14 April 2022


The Curious Case of Kombucha

Dhanashree Aole – Founder, Kultured Vitality Foods LLP, is keen to make Indians gulp the innate goodness of Kombucha, otherwise perceived as a mysterious brew

The term ‘Kombucha’ is still relatively less known in India. However, entrepreneurs like the determined detoxification specialist and fermentation revivalist Dhanashree Aole have made it their mission to make Indians gulp the innate goodness of this mysterious brew. The exact origin of kombucha is uncertain, though it may have originated in China and spread along the Silk Road before becoming popular in parts of Eastern Europe.

So what really is kombucha? A sugar-sweetened black/green tea fermented by a specific community of microorganisms (bacteria and yeast). As represented by wellness experts, kombucha has anti-microbial and immune-boosting properties, as it is loaded with anti-oxidants, healthy organic acids, and diverse probiotic strains. The essence of kombucha is not just in the probiotics but the bioactive compounds that come from tea and the metabolic activity of micro-organisms. Through her start-up Kultured Vitality Foods, Dhanashree has her product Kultured Kombucha brewed.

The idea of making kombucha commercially available in India was based on the belief that it could improve people’s quality of life and help them restore the body’s natural healing ability. “Kultured Vitality Foods is determined to awaken people’s consciousness of the simple yet powerful laws of health. We do so by offering well-curated recipes of kombucha which have the perfect blend of taste and health,” says Dhanashree, who has the restorative, unpasteurised drink handcrafted in small batches while also ensuring that the brew cycles are optimised to ensure that the final drink is low in sugar and rich in gut-friendly microbes & bio-available nutrients.

The fermentation tradition in India is not uniform. As a crucial step towards the revival of fermentation tradition in India, the organisation offers kombucha in both original and herb-infused forms. “Brewing kombucha is a complex process, and different process parameters must be monitored well to get a healthy and nourishing ferment. Therefore, we follow strict fermentation and hygiene protocols for brewing high-quality functional kombucha,” says the entrepreneur.

So, where did the interest in kombucha first come up? Dhanashree was introduced to kombucha by her father nearly three decades ago. Her father, a science expert, got home a kombucha culture in the early 1990s. He succeeded in harvesting perfect kombucha in his first attempt, and consuming the beverage became a routine for the family. Seeing her love for its taste, Dhanashree’s father explained the process - how it grows and ferments.

After her Bachelor’s in Engineering and two years of experience with Tata Motors, Dhanashree moved to Canada for pursuing her M.Tech degree. There, she also came across holistic health practitioners and fermentation enthusiasts who influenced her inclination toward holistic living, including mindful eating and ancient food preserving techniques of different cultures. She started reading books and research papers on kombucha as well and familiarized herself with its health benefits, touted for centuries by scientists, doctors, and holistic practitioners.

Intrigued, she decided to brew kombucha by herself keeping in mind her father’s original brewing techniques. Besides, the magnitude of kombucha’s health benefits was proved to her when her long-seated health issue got resolved within a month of consuming her home-brewed kombucha.

Dhanashree started sharing this wonder drink with family and friends and delivered this new knowledge in a clear, tasteful, and healthful way. Motivated by positive word of mouth reviews, Dhanashree quit her job, focusing on producing the drink in 2016.

As the product was very new to the Indian market, Dhanashree faced several teething challenges. To promote Kombucha and its health benefits in the right way, she decided to earn knowledge on probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics for vibrant health, moving to the US after marriage. She studied probiotics & digestive health, nutritional and herbal detox therapies for two years and obtained a Diploma in Detoxification in 2020 from the Academy of Natural Health Science, New Jersey.

With the right passion, competency and formal education in place, she explored distinct recipes with the kombucha culture. As luck would have it, while she was looking for branding support and raising funds to build the business, one of her old friends showed interest in becoming part of this mission. Kultured Vitality Foods, thus, originated in June 2021.

The creation of the drink is of importance in the food industry. Not only is Kultured Kombucha into the functional beverage space, it also offers good health with a delightful taste. “I believe we are not only competing with other kombucha brewing companies, but with the entire functional beverage sector,” says Dhanashree.

There is plenty of scope for innovation in this drink. The look and taste of the final product depends on what ingredients are present -- the choice of tea, sugar, water, region, functional ingredients and in what amounts along with the timing, temperature etc. “We have been experimenting with new raw materials and native herbs under different fermentation conditions, which results in the change of chemical compositions and health benefits of the final product. Indian herbs and spices have therapeutic properties such as being anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-oxidative etc. Their routine usage, though, is hampered due to unpleasant taste or low bio-availability of their healing nutrients. Therefore, we are fortifying our kombucha with the right combination of herbs and spices,” says the entrepreneur.

Having learnt a lot about the food ecosystem within the SME set-up, what are Dhanashree’s observations and words of wisdom? SMEs should adopt frugal innovations to produce affordable, high-quality, sustainable foods in the food processing and allied industries. It is possible to achieve sustainable business models through the wisdom of frugality. “I see the functional food trend reviving -- it is the need of the hour. In recent years, consumers have become increasingly interested in “healthier” alternatives to their favourite foods. More specifically, functional foods created through fermentation route or other natural fortification techniques are trending.”

Through her different endeavours what has kept Dhanashree inspired is a strong sense of self-belief as a woman. “Focus on achieving your greatest self, live out your purpose, and do it courageously. Woman’s strength, devotion, and tactics are exceptional. So just believe in yourself and pursue your goals with tenacity,” she signs off.

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