Last Kombucha Post Ever

Fair warning: today’s post is rather lengthy as I ended up waxing philosophical and then managed to scare the crap out of myself while researching the subject… It should probably just be a diary entry, but it feels somehow relevant. Plus I just really like getting up on soap boxes. That being said, I’m not sure if i should call this post a copout, an (un)plug or just barely on topic. Probably a little of all of them as well as a healthy dose of “I wish I could really be speaking from a place of wisdom…”.

Last year I had a number of posts on Kombucha (the iced bottled variety) which were fun and I always wanted to expand on them and never really had the chance. I think I’ve mentioned in the past how I drink kombucha a few times a week to homeopathically combat IBS. At this point in my life, kombucha has felt like a necessary medication i have had to budget for. That’s going to change starting today. According to its Wikipedia entry (so obviously take it with a grain of salt), several studies actually point toward kombucha as dangerously toxic and caution against use with HRT. (>.> Umm… F***. It might have been nice if someone had clued me into that before now… ^^;;).  Even putting that aside for the moment, kombucha is turning into a very sad story for me for a couple of different reasons.

One, it’s expensive (about $3.30~$3.70 USD/bottle on average), but unlike cigarettes it’s extremely hard to come by. Only specialty groceries and health food stores really carry kombucha, and only in certain markets. There’s a terrific selection available at Busch’s in Ann Arbor, but 20ish miles away in Pinckney, the closest Busch’s store to where I live, they don’t carry it and wouldn’t even consider it when i asked. The overhead is too high/takes up too much refrigerator shelf space and the product really only appeals to health food nuts…

Which brings me to the second reason: it’s actually alcoholic. Well, okay, not really… But in the fermentation process the live bacteria in kombucha yields trace amounts of alcohol. In regular kombucha, the alcohol content is barely quantifiable (.5% by volume or less), and believe me one cannot get a buzz from drinking multiple bottles of kombucha (which i don’t recommend based on its toxicity). G.T.’s has a line of kombucha where the alcohol has been allowed to expand to regular beer/wine levels: Classic Synergy. Given that kombucha is already probably more toxic than food coloring, add real alcohol to it and… Suffice it to say, it’s a waste of your money.  The ideal purpose of drinking kombucha is to partake of a healthy, probiotic beverage, not to get smashed or worse. Though obviously I’m reviewing them on a blog as many people might review beer or wine, i don’t think it can really be classified in the same category. Some brewers, like Unity Vibration, a local Ypsilanti kombucha brewer, add their kombucha to beer in order to have fun (more easily digestible?) lambic-like beer flavors, but the trend hasn’t really taken off. However…

Thanks to that trace amount of alcohol that exists in kombucha, although I’m purchasing it as an over-the-counter medication, the State of Michigan requires retailers to check my ID to verify I’m of legal drinking age. Actually, they don’t need to since the FDA rates kombucha non-alcoholic for retail sales, but they do anyway and in retrospect I’m kind of glad. In an ideal world, requiring an ID check might give one pause as to its necessity in the shopping basket.  On the one hand, it’s laughably silly to card when you can’t get drunk off of kombucha. If it was me, I’d recommend against carding except when someone’s buying a case or more, but i doubt very much the State will listen to me on this matter. Getting out my ID when I’m buying kombucha has gotten so commonplace for me i often grab both my ID and credit card at the same time in the line at the grocery store. For most people, being carded is nothing to get bent out of shape about, but for a Trans person it can be embarrassing and or exhausting.  On rare occasions the grocery clerk realizes that they have no idea what it is i’m buying. I sometimes get dragged into a conversation in the checkout line about what exactly it is I’m spending so much money on and… “fermented iced tea” doesn’t sound much like something that would require me to 21 years old to purchase. Obviously the issue is more complex.

However, the existence of alcoholic content does pose an interesting question, one i’ve tried to avoid thinking about for a long time and now am given to wonder at. If i’m drinking four or five bottles of kombucha per week (which sadly i have been for a while now), how much alcohol is that per year? Obviously, it’s a great deal less than habitual drinkers and those who drink a glass of red wine a day to strengthen the heart. I’ve never read any studies on the subject (best guess is there haven’t been any) so i really couldn’t say, but i wonder if kombucha is an addictive substance? Can you be addicted to a probiotic? I don’t take the capsule form probiotic with 3-20 billion live cultures they way many people do, except in extreme cases. Generally speaking, the live cultures in kombucha are somewhat comparable to the capsule form–usually around 1 billion CFU’s at batching. However, the capsule form has always bothered my stomach, whereas kombucha has almost always soothed my IBS. For that reason alone I’ve been ingesting not quite a case/month, and it seriously has to stop. I’m sure at this point the soothing affects are as much psychosomatic (which I have a bad history of abusing) as they are chemical.

I don’t know if I really buy into the warning against use with HRT (I’ve probably drank somewhere in the ballpark of 500? bottles, all of that overlapping with HRT), but i can no longer justify the benefits, real or imagined.

Mature kombucha. YUM! Image reused from Wikipedia.
Mature kombucha. YUM! Image reused from Wikipedia.

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