Kombucha is hot. Over the past five years, worldwide kombucha sales have tripled, exploding from $400,000 million in 2014 to $1.2 billion today. Experts expect the growth to continue, to the tune of a 25 percent leap each year through 2020.
Why? Amanda Feifer offers a simple explanation. Kombucha — which is fermented sweetened tea — is so popular because it’s delicious.
“I like it because it makes me feel good and tastes good,” said Feifer, a Philly-based author and fermentation expert best known by her blog and social media handle, “Phickle.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 20, Feifer will share kombucha knowledge and demonstrate how to make it at home at Independence LIVE in Center City. The event is the second in Billy Penn’s Healthy Cooking series with Independence Blue Cross.
There’s not a whole lot of proven evidence that kombucha promotes good health, something Feifer is quick to point out. But there are plenty of anecdotal stories to back up the claim. Feifer has one herself.
She originally began drinking the stuff after turning to fermented foods for help recovering from a horrible bike accident in 2008, in which a driver hit her with their car and caused serious bodily injury. For a period, she couldn’t walk at all, and she was left with permanent nerve damage on her right side. After surgery, she ended up developing what she calls “some weird health problems” — problems that doctors refused to acknowledge.
“The doctors kept saying I was fine,” Feifer recalled, “but I felt terrible all the time. I gained a lot of weight, I was depressed, I was constantly tired.”
When she looked for solutions online — “Always a risky proposition” — fermentation kept popping up. So she snagged a copy of Wild Fermentation, the 2003 book considered to have sparked the current fermentation craze, and dove in.
“I basically pulled a ‘Julie & Juila’ on it,” Feifer joked. She made every single recipe in the book, and found herself hooked.
In 2012, she gave her first kombucha class. “It was the crazy old days of Indy Hall,” she said, referring to Philly’s pioneering coworking space in Old City, “and when I asked [founder] Alex Hillman if I could do fermentation classes there, he was like, ‘Yeah sure, whatever.’”
Feifer knew she was onto something when every class sold out almost immediately.
She began refining her curriculum, refining the workshops so they focused on one fermented food instead of just being a catch-all. In 2015, she published Ferment Your Vegetables, and officially became an author.
Asked why it’s taken the American palate until now to embrace fermented dishes like kimchi or kombucha, which humans have been making for at least 2,000 years, Feifer calls out the question’s premise.
“Cheese? Beer? Wine?” she said. “All fermented. Americans love fermented stuff. And what about yogurt, or sauerkraut?”
Some fermented foods can be challenging to get used to — the relatively slimy Japanese fermented soybean dish called natto is not something she expects to pop up around town, she admitted — but many restaurants are doing housemade pickles very well these days: “It’s not just weird hippie food.”
Even if you’ve never tried it before, kombucha is relatively easy to get used to, she said. And those who fall for how good it makes them feel tend to talk it up, contributing to its groundswell of popularity.
On Tuesday, Feb. 20, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Feifer will talk about the history of kombucha, explain how it’s made, and do some on-site demos to show how easy it is to create your own at home.
She’ll also offer samples of three flavors, complemented by light bites by Di Bruno Bros. (Gluten-free and dairy-free snacks will be available.)
All-inclusive tickets are $15 per person (including the Eventbrite fee), available now. Space is limited; get ‘em while you can.