Kombucha vs. kombucha: Fermented tea is not kelp tea

Kombucha vs. kombucha: Fermented tea is not kelp tea

Health types worldwide are going crazy over a Russian moldy tea concoction but don't confuse it with the Japanese seaweed-based tea that coincidentally has the same name
These "mothers" floating in jars of kombucha -- the weird Russian kind -- are kind of difficult to look at.

The "New York Times" recently ran a story on the craze for kombucha tea in the United States among health-food types. Originally Russian in origin, this fermented tea is brewed over a long time with a giant pancake of yeast and bacteria. Yes, that seems totally disgusting, but apparently the tea has (completely unproven) health benefits.

Japan is also a land of kombucha, but confusingly, this kombucha is a completely different kind of tea. Kombu is the kelp used to make dashi broth but it can also be turned into a rich, salty tea. Recently Japanese-style kombucha tea comes with ume plum or red repper included for an extra kick.

The important thing to realize is that the Japanese kombucha is a false cognate for the Russian kombucha. In other words, it's only by glorious linguisitic accident that they have the same name. If you want to order some Russian kombucha in Japanese, it's "kocha kinoko" (紅茶キノコ) -- "black tea mushroom."

So next time you are on the look out for some kombucha, just make sure that you are ordering the right variety. Japanese kombucha may not have promise of health benefits, but on the bright side, it has not been linked to any deaths like Russian kombucha.


W. David Marx was CNNGo's initial Tokyo City Editor. His writing has also appeared in magazines such as GQ, Brutus, Weekly Diamond, and Nylon, as well as his web joural Néojaponisme.

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