By Meghan O'Dea
Over the past decade, kombucha has exploded from a minuscule market to an almost $400 million-a-year industry like, well, a bottle of 'booch that was shaken up in your grocery bag. The fizzy, probiotic beverage fits right into the clean-eating zeitgeist, not to mention the rising demand for non-alcoholic beverages that aren't soda.
Like CBD, another trendy feel-good ingredient, kombucha's distinctive, sweet-meets-vinegary flavor has found its way into far more than just glass bottles. You can now find kombucha in a wide array of products, from candy to hot sauce to skin care potions—just don't get those last two mixed up, or you'll be in a world of hurt.
I set out on a quest to see which kombucha-laced products are just capitalizing on the buzz and which are really unleashing the power of the mighty 'booch.
Kombrewcha Hard Kombucha
It was only a matter of time before the booze industry decided to claim kombucha for its own. It's become a popular alternative to cocktails, so it only makes sense that it would catch the eye of mixologists looking for new flavors. You could just dump some vodka or mezcal in your favorite flavor of kombucha, or you could take a shortcut and try a hard kombucha product. It's surprisingly difficult to increase kombucha's alcohol content, thanks to all those living microbes that make the drink probiotic. But there are culinary chemists making hard kombucha happen.
Kyla is a spiked kombucha brand that comes out of Hood River, and Brooklyn brewer Kombrewcha makes flavors like Cucumber Lemongrass and Berry Hibiscus. Kind of like how Mike's Hard Lemonade or Zima tastes like soda with a slight undercurrent of alcohol, hard kombucha tastes essentially like the "dry" version of what you're used to, with a slight tang from the 4.4 percent ABV. You can sip hoping that whatever toll your alcohol consumption is taking on your microbiome, the kombucha is possibly there for an assist—though scientists are still studying exactly if and how that trade-off works.
Pacifica Rose Kombucha Flower Powered Face Wash
I was most skeptical of kombucha as a skin care ingredient. After all, do any of the Gluconacetobacter kombuchae microbes haunting my favorite beverage actually survive getting put into lotion so they can live on my face and make me more beautiful? I'm still not entirely clear if it works on a microbial level, but the fact of the matter is that Pacifica's kombucha face wash is one of the best face washes I've ever tried.
Whether it's the kombucha, the argan or olive oils, the papaya extract, or just plain witchcraft, the wash left my dry-leaning skin feeling refreshed, but not tight or dried out. The rose scent was light and bright, and I swear I had an angelic glow after using it. And at 10 bucks a pop, it fits into even the teensiest beauty budget.
Eva's Cultured Kombucha Candies
If you love kombucha for its beautifully weird, funky flavor, try Eva's candies, which have a lovely gummy texture. Kind of like how fruit leather has a more concentrated, deeper flavor than fresh-cut mangoes or apples, these candies are bursting with kombucha flavor. That's because they aren't simply infused with kombucha, they're made from the scoby itself, dehydrated and crystalized into a chewy, sweet snack. And because these candies are made from the living colony that causes tea to ferment into kombucha, this small-batch process preserves some of the probiotics. You can feel more virtuous nomming these sweets than, say, a fistful of fruit chews, knowing you're making your microbiome as happy as your mouth.
Stinging Kombucha Hot Sauce
At its essence, hot sauce is just puréed peppers and garlic suspended in a mixture of vinegar and water. The vast, infinite variety of hot sauces that make for Father's Day gifts for dads across America every year are mostly distinguished by the huge variety of peppers there are on the planet. That said, it makes perfect sense that someone would replace some of the vinegar with kombucha for a probiotic condiment that has the same bite as a standard hot sauce, but also a really different flavor.
This Portland-made kombucha hot sauce has a wonderfully complex depth of flavor thanks to its star component, which is first on the ingredients list. There's a little wine vinegar to finish the job, but the kombucha definitely isn't just a gimmick. The peppers are feisty and stand up nicely to the kombucha— this isn't a hot sauce you can eat mindlessly, but it also isn't aggressive, either. The sweetness of the peppers plays nicely with the sweetness of the 'booch, and the tingling from the capsaicin is a fun replacement for the sensation of bubbles you usually get when sipping a brew.
Weed-infused kombucha is perhaps the most quintessentially Pacific Northwest beverage to exist. If you like lavender kombucha or other herbal infusions, you'll love the way cannabis terpenes interact with kombucha's inherent funk. Dank, skunky, juicy and very alive, Müru's cannabucha presents a palette of flavors unlike anything else.
With 5 mg of THC per bottle, this is a sipper on its own or as the base for some carefully balanced weed cocktails—just ask any of the budtenders in Portland who are having a hard time keeping this tasty beverage on the shelves.