Below is a fuller version of a letter I just sent to the editor at PCC. (For folks outside Seattle, PCC is the country’s biggest grocery co-op; nine stores).For space reasons, the letters to the editor are limited to 250 words. (That’s challenging. )
I read with great interest your piece on kombucha in the March, 2011 PCC Taste, and then followed to the referenced “Online Extra.” I am particularly interested because I have been making kombucha since 1993 and my company, CommuniTea Kombucha, makes kombucha here in the CD. Last Summer, for a few exciting weeks, our kombucha was available on tap in the PCC Fremont deli.
The kombucha world was rocked last summer when kombucha was pulled off store shelves all over the country after it was learned that it contained too much alcohol. I’m concerned that there is more to this story that PCC shoppers will want to know.
As many of PCC’s customers know, to make kombucha, one begins with steeped tea and sugar and adds a naturally occurring symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. In this age-old process, the yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol. This alcohol becomes the food for the bacteria, and it is these bacteria which produce much of what is good for us about kombucha. The production of alcohol in kombucha is, therefore, critical. Our sense is that when alcohol is reduced to an extremely low level, we risk compromising the activity of the bacteria.
To address alcohol concerns, new regulations now apply to the production of kombucha. To see a very clear FAQ, do a web search on “TTB kombucha”. It says that for kombucha to be a non-alcohol beverage, it is not enough for it to be below 0.5% when it is sold. The alcohol level must always be below 0.5%. It may not exceed that level at any time during manufacture, it must of course be below 0.5% when it is sold, and it must be below afterwards, regardless of whether it is stored according to manufacturer’s instruction. If the level ever does or ever could exceed 0.5%, it’s an alcohol beverage. As such, it must be made in a facility that is “qualified with the TTB,” that is, a brewery or a winery.
My concern is that most of the current kombucha either
- is not compliant with the law because its alcohol level actually does rise above 0.5% during brewing and is subsequently reduced, or
- is not really worthy of the name because the components which are made by the bacteria will have been compromised by inadequate levels of alcohol during manufacture.
An additional concern is that some kombucha is pasteurized which of course affects the probiotic content.
It is of course, possible to make and sell kombucha which is as good as it was before June of 2010. The bar to doing so has been raised, however. We respect the wisdom inherent in the traditional recipe and procedures. CommuniTea Kombucha’s commitment to making high-quality, healthful kombucha was the basis of our decision to secure appropriate alcohol licenses.
PCC, for many of us, is a standard bearer. When PCC makes a statement, we count on it to be based on wide research and knowledge. It is in this spirit that I write; I want PCC to be able to provide the community with information which is more complete.