Is your kombucha really non-alcoholic?

Researchers at BCIT in Burnaby are testing hundreds of kombucha samples to see if they are really the non-alcoholic beverages they’re labelled and marketed as.

Kombucha, a fermented beverage made from sweetening black or green tea and then adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, is typically sold as a non-alcoholic beverage, meaning alcohol content should be below 1.1 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) in Canada.

But the alcohol level in the drink can continue to rise depending on storage conditions, such as temperature, time and even where it’s stored in the fridge.

Alcohol levels in some of the beverages tested at BCIT have been as high as those in beer and cider.

BCIT kombucha
Kombucha samples are ready to be tested for alcohol content at a BCIT lab. - BCIT

Between July and September 2019, BC Centre for Disease Control food safety specialists and environmental health officers from participating health authorities collected more than 700 kombucha beverages from retail grocery stores, restaurants, farmers’ markets, recreation centres and manufacturers.

The samples were then delivered to BCIT’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation Phytoanalytics Lab for ethanol testing.

“Our research team is working closely with the BCCDC to accurately determine ethanol levels in the kombucha samples,” said Paula Brown, the director of BCIT’s natural health and food products research group. “Through this study and our research at BCIT it is our goal to establish a set of best practices for production, such as proper storage, to ensure this industry thrives and consumers have access to kombucha products that are healthy and safe.”

To conduct the research, BCIT has developed a new standardized method to test for ethanol in kombucha.

BCCDC’s report on the study should be available on the BCCDC website this month. 

— Cornelia Naylor, Burnaby Now

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