Move over coconut water, the latest revived trend in health beverages is kombucha, a bubbly and fruity probiotic fermented tea.
“Revived” because kombucha has been around for at least 100 years. Recently though, bottled versions of the effervescent drink have been flying off health food shelves.
But the process has a byproduct — a miniscule amount of alcohol. Kombucha in the cooler at Better Health’s Novi store has an alcohol warning on it. Some versions have around .5 percent alcohol by volume. That’s about the same as a “nonalcoholic” beverage like O’Doul’s. It won’t get you drunk, but it’s enough to require you show ID at the register.
But the adults-only limitation hasn’t slowed sales. As the word spreads that the bacteria in kombucha can be good for digestive and immune system health, people are becoming more interested.
“We carry it here because there’s a huge demand for it,” says Tedd Handelsman, president of Better Health markets, which has stores across Metro Detroit. “People love it. If you start to drink it, you really acquire a taste for it because it has a little bit of vinegary taste to it. We call it a ‘healthy pop.’ ”
Most of the kombucha seen in stores is organic, raw and gluten-free. The drink does contain sugar to feed the yeast, and some brands may also have added fruit juice to sweeten the taste. A 16-ounce bottle of kombucha usually contains two servings, around 30-40 calories each.
It costs around $3 a bottle, and around $4 for the kombucha with the trace amounts of alcohol that is fermented longer.
Handelsman’s business partner, Mary Vandewiele, says the good bacteria can help boost immunity.
“When people get sick ... it starts at the gut level, so that’s why these immune-building properties are so important ... building it gradually over time is much better,” says Vandewiele, who recommends that people drink one bottle or two servings a day. “Probiotics are great, but this is something that you drink constantly, during the day, so it adds to your already good army there. So you’re just feeding the good bugs and keeping them strong.”
“And there’s no better thirst quencher,” adds Handelsman, who says that “functional beverages” like kombucha are one of the biggest growth categories in the natural food industry today. “This is equivalent to a cold beer on a hot day.”
Vegan and vegetarian restaurant GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale uses the fermented beverage in their craft cocktails that they tout as healthy and also pack a punch because of added alcohol.
The Manhattan Beet cocktail mixes Traverse City cherry whiskey, beet, apple and carrot juice from Drought, lemon and cherry ginseng kombucha. The Westside Sarsparilla uses a root beer kombucha blended with Old Olverhold rye, Pimm’s, sambuca and lemon.
“It just adds another level of the whole healthy, medicinal quality that I try to incorporate in all the drinks here,” says GreenSpace cocktail director Robert Daleski. “The cocktails here not only taste good, they have a medicinal element to them and an apothecary, healthy approach.”
The restaurant also serves Unity Vibration Peach Bourbon Kombucha beer on tap. Brewed in Ypsilanti, Unity Vibration’s gluten-free kombucha beer is a blend of kombucha that’s brewed for 30 days and organic dried hops and organic fruit. It’s aged in open-air-fermented oak barrels.
Daleski says this version of kombucha “has a little more depth” and says it has 5.5 percent alcohol by volume. Get it at Green Space in a 9-ounce snifter glass for $9.
Unity Vibration also brews a raspberry, ginger and elderwand variety; the latter is made with elderberry juice, black berries, blueberries and buckwheat. It’s available in many states. Find it locally at better liquor stores and specialty markets and some bars like Motor City Wine and Slow’s Bar BQ.