Interest brewing in kombucha as healthy beer and soda alternative

September 12, 2018

Kombucha — a fun word to say, and to an increasing number of people, a fun drink to consume.

Kombucha is a type of lightly fermented, somewhat vinegary-tasting tea that has exploded in popularity with health food fans. It’s made using tea that has been brewed in a normal way, with sugar added, and then fermented using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as a SCOBY. You can get the drink commercially, and it’s also popular with home brewers.

The SCOBY creates a small amount of alcohol (usually kombucha has 0.5% to 1.5% ABV), some carbon dioxide (making the drink fizzy, like a soft drink), acetic acid and other organic acids. Other ingredients are often added, like herbs and juices, for flavor and potential health benefits.

Kombucha has been around for a long time, likely originating in Northern China or Russia. The earliest possible records of its production date back to 220 BCE.

A replacement for beer and soda?

Plenty of manufacturers and consumers are excited about the possibility of kombucha having a craft beer-like boom in the beverage industry, suggesting that the drink has a wide appeal thanks to its soda-ish and beer-ish qualities. As interest in alcohol among millennials seems to be declining, some see an open slot that kombucha might fill.

Kombucha brands are exploring different formulations, like ones that boost the sugar content to appeal to soda drinkers, and ones that take a more ale-oriented approach to appeal to craft beer fans. And while up to this point most kombucha products have been produced by smaller companies, major companies like Pepsi have grown bands like KeVita and are seeing success in big name grocery stores like Whole Foods and Safeway.

For large producers, kombucha is categorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a “specialized process” that requires a variance to be submitted with a food safety plan. The FDA has suggested several good manufacturing practices for the sake of food safety, like maintaining sanitary conditions, with sterile equipment and surfaces, maintaining the right pH level, and using a fresh and commercially purchased SCOBY for the first brew.

Regardless of whether kombucha comes from a big producer with a big plant or a home brewer in their basement, good sanitation leads to a clean finish, because microorganisms that make up a SCOBY thrive can also support unwanted microorganisms.

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Category: Food Safety