Should you add kombucha to your drinks list?

23 November, 2017 by
Madeline Woolway

Kombucha isn’t new — although the exact origins are unknown, it’s been sipped on for centuries — and neither is its position as the panacea of functional beverages.

Made from green or black tea fermented with a SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, kombucha has recently found fame as a functional beverage. Its real functionality, though, might come less from its touted health benefits and more from its flavour profile and mouthfeel.

Advertisement

“Everyone seems to be going on about the health benefits, which aren’t really proven,” says Black Radish founder Brendon Vallejo.

“Kombucha has probiotics for sure, just like sauerkraut, yoghurt and kefir. People know it’s good for them, but don’t really understand why.”

Advertisement

While kombucha does have a small amount of alcohol — a by-product of fermentation — if controlled carefully, the total should remain below 1.5 percent. Put in perspective, this means drinkers would on average need to consume a few pints of kombucha to get the same buzz they would from 500ml of beer. (It’s still a good idea to disclose this to customers).

“The non-alcoholic market is underserved,” Vallejo tells Hospitality. “Foodservice is still only just getting the idea there is a segment of the population that don’t want to drink.

Advertisement

“What are they drinking? Nothing, basically — so you’re losing out on sales. They won’t just keep drinking soda water; it doesn’t pair with food. They’re missing out on that part of dining.”

When done right, kombucha has a number of characteristics that make it perfect for pairing with food, says Vallejo.

“It’s a very entertaining drink, the way champagne is,” he says. “It’s carbonated, it’s got umami and that fermented twang — all of which I think are quite satisfying.

“For pairings, you want an off-dry kombucha you can have a bit of latitude with. They’re easier to match.”

It can work well as a palate cleanser, too, says Julie Brument, co-owner of The Nine, who has offered shots to diners in between meals at pop-up dinners.

“People quite like it,” says Brument. “I love kombucha with a hard cheese. It really depends on the flavours of the kombucha itself. A strawberry kombucha could be beautiful [with] pavlova, and a mint—coconut one could be perfect with a kale salad.”

The Nine has also had a lot of success creating mocktails and cocktails with kombucha.

“It’s quite an easy ingredient to work with, and as it’s flavoured, it brings a little plus to the drink. We like to use it with our organic quinoa vodka — they work really well together,” she says. “It could also replace tonic in certain drinks.”

When it comes to looking after kombucha, Vallejo recommends it be consumed within three months of bottling or, even better, within in six weeks. And the warmer it is, the quicker it will ferment.

“I like to work with venues that already understand temperature is important, that there’s a particular way to pour and a right way to present information [about kombucha].”

When it comes to looking after kombucha, Vallejo recommends it be consumed within three months of bottling or, even better, within in six weeks. And the warmer it is, the quicker it will ferment.

“I like to work with venues that already understand temperature is important, that there’s particular way to pour and a right way to present information [about kombucha].”

Kombucha is very similar to pétillant naturel both in terms of production and end result. Both complete fermentation in the bottle, making for a beverage that has a light fizz.

“Kombucha is similar to pét-nat because the compounds of tea and grapes (and apples, too) are quite similar in terms of the components like tannins, polyphenols and sugar,” says Vallejo.

“Tea doesn’t have sugar, but it does have the other stuff, so when you add sugar to the tea, you basically end up with something similar to apple or grape juice. That’s why kombucha has such a great flavour profile and is engaging in the same way apple cider or wine are.”

Brument has found offering diners a taste test often results in conversion.

“Ninety percent of people who try it order it afterwards. We have at least eight to 10 litres of kombucha ordered per week,” she says.

The comparison to wine might stretch beyond kombucha’s characteristics to its evolution as a category. Just like Australia’s wine industry took time to mature, so too will kombucha.

“I’m not saying kombucha is exactly like wine, but if you look at the Australian and Californian wine industries, there are similarities,” says Vallejo.

“You can see how the industry has matured. I think if kombucha lasts long enough, we’ll potentially see it mature more.

“Restaurants at the forefront of hospitality see the relevance, but everyone else is caught up in the pseudo health benefits.”

Image credit: Eater

This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s August issue.