Kombucha History 101: Who Brought The ‘Booch?
Komucha History. Where kombucha came from, and where it is now?
We’re glad you know a lot about your booch, but how did it get here, and why is it taking over the shelves?
You walk through the grocery store, pushing your cart, and sliding past all sizes, shapes and colors of fruits, vegetables, and vibrantly colored salad packages, turning the corner to find the “natural” beverage cooler. You stare at myriads of bottles – clear, amber, blue, purple – all equally kaleidoscopic in color, lined in perfect rows on shelves taller than you. Even though you know what you wanted, you have to stop and look.
Obviously, it wasn’t always this way. In 2019, you have any combination of smoothie, health tonic, and flavor of kombucha you could ever want. Now, even half the monstrous beverage cooler is often taken up by kombucha alone. But who do we have to thank for this massive explosion of tasty, bubbly bottles we can’t help but ogle at?
To be completely honest, nobody really knows. If we want to go way back and give credit where it’s due, the first fermented beverage now known was a mix of rice, honey, hawthorn and grape that has been able to be dated all the way back to about 7000-6600 BC from Jiahu, a village in the Yellow River Valley, China. So, next time you’re out, be sure to raise your wine glass to the guy or gal that figured that one out.
As far as kombucha goes, however, the true origin is shrouded in various legends. It may have originated only a short 200 years ago, but some well known origin stories date it to 221 BC, indeed in China. Being that China was so ahead of the curve on the fermentation front, along with tea being such a huge part of the culture, it’s not unreasonable that it would have originated there. Then again, its reported to have been regularly consumed in Russia in the early 1900s.
Even the word “kombucha” is also shrouded in a bit of mystery. If it originated in China, why does it have such a Japanese-sounding name? Indeed ‘kombucha” is a Japanese word , meaning “kelp tea”. Kombu is a type of seaweed, and ‘cha’ in Japanese refers to ‘tea’. And doesn’t a SCOBY sometimes look a bit like a reef, or seaweed tendrils? Today in Japan, kombucha itself is called ‘kocha kinoko, literally meaning “red tea mushroom.”
Over the years, general fermentation grew, different regions grew their own techniques, and innumerable fermented beverages and foods were made. Nobody back then knew about probiotics, or acetic acid, or gut flora, they just were inventively passing on and modifying tradition.
Fast forward to iPhones and Starbucks and kombucha is officially a billion dollar industry, expected to grow about 23% by 2023. We’d say it’s a hit.
Part of the widespread public knowledge of it may have come from the widely reported controversy over the potential alcohol content, as it is a fermented beverage. As concerns and curiosity blew in, kombucha, for a time, was taken off the shelves due to the controversy, helped in part, by a 2010 claim by none other than Lindsay Lohan that her probation was violated because she had been drinking too much kombucha, and thus had alcohol in her system.
To be sold on grocery store shelves to the general population, a beverage must have 0.5% alcohol content, or below, or it must be considered an alcoholic beverage sold to only those 21 and older. The industry began to tightly regulate itself, and started filling the shelves back up with a vengeance. Kombucha is indeed considered a non-alcoholic beverage, but some still abstain from ingesting any alcohol for personal reasons.
In a bit of a moment of pride, we’d like to mention that Seek North Kombucha utilizes a technology (dubbed an alcohol spinner) which completely removes all alcohol from our products, without adding any heat to alter the composition, to make a truly, completely alcohol free beverage. We are one of only a miniscule handful of kombucha brewers that spins out alcohol from our booch.
Whether you are a ‘booch addict, a casual sipper, or complete abstainer, it looks like the beverage cooler is only going to become more full of fermented, fizzy bottles. We don’t know where it came from, but we do know it’s not going away any time soon. Personally, we’re pretty happy about that.