Are kombucha and kimchi good for you?

One of the trends around promoting a healthy gut is fermented foods and beverages like kombucha and kimchi.

Andy DeSantis, RD 4 minute read April 20, 2021
is kombucha good for you

Kombucha has gained in popularity in the last few years with many drinkers hoping to improve their health. Getty

Among the popular food topics in the world of modern nutrition discourse, few garner as much attention as those directly to do with gut health and the concept of healthy gut bacteria.

This is due to the fact that emerging science has increasingly associated the gut microbiome with a whole host of health conditions, but also simply because there are massive quality of life differences to be enjoyed when one’s diet is modified to optimize gut health, such as regular bowel movements, less gas and bloating, etc.

One of the nutritional trends around promoting a healthy gut is “fermented” foods and beverages. Fermentation is an anaerobic process in which microorganisms like yeast and bacteria break down sugars such as glucose gives fermented foods a distinct tart flavour. Two popular ones are kimchi and Kombucha — which I am certain you have heard of.

Kimchi s a Korean dish created in part by the fermentation of baechu cabbage using probiotic lactic acid bacteria.This bacteria classify a large group of probiotics which include the Lactobacillus family of bacteria which are among the most studied and utilized in commercially sold probiotics.

As a result, scientists suggest that kimchi can be considered a probiotic-containing food in a similar way in which we consider yogurt — although yogurt may have larger quantities of probiotics.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Functional Foods found that young adults consuming kimchi experience favourable changes to their gut microbiome and a reduction in the amount of inflammation in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Given that kimchi is a vegetable, and it does appear to have probiotic capacity, it’s certainly hard to argue against its inclusion for those who are interested in it.

Kombucha is essentially a fermented, sweetened tea — usually made from black or green tea, both of which contain a wide range of healthful antioxidant compounds as well as caffeine.

It is fermented using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — also known as SCOBY — which includes members of the lactic acid bacteria family, not dissimilar to how kimchi is fermented.

The issue with Kombucha, as I see it, is that it overpromises.

It seems to be viewed, in some circles, as a miraculous beverage with untold health properties. But the reality of the matter is that it is more or less just tea with varying levels of certain probiotic species in it.

There are no meaningful human data available to quantify the impact of Kombucha on human health, but it could have a complimentary role to play in fostering a healthy gut microbiome along side a strong dietary pattern.

Keep in mind as well that green or black tea is high in antioxidants known as polyphenols which, in and of themselves may have unique gut health benefits.

Probiotics and fermented foods aren’t the same 
The take away is that both Kombucha and kimchi are essentially fermented versions of foods we already comfortably identify with as being healthy, like tea and cabbage.

Does the introduction of certain probiotics via the fermentation turn these foods into superfoods? That’s a stretch, but there may be potential there that requires further human studies to confirm.


Keep in mind that although fermented foods do contain varying amounts of certain probiotic species, they aren’t the same as a probiotic supplement, which contains a specific amount of specific combinations of bacterial strains and species that are more likely to have been tested via high quality human experimental studies to make sense of their potential benefits.

Certain probiotic products, for example, may be recommended for those who live with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but this does not mean that eating a bit of kimchi or Kombucha is an equivalent treatment strategy.

Andy is a registered dietitian and author who has operated a private practice in Toronto since 2015. He spends his free time eating, writing and talking about kale @AndyTheRD. He can be reached at

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