Here in the western world, we may be 2,000 years late to the party, but we’re fast making up for lost time when it comes to embracing kombucha.
Touted as a magical health elixir originating from China, this fermented tea is believed to promote good overall health by targeting the gut’s microbiome. As our Edible Health Digestive Enzyme Collagen customers will know, maintaining diversity and balance of gut bacteria is key to healthy digestion and optimal absorption of nutrients.
So, having found common ground as ‘good gut fighters’, we caught up with one of the most exciting, innovative and authentic kombucha creators in the UK, MOMO Kombucha. It turns out, much like collagen, there is a good amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about this beneficial beverage. In fact, this chat was a bit of an eye-opener for us!
So let’s delve into the intriguing world of fermentation and find out why this is one of the hottest health topics right now.
Josh, who drinks kombucha and why?
There is a lot of chatter in the kombucha world about it being able to cure this, that and the other. Here at Momo, we regard it as a healthy food rather than a medicine. It is something you can incorporate into your diet to be healthier as opposed to directly curing you of X, Y or Z. We believe it is fantastic for the gut and can help restore and balance the microbiome. Once the gut is healthier, then the body can start to heal itself. So we’d like to think people drink it to care for their gut, which in turn cares for their overall health.
What is kombucha good for?
Kombucha is full of living bacteria and yeast, which are living cultures. These fight harmful microbes in the gut, which can otherwise compromise the immune system. Moreover, they increase the diversity of the microbiome. This is key because the diversity of that flora is of real value to a healthy gut. If we break it down to the most simplistic level, the gut is where we digest the food we eat. In a system that is working well, the maximum amount of nutrients will be taken from this food and distributed around the body. This food helps to create essential hormones as well. In fact, 90 percent of the serotonin, otherwise known as the happy hormone, is produced in the gut.
On top of that, kombucha is made from tea. As a result, the drink delivers a wealth of antioxidant benefits. The actual fermentation process produces acids, such as acetic acid, which is thought to be good for boosting energy and lowering blood sugar levels.
Are there ways to take kombucha other than drinking it straight?
Not really, no.
What do people get wrong about kombucha? Is it misunderstood?
A lot of people mistakenly believe that you need a physical SCOBY to make kombucha. This is not true. If you’re making genuine kombucha properly, you don’t need a solid SCOBY. You just need genuine kombucha. It is, in fact, the liquid in the SCOBY that makes kombucha; that is where all the bacteria and yeast lie. The “SCOBY” is a physical pellicle that grows across the top of the kombucha essentially to prevent oxygen from getting into the brew. It is a manufacturing byproduct.
Wow, that’s very interesting. We did not realise this. Speaking of SCOBYs, then, what do you do with all yours? There are only so many times they can each be used, so how do you handle the waste?
We were initially donating our SCOBYs to university students who were using them in experiments to source alternatives to plastic. It was fascinating. One student, in particular, was combining her SCOBYs with hemp to reinforce the structure and create things like drink coasters. I imagine that makes for an incredibly expensive coaster when you factor everything in, but I suppose that is how innovation leads to everyday use. It has to start somewhere. These days the majority of our SCOBYs are donated to pig farmers and used for feed.
Does kombucha go off?
Kombucha is essentially alive, so provided it is kept refrigerated, it should have an incredibly long shelf life. At the brewery, we can sometimes drink kombuchas that are two years old! Obviously, these have more sour notes than the younger kombuchas we sell, but they are still delicious.
Does kombucha have to be fizzy to be healthy?
No, not at all. The first fermentation does not result in much carbonation, but it is where all the goodness begins. A second fermentation can create the fizz but doesn’t enhance the health benefits. That said, I believe carbonation does enhance the taste and the overall experience of the drink, so we prefer our kombucha to be fizzy.
OK, now we have a bit of background about kombucha; let’s hear more about MOMO. Firstly, what was life like for you and your wife before MOMO?
I worked as an equity analyst in the banking industry and was based in London. My wife, Lisa, was in marketing at Net-a-Porter and Asos before that, so she was very much in the online fashion industry. Fair to say neither of us knew much at all about kombucha; it just wasn’t a buzzword here in the UK.
In 2016 we were headed to New York City for a holiday. Lisa had heard about kombucha and its gut-related health benefits. We were intrigued to find out more. Whilst we were in NYC, we visited a big health food store. We went to the fridge section, and we were astounded to see that kombucha had the lion’s share of the category. It was huge. Kombucha had taken off on the west coast of the US about 25 years ago and quickly spread throughout the states. It had also become huge in Australia, but there were very few operators back in the UK and very little knowledge about it.
We tried it, and we loved it. We were genuinely surprised it wasn’t big back at home. We’re not soft drink people. If we’re going to have a tasty beverage, it will be a wine or a beer. Otherwise, we drink water, teas and coffee. But we fell in love with kombucha.
We returned from our holiday, and sometime after, I started to brew our own kombucha. I got hooked on making it. It’s fair to say I fell in love with the process. It didn’t happen straight away, but we thought, why not take this further? We started making more of it for others. The home kitchen became a bit of a mini production factory, and over nine months, we got busier and busier. I had to resign from my job in June 2018. By October of that year, we launched MOMO and relocated production to a nearby brewing facility. As is so often the case for small businesses, we did this soon after the birth of our first baby. Lisa had intended to return to work after maternity leave, but she never did. We’ve been running and growing MOMO ever since.
We now have a head brewer, an assistant brewer and a team of eight contractors who work one day a week, which is Bottling Day. We have a team member in operations and account management, plus Lisa and myself. Oh, and we also have two children now as well (three including MOMO)!
Why the name MOMO? What are its origins?
Momo is Lisa’s favourite children’s book, written by Michael Ende. The central character is a little girl who reminds adults what is important in life; to be creative and free-spirited and not to dedicate life to working and only saving for the future.
I sense authenticity, and doing the right thing is important to you both, yes?
Very much so. We are in the process of applying for B Corp certification. This is a concept that is well-established in the US and growing quickly over here. In a nutshell, it is recognition of businesses that meet the most stringent standards for verified social and environmental performance and balancing profit with purpose. Attaining this certification is no easy feat - there is an extremely robust vetting process. However, we are working hard to achieve this status.
Becoming certified organic was the first, most obvious and most necessary step for us. Lisa is German, and ‘bio’ (the German reference for organic) is huge and incredibly established over there. Moreover, we had heard some horror stories about non-organic teas coming from foreign countries, and we were adamant that would not be the foundation for our business.
Why do people love MOMO Kombucha?
Authenticity. The ingredients we use, the way we make it, and the fact we bottle it in glass. Most commercial kombuchas are a long way from the real deal. They use super-fine filters that essentially rob the brew of its cultures. Some of them are even pasteurised. Others are blended from kombucha concentrate. Here at MOMO, we brew as if we were still back in our kitchen, the way you might do at home. We just do it now on a much bigger scale, that’s all. People love the fact it is made by hand, brewed in London, and tastes great.
Tell us more about your MOMO Kombucha flavourings.
At its base, it is a little bit sweet and a little bit tangy, which you get from the fermentation process. We then have a variety of MOMO kombucha flavourings.
This one is our best seller. It’s a very zingy brew, thanks to the organic cold-pressed ginger juice from Peru. A terrific and really fiery kombucha that we all love.
Elderflower is still slightly sweet, tangy and smooth. The burst of elderflower gives it an incredibly refreshing element. This is a classic drink for summer enjoyment.
Perhaps our most unique brew, Turmeric, delivers a really earthy flavour, which we balance out with some cold-pressed pineapple juice. That tropical sweetness pairs so well with the rooty flavours of the turmeric - it’s a delightful combination.
This is our most recent flavour. There is a wonderful burst of flavour, and, surprisingly, this comes mostly from delicate hibiscus. We add the raspberry to just complement and elevate this.
So you have four main flavours. What about special recipes or special releases?
We plan to adopt a similar approach to a craft beer brew in that we will release perhaps two special, temporary batches a year with the aim of supporting a charity each time. We’ve just collaborated with Origin Coffee to create a limited edition coffee kombucha. Origin is an established B Corp business, and together our sales will help support Young Minds, a UK charity assisting youth with mental health challenges.
You are doing great things. What is something amazing that has happened to you as a result of MOMO?
Oh, that’s a big question! However, I have an easy answer. We’re fortunate to have many amazing things happen, but one stand-out is the fantastic people we have met along the way. We now have 250 independent stockists UK-wide, the majority of whom we have personal relationships. They are mostly entrepreneurs and small business people who have put their lives into their companies: butchers, yoga studio operators, cafe owners - real people doing real work. Getting to know these people, becoming inspired by what they are doing and envisioning is really exciting.
What have been some stand-out pinch-yourself moments along this MOMO journey?
We’ve had a few, to be honest! Getting our first-ever stockist was a real buzz. It was a tiny shop in Brixton, and the first thing the owner said when he met us was, “Not another bloody kombucha!”. I should point out that in 2016 when we went to NYC, kombucha wasn’t big here. However, by the time we had launched MOMO, it seemed every entrepreneur and their dog was onto it! Once he tried it, though, he wanted it on the shelf immediately. Since then, we’ve been fortunate to have similar buzzes on different scales. We are now in Selfridges and we’re also stocked in Planet Organic.
What has been your most significant learning throughout this experience?
Unless you’re in the industry, you don’t go into a cafe, see what they’re selling, and think about how these products are selected. When you start running a business like ours, understanding this process is crucial. The average cafe has limited fridge space. Getting a position on that shelf is incredibly competitive. For every product present, countless have tried and failed.
A big thanks to Josh for his time, and we wish MOMO Kombucha every ongoing success for their great business, as well as their quest for B Corp classification!
The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.