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Confused Why Kombucha. Mushroom Tea was removed from store shelves.?

June 23, 2010.Kombucha Products Containing at Least 0.5 Percent Alcohol by Volume are Alcohol Beverages. That is according to the  Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

(see the TTB report in its entirety)

Since komucha is not strictly a beer or a wine or a distilled spirit it does not fit neatly into a established category.  However, I expect the TTB to be making a deceision by mid-July that  kombucha with alcohol levels 0.5% or above (up to 7%) then it will be classified as KOMBUCHA WINE. Of course where Kombucha Mushroom Tea is brewed (and bottled) with less than 0.5% alcohol it is then a non-alcohol brew and outside the TTB.

However where kombucha brew is bottled with 0.5% or higher alcohol then the TTB will classify that as a alcohol beverage  and want it to be labeled. .For many alcohol beverage products, TTB must evaluate the product and approve its formula before issuing a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) to determine whether a proposed label identifies the product in an adequate and non-misleading way.  TTB regulations require formulas  when flavoring or coloring materials are added to an alcohol beverage.  Since GT Synergy, Kombucha2000 and others have some 26 flavors, it may be awhile until "Kombucha" appears back on the shelves. Unless, of course, the kombucha bottlers can demonstrate that they can maintain alcohol levels below that magical 0.5% I assumre, Kombucha Wonder Drink, which is pasteurized , will not have to undergo any such ordeals. Although at this time the TTB is busy investigating all kombucha sold on the stores shelves.

Kombucha Mushroom Tea when fermented via the traditional folk method, (aerobically ) contains little if any alcohol. The same amount of alcohol that may be expected from fresh squeezed orange juice. That same glass of fresh squeezed orange juice when bottled and left on the counter for a day or two will result in higher levels of alcohol. All natural. Bottling, cuts off  the oxygen and if not careful creates an anaerobic fermentation. A second Ferment.  It is the bottling that creates  a greater percentage of alcohol.

If we know this why can't we do it like other non-alcohol drinks.

Refrigeration of fresh squeezed orange juice, or refrigeration of properly fermented kombucha mushroom tea forces the live beneficial bacteria and yeast to become inactive, and no further fermentation proceeds. Therefore much depends upon the intention of the kombucha brewer and their fermentation method. While many of the commercial kombucha bottles tested where in the range of 1-3% alcohol, many of the small local kombucha brewers were able to produce both fresh and bottled kombucha tea that was less than the 0.5% threshold.  Of course if you pasteurized fermented kombucha, as one commercial brewer does, than you avoid the problem altogether. One may also sulfite or stabilize the brew with chemicals as is done with many wines. 

I should note that brewing Kombucha Mushroom Tea is literally fermenting sugar and tea into sparkling sweet vinegar. But the process is stopped short. Properly made, Kombucha Mushroom Tea is a healthy beneficial tea. Slightly sour, slightly sweet, slightly carbonated. And a non-alcohol tea. (camelia sinensis). 

In the literature there is some confusion as to whether kombucha is a lactic acid ferment or an acetic acid ferment. As kombucha may actually contain both (as well as other acids, and indeed a higher level of glucronic acid). Not all kombucha contains lactic acid - but all kombucha contain acetic and glucronic acid. Actually what makes kombucha unique is the glucronic acid. Only Glucronbacteria (a sub species of acetobacteria) produce both acetic acid and glucronic acid. Glucronbacteria actually reduces alcohol content.   It is the acetobacteria responsible for turning wine into vinegar. For kombucha it is the yeast that produces the carbonation and alcohol and the bacteria that produces the acetic and glucronic acid. The unfermented sugar contributes to the sweetness. It is this Serendipitous adventure that makes Kombucha Mushroom a  TEA.

 Now lactobacillus, a species of bacteria that also ferments good food and drink (Kefir, Rejuvulac, Ginger Beer ... and vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi and pickles) may be present. Lactobacillus can also be used to ferment sugar and tea. Actually is preferred by many. lactobacillus ferments both aerobically (with oxygen) or without oxygen (aerobically, like in a closed bottle). lactobacillus also ferments at lower temperatures.    Certain sub-species of lactobacillus produce alcohol, carbonation, acetic acid, and of course lactic acid. And the taste of lactic acid is less sharp and smoother than acetic acid (vinegar).  The difference is that lactobacillus lacks the glucronic acid that makes kombucha mushroom tea so healthy. Also the longer lactobacillus continues to ferment the greater amounts of alcohol is produced, while the longer glucronbacteria ferments the less alcohol there is.  Which brings is back to the to question of alcohol in kombucha. Because kombucha is a folk recipe and not owned by anybody, anybody can call whatever they make "kombucha". If it works for you, so much the better. But if you have 0.5% alcohol in your hooch you better call it a beer.

Above all, the commercial producers should be honest. Alcohol levels of 1-3% are important  - to pregnant and nursing mothers, to professional drivers, like school bus drivers and truck drivers. Those levels may not impair one's driving ability but will show on a spot alcohol test, Just saying it ain't so doesn't make it so. Sugar and caffeine contents are another misnomer. If you ferment sugar and tea (kombucha) you will still have some caffeine and sugar left - no matter what.

Making kombucha mushroom tea is an aerobic ferment,

This is  similar in many ways as making vinegar. For example leaving  a bottle of wine open and over time the alcohol is converted by the acetobactero  into acetic acid. This is an aerobic ferment because the bacteria need oxygen.  The same species of bacteria that produces vinegar form wine, makes kombucha mushroom tea.

Many of you are aware that kombucha mushroom tea is made with a SCOBY. That is a Serendipitous Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts.. I think they should have added the letter A between the O and the Y. because folks forget that both the bacteria and yeasts that make up kombucha are Aerobic (dependent upon oxygen)

To make traditional kombucha, one simply boils water, add sugar, add tea, . Then cool down to room temperature. Add the kombucha mushroom (SCOBY) and the starter tea ( previously fermented tea), cover with a cloth, allowing the ferment to breathe and to keep out dirt and bugs. Typically the ferment takes 1 - 2 weeks. But it is harvested when one finds the taste most satisfying.

In the kombucha ferment,,  just as in aerobic ferments, the sugar is broken down and converted to alcohol. Both species (aerobic /anaerobic) reproduce rapidly and produce more carbonation than alcohol when there is access to oxygen. As the oxygen runs out both yeasts begin producing   higher amounts of alcohol then carbonation.  However the oxygen-dependent) aerobic  yeasts stop reproducing and actually go dormant when the oxygen is gone. The anaerobic yeasts however churn out the alcohol until fermentable sugars are gone. The gluconbacteria build the mushroom to seal off the yeasts form the air. This creates the  Custer effect. - an  inhibition of alcoholic fermentation by the absence of oxygen. This leaves the bacteria free to devour the alcohol, sugar, tea and dead yeasts. In the process the bacteria create beneficial acids (acetic acid & gluconic acid). Depending  upon Time, - Temperature and artfulness, we capture a a semi, sweet semi sour, slightly carbonated,  tasty, and wonderful healthy, raw probiotic tea. Life is good.

Its the Bottling. If we bottle, without leaving an airspace, the bacteria as well as the yeasts  will go dormant.. The acids of the typical ferment keep the pH between 2.5 and 3.5. Low enough to ward off most pathogens, so refrigeration wouldn't be necessary. Sadly reality bites. We don't live n a vacuum and our open air ferment often becomes invaded by wild and airborne bacteria and yeasts. Luckily most of these invaders are healthy and do not provide any problems for the typical kombucha home brewer.. However - they tend to be anaerobic. Meaning they do just fine without oxygen.  They party while the kombucha bacteria and yeasts sleep. The anaerobic bacteria and /or yeasts continue to reproduce, and to produce more carbonation, and  more alcohol. More acids, like lactic acid (very beneficial) very often is produced. For the kombucha home brewer none of this, other than an occasional bottle, exploding, is  a  concern. Once bottled refrigeration quickly stops the fermentation process.   However, commercial brewers, have  both a moral and legal obligation to control their contents - and to accurately label what's in their bottle.

While  guncrobacteria (bacteria of kombucha) actually reduce alcohol  Lactobacillus  an anaerobic bacteria produces  alcohol, carbonation, and acetic and lactic acid. Especially true during the bottled second fermentation. Some brewers actually do this part on purpose. They marketed to those who craved the highly carbonated, slightly tart, low alcohol brew.  Personally I do not object to this adulteration of kombucha tea. I do object to the mislabeling and overlooking the potential harmful alcohol levels of 1-3% alcohol can cause to uniformed pregnant, nursing mothers, school bus drivers, and all workers who may be subject to random drug and alcohol testing. Honest labeling is fair and beneficial for all.

Beer and wine producers who ferment almost exclusively aerobically have to neuter, stabilize, kill or otherwise prevent  any fermentation to continue once bottled. All products  have to labeled accordingly.

Commercial Kombucha Mushroom brewers and bottlers  with knowledge and better  quality, and environmental  control can produce really good non alcohol kombucha mushroom tea.

And I am sure, both at home and for the commercial folks, there is a fine market for kombucha beer and kombucha wine as well.  But Kombucha Mushroom Tea is Perfect!

Make it yourself and enjoy it the way you want to.

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As a note kombucha concentrate   kombucha capsules,   kombucha homeopathic remedies, and   kombucha pure extract   even with ~25% alcohol are not at issue, as they are not beverages.

 

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