Kombucha: The Push for Revamped Regulation

As kombucha’s popularity grows, it’s current global market value is forecasted to double by 2024, industry leaders are calling for a reassessment of existing regulations governing the production and sale of the fizzy beverage.

There are primarily two types of kombucha products on the
market, and since no true definition exists for either, we will define them by
the following:

Traditional Kombucha is created using the same fermentation process originating in China circa 220 B.C. and refers to kombucha products that have not been pasteurized, containing live-probiotics.

Modernized Kombucha refers to kombucha products that have been pasteurized, either containing live-probiotics added after pasteurization – or no probiotics whatsoever.

The below table explores the contrast between traditional kombucha and its counterpart(s):

TRADITIONAL KOMBUCHA (NOT PASTEURIZED)

MODERNIZED KOMBUCHA (USUALLY PASTEURIZED)
Probiotic-value: Kombucha is revered for its probiotic value; “good bacteria” should live-on in the product after fermentation. Probiotic-value: Some producers choose to pasteurize their product after fermentation, killing off live-probiotics.
Alcohol content: Typically contains 0.5% alcohol by volume. Alcohol content: Might have a higher ABV in attempts to compete with alcoholic beverages.
Sugar level: Sugar is a crucial component of the fermentation process, but most sugar is eaten away by good bacteria in this stage. Sugar level: Some producers add in additional sugar after fermentation, or begin fermentation with an excessive amount.

Is Pasteurized Kombucha “True Kombucha?”

While there two different primary types of Kombucha on the
market – traditional vs. modernized – they are typically labeled and regulated
the same. Many consumers buy kombucha for its live-probiotic properties and the perceived health benefits, and those consumers might feel deceived by pasteurized kombucha products, especially if they contain no live probiotics.

In 2017, one well-known probiotic beverage brand was hit with a class-action lawsuit regarding its product claims. The plaintiff stated the brand’s labels and website promoted claims of live probiotics in what have been discovered to be pasteurized products. The drink brand argued it re-added the live probiotics into their drinks after pasteurization, however, the plaintiffs continue to claim these drinks are not “true kombucha beverages.”

Regulators Take Notice

Regulators are taking notice to the ongoing controversy, and we’re already seeing regulatory changes.

In Australia, kombucha is regulated as a brewed soft drink (standard 2.6.2), meaning it should contain no more than 1.15% alcohol by volume (ABV) – or it must provide a statement of alcohol content on the product label. Recently, the government held a roundtable to discuss whether kombucha containing more than 1.15% alcohol should be regulated differently.  Several proposals to ensure compliance and consumer safety were unveiled, including one to require kombucha producers to obtain a fermented beverage license. The proposals will be considered moving forward.

In Brazil, regulators partnered with the Brazilian Association of Kombucha producers (ABKOM) to develop the first-ever Standard of Identity for Kombucha. The Standard requires producers include pasteurization information and a statement of alcohol content on their product
labels. Additionally, producers must refrain from engaging in unauthorized
functional and health claims
.

While the spotlight shines on kombucha for its purported health benefits, pressure has been placed on governments around the world to refine the regulations that govern the product – including label transparency, alcohol
content, and content/health claims. Consumers and producers alike have voiced concern over the wide-ranging variation in kombucha products found on the market. Some are pasteurized, some are not. Some contain live-probiotics, some don’t.  Some are rather healthy, while others contain large amounts of sugar. Moving forward, producers of kombucha would be wise to monitor for impending regulatory shifts in the markets around the world.

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