The Science Behind The Organic Acids in Kombucha
What is it that makes it healthy?
Written by Hannah de Gruchy
We love kombucha, you love kombucha. We drink it for its refreshing taste and while we’re doing so, we might be thinking virtuous thoughts, because we know it’s a healthy drink. But what is it that makes it healthy? In part, it’s down to the acids kombucha contains. You can’t drink kombucha without noticing its acidic twang, but what are these acids and what are they doing for us?
Ever the inquisitive soul (with a science degree), I took to some science journals to discover what these acids are all about.
Those Healthy Kombucha Acids
Acetic acid is what gives our chips a vinegary boost, and kombucha it’s distinctive flavour. It’s the most abundant of the three most common ‘organic acids’ found in kombucha. The other two are glucuronic acid and gluconic acid. They’re all produced as a by-product of the fermentation process used to make kombucha.
(If you’re reading this as a curious kombucha virgin, fear not, drinking kombucha isn’t like drinking neat vinegar, we promise.)
A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2000 found that kombucha was effective at inhibiting the growth of some common bacteria pathogenic to humans. This means that under lab conditions, kombucha restricted the growth of harmful bacteria. The bacteria in this study included E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter and listeria, all bad bugs that can cause the stomach upsets, sickness and diarrhoea associated with food poisoning. This means that drinking kombucha regularly could help us fight off nasty food poisoning bugs.
And this is down, in part, to acetic acid, a known anti-bug agent. According to a health review published in the scientific Wiley Online Library in 2014, acetic acid is largely responsible for these antibacterial effects of kombucha. It also works in conjunction with the proteins in kombucha to increase this effect.
The glucuronic acid in kombucha has a variety of health-supporting roles in the body. A study published in 2004 in the CyTA Journal of Food explains that this acid helps support the liver’s detoxing duties, helping it do its job of processing drugs, chemicals and pollutants. Glucuronic acid also helps keep the balance of our sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone in check and helps to increase the activity of antioxidants.
Kombucha is also linked with supporting a healthy immune system due to its antioxidant content. One of these antioxidants is ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C. It also contains glucaric acid, that showed promising antioxidant results in a study in 2011. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that can damage our cells, leaving us vulnerable to disease.
A Healthy Gut
Kombucha contains gluconic acid, which was proven in a study way back in 1994 to support the growth of bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria are good bacteria and are found in our guts. They help support a healthy gut and for this reason, they’re often added to probiotic supplements. The more support we give these good guys with gluconic acid from the mighty kombucha, the happier our gut!
So there we are, a collection of awesome acids, present in kombucha with health benefits backed up by science. And who can argue with that?!