Kombucha, Tea or Alcoholic Beverage?


If you are enjoying kombucha tea with your breakfast, you may want to consider green or black tea instead, at least for a while. The fermented, trendy, liquid brew of beneficial microorganisms may also be harboring an alcohol level of more than 0.5 percent, which is the legal limit for a beverage not to be considered alcoholic.

Kombucha has ancient roots, with some people claiming it has been around since the Tsin Chinese Dynasty of 221 BC. For a decade or more, the tea- and mushroom-based beverage has become popular in the United States because of claimed health benefits. Makers of kombucha tea typically advertise that their product contains important nutrients, such as probiotics, amino acids, antioxidants, and live enzymes, suggesting that they can help promote health and well-being.

However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims. According to Mayo Clinic internist Brent A. Bauer, MD, “there’s not good evidence that Kombucha tea delivers on its health claims,” while there have been several reports of harm, including allergic reactions, metabolic acidosis, and stomach upset.


Now the federal government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has been sniffing around and testing kombucha to determine whether it is an alcoholic beverage. It appears that some raw kombucha (nonpasteurized), which contains yeast because it has not been killed off through pasteurization, has been transforming into an alcoholic beverage while it sits on the shelf. The presence of sugar is a deciding factor, so the more sugar a kombucha product has, the more alcohol can ferment, which means every product can contain a different amount of alcohol.

Retailers and distributors are pulling raw kombucha from store shelves until the tea vs alcoholic beverage issue is resolved. Millennium Products, makers of GT’s Kombucha and Synergy, has posted on its website that “we are investigating reports of the potential for slightly elevated alcohol levels in our Kombucha products,” and reassures consumers that “this is not related to any type of food contamination and is not a recall.”

Other makers of raw kombucha, such as Celestial Seasonings and Honest Tea, have removed their products from stores and are developing new versions of the tea. For now, these kombucha producers and others will need to decide what their products will look like in the future: a pasteurized drink, an alcoholic beverage, or a modified product that reduces the alcohol level enough to avoid an “alcohol” designation. Then kombucha lovers will need to decide whether they like the outcome of the product changes. Only time will tell.

Mayo Clinic
Millennium Products
Yahoo.com news July 14, 2010