Interview with Patrick O’Connor – producer of Organic Kitchen Kombucha and owner of PJ Kombucha

What initially intrigues (and sometimes admittedly repulses) most people about kombucha is the scoby: that solid mass within the drink. 

This scoby (acronym for the ‘symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast’) is created during the fermentation process when the most dominant bacteria in the starter of other bacteria and yeasts start building into a fibrous mass (often referred to misleadingly as the ‘mushroom’, or more commonly as the ‘Mother’).  This is essentially where all the bacteria then house themselves and over time it starts to thicken into the spongey disk found within the drink itself, acting as a protection for the brew.  Patrick O’Connor – owner of PJ Kombucha and producer of Organic Kitchen Kombucha – thinks this is really “quite cool”; and so do we.

Most people believe a scoby to be 100% necessary for production.  However, it isn’t.  It can be present in the liquid itself (as bacteria and yeast live in the liquid too, even if there is a scoby present) and still be classed as an authentic kombucha. 

And authentic is precisely what Organic Kitchen Kombucha is.  Fresh, raw, organic (of course), and vegan – PJ Kombucha’s Patrick O’Connor brings nearly a decade of brewing experience to the product, ensuring it is created by true traditional methods for optimal gain in health benefits.  With a 12-week shelf life due to this natural brewing process, reducing the eventual sugars in the drink, Organic Kitchen Kombucha is free from forceful chemical processing and over-filtering, and is absolutely never brewed from concentrate.

Furthermore, by supporting O’Connor’s efforts, consumers indirectly support the proportion of sales his company donates from every bottle they sell to the efforts of the UN Award-winning Black Mambas, helping the all-female anti-poaching unit in Kruger National Park South Africa to thrive and succeed in their no-gun approach to the war on the poaching of rhinoceroses.  A graduate in Conservation Ecology research science, O’Connor previously worked with Transfrontier Africa and WWF on the Black Rhino Range Expansion project.

But where did kombucha come from?  When did this particular love affair with such a fermentation process begin?  Roughly speaking, around 2,500 years ago.  The widely accepted theory is that in 400BC in Asia, a scientifically fascinated doctor was called to Japan to heal the Emperor’s gut condition.  That doctor’s name was Kombu and he healed the Emperor’s complaint with his special tea (or ‘cha’ in Japanese).   So it is that we have the drink kombucha (often wrongly believed to be derived from the seaweed, kombu). 

The benefits to be had simply from sipping this fermented tea extend well beyond its being a healthier option than other fizzy drinks; so plenteous in fact that this entire article could be taken up with the contents.  That said, the most important pertains to our gut microbiome. 

Given the presence of bacteria and yeasts in kombucha, these offer many live cultures of diverse kind – crucial for microbiomic health.  Often, people who like and regularly consume kefir and sauerkraut believe they might have to stop if they want to drink kombucha.  But that simply isn’t so.  Indeed, the reverse is preferable, as the wider the variety of fermented foods consumed, the broader the spectrum of live cultures.  Don’t monopolise with one product or one culture specifically.  For instance, mainstream probiotic drinks and tablets are fantastic, but they are not enough and can become detrimental in and of themselves if a strain of bad bacteria enters the microbiome, as it keeps getting the same ‘diet’.

A comparative image is that of a river: the river is far from healthy if there is only one species of fish within the water, because if a bigger species comes along then the entirety of that weaker species will be wiped out, decimating the ecosystem.  Your gut microbiome is an ecosystem: let’s help it to thrive. 

Digestive complaints are a main reason people try kombucha in the first place, as many report the disappearance of symptoms such as bloating, the return of regularity, and so on and so forth.  The key is to start small and build your way up to greater quantities, so that the effects aren’t overly strong straight away.

Nothing is a panacea, of course, and kombucha is no different.  Although very safe indeed when commercially brewed, it is not recommended for people with major health problems without previous advice of a doctor. Although there is a history of thousands of years of consumption of fermented foods and drinks, always err on the side of caution in the first instance.  Generally speaking, most would warn against its consumption by pregnant women.  That said, there exist women who have drunk kombucha all the way through multiple pregnancies.  However, to reiterate, you should ask your doctor beforehand.

It has been warned against homebrewing, due to the average layman’s lack of knowledge of the particular biochemical processes involved.  In reported cases of problems from contaminated homebrewing, barring a singular person who died in the 1980s, acidosis has been the worst fallout.  All cases of reported adverse reaction have been when there had been a previously undiagnosed underlying condition.  It is all too easy to make a mistake when homebrewing.

A secondary benefit of commercially brewed kombucha is the antioxidant concentration from the tea leaves: the polyphenols and the catechins.  Macromolecules of these are broken down into smaller molecules within the liquid, making them denser, and by extension their antioxidant quality stronger, aiding the immune system.  To this end, there are early days, experimental studies being carried out on the extent of effects of kombucha on cancer patients and those suffering from arthritis.

At a time when kombucha is having a serious resurgence and expansion in popularity, out beyond the bounds of Canada, the USA, and Australia, via the UK into Europe (read that again, Brexiteers…) – what is even more exciting is that those within the medical profession are also starting to take notice, after 35 years of research.  It is believed in particular that, within 6 years or so, having a gut microbiome test will become as natural as having a blood test for check-ups.  This because recent studies into depression, obesity, and even Alzheimer’s have revealed the true extent to which our guts play a part in overall health. 

The gut really is everything.  Diversify your microbiome and try kombucha.  After all, a healthy gut means a healthy you. 

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