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The Rise of Kombucha in Vietnam

You may have recently noticed cans of kombucha appearing in convenience stores and grocery shops around the city beside familiar teas and soft drinks. 

While it is believed to have been invented 2,000 years ago in East Asia and allegedly got its name from one Dr. Kombu, who used it to revive the ailing Japanese Emperor Inkyo in the year 414, only recently has the fermented tea become popular around the world. 

Consumption of kombucha has seen staggering growth in the last decade, and in recent years, Vietnamese have become interested as well, as exemplified by several companies making varieties that cater to the local palate. 

Paul Hung Nguyen founded Star Kombucha in 2019 after discovering the drink’s ability to help his digestive system, which was frequently disrupted by international travel. Because of the drink’s relative obscurity in Vietnam, much of the company’s early work has involved educating consumers about the flavor and health effects of what has been called the “tea of immortality.”

 

All about the SCOBY

SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is the magic ingredient for kombucha. In their Saigon factory, Star Kombucha adds SCOBY imported directly from America to freshly brewed organic black and green tea and sugarcane. Over the course of nearly a month, the mixture naturally ferments without any artificial flavors, sweeteners or preservatives, as the SCOBY transforms the tea and sugar mixtures into vitamins, enzymes and healthy bacteria. At this point the drink is quite tart, so a variety of fruit juices, vegetables and herbs are added to alter the flavor. 

For many Vietnamese who try Star Kombucha, it will be their first sip of kombucha. Therefore, it is helpful to feature flavors they are familiar with. Lemongrass, mango, guava, ginger and passionfruit are amongst the 10 flavors (original and 9 juice flavors) available. With only five grams of sugar, each can has a nice touch of sweet fruitiness without being overwhelming or unhealthy. Those who enjoy making their own drinks or cocktails can reach for the unflavored variety and add to it whatever they’d like.

 

The Power of Probiotics

While kombucha is a refreshing beverage, most people turn to it for its purported health benefits, which include improved digestion, healthy weight loss, rejuvenated skin, a detoxified body, and natural energy boost. More studies are needed, but many believe that these positive effects are the result of kombucha’s natural probiotics, which the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Consuming probiotics is thought to foster a healthy gut biome needed for normal digestion and absorption of nutrients. 

Kombucha also has the reinvigorating benefits of the antioxidant-rich organic tea at its base. This means it assists the immune system and offers a jolt of energy when one is feeling run-down. It’s recommended to drink one or two chilled cans a day after meals or when feeling tired. While FDA certified and safe for most people, because it contains small amounts of caffeine, pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under three should avoid it.

 

Star Kombucha Enters the Market

In addition to its wide range of flavors, Star Kombucha is unique amongst local brands because of the canning system that allows the beverage to be stored outside of refrigerators. This makes distribution much easier, and the drink can be found in many retail locations including select Co.op Mart, 7-Eleven, GS25, Annam Gourmet and Ryan’s Grocery locations, as well as directly from the company. It’s also a popular choice in restaurants and hotels that like to include it in their drinks menu or offer it in minibars.

2021 seems like a prime time for kombucha to gain a foothold in the Vietnamese market. People are increasingly looking for ways to eat and live healthily, and it’s reasonable to think they will reach for kombucha over other soft drinks. Similarly, as the recent surge in milk tea appreciation proves, the country is often eager to embrace new flavors and get in on global trends.