ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - At the Mother Kombucha production facility in St. Petersburg, brewing the fermented tea includes steeping it with anti-oxidants like shazandraberry, lolita, and tumeric.
Joshua Rumschlage started brewing brewing kombucha at home eight years ago after discovering he had an intolerance to gluten. Kombucha became his replacement for beer.
"The kombucha kind of gave me something that I could hold when everyone else was drinking beer," Rumschlage recalled.
He began commercially creating kombucha more than four years ago when the bubbly beverage was a tough sell.
"We'd take kombucha into places and we'd say fermented tea and they'd look at us like we were crazy," Rumschlage said.
Now the teas have gone mainstream.
"You're seeing the teas -- kombucha teas -- right next to the smoothies," registered dietitian Sarah Krieger said.
Along with kombucha, other fermented foods are also gaining popularity. They include Korean kimchi, German sauerkraut, and dairy products like yogurt and kefir, with its roots in Russia. All are touted to replenish our guts with good bacteria.
"It adds flavor, it adds probiotics, it adds very low calorie," Kreiger continued.
Krieger suggests fermented foods to clients, especially during pregnancy. "I usually recommend yogurt drinks for pregnant women because they are pasteurized and it will say on the side ‘contains live and active cultures.’"
Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria. That's important during pregnancy and for people with immune problems. Others worry it kills the beneficial microbes as well, like those you'll find in the kombucha scoby, a slimy bio-film of bacteria and yeast.
Stephanie Ramthun's been drinking kombucha for 20 years. She makes it at home and admits, when others see a scoby for the first time, they often cringe.
"They're like, ‘eww, gross, what is that?’" Ranthum laughed.
She believes kombucha gives her energy and keeps her kids off antibiotics all at a fraction of the cost of store-bought brands.
"It's literally the cost of one cup of sugar and four family-sized tea bags," Ranthum said after purchasing her original starter scoby from Mother Kombucha.
There's growing medical evidence fermented foods may have health benefits like reducing obesity, cancer, and preventing allergies and diabetes. Some experts believe fermented foods should be added to national fool recommendations like MyPlate and food pyramids.
But past reports also link kombucha to liver damage and a condition called acidosis.
While the scientific community scrambles to learn more, Mother Kombucha founder Tonya Donati is already using fermentation science and a pH meter to monitor the acidity of each batch.
"It makes it safe. It's inoculated immediately, so getting that pH a little below 4 is going to make it so staph and salmonella and campylobacter can't grow," Donati explained.
It's a low-sugar "living" option that appears to be catching on in younger consumers.
"I think, with the millennial generation, it's becoming their soda," added Rumschlage.