The sun was just setting over the trees, and my friend Courtney and I pulled into the little roadside market on our way back from a hike. We were both thirsty and craving a snack.
I grabbed a juice and a bag of pretzels, while Courtney handed a bag of raw nuts and a bottle of tea over to the cashier. He scanned her items and then asked for ID.
Courtney and I looked at each other and laughed. “You’re carding me? It’s tea. What do you need my ID for?” she asked. He smiled and turned the bottle around so Courtney could read the label. We both stood there with our mouths open. Her kombucha tea contained alcohol. Alcohol in tea? She shrugged and showed her ID to the cashier. “You’d better let me drive,” I teased as we walked back to the car.
Finding out there’s a bit of alcohol in your favorite beverage might seem amusing to some people, but for those who are in recovery from an alcohol use disorder, the issue is no laughing matter.
What is Kombucha?
What’s Inside the Kombucha Bottle?
So what is kombucha? And why is it so popular in the US right now? According to Kombucha Brewers International, kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that’s made by adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) to a solution of tea and sugar. Although many call the culture that’s produced on the top of the solution a mushroom, it’s an unrelated type of fungus. The result of combining a SCOBY with tea and sugar once it completes the fermentation process is a naturally carbonated beverage that’s full of healthy components like B vitamins, antioxidants, good bacteria and yeast.
Some people say drinking the tea gives them increased energy, aids in digestion and supports different systems in the body. Availability and sales have recently skyrocketed in the US in recent years, with estimated sales over $500 million.1
Based on this information, kombucha might sound like a smart alternative to soda and a way to naturally support a healthy lifestyle. However, should we be concerned that kombucha also contains some naturally occurring alcohol?
Risks of Kombucha for Recovery
Here are a few things to know about the alcohol content in kombucha, according to The Atlantic:
- Alcohol in kombucha is created when the yeast consumes the sugar, fermenting it into carbon dioxide and ethanol.
- Due to the fact that some of the ethanol is converted into acetic acid by bacteria, the fermentation process varies. This makes it hard to predict exactly how much alcohol will be present in a particular bottle of kombucha.
- Kombucha can also continue to ferment on the shelf, which means the alcohol content may actually increase unpredictably.
- Some kombucha breweries may intentionally increase alcohol content, and if you aren’t reading your label correctly, you may have no idea.
- There can be anywhere from 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent alcohol by volume in one bottle, although that percentage may be lower or higher depending on brewing techniques and the temperature and length of storage. Kombucha that sits too long could be significantly higher in alcohol content, even though the label may state there are only trace amounts.
- The FDA has suggested that kombucha be pasteurized, which would help to standardize the alcohol content. So far, the kombucha industry has not agreed with this approach.
- If your bottle of kombucha contains more than 0.5 percent alcohol, you will be asked to show your ID.2
Many people in recovery seek out ways to live healthier lifestyles. At first glance, kombucha seems like it would fit into that approach, except for the alcohol content.
So is it safe for recovering alcoholics to drink kombucha? This subject can hit that grey area, since the amount of alcohol in kombucha may be low. However, due to the fact that it’s difficult to measure alcohol content, drinking kombucha could be a slippery slope.
For people in recovery who have vastly varied experiences and reactions to alcohol, even 0.5 percent can be the beginning of a road they don’t want to travel. The thought that even one drink of kombucha could lead to more alcohol consumption isn’t worth the risk. So ultimately, it’s a good idea to play it safe and avoid all alcohol, including kombucha.
To talk with one of our admissions coordinators about starting your recovery journey or staying sober, please give us a call.
By Cindy Coloma
1 “Kombucha FAQ.” Kombucha Brewers International, Accessed January 31, 2018.
2 Hamblin, James. “Is Fermented Tea Making People Feel Enlightened Because of Alcohol?” The Atlantic, December 8, 2016.