Not all “kombucha” is really kombucha

Unpasteurized kombucha is not necessarily live kombucha. The good bacteria may be taken away by methods other than pasteurization, which may explain why it can be stored at room temperature.

We would like to raise a topic to your attention that has bothered us for a while; the fact that more and more drinks are being sold as kombucha that, according to us, shouldn’t be called that.

Kombucha has quickly become more and more popular in Sweden and other places, and the demand increases steadily. Kombucha is not a legally protected term, so anyone can call anything kombucha. This opens the door for businesses that simply spot a market niche and try to flood the market with mass-produced “kombucha”, taking advantage of consumers’ poor understanding of what kombucha really is, and why shortcuts in the brewing process will affect the taste and health benefits that kombucha is said to have.

We make unfiltered, unpasteurized live kombucha. Our kombucha is naturally carbonated, whole brewed, and flavored with whole botanicals. We think anything less is an inferior product, and possibly shouldn’t be called kombucha. We’d like to explain why.

Unpasteurized kombucha is live kombucha…

We, as a small artisanal business, are faced with competitors that pasteurize their kombucha. Pasteurization is a process in which a product is heated up to kill microorganisms in order to increase shelf life. It makes life much easier for a kombucha producer because the product does not need to be refrigerated and can be kept on shelves for a very long time. Many consumers do not understand the difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized kombucha. Pasteurization, of course, is a bad idea for kombucha, as it kills all microorganisms in the kombucha. Still other producers microfilter their kombucha.

… unless it’s microfiltered

Microfiltering is something we look for in some products, but it’s not compatible with quality kombucha, as, like pasteurization it removes a lot of what we associate with the beneficial properties of kombucha, namely, that they contain trillions of healthful bacteria and yeast. Remove all those microbes, and you have a more shelf-stable product, but we don’t think it should be called kombucha anymore. While many kombucha lovers out there know that pasteurization is a bad idea, few are aware that an “unpasteurized” and “raw” kombucha might be microfiltered, which is just about as bad. If your kombucha is sold at room temperature, something’s wrong with it.

Naturally carbonated kombucha tastes better

It is a very common practice to force carbonate kombucha instead of allowing it to naturally carbonate in the bottle. To shorten the process time and to make it easier to produce a standardized product many producers sidestep the natural carbonation by pumping CO2 into the liquid. We find this unnecessary. If the kombucha is unpasteurized the bubbles in the bottle can be achieved by simply giving the bacteria time. Force carbonation is used my many producers in conjunction with microfiltration or pasteurization. We don’t think that force carbonated kombucha is bad for you, but we shake our heads at how some brands love to tell consumers that their kombucha is “natural”, “simple”, “original” and “traditional” when they force carbonate. Just as with champagne, natural bubbles are finer on the tongue and give a superiour taste compared to artificial ones. We think that force-carbonation tends to overwhelm the beverage flavor, and makes bottles lose carbonation much more rapidly after opening. This may be a matter of taste, but we’d just like consumers to know the difference.

Kombucha concentrates = cheating

Since there is no definition of kombucha, some producers even sell “kombucha” which is actually just sweet iced tea blended with a small portion of kombucha concentrate. Such “kombucha” beverages, to us, represent the worst of the worst in the misuse of the name kombucha because there is no control on what these beverages may or may not contain. Real kombucha should be 100% brewed without using kombucha concentrates. Given how long it takes to brew kombucha, and how much attention it needs, the temptation to produce a concentrate and dilute it in 90% sweet tea is obvious, but this will not have the flavor profile or healthfulness of a whole-brewed kombucha, and should not be mistaken for one.

All natural kombucha flavouring

Kombucha is a magical beverage to flavor; its unique chemistry makes it a very powerful solvent and its taste matches with a tremendous diversity of flavors. Unfortunately, many producers use flavor concentrates, flavor enhancers, and coloring agents. Maybe we’re old-fashioned, but we think ginger flavor should have ginger in it, and apple flavor should have apple in it, and honey and Sage should have honey and sage. Kombucha is best flavored with whole, real ingredients (such as whole ginger, fresh apples, and real spices), which yields a much more complex flavor and, depending on the flavor, increases the health benefits of the drink. However, it requires more attention to detail. Each ingredient will affect the fermentation profile of the drink, and one has to deal with variation in taste in a natural ingredient, as growing conditions and seasons influence the taste and character of plants. Nature may not be standardized, but we think it’s beautiful in its complexity.

Natural flavours of Roots Kombucha

Honey, sage, ginger and turmeric are examples of whole flavorings for our unpasteurized kombucha.

We are not saying that any of the above is fundamentally wrong, bad for your health or unethical. What is wrong is to leave consumers in the faith that what they buy is a hand-made artisanal product. Unfortunately there is nothing that prevents producers of kombucha from taking all these short-cuts and many producers have fallen for the temptation to simplify their kombucha production process. We have produced kombucha commercially for almost four years now, and it is hard work. Kombucha brewing is a slow process. It needs patience and a lot of attention to detail.

In any business there is always a temptation to take shortcuts. This is particularly true in a new industry like kombucha-brewing, where new competitors appear all the time, some with very questionable production practices. As it is unlikely “bad sheep” in the industry become more honest voluntarily, we can only appeal to you – the consumer – to value quality! We are not saying that we are best, but we make damn good kombucha, and we work hard for it. There are other producers that make great kombucha too. However, there are also producers that are in it for the fast money; with little interest in the production process itself. For you, the consumer, the challenge is to look a little harder on the labels and read up on what good kombucha is. We, at Roots Kombucha, want to convince you that it is worth the effort!

Thanks for reading!

Your Roots of Malmö team


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