The Kombucha Boom
According to Mintel, one of the world’s leading data collection agencies, kombucha is consumed by more than 51 percent of U.S. adults, including the prized millennial bracket. With such an upswing in popularity, chefs are increasingly working the slightly effervescent, sweetened fermented tea into their repertoires.
Part of that interest can be attributed to the purported health benefits of the beverage. “I love kombucha,” says Reinhart Foodservice chef Yvette Marie Hirang of the Kansas City, Mo., region.
“It has antioxidants and probiotics that help the digestive system. Since kombucha’s pH level is close to distilled vinegar, it can be substituted in recipes that call for acidity, while adding extra nutritional benefits.” Hirang often uses it in pork dishes and sauces.
William Pauley, owner of Confluence Kombucha in St. Louis, Mo., has been brewing kombucha for a decade. What started as a desire to make the funky, pungent, sweet-and-sour taste profile more appealing has resulted in a myriad of flavors available at his tap room.
“For some people it strikes a different chord, so I started using flowers to mask that,” explains Pauley, who also developed GastroLAB, a café adjacent to his brewery. One of his flagship flavors is hibiscus jasmine with juniper; another is pineapple turmeric. The brews have often made their way into simple, yet refreshing offerings like kombucha shaved ice that’s frozen with a small amount of wine, shaved, then topped with flowers and bitters.
Other chefs find their inspiration in the processes that are applied in the kitchen. Food & Wine “Best New Chef” Kevin Fink, of Austin’s Emmer & Rye, uses kombucha when boiling nopales, which are naturally mucilaginous.
“We use that as a base to get a really beautiful and rich sauce that has no fat to it all,” he explains. Another signature use is brining mackerel in a yaupon kombucha, turning out something very similar to a Spanish conserva.
“I’m glad that millennials are [conscientious] about health and lifestyle, and it shows in their purchasing habits,” says Hirang. “Kombucha’s appeal to millennials is its ethnic origin, its health benefits and the fact that you are drinking caffeine that’s good for you.”