Kombucha Brewers International releases code of practice to standardize kombucha

3 Aug 2020

U.S. kombucha trade association Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) established a code of practice that outlines the quality standards for the production of this fermented beverage. The trade group is also working on releasing a seal for manufacturers looking to identify their kombucha as “authentic.”

This standardized code requires that kombucha be made with only tea leaves, natural sweeteners, water and Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY). As many of kombucha brands sweeten their drinks, flavoring is allowed under the guidelines but may not exceed 20% of the finished products.

Kombucha Brewers International releases code of practice to standardize kombucha

Of course there are plenty of other kombucha drinks that are made without the use of tea leaves and the code of practice provides provisions for them. While fermented beverages made with herbs, coffee, honey or yerba mate are not considered “traditional kombucha,” they may use the term “kombucha” with a qualifying adjective.

There is a special category called “Processed Kombucha,” which is defined as “any type of kombucha to which a process has been applied to the product outside the traditional manufacturing process. Examples include pasteurization, dealcoholization, filtration, filter sterilization or any other process that changes the nature of traditional kombucha.”

Distinguishing this category is an important change within the kombucha industry that has been beset by lawsuits in recent years. Questions about alcohol content in these fermented tea beverages have resulted in a slew of class action legal cases against companies, including Health-Ade and Brew Dr. To try and correct the alcohol levels in these beverages, which many times results from prolonged fermentation in a bottle, some manufactures have relied on heat treatments and filtering to slow the transformation of sugar into ethanol.

Other manufacturers are lobbying to raise the allowable alcohol content from 0.5% to 1.25% in order to provide a larger buffer for the development of alcohol while kombucha remains on the shelf. In the KBI code of practice, the alcohol level is established at between 0% and 3.2%.

Through standardizing the definition of kombucha, this code of practice is attempting to bridge this division in approaches and "create a food safety and quality standard for kombucha producers that creates transparency for consumers to make informed choices.” However, not all manufacturers believe this approach is beneficial.

“Unfortunately, these definitions are being manipulated to protect producers that are funding KBI to lobby for regulation changes that would bring the legal non-alcoholic threshold of kombucha to 1.2%. They are a way to distinguish brands from one another and are not aimed at customer protection whatsoever,” Aqua ViTea founder Jeff Weaber told Ingredients Network in a statement.

However, having the ability to clearly define this beverage and offer an official label has the ability to go a long way in giving consumers confidence in these products, whose popularity has grown rapidly. The kombucha market is anticipated to reach $7 billion by 2027 with a compound annual growth rate of 19.7%, according to Grand View Research.

Read the Code of Practice

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