaps speaks to its popularity and marketability more than anything else. Any kombucha you buy will likely be branded as “live” or “gut-healing” or full of probiotics. The trendiness of the drink is also obvious by the fact that some—like this 24-pack from Latta Kombucha—are also branded as organic and gluten-free. Seems like those labels should be obvious, right?
Despite the added layers, the bottom line is pretty simple: Consumers are tuning in more and more, not just to the old, shallow, health-centric focus around calories, but to a deeper health that starts in the gut. The popularity of an old, Chinese tea drink to American consumers is just the latest proof point.