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Ten years ago the first episode of a new BBC2 series, The Truth About Food, cast a sceptical eye over the purported benefits of probiotics in our food.
In the intervening 10 years the issue of probiotics has featured sporadically on British television, each time receiving a cynical rap. Until now, that is. The second series of BBC2's Trust Me, I’m A Doctor began on 1st February, finally lifting the veil on the now irrefutable benefits of probiotics - and why they received such a poor press previously.
Historically, the media focus on probiotics was largely based around big brand yogurt drinks. Over the years their big name manufacturers heavily emphasizied the high concentrations of gut-healthy probiotic bacteria they contain, spurring six in ten households to buy such products regularly and spawning a billion-dollar industry.
EU health food claims directive
Claims of their products’ purported positive effect on gut health remained scientifically unsubstantiated, however, spurring the EU to launch a Europe-wide directive in December 2012 forbidding food manufacturers making declarations about their products not backed up by scientific evidence, leading to such claims on packaging being outlawed overnight.
In 2014, independent laboratory tests on popular probiotic yogurt drinks concluded they have little or no benefit due to most of their good - mostly lactobacillus - bacteria not surviving the journey through the harshly acidic digestive tract, while those that do make it through don't last for long once they reach the gut.
By contrast Dr Paul Cotter, Head of Food Biosciences at Teagasc in Cork (above with Trust Me presenter Dr Michael Mosley), concluded from an experiment with a group of volunteers that if the bacteria are fermented in an acidic base, like in kombucha, then most of the good bacteria do bypass the digestive tract to reach the gut intact conferring a net benefit.
As good as home made
Furthermore, lab tests were run to determine if commercial ferments contained as much live goodness as their home-made counterparts. Surprisingly, shop bought pickled kimchi and sauerkraut were found to contain no live acids or enzymes possibly as a consequence, Cotter surmised, of their being pasteurized prior to distribution.
By contrast, commercial kefir brands were found to contain almost as much good lactobacillus bacteria as home made, while there was virtually no discernible difference between the vast amounts of lactobacillus bacteria found in off the shelf kombucha compared with home made.
As more fruit-infused kombucha brands Stateside switch to pasteurization and artificial carbonation due to to the destabalisation that can occur when adding fructose prior to bottling, GO! Kombucha will continue using only the finest teas and nothing else, ensuring fermented tea that is 100% raw and authentic as home made.
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