A Healthy Boost From Booch

Before meeting Kristal Muhich, owner of Kaua’i Juice Co., I thought drinking kombucha was like drinking apple cider vinegar. I vividly remember my first sip. It was about eight years ago and I was encouraged by a girlfriend, who drank it every day for its touted host of health benefits. She’s not alone. According to a 2010 CBS News report, kombucha sales had been doubling each year for the previous four years and it’s an industry worth $150 million annually.

Finally, I can get on board because I found a “booch” that I can get behind.

Kombucha (pronounced kom-boo-cha) is a fermented beverage that has been consumed for more than 2,000 years. Called the “Immortal Health Elixer” by ancient Chinese, the sugar-sweetened tea contains unique metabolic byproducts and living bacterial cultures.

According to Michael Pollan, an American author, journalist, activist and professor of journalism at UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the case for getting more live-culture foods into our diet is compelling.

In Pollan’s recent book, Cooked, he writes: “Probiotics – beneficial bacteria ingested either in fermented foods or in supplements – have been shown to calm the immune system and reduce inflammation; shorten the duration and severity of colds in children; relieve diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome; reduce allergic responses, including asthma; stimulate immune response; possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers; reduce anxiety; prevent yeast infections; diminish levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle and salmonella in chickens, and improve the health and function of the gut epithelium.”

A just-opened bottle of Kaua’i Kombucha Green Tonic smells fresh and sweet. The sour tang is barely noticeable. It’s just on the sweet side and loaded with fizz (a natural byproduct of fermentation) and a robust ginger flavor.

“It doesn’t taste sour because it’s super fresh,” says Muhich. “Everything is bottled just recently, unlike like regular booch that’s been distributed and super old because they’ve been sitting on shelves. Probiotics are most alive within the first few weeks of inoculation. That means it’s not only the tastiest, but also the most nutrient-dense. Plus, I use up to 20 percent fresh juice per bottle, which makes it way more expensive but worth it.”

Muhich offers the only locally made, unpasteurized, Health Department-certified kombucha on Kaua’i. Flavors (some of which rotate seasonally) include Ginger Berry with raspberry, lemon and local ginger; Ginger Lemon; Purple Haze with red grapes and lemon; Green Tonic with local turmeric, ginger, lemon, spirulina (a blue-green algae rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants) and chlorella (green algae); Blood Orange with local mango; Lilikoi Lychee; Papaya Pineapple and Tangelo.

“I want to sell a product that supports local farmers and the community 100 percent,” explains Muhich, who donates proceeds to Hawaii SEED, a nonprofit that’s dedicated to education and awareness about GMOs in Hawaii. “Genetically modified food is embedded in our everyday life, but with my products, you don’t have to worry if it comes from a biotech company.”

Last January, Muhich married Dylan Scott, former owner of The Eastside restaurant in Kapaa. The couple now owns and operates Kaua’i Kale Chips, which come in three flavors: Pesto, Chipotle and Vegan Gorgonzola made with noni.

I’m a huge fan of this healthy “fast food” and tuck into a bag whenever I need a snack. Each flavorful and satisfying bag contains one-half pound of kale purchased from the Waipa Foundation. Stems are removed, and ground nuts, spices and herbs are massaged in before the “chips” are dehydrated. Every bag contains ingredients that are organic, raw, vegan and gluten-free.

Kaua’i Juice Co. products are available at more than 30 locations islandwide. In January 2014, Muhich will open a shop in Kapaa to offer cold-pressed juice. Watch for news on her website and Facebook page.

Kaua’i Juice Co. KauaiJuiceCo.com 634-0886

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.