Healthy Drink Classes Brewing in the Valley

By DREW PARKER

Staff Writer

When the average Ohio Valley resident prepares to create a refreshing spring drink at home, they may envision a classic iced tea or lemonade, but one area health specialist is encouraging locals to attempt a more unique option.

Although the drink is arguably 5,000 years old and made its Western debut in the 1970s, kombucha was heavily regarded as a niche market drink until recent years. Several brands, such as GT’s and KeVita, can be found in the the health and organic sections of many local chain stores including Kroger and Wal-Mart.

But Kathie Leonard, a nutrition counselor at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex in Benwood offers on-site and private nutrition sessions with clients for the HealthPlex, and she is teaching locals to make the ancient drink in the comfort of their homes.

A historic Chinese (or possibly Russian, depending on the researcher) health elixir, kombucha is a sweetened tea, fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, known affectionately as a SCOBY by the drink’s connoisseurs.

For decades, kombucha’s American fanbase mostly consisted of co-op and whole food market frequenters, but it has since become more accessible to the masses.

For Leonard’s class, participants are given taste and safety instructions on kombucha, along with their very own SCOBY to start the home brewing process. The drink can be double fermented with fruit or juice to make a fizzy option, which may help some soda lovers kick an unhealthy habit if they’re prepared for the ancient tea, which packs quite a flavor punch.

With more than a decade of experience in the weight loss industry, Leonard received training at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She is board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

According to Leonard, the drink’s health benefits include improvements to joint and intestinal/digestive health. She added that the drink has been referred to as the fountain of youth throughout its history.

“It doesn’t really matter what diet program you follow, kombucha can fit into it,” Leonard said. “It has probiotic benefits without including dairy, which is one of the food categories I don’t recommend.”

Leonard said first-time kombucha drinkers should start with small portions and expect a very unique flavor.

“Instead of just being a fermented tea, it has changed over time as brewers have flavored it and come up with all sorts of different concoctions that are more palatable, because it is tart. I think the homebrews are much better than commercial varieties,” she said.

“Kombucha has become one of the fastest growing, most profitable health foods in the industry.”

For more information on kombucha classes, Leonard can be reached at the HealthPlex by calling 304-218-2300.

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