The Lines Between Soda and Kombucha Are Blurrier Than Ever

Fermented drinks come in familiar flavors like grape, lemon-lime, cola, and root beer.

culture pop prebiotic probiotic soda soft drink functional beverages
Photo courtesy of Culture Pop
Photo courtesy of Culture Pop

The beverage space used to be simpler. You’d have your Cokes and Pepsis, juice, iced teas, and the occasional Perrier, which felt haute and reserved for special occasions. Kombucha was around, but it was sort of on the fringes—that DIY drink your quirky neighbor brewed.

That’s all changed. The growing interest in healthier food and beverage options has paved the way for the explosion of functional drinks. Everything must have pre- or probiotics in it, or serve a benefit that extends beyond bringing simple joy. Kombucha is mainstream.

Because of this, the lines between kombucha and standard soft drinks are blurry—but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “People are realizing that health is the key ingredient to a high quality of life, but at the same time, better-for-you options are not only accessible, but they’re more delicious than ever,” explains Daina Trout, cofounder of Health-Ade, which carries a line of kombucha sodas. “Fermented foods are one of the healthiest things we can eat and drink, and as Americans, we need to be ingesting more. The great thing about kombucha is that it’s fermented—so it’s so good for us—and it’s got that bubbly and tasty soda-feeling in the mouth, so it’s easy to drink.”

Health-Ade already has a variety of extremely successful kombuchas in fun, on-trend flavors like passion fruit tangerine and berry lemonade. Launching Health-Ade Pop, which better resembles soda with its nostalgic flavors (like apple snap and juicy grape) in sleek cans, is a way to reach more consumers who want a different method of getting their daily dose of prebiotics. “To make gut healthy products appealing to everyone, we need to diversify and bring more better-for-you options,” Trout says. “That’s why Health-Ade is expanding in innovation.”

This principle of delivering great flavor with benefits is also what drove the founder of Culture Pop, a probiotic soda brand crafted with fruit juices and spices. Culture Pop, however, is not kombucha—but a tangentially related product.

“The functional beverage space is up and coming and we really took the functional benefits from kombucha that a lot of people are drawn to—the digestive health aspect—and are adding it to the carbonated soft drink without the fermentation, without the long process, without the refrigeration,” says Naomi Kliger, the marketing director for Culture Pop. “It's a much more accessible way to get those benefits that kombucha really had brought to the market without the vinegar taste.”

It’s important to note that pre and probiotics are two different things: Probiotics are the actual living microorganisms found within fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, and yogurt, whereas prebiotics are typically high fiber foods that feed the good bacteria in your gut.

Whether you’re a daily kombucha drinker or just looking for a soda alternative that’s lower in sugar with added benefits, there’s a whole assortment of probiotic sodas and pop-adjacent kombuchas to try. Here are some of our favorites:

Culture Pop has snappy design and intriguing flavors and beneath all of that is a thoughtfully crafted product with live probiotics. Although the fruity flavors may remind you of your favorite fruit soda from childhood, each can has a unique twist that’s a bit more grown up. Strawberry is paired with rhubarb—like liquid pie in a can—while ginger lemon is kissed with turmeric. You won’t find any tongue-numbing stevia flavor here.

It’s stunning how on-the-nose the flavors of Health-Ade Pop are. The juicy grape genuinely tastes like a sip out of a can of ’90s grape soda, while the apple snap can replace sparkling Martinelli’s apple cider during family gatherings. Lemon-Lime is reminiscent of Sprite while the ginger fizz can stand up to any ginger ale. The flavor is phenomenal, but the best part is the delight in knowing that it doesn’t contain 40 grams of sugar like a standard soda would.

drink poppi functional soft drink soda prebiotics

Kombucha is made from fermented tea, while apple cider vinegar from fermented apples. Both are full of gut-health benefits and have the same astringent taste. Poppi tampers down itsACV soft drinks with both cane sugar and stevia, as well as fruit juice and sparkling water, so it’s lower in sugar and calories while still tasting refreshing and sweet rather than acidic. There’s a Cola, Root Beer, and “Doc Pop” flavor if you’re really craving soda.

If you want a kombucha that has super classic soda flavors, Live is the one. You can get your daily dose of probiotics with flavors like cream soda, spicy cherry berry (a riff on Dr. Pepper), and cherry cola. No other kombucha brand has gone quite as deep on the nostalgic, soda fountain classics—which we love pairing with burgers and pizza.

Olipop might be the furthest soda alternative from kombucha on this list, as it’s a sparkling tonic rather than a fermented drink. That being said, the ingredients still contain chicory and cassava root, which supplies Olipop with its prebiotics and fiber. Each can has nine grams of fiber and sugar that ranges between two and five grams. Classic flavors like orange squeeze, tropical punch, and vintage cola are hard to beat.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.