After a season of rich holiday food and drink, January is the perfect time for a big swig of gut-friendly, health-enhancing kombucha. Low in sugar and sodium and packed with probiotics, kombucha is a libation to embrace.
Once a fringe health drink, kombucha has catapulted to the mainstream, earning space in nearly every grocery, deli and coffee shop. Find it near the pressed juices or in its own case.
What exactly is kombucha? Kombucha isn’t juice or cider. It’s a fermented drink that’s typically made by mixing brewed tea with sugar and allowing it to ferment for a few weeks. During the fermentation time, a scoby, similar to the “mother” that transforms wine into vinegar, consumes the sugar and produces a probiotic-rich liquid that is believed to promote gut health.
Upon the initial fermentation, the liquid ranges from slightly acidic to incredibly sour. The real fun begins during the second ferment, when fruits and flavors are added. Within days, the drink becomes the bright, flavorful, effervescent drink that’s found in bottles and cans on store shelves. Brewed even longer, the sugars turn to alcohol, making “hard” kombucha.
Kombucha flavors are as varied as the produce department with herbs, ginger and fruit in every combination. Think mango, strawberry, peach, cranberry, apple or any kind of citrus. Since citrus is a clear favorite, we rounded up a cartful of citrusy flavored options and poured.
Great kombucha has a bright, acidic kick and just enough added flavors to tame the natural vinegar flavor. Bad kombucha is watery, sour or simply too funky to enjoy.
Here are details on the best kombucha out there … and the sour, watery impostors. Nutrition info refers to 16 ounces, the most popular size.
365 Organic Ginger Lemon Kombucha
This extra bubbly, refreshing libation has a minimal sour note and is packed with ginger and lemon flavors. It’s fresh, bold and thirst quenching. 80 calories, no sodium, 17 g sugar. $3.29 for 16 ounces at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
GT’s Synergy Tangerine Dream Raw Kombucha
An array of fresh juices plus a hit of vanilla makes for a creamy, pleasant gulp. Detailed label info on the probiotic content is a bonus. 60 calories, 10 mg sodium, 16 g sugar. $2.99 for 16 ounces at Trader Joes. (4 stars)
Health-Ade Blood Orange Carrot Ginger Kombucha
Serious drinkers of kombucha will appreciate the powerful dose of authentic, long-brewed kombucha in this stout drink. It has an unapologetic vinegar kick and a punch of peppery ginger. 70 calories, no sodium, 13 g sugar. $3.99 for 16 ounces at Whole Foods. (3½ stars)
Humm Mango Passionfruit Probiotic Kombucha
The fragrant, floral aroma of passionfruit plays well with the sour notes in this light, minimally sweet brew. The flavor is understated yet delicious. 46 calories, no sodium, 10 g sugar. $4.19 for 14 ounces at Raley’s. (3 stars)
Brew Dr Organic Blood Orange Ginger Kombucha
Those who prefer tame kombucha will want to sidestep this pungent brew. It has a massive tang, plus zingy hits of orange and ginger. It’s tasty, but not for kombucha-newbies. 91 calories, no sodium, 17 g sugar. $3.49 for 14 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 stars)
Better Booch Citrus Sunrise Kombucha
Flavored with orange peel and sage, this unusual kombucha may be an acquired taste. It’s minimally sweet, decidedly sour and a bit funky due to the herbal note. 60 calories, 25 g sodium, 10 g sugar. $3.19 for 16 ounces at Whole Foods. (2 stars)
Kevita Tangerine Probiotic Refresher
While this orange liquid delivers a lovely tangerine note, stocking it on the kombucha shelf is a mistake. This drink is made with kefir culture, sweetened with stevia — and vinegar is added to make it taste like kombucha. 26 calories, 11 mg sodium, 4 g sugar. $3.29 for 15.2 ounces at Whole Foods. (1½ stars)
Revive Mango Orange Sparkling Probiotic
This can of kombucha is a bust. The claim of 5 billion probiotics on the label is suspicious, as it tastes like nothing more than sour, bubbly water. 47 calories, no sodium, 7 g sugar. $2.50 for 12 ounces at Raley’s. (½ a star)
Raley’s Organic Tangerine Blood Orange Kombucha
It’s pretty in the glass, but this minimally fizzy water is wickedly sour and doesn’t have even a trace of tangerine or orange flavor. 50 calories, no sodium, 7 g sugar. $3.19 for 16 ounces. (No stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at [email protected]. Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/tag/taste-off.