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Owners of Panacea Brewing dispell myths about kombucha

via Star News Online

by Margaret High StarNews Correspondent

Posted Aug 7, 2018 at 9:00 AM

For example, can drinking too much harm your kidneys?

Kombucha has become a widely popular drink among health enthusiasts and trickled down to tepid yogis and college women. Despite grocery stores like Food Lion carrying large brand kombucha, little is known about the probiotic drink.

Local kombucha brewers Panacea Brewing Co. helped clarify some of the myths surrounding the fermented tea, including finding a way to make kombucha more male-friendly by adding hops to their brews.

Myth: Kombucha brewing requires vinegar.

“Kombucha just has a few main ingredients,” co-owner Robin Hill says. “You have to have a kombucha starter, which is basically strong, old kombucha and you have to have a culture, called SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Then you need water, sugar and tea. It’s pretty basic.”

Kombucha is known for its high acidic notes, which some feel is comparable to vinegar. That taste occurs because the fermentation process that produces kombucha is the same process that produces vinegar.

Myth: Large kombucha companies add vinegar to shortcut the fermentation process but achieve the same taste.

“They actually take the probiotic and pasteurize their stuff,” co-owner Artie Hill says. “They heat treat, which will kill everything they just brewed, and then add probiotic back into it so it’s a shelf-stable product.”

This is different from the traditional kombucha brewing practice, with origins from thousands of years ago in either Russia or Asia, which does not pasteurize and keeps the naturally occurring probiotic.

“Any consumer can read the label and read that bacteria is added in,” Robin says. “But a true, traditionally brewed kombucha bottle wouldn’t say that, because it’s already there.”

The Hills say they can’t speak to the practices of larger companies, like KeVita and GT’s, but they don’t believe they add vinegar since it’s not printed on the label.

Myth: It’s risky to home brew kombucha because of bacteria fermentation going awry.

“Kombucha is just like any other food in your refrigerator,” Robin says. “If it looks bad, it is bad. You know not to drink it. Kombucha in general has visual queues if it’s not good.”

The Hills say it’s simple to home brew, but does require attention. Traditionally, kombucha starter is passed from friend to friend, much like sourdough starter or Amish friendship bread. Recently some stores, like Tidal Creek Co-op, have started carrying home brew packets with kombucha starter included.

Myth: Drinking too much kombucha can harm your kidneys.

“I feel like too much of anything is bad,” Robin says. “Because kombucha has some properties that help with detox, if you do drink a lot, it could overwork your kidneys. To combat that, drink twice as much water.”

In 1995, there was a case of unexplained severe illness of two people living in Iowa who said they had been drinking kombucha daily for approximately two months. The CDC investigated the kombucha SCOBY that was passed around to both patients, but concluded the two brewed their kombucha much longer than normal and consumed larger amounts. Both patients had additional illnesses that contributed to their hospitalization.

“I think in the history of kombucha there’s two possible cases that are not 100 percent linked to only kombucha,” Robin says. “They were drinking very strong, very fermented kombucha that was basically vinegar. So if anyone were to drink a pint of vinegar, that’s going to mess up their body’s pH. And I think those are very extreme cases.”

Myth: Children should not drink kombucha because of alcohol levels.

“People of any age enjoy kombucha in our store,” Robin says. “We have little kids that come up to the bar and enjoy their kombucha while their mom refills her growlers.”

Kombucha contains 0.5 percent alcohol, which requires labels to include a message warning pregnant women or those with religious restrictions of alcohol. There is no age restriction for kombucha consumption.

The small percentage of alcohol is safe for children to consume as long as in moderation, Robin says.

Artie says they have customers who do not drink alcoholic beverages but consume kombucha. Panacea sells kombucha kegs to local bars, which customers say allow them to go out with friends while maintaining sobriety.

Panacea has grown 15 percent month-over-month, according to Business North Carolina, indicating kombucha’s growing popularity in the Wilmington area. While the FDA does not validate any medicinal properties to kombucha, Artie says he got hooked because it helped his acid reflux.

“There’s something about kombucha that makes people feel good,” Robin says.

Panacea Brewing Co. is located at 102 Old Eastwood Road, Wilmington.

Editor’s note

Margaret High is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill studying media and journalism and modern European history. High comes from a newspaper family in Whiteville, where she is the fourth generation for the Pulitzer prize-winning News Reporter. This summer she is exploring food and drink in the Wilmington area.

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