Is Kombucha Korean?

Despite the common misconception, kombucha is not of Korean origin. This confusion may stem from the prominence of fermented foods in Korean cuisine. Kimchi, for example, is a well-known Korean staple and is often associated with the nation’s food culture, leading people to connect fermentation with Korea.

The global popularity of kombucha, combined with Korea’s appreciation for fermented foods, might be why some mistakenly think it’s a Korean beverage. Additionally, the use of traditional Korean ingredients in some kombucha varieties might further fuel this misunderstanding.

Kombucha’s roots, however, can be traced back to ancient China. According to Kombucha Planet, it is believed to have first been brewed around 220 BCE during the Qin Dynasty and was called the “Tea of Immortality” due to its numerous alleged health benefits source.

Kombucha later found its way to other parts of Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world. In the early 20th century, the drink gained popularity in Russia and Eastern Europe, where it was known as “tea kvass” or “kambucha.” It was during this time that kombucha arrived in Korea.

Korean Fermented Beverages

Korea boasts a rich tradition of fermented foods and beverages, with kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish, being the most famous. However, Korea also has several indigenous fermented beverages, including:

  • Makgeolli: A traditional Korean rice wine made from fermented rice, wheat, and water. It features a milky, slightly sweet taste and is commonly enjoyed during celebrations or social events.
  • Sikhye: A sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice and malt. Often served as a dessert, it is particularly popular during Lunar New Year festivities.
  • Dongdongju: Another Korean rice wine, similar to makgeolli but with a higher alcohol content. It is produced by fermenting rice with nuruk, a traditional Korean fermentation starter.
  • Susubori: A liqueur resulting from the fermentation of fruits, grains, and honey. It has a sweet, fruity flavor and is typically consumed as a digestive aid after meals.

Kombucha in Korea

Kombucha has carved out a niche in the Korean beverage market, with many people in the country enjoying the drink for its potential health benefits. Some Korean kombucha makers have even infused traditional Korean ingredients, such as ginseng and omija (a type of berry), to develop distinctive, local flavors.