Kombucha is a fermented tea drink. Commonly associated with health benefits, in recent years it has become a food trend in Europe and the US (the ‘West’). However, the drink has a long and complex cultural history. While its current positioning in Western markets resonates with trends around fermentation and the consumption of probiotic foods, this framing is relatively novel. So, too, is the drink’s fashionable metropolitan status. How did kombucha become positioned in this way? What changes – both in terms of supply (e.g. production sites, trade networks) and demand (e.g. consumption practices, trends) – are at work? In which ways has kombucha historically been brewed and drunk, and how has its position as a food source changed as it has ‘travelled’ across space and time? This thesis will develop a cultural history of kombucha, elaborating the social and historical context underlying the drink’s current popularity. It will engage with debates on the diffusion and acceptance of novel foods, and with research on how food consumption intersects with concerns around health and the microbiome.
The thesis will involve desk-based qualitative research (academic literature, historical/archival sources, popular sources/grey literature). There is also the potential for qualitative data collection (e.g. interviews, observations) with current producers/consumers of kombucha.
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