According to legend, the widely popular fermented tea known as Kombucha originated in China during the Tsin Dynasty in 212 BC and was referred to as “The Tea of Immortality.” In the present day US, Kombucha sales have doubled every year for the past 4 years, earning $150 million dollars a year.
Kombucha is said to stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer, and improve digestion and liver function.
Despite its popularity and reported health benefits, Kombucha was pulled from the shelves at Whole Foods and other retailers across the country in late June.
Kombucha was pulled from shelves because independent testing by producers revealed that some unpasturized versions of the drink contained up to 3 percent alcohol, a level similar to that of many light beers.
Actress Lindsay Lohan is among the drink’s fans and it is rumored that the Kombucha controversy began when her SCRAM alcohol monitoring bracelet went off at the MTV Movie Awards. However, Lohan squashed that rumor by announcing on Twitter that Kombucha was not to blame.
Kombucha’s disappearance from store shelves was stimulated by inquiries the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (commonly referred to as the TTB) received from the states of Maine, Minnesota, Arizona and Vermont.
A press release from the TTB states that a beverage can only be marketed as non-alcoholic if its alcohol content does not exceed 0.5 percent.
In the U.S., beverages which exceed this limit must be distributed with labels bearing the health warning statement required by the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act. These labeling mandates ensure that consumers are advised that the product is an alcohol beverage and helps prevent potentially serious consequences for consumers, especially pregnant women, children and individuals who should avoid alcohol for medical reasons.
Kombucha, long thought to be a mushroom, is actually a live colony of bacteria and yeast. The tea is made by adding the live culture to sugar and either green or black tea and allowing the mixture to ferment.
In unpasturized Kombucha, the yeast which is still alive, converts sugar to alcohol. The more sugar in the drink, the higher the alcohol content can become over time. Since unpasturized Kombucha continues to ferment after bottling, its alcohol content can increase between the time of bottling and the time of consumption, causing the overall alcohol content to rise from 0.5 percent to 3 percent.
Millenium Products, the company that produces GT Dave’s and Synergy Kombucha stresses that this is an issue of proper labeling, not an instance of food contamination or recall.
In order to get their products back on grocer’s shelves, producers can either paturize their drinks, relabel their product and market it as an alcoholic beverage or change their formulas and production methods to lessen alcohol content.
G.T. Dave, CEO of the company that makes GT’s Kombucha and Synergy, said their products should return within weeks. His company plans to resume production of a new version of Kombucha that will contain alcohol levels under the legal limits for non-alcoholic beverages.
For More Info:
Mayo Clinic – Health Benefits and Side Effects: Go to http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kombucha-tea/AN01658
TTB Press Release: Go to http://www.ttb.gov/pdf/kombucha.pdf