Kombucha tea is starting to gain a lot of attention here in the UK, and now that it is a new year, all of us at PJ Kombucha want to share what you need to look for when buying your Kombucha. Part of what we want to do here at PJ Kombucha is to provide reliable information about Kombucha so that you as a consumer can make the best decision on which Kombucha to buy.
So let’s jump straight into it – here is what you need to know, to make sure you are getting a pure, unmanipulated, culture-rich Kombucha.
- Look at the Shelf Life
One of the easiest criteria to quickly make decisions on which Kombucha to buy. As a rule of thumb, if the shelf life is greater than 3-4 months, the chances that the product has been seriously manipulated, increases dramatically.
Kombucha is a fermented product, with live cultures in the form of bacteria and yeasts and because of the presence of yeasts, fermentation can continue in the bottle creating alcohol. In Kombucha, this is what the shelf life is referring to (1). For Kombucha products with a shelf life of, for example, 12 months, it is likely that one of the following has been applied to achieve this:
- Heavy Filtration – likely of 5 microns or less. With Kombucha a small amount of filtration is generally needed to remove large clumps of yeasts and SCOBY from entering the bottles or kegs. However, it is the level of filtration that is important. As an example, Lactobacillus bacteria are rod shape and are roughly 0.5 -10 micrometers in size, while some yeasts are 4-12 micrometers in diameter. This means that by using this level of filtration the majority of beneficial microbes are likely to be filtered out.
- Finings – are substances widely used in the brewing industry, that are added to products, generally, to improve clarity by removing organic compounds. Under the conditions in kombucha, the pH, ionic and metabolite balance induce an electrical charge on the microbial cell wall, attracting the organisms and bind them to the finings, creating a mass that falls to the bottom of the container that can be filtered out.
- Sulfites – again widely used in the brewing industry, sulfites are added to foods as a preservative or in this case, to essentially retard bacterial growth and continued fermentation by yeasts. Although this additive needs to be announced on the label, the amount that is needed for Kombucha, when combining the use of finings, may be lower than the legal limit and therefore not need to be recorded on labels.
- Pasteurization – Pasteurization is the process of killing microbes through heating or chemical means (2). If this is adopted by a Kombucha brand, there are no living cultures left in the product.
This leads us to our next point. If a Kombucha is not pasteurized, it is labelled as ‘Raw’. But this can be misleading, as some of the other methods above can still be adopted, for a Kombucha to be labelled ‘Raw’, as these other methods don’t completely rid microbes from the product.
- Ambient Storage
The next criteria that can help you make a quick decision is if a Kombucha claims to be shelf stable AND raw (3). As another rule of thumb, any ambient stored Kombucha is a no go! Again, to achieve this, it is likely that the product has been seriously manipulated, potentially by one or more of the methods mentioned above.
- Bottle Material Used
This one is mainly for your general health. Due to the acidity of Kombucha, it is recommended that plastic is avoided as a storage container, as toxins from the plastic can leach into the drink. This can be avoided if the bottle is made of Food Grade plastic. However, I personally avoid any Kombucha in plastic bottles just in case and because it is horrible for the environment.
At PJ Kombucha we do not employ any of these methods. Our Kombucha is completely raw and unmanipulated, and we pride ourselves on that! We only use cold temperatures (4) throughout our supply chain, a light filtration/sieving method to remove large clumps of yeasts & SCOBY from entering bottles and a long ageing fermentation method of 21-30 days to maintain our Kombucha.
As a takeaway, use this information to make the best decision possible on which brand of Kombucha to buy and to find a brand you trust. But if you’re in doubt, just ask the Kombucha business. We are all very open and happy to chat with our customers!