Watch: real kombucha is made from seaweed

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All this time I’ve been fooling myself, real kombucha come to me and let us boogie.


Disambiguation time: the word “Kombucha” has two distinct meanings.

From the Wikipedia article on Kombucha (the SCOBY-based beverage, not the Japanese kelp tea):

The word kombucha is of uncertain etymology, but may be a case of a misapplied loanword from Japanese.[17] In Japanese, the term kombucha (昆布茶, “kelp tea”) refers to a completely different beverage: the kelp tea, made from dried and powdered konbu (an edible kelp from the Laminariaceae family). The term for the fermented tea in Japanese, is kōcha kinoko (紅茶キノコ, “fungus tea”).[18] The American Heritage Dictionary suggests that it is probably from the “Japanese kombucha, tea made from konbu (the Japanese word for kelp perhaps being used by English speakers to designate fermented tea due to confusion or because the thick gelatinous film produced by the kombucha culture was thought to resemble seaweed).”[19] Writings about the beverage in Japanese generally take the point of view that the Japanese word ‘kombucha’ was mistakenly applied in English to what Japanese call “kocha kinoko.” Cha means tea or o-cha, Japanese green tea.

Kombu (from Japanese: 昆布, translit. konbu) is edible kelp from mostly the family Laminariaceae and is widely eaten in East Asia.[1] It may also be referred to as dasima (Korean: 다시마) or haidai (simplified Chinese: 海带; traditional Chinese: 海帶; pinyin: Hǎidài).


wikipedia to the rescue:

The word kombucha is of uncertain etymology, but may be a case of a misapplied loanword from Japanese.[17] In Japanese, the term kombucha (昆布茶, “kelp tea”) refers to a completely different beverage: the kelp tea, made from dried and powdered konbu (an edible kelp from the Laminariaceae family).

*edit – ha, seconds too late!


Language is funny that way, if you are ever in Germany and see a bottle labled Gift don’t drink it. Gift is the word for poison. Merry Christmas and enjoy your gift.


No true Kombucha? Not sure I want my beverages to be umami. I also don’t want them to be musty sour fruit juice, so I avoid the non-seaweed stuff, too. Blech.


Yeah this claim is horse shit. The kombucha that’s all trendy is in no way related to Japanese kelp tea asside from the name. Which may simply be a false cognate.

The spoiled hipster tea that helps you poop is an entirely different beverage. That comes to us from Russia. But might have a Manchurian origin. And noones sure where the name comes from.

The Japanese version isn’t the “real” version. It’s just a Japanese drink/broth that happens to have an identical name.


Yes. That is exactly what puzzled me.

My wife is Japanese. We’ve often drunk “kombucha”, which is made of kombu seaweed. She has never heard of the so-called popular hipster kombucha which you brew from an expensive bacteria cake.

Apparently there is a Papua New Guinea language in which the word “horsepiss” means a very bowel cleansing, natural drink made from a cake of fermented jungle fruits and beans.

Or not, perhaps.

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Except of course that the word kombucha is a loan word (and a corrupted loan word at that) from Japanese, the original meaning “kelp tea”. The origin of the drink we call kombucha is obscure, but the kind that comes in bottles and people brew at home has nothing to do with seaweed and is based on a Russian drink. So sure, the word that morphs into “kombucha” means a different drink from what most people are drinking today but that doesn’t make it “real” kombucha. It just shows how words twist and turn over the centuries and through different cultures. Kombucha, as defined in English, simply means a fermented drink made from black or green teas.

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I work in the beverage business. It’s well more than so called. In the US it’s the fasting growing catagory in soft/non-alcoholic drinks. Total sales are still lower than other drinks, but sales of kombucha are growing exponentially. Month to month.

There’s a brand of alcoholic kombucha out there that apparently got half a billion (with a b) in investment from one of the beer conglomerates.

It’s almost certainly a fad, in my opinion, but the shit is popular.


i also work in the commercial tea industry and, if we look at the growing range of sour/vinegar bubbly sodas (what kombucha is), then i think we’re well beyond “fad”.

look at the growing popularity of shrubs or sour beer or cider.

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I think there’sdefinitely a broader long term trend toward tart drinks. And less sweet ones.

But I’m not about to roll cider into it. Sell a lot of hard cider. Most of the American ones compete in the sugary alcopop market. And the sweet, from concentrates and extracts or artificially flavored ones are the bigger sellers. Quality and tart ciders are a niche product. Apple flavored wine coolers are what moves.

I have been pleasantly surprised with the persistence of sours. But they’re also a niche product. We’ll put it this way. No sour or prominent sour brand sits anywhere near the top for sales in my company. While they’ve stuck around and they’re growing along with the rest of craft beer. They’re well behind where they were when the sour craze first hit in terms of growth.

Very on trend though.

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The American use of Japanese loan-words is kind of hilarious. Pretty much every other Japanese loan-word in English is wildly mispronounced (like, I don’t even know how the hell Americans ended up pronouncing any of these words the way they do), except “kombucha,” which is simply the wrong loan-word.


Well that’s sort of how loan words work. They conform to local phonetics. Have you heard the way the Japanese pronounce “computer”.

And if kombucha is a loan word, which it may not be. It’d be a loan word from Russian to English. And from Japanese to Russian. So it’s two steps removed from Japanese.

One of the few people I know who knew about and drank kombucha before the current trend. Was born in Tblisi and raised in Moscow till she was 14. It has a different name in Georgian, but in Russia it’s kombucha and it’s pronounced almost exactly as most Americans pronounce it.


Next, I suppose you’ll be telling me my wasabi isn’t really wasabi.


usually Great Big Story has interesting pieces, but this was a silly one.

confusing chinese/russian kombucha (茶菌 - tea vinegar) with japanese kombucha (紅茶キノコ - kombu seaweed tea), and claiming one is “american” and one the “original”, smdh. this is simply the case of the same word referring to completely different things in different cultures because it was borrowed at some point. the word, not the drink.


the japanese refer to tea vinegar as kōcha kinoko instead of kombucha, but everywhere else in the world kombucha typically refers to tea vinegar. if he had asked the lady about kōcha kinoko or red mushroom tea she would very likely know what he was talking about immediately.

Tea vinegar is the one with most the health claims.

Kombu does contain a lot of msg and is great for thickening soups or cooking with rice, the tea from kombu is very plain and basically tastes like agar slime and natural msg salts and hot water. it isn’t about to catch on anywhere else taste wise, and its best health claim is it contains some minerals.

curious if she has heard of kōcha kinoko? it is what the japanese hipsters have drank since before it was cool. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: they just don’t know what the rest of the world calls it.

Why did the Japanese hipster burn his mouth? Now we know the answer

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Tea from kombu would basically be half assed Dashi. So while I don’t doubt that it’s bland (there’s a reason Dashi is almost always an ingredient in something else). I doubt its that bad.

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i love most seaweed and use many varieties regularly and often add kombu to stocks or cooking water. it more enhances the flavors of other seaweeds or ingredients with its salts than adds a strong flavor of its own. in my soups kelp or wakame add much more direct flavor.

kombu tea would be the great start to a soup stock, dashi, pho, bone broth, veggie stock as the salts and minerals in it bring out other flavors. i’m a big fan of kombu. by itself as a tea, not sure it would catch on as a beverage globally.

It’s not that Japanese loan words get pronounced according to English phonetics - that’s understandable. No, it’s that the vowel sounds randomly get replaced by entirely different vowels unrelated to spelling or phonetics. Harakiri turns into hari-kari, karaoke into kari-oki, etc.