by Melissa Reiss, Purchasing Assistant
Over the past few years, the probiotic drink and fermented food category has grown to where it seems like there are new products popping up every day. There’s good reason for that, as the more we find out about gut health, the more we see how it affects overall health. Maintaining a good culture of beneficial bacteria in the gut is thought to be the first step towards overall health.
As far as new and exciting products go, check out the probiotic drinks section when you’re shopping your Co-op; there’s often something new to discover there, whether it’s a seasonal variety or a new flavor altogether.
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of beverages you’ll find in this section.
The vast majority of what makes up this set is kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea with a long history; the first recorded use of it is in 221 BC in China. Its origins are also attributed generally to Eastern Europe, Russia, and Japan.
Fast forward to 2005. Ten years after starting his company brewing kombucha at home, GT (short for George Thomas) Dave’s line of organic kombucha beverages began distributing nationally. Kombucha became more of a household name in the United States, which paved the way for other brewers of kombucha. Still made in small batches and never filtered or pasteurized, GT’s kombucha elixirs are often blended with organic fruit juice, herbal infusions, and/or chia seeds to create flavors like Cosmic Cranberry and my personal favorite, Gingerberry (blueberry and ginger). The chia seeds absorb and expand, taking away the “fizz,” and totally changing the consistency of the drink. It can be an acquired taste for some, but those who enjoy the kombucha + chia line of drinks benefit from the added boost of energy the chia seeds provide.
To brew kombucha, you need a SCOBY—or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. The yeast in the SCOBY feasts on sugar during the brewing process, creating the effervescence. The drink is naturally dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan. Kombucha has become somewhat of a polarizing drink—you either love and crave it, or you steer clear at all costs. The latter may be due in part to the remnants of the mother culture in each bottle. Many consumers have grown to embrace the SCOBY and consume it. Others strain it out and still continue to enjoy the drink—it’s a matter of personal preference! The SCOBY is chock-full of probiotic strains, but you’ll still get a heaping dose even if you choose to filter it out.
In addition to GT’s, we stock three local rockstar brewers of kombucha, well-known and loved NessAlla, Tapuat from Door County, Wisconsin, and Forage Kitchen. Nessalla is based here in Madison, and their line (with year-round flavors such as Juniper Rose and Peach Blush) has a rotating seasonal offering, as well as new flavors that spring up from time to time. We also carry their kombucha in bulk at each store! Forage Kitchen is new for us, and you’ll find their first two distributed flavors—raspberry and ginger—in 12 oz cans. Forage’s is one of the fizziest, and out of all the cans I’ve had, do not contain the ‘mother’ or any SCOBY bits. So if you’re new to the world of kombucha, and the thought of catching a bit of SCOBY in your gulp isn’t appealing, this may be the ‘booch for you to try. Their kombucha is a product of their health-driven restaurant on State Street which “was started by two UW grads looking to bring healthy, fresh and fast food to their alma mater.” Their nutrient-dense menu also includes grain-bowls, signature salads, and cold-pressed juices.
The Co-op shelved its first kvass by Angelica’s Garden, a small woman-owned company in Elmwood, Wisconsin. Her kvass is made using high-quality ingredients, including organic produce grown on her ecofarm, and sourced from other organic farms. The drink does not contain any sugar or flavorings, and is made by fermenting the vegetables. Find her original Beet Kvass as well as her newer Lime Kvass at all stores.
GT’s Probiotic Ciders: If you love the idea of healthy, fizzy beverages brimming with probiotics, but can’t get down with the SCOBY bits in your bottle, give these a try. With a base of apple cider vinegar and slightly sweetened with Grade B maple syrup, these bevvies still contain healthy mushroom adaptogens—but different than what kombucha consists of. Reishi, chaga, and turkey tail are the medicinal mushrooms in these ciders, and you’ll find some minimal sediment (as well as a bouquet of probiotics) in the bottle, but without the pancake-like SCOBY.
Kevita’s Sparkling Probiotic Drinks are essentially a type of water kefir—a naturally dairy-free probiotic beverage with a fruit-forward taste. According to Cultures for Health, water kefir grains consist of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship. The term “kefir grains” describes the look of the culture only. Water kefir grains contain no actual “grains.” Try Kevita’s tropical-inspired flavors for a light, dairy-free, effervescent bevvy full of probiotics without any sediment.
GoodBelly Probiotic Fruit Drink: Rounding out our line-up of probiotic potables, we have GoodBelly drinks. These drinks are also vegan, but not effervescent. They contain just one strain, the Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v. Made with organic fruit juice, they do contain low levels of gluten from barley and/or oat flour. There are four servings per carton.
Cheers to your gut!