At first, it might be hard to understand the appeal of kombucha, a food trend that has made its way from the coasts to St. Louis. A fermented tea drink that’s made using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast sitting atop brewed tea that often tastes like vinegar? Sounds iffy.
But kombucha brewers and enthusiasts may be on to something with this sour concoction. The drink is a probiotic, meaning it promotes an active gut and healthy digestion. It is also high in B vitamins, which play an important role in cell metabolism. Those claims haven’t been tested by the Food and Drug Administration.
It should be noted that, through the process of fermentation, kombucha does have alcoholic content. In most cases, when distributed widely in grocery stores, the alcoholic content is kept below .5 percent. In some cases, however, brewers can sell kombucha on site that has a higher percentage of alcohol in the brew.
Sauce Magazine recently highlighted local kombucha brewers in their April issue. Heather Hughes, the magazine’s managing editor, said the article prompted some fighting in the office because fermented foods can be pretty polarizing.
“Some people really like the fermented part — that it tastes sour, vinegar-y and funky,” Hughes said. “It is the same thing with kimchi or sour beer. Our art director wrote a frowny face next to the article on the calendar board because she hates the flavor, but that’s part of the reason we wanted to write the article: there is such variety in flavor, there’s bound to be one you’ll like.”
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, two St. Louis kombucha brewers with distinctly varied styles joined contributor Steve Potter to talk about the trend.
William Pauley, the founder and master brewer of Confluence Kombucha in the Grove neighborhood, calls kombucha “the healthiest beverage you could put in your body.” His brewery crafts experimental kombucha flavors that actually have alcoholic content higher than .5 percent.
Pauley has been brewing kombucha for the past eight years. His product tastes a bit more like a sour beer and maintains a carbonated and acidic taste with flavors like pineapple-turmeric-peppercorn (a best-seller).
“We keep the vinegar taste as a background note because that’s the most authentic product with kombucha,” Pauley said. “The process brings out organic acids which help detoxify the blood and liver.”
Confluence Kombucha’s tasting room in the Grove, 4507 Manchester Ave., rotates eight flavors almost daily and serves food.
On the opposite end of the spectrum lies Companion Kombucha, the first of St. Louis’ kombucha breweries. Co-founder Tom Nieder created the brewing company, which goes by the nickname Com Kom, two years ago with his wife, Tricia, holding to the idea that they’d make kombucha palatable to even the pickiest of drinkers.
Their product tastes a little bit more like tea than beer, running a little drier than other kombuchas.
The alcohol content of Companion Kombucha bottles is below .5%, so it can be manufactured and sold on grocery store shelves. It also contributes to the drier taste of the beverage, which comes in flavors like lavender, peach and hops.
“Organic acids are not going to do anybody any good if they won’t drink it,” Nieder said. “It takes a month to make a bottle, which is why it is a bit more expensive than a soda that can immediately go down the line,” said Nieder.
A 16 oz. bottle of Companion Kombucha runs $3.69. A 12 oz. taster at Confluence Kombucha runs $4-5.
“I suggest people if you’ve never had it, start with about 4 oz. in the morning or with a meal,” Pauley suggested. “See how your body reacts. Everyone will react a little different. It starts to get into your digestive tract. If you have things going on, it will start to move things in a more healthy way, balance bacteria in the gut. That’s where health benefits start to come from. That’s what fermented foods and all that’s trending in that realm is stemming form. People are starting to understand that gut health is the most important for overall health.”
This Sound Bites segment is produced as a part of a partnership between Sauce Magazine and St. Louis Public Radio.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.