Can you remember the last time you tried a totally new food? Galvestonian Cynthia Wojcik can, partly because it was just last week, but mostly because what she tried was kombucha tea, a fermented sweet tea. “It’s a little bit tangy, but it also has a little sweetness,” she said. “I like it.”
Wojcik’s reaction is not uncommon; once people get past the definition of kombucha (“a gelatinous mass of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts grown to produce a fermented beverage,” according to Merriam-Webster) they can enjoy the flavors and mild fizz created by local kombucha masters.
Vincent Bruno, proprietor of 3rd Coast Kombucha, has been brewing kombucha and developing flavor combinations for nearly a decade, selling them at Galveston’s Own Farmers Market from its beginning. “I was making it for myself and friends, and then started 3rd Coast,” he said. He recently acquired Old Moon Deli and Pies, where kombucha is available on tap for filling kegs and growlers.
Bruno now offers a variety of fruit and vegetable flavors that rotate with the seasons. At 3rd Coast’s stall at the farmers market, combinations such as lavender-lemon, beet and hibiscus-ginger attracted a steady flow of both dedicated kombucha fans and novice samplers like Wojcik.
“The most popular flavor overall in blueberry-ginger, but right now a lot of people are trying watermelon, because it just came out,” 3rd Cast vendor Nick Borde observed. “Cherry-turmeric is a big favorite for kids. I think it’s because it reminds them of apple juice.”
Spicier flavors have their fans as well. “People who are after the health benefits of kombucha often go for our cayenne-lemon-ginger combo,” Borde said.
Those health benefits include hefty amounts of antioxidants, microbes that aid in liver function, and probiotics that can enhance the digestive system. “It’s definitely good for gut health,” Amy Aubry, a steady customer of 3rd Coast, explained. “It’s very important to keep your gut healthy, because it’s almost like another brain. I also drink kombucha because it’s such a good anti-inflammatory. I find it helps me.”
Many of the health benefits are still being researched and quantified, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s preliminary findings are that up to 12 ounces a day is a healthy amount. They recommend moderation because, since kombucha is fermented, the alcohol content can range from negligible to three percent (about half the alcohol found in beer.)
While Robert Wall, head chef at Natural Living Food Co-op and Cafe in League City, is a relative newcomer to brewing kombucha, it has become a popular offering. “We’ve really gotten the techniques and flavorings down,” Wall said. “We keep the flavors seasonal, like blueberry-lavender, apple-ginger, and mango-cranberry. We’re looking forward to peach season and some new peach flavors.”
What was formerly a niche market has expanded to the point that almost all grocery chains carry an assortment of bottled kombucha; a local big-box store had more than a dozen varieties on the shelf. Although the fresh varieties made locally will taste better, the bottled brands convey the same health properties and, like the fresh products, can be used in other recipes.