Pairing Kombucha with Food

Kombucha’s complex flavor profile offers a sober alternative to alcohol in cocktails. There’s a growing list of ‘mocktails’ that offer non-alcoholic alternative refreshments. Beyond this, many brands are taking on wine by promoting kombucha as a drink to pair with food. Indeed, while wine has a reputation for being the “go-to” pairing beverage, some consumers have begun seeking a non-alcoholic option. From home cooks to Michelin restaurants, kombucha is being paired with everything from snack foods to haute cuisine. It can offer the same bold flavor as fine wines without the effects of alcohol. In general, kombucha’s sour flavor makes a great alternative to cider, sour beers, and dry white wine, while fresh and fragrant dishes are a good match for flavored kombucha.

What are the rules for food pairing?

Wine connoisseurs follow specific guidelines when considering which foods are complemented by which wine. By simplifying a dish down to its basic dominant tastes pairing options can be chosen of either contrasting or congruent flavors.

The blue lines show flavor matches and the gray lines show flavor clashes. Source:: Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

The deep history and availability of wine means that trained and knowledgeable professionals (aka sommeliers) are on hand at classy restaurants to suggest the best (maybe more expensive) wines to pair with the menu.

While kombucha is a more recent arrival on the dining scene, there are a growing number of brands offering creative and interesting suggestions for pairing ‘booch and food. How long before the first ‘kombucha sommelier’ is hired? Given there is already a Tea Sommelier certification it might be sooner than we think.

Until that time, here are some suggestions.

Brew Dr., Portland, Oregon

Brew Dr write on their blog about the versatility of kombucha, and note the commonality with wine:

Kombucha has a thing or two in common with fine wine: it’s fermented, has complex flavors, and can be exquisitely paired with foods. Depending on the fruits and botanicals used, the delicate flavor profiles are quite unique. Whatever kombucha flavor you choose can be a perfect complement to the right dish.

When you think about your dish, try to break down the flavors. Is it spicy? Sweet? Tangy? Is it more Italian? Asian? French? What flavors stand out? Herbs? Garlic? Vanilla?

Now, it’s time to consider the Brew Dr. Kombucha flavors that pair well with those foods. You can go one of two ways: choose a kombucha with a similar flavor profile or go completely opposite to balance the experience.

Among their recommendations:

Our Brew Dr. Love Kombucha would pair beautifully with a spicy New Orleans gumbo. The green tea, lavender and chamomile soothe the tongue after a bite of Cajun spices. Of course, if you like all things spicy, you could go the other direction and pair your gumbo with the heat of Brew Dr. Ginger Lemon Kombucha.

Speaking of Brew Dr. Ginger Lemon Kombucha, the lemongrass and ginger make most Asian dishes pop. The similar flavors complement each other perfectly.

They promote a variety of pairings on Instagram, including pizza, cookies, and pretzels.

Health-Ade, Torrance, California

Their tips for pairing kombucha with food encourage experimenting by pairing different foods and meals to discover what you like best. Like Brew Dr, they suggest playing with the ‘similar/opposite’ profiles of a spicy kombucha with fermented foods or the contrast of a sweet pomegranate with a tangy cheese. They also suggest using kombucha in foods:

Since kombucha is naturally somewhat vinegary, you can use it as a flavorful replacement for vinegar in vinaigrette or marinades. Whether you’re making a salad or preparing to grill meat, switch things up by adding organic kombucha and enjoy the unique flavors.

You can also use kombucha in popsicles for a refreshing and healthy treat to savor year-round! Combine it with some coconut cream and fresh fruit, pop it in the freezer, and enjoy a frozen snack. Suggestions are featured on Instagram.

Bambucha Kombucha, San Diego, California

It’s a no-brainer a brand that states upfront that it is ‘Chef Crafted’ will suggest pairings for pizza, tacos, and haute cuisine.

Spring Branch Kombucha, Springfield, Missouri

These mid-westerners cater to those who would like to indulge in an elaborate pairing of kombucha and chocolate.

Pairing kombucha with high-quality chocolate is an easy choice because of their similarities. Both are products of fermentation and at their core are comprised of simple ingredients. While decadent, neither are fussy. Still, both provide a uniquely complex flavor experience, which often leaves the taster guessing what s/he is tasting. Cinnamon? Citrus fruit?

Kombucha and chocolate are both open platforms for infinite flavor combinations and infusions.

They sampled the gourmet chocolate sold by Springfield-based Askinoise Chocolate and experimented with various pairings. Favorites included:

  • SBK Cucumber Jalapeno Mint (seasonal) + Askinosie White Chocolate (Davao, Philippines)
  • SBK Lavender + Askinosie Coconut Milk Chocolate (San Jose del Tambo, Ecuador)
  • SBK Raspberry Basil + Askinosie Dark Chocolate (Mababu, Tanzania)
  • SBK Lemon Hops + Askinosie Limited Edition Zeke Bar (Chinchipe, Ecuador)

Happy Leaf Kombucha, Lakewood, Colorado

On the outskirts of Denver, Happy Leaf have a series of blog posts listing recipes to prepare at home and pair with kombucha. The dishes include:

Real Kombucha, Wendover, UK

Over in the UK, Real Kombucha boasts of being available in over 60 Michelin-starred restaurants. They have written a comprehensive guide to pairing food with their kombucha featuring suggestions from some of Britain’s top chefs. A series of ‘Real Chefs’ videos showcase cooking lessons for a variety of healthy meals paired with Real Kombucha. Be sure to view them all, including:

LA Brewery, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK

Staying in Blighty, there’s a playful picture on Instagram from LA Brewery (named for founder Louise Avery *not* the City of Angels 6,000 miles to the west). It addresses the very British problem of the preferred way to eat a proper cream tea: do you put the jam on top or underneath the jam? Either way, they suggest pairing it with their Strawberry & Black Pepper flavor.

Left Field Kombucha, Eyemouth, UK

Up on the Scottish border, Jo and Geraint at Left Field Kombucha posted a 2018 report about what they claimed as “The world’s first kombucha paired dinner”. The four-course meal took place at the Colstoun House cookery school and wedding venue in Scotland when they enjoyed

…a Sunday evening wild and foraged dinner of four courses, each paired with one of our kombucha varieties. Alison Henderson, chef at Colstoun, said it was a lovely challenge to effectively be the “food sommelier” to pair the food to the kombucha as opposed to choosing wine to suit the food. So, the kombucha was the starting point.

We have always made our kombucha to sit well at the dinner table, hence no added fruits to the brews. Their flavours are there to highlight food dishes, in the same way that wine/beer does. For example, the Darjeeling kombucha in the dinner was used like a dessert wine (vinous yet virtuous!).

Since then, they’ve continued to showcase pairings on Instagram of traditional English and Scottish foods with their distinctive varieties of ‘booch that draw on the aromatics of the finest ethically-sourced teas.

Wild Tonic Jun, Cottonwood, Arizona

As most are aware, Jun is the honey and green tea fermented drink that is the lighter cousin to traditional kombucha. Wild Tonic is a leading brand of Jun and they follow the standard guidelines to complement or contrast different foods with their flavors. They promote the unique advantage that Jun has when pairing with food:

Honey-kissed jun kombucha is far more subtle than traditional kombucha, with less of a vinegar-y edge and a more mellow, smooth flavor.  In terms of food pairing, this is a fantastic thing — it means that it won’t dominate the palate and works well with other flavors.

Their Instagram frequently lists different healthy snacks they have partnered with, offering giveaways of Jun with everything from cookies and chips to beef jerky.

Narrow Gate Foods, Murillo, Ontario, Canada

Narrow Gate produces a range of fermented foods and drinks including kombucha, and list flavors to pair with holiday meals include:

  • Lemon kombucha with shortbread cookies.
  • Plain kombucha with something sweet, such as chocolate sponge cake, chocolate-covered pretzels, or even caramelized nuts.
  • Red grape kombucha with a cheese plate.
  • Apple kombucha and a plate of caramels or caramelized fruit.

Camellia Grove Kombucha, Portland, Oregon

No surprise that a ‘foodie mecca’ like Portland would be the home to other brands than Brew Dr. — like Camellia Grove who highlight some interesting pairings on their Instagram.

  • A lunch-time Poke Bowl from Boke Bowl full of Wild Yellowfin Ahi Tuna Poke with a lemon soy vinaigrette, seasonal veggies, and avocado, washed down with a crisp and clean Green Tea Kombucha.
  • Danwei Canting‘s popular La Zi Ji Chicken — a wok-fried spicy chicken with scallions, whole chili peppers, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns — paired with Oolong Tea Kombucha, which has a roasted aroma with hints of fruit and honey.
  • Prasad Cafe‘s avocado toast with the mellow, fragrant aroma and hints of malty and fruity notes of the classic Black Tea Kombucha.

Mojo Kombucha, Willunga, South Australia

A series of artfully designed daily meal plans on offer from Mojo Kombucha developed in conjunction with the nutritionists and chefs at The Biting Truth are a guide to food pairings for each meal of the day.

K-Häppy Kombucha, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

This Brazilian brand covers all the bases, from hamburgers paired with their Kombucha Kola to healthy breakfasts and detox diets.

Asian Pairings

Asia has far fewer kombucha brands than Europe and the Americas. However, those that highlight food pairings often feature regional dishes.

  • Boocherie in Hong Kong features homemade chicken katsu don paired with home-brew grapes & Basil kombucha.
  • India’s Urban Monk pairs their Peach Pineapple flavor with “soulful and authentic Sindhi Cuisine from Chef Mohit Chotrani’s ‘Sindhi Kitchen‘ featuring Sindhi Mutton Pulao, Butter Biscuit Chaat, and the Dal Pakwan on the side.”
  • Good Life Kombucha, Bandung, Bali, Indonesia, pair their Pineapple Basil flavor with a healthy breakfast at the Cashew Tree Collective.

Koga Kombucha, Bandar-E Kangan, Bushehr, Iran

For sheer typographical exuberance, nothing comes close to the Instagram postings from this Iranian brand that, rather confusingly, lists as a “Cambodian soft drink manufacturer”. Despite the best efforts of Google Translate, it’s not clear what is being paired with their kombucha. But they are having a whole lot of fun with their meals.

Flavor profiles

While not that common, explicit flavor profiles can help consumers choose which are best served with a meal. We’ve previously noted that Whalebird Kombucha has a ‘flavor wheel’ on each can which shows the taste across six tastes: citrus, floral, fruity, spicy, earthy, and herbal. The specifics are found on their website and labels.

Given that high-quality kombucha depends on the tea used, it’s interesting to consider the underlying flavors available from different teas. This is the subject of a fascinating post by Ron at STEALTH Naked Kombucha (Boston, Mass). He notes:

Obtaining and brewing great tea is only the beginning of the journey to make kombucha tea into an elixir. My inspiration for STEALTH is to release all the intrinsic flavors of the tea itself—from earthy and grassy, to floral and nutty and spicy and fruity (see the range in the Tea Aroma Wheel).

Source: https://teamasters.org/itma-tea-aroma-wheel/ (Posted with express permission)

This wheel lists 10 main categories (plants/herbaceous, floral, nutty/milky, sweet, fire/animal, spicy, fresh or candied fruit, marine, mineral, and earthy). The dozens of subsidiary categories would give any wine connoisseur a run for their money!

Indian brand Mountain Bee Kombucha features flavor wheel profiles on their Instagram. Here are the profiles of their Original, Flower ‘N Spice, and Watermelon varieties.

Your pairings?

Do you have examples of favorite pairings? Share them in the Comments below.

Bon appetite!

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