What is a Kombucha Mushroom?

Nick Doniger

The kombucha mushroom, also known as the Manchurian mushroom, is a culture of bacteria and yeast used for brewing a fermented tea. It is not an actual mushroom, as it produces no spores. Its name is derived from its fungal appearance. While its exact origins remain a mystery, kombucha is generally traced to Asia. The tea produced from this culture is believed to have various beneficial health properties, including fighting against cancer, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and diabetes; improving sexual and digestive health; improving vision; and slowing down the aging process.

Brewing kombucha, also known as mushroom tea, requires careful preparation.
Brewing kombucha, also known as mushroom tea, requires careful preparation.

While it is not known exactly where and when the kombucha mushroom was discovered, its first actual recorded use took place in China in 221 BC, during the Tsin Dynasty. The name kombucha, however, is believed to have been conceived in Japan by a Korean doctor in 415 AD. This doctor, while supposedly using kombucha tea to treat the Japanese Emperor Inyko, combined his name, which was either Kombu or Kambu, with "cha," which translates as "tea."

Among the supposed benefits of kombucha mushroom is slowing down the aging process.
Among the supposed benefits of kombucha mushroom is slowing down the aging process.

Scientists describe kombucha as a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Several different species of yeast and bacteria compose this culture. No natural colonies of kombucha exist in the world, therefore its survival solely relies upon cultivation by humans.

Kombucha may be made at home, as long as the proper culture is initially obtained. The kombucha culture is first mixed with steeped tea and a large amount of sugar. This mixture is then jarred, and an unrefrigerated fermenting process of approximately five days begins. A new culture grows at the top of the jar in the form of the kombucha mushroom. After most of the liquid is separated, the culture and remaining liquid may be reused to grow more cultures and make more tea.

The tea that is produced from the kombucha mushroom comes from chilling the liquid that is separated after culturing. At this point, the liquid is stored in refrigeration for an additional five days prior to consumption. The resulting tea is slightly carbonated, acidic, and contains a negligible alcohol percentage. Many describe its flavor as cider-like or wine-like, often with a strong, vinous aroma.

Most of the health benefits associated with the kombucha mushroom, such as its cancer-fighting and AIDS-fighting qualities, are without actual scientific basis. It has, however, been reported to contain a small amount of B vitamins and certain essential amino acids. Because of these few proven health properties, a theory exists that the kombucha mushroom obtained its reputation as a miracle substance due to inadequate access to nutritional foods at the time of its discovery in Asia. As fruits and vegetables were only seasonally available at the time due to the lack of refrigeration and canning, kombucha tea may have provided a few of the unavailable nutrients.

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