Is Kombucha Alcoholic? What Your Kombucha Label Isn't Telling You

Updated on April 15, 2019
EditorAnna profile image

Just a mother of two trying my best to keep up with all the current issues and latest trends.

Kombucha is probably healthy, but it's probably alcoholic, too. It's very confusing.
Kombucha is probably healthy, but it's probably alcoholic, too. It's very confusing.

On her first spring break from college, my daughter came home with a kombucha habit. I thought, this stuff is expensive... but it could be a lot worse! So I happily drove to the grocery store to stock up.

As the cashier rang up my selections, she asked to see my I.D. "But why?!" I asked. She explained that some kombuchas are alcoholic. She picked one up to show me the little piece of plastic wrapped around the bottle's neck, and when I put my glasses on, I could read the warning.

But wait! The kombucha wasn't stocked in the alcohol section of the store: It was in with the sodas. To make things even more confusing, it sat on the shelf next to other kombuchas whose labels said nothing whatsoever about alcohol. Not only that, but the labels on all the komuchas looked "healthy," not "boozy." Clearly, this product is being marketed as a health elixir, and it's confusing.

Since I didn't want to serve my kids alcohol by mistake, and since I like to know what I'm drinking, I did some research, and here's what I found.

What is kombucha and how is it made?

Although kombucha comes in many flavors, they're all made by leaving sweet tea to ferment for several weeks with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (aka SCOBY), which releases probiotic bacteria. The resulting brews contain various degrees of alcohol and taste tart, acidic, vinegary, and fizzy. Some types can taste quite boozy, too. Sometimes, juice is added to this concoction to make it fruitier and sweeter.

So is kombucha tea... or is it alcohol?

It's made from fermented tea, but as you probably know, fermentation is how alcohol happens. The yeast eats the sugars and ferments, and alcohol is a natural byproduct of fermentation. The longer the tea ferments, the more alcohol it has (up to a certain point). Most kombuchas can be classified as teas, but some push the line.

Instead of "hooch," they call it "booch."

Is kombucha alcoholic?

Yes, it is. Many kinds of kombucha contain anywhere from 0.5% to 2% alcohol. Some types have less than 0.5%, but some have more, even though it is marketed as a non-alcoholic health drink.

Although the Food and Drug Administration sets the dividing line between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages at 0.5%, all kombucha contains at least a small amount of alcohol, and some have significantly more, and you can't always tell if or how much alcohol there is by reading the label.

Back in 2010 when the FDA warned consumers that some bottles of kombucha had significantly higher levels of alcohol, it was a surprise. In fact, tests showed alcohol levels of 0.5% to 2.5%.

Since kombucha had always been marketed as a healthy, natural, non-alcoholic drink, some people (children and alcoholics, for example) were truly shocked to discover that they'd been chugging booze all along. But then proper tests were finally conducted by independent groups and it was revealed that some bottles contained almost six times more than the 0.5% limit, with some "non-alcoholic" types containing up to 3% alcohol. That compelled a bunch of stores to pull the kombucha off their shelves until the labeling confusion could be dealt with.

So how does kombucha compare to beer?

An average bottle of beer is 4.5% alcohol, and most kombucha has less than 0.5%. So you'd have to drink nine bottles of mild kombucha to imbibe the same amount of alcohol you'd get from one beer.

However, a problem arises because many kombucha labels give no information at all about the alcohol content, many have more alcohol than their labels claim, and some have so much alcohol that they are as strong as a beer and should be kept in the alcohol section of the store. So you really can't know for sure.

Why is some kombucha alcoholic?

In order to keep those great probiotic benefits, kombucha is left raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized. The problem with this is that if it's raw, it continues to ferment unless it's refrigerated.

Note: Recently, some companies have begun producing pasteurized versions, which have no probiotic benefits but also no alcohol.

Are some kombuchas more alcoholic than others?

Certain brands of kombucha are brewed for those who are over 21 years of age only. Sometimes these types are labeled "kombucha beer," but sometimes they're not (which only adds to everyone's confusion). Not only that, but some stores don't separate the types with lots of alcohol from the ones with less, so you'll need to read the labels very carefully and hope they are accurate.

The kombucha is often stocked next to juice and sodas, and sometimes the label says nothing about its alcohol content.
The kombucha is often stocked next to juice and sodas, and sometimes the label says nothing about its alcohol content. | Source

The Problem With Kombucha Labels

Does my kombucha have alcohol in it?

You have to read the label carefully to know how much alcohol is in your kombucha... but, unfortunately, not all kombucha is properly or accurately labeled. Sometimes you have to search hard to find this important information, and sometimes you find no mention of alcohol whatsoever. Not only that, but the label might not always be an accurate reflection of the alcohol content, since the brew may have fermented a bit after it was bottled.

Why doesn't the label on this bottle of kombucha say anything at all about alcohol?

Unless it contains more than 0.5% alcohol, the company is not required by law to say anything whatsoever about the product's alcohol content. There is a chance that the bottle of kombucha you bought has no alcohol at all, since some companies are putting out pasteurized, nonalcoholic lines, but there's no way to know for certain exactly how much alcohol an unpasteurized kombucha has without testing the product in a lab.

If kombucha has alcohol, why doesn't the label say exactly how much?

If a product has more than 0.5% of alcohol, it must have a warning label (and the company must pay alcohol taxes). The problem is that alcohol content increases with fermentation, so if your kombucha was left out of the refrigerator for any part of its journey from the brewery to your hands, it probably has more alcohol in it now than it did when they slapped that label on. So instead of risking penalty for labeling misinformation, some breweries are leaving that information off the label entirely.

So how much alcohol is in my kombucha?

It's impossible to know exactly how much alcohol you're getting with raw kombucha. Keeping kombucha in the refrigerator until you drink it will help keep its level of alcohol stable, but if it ever gets warmer, it will start fermenting again. So it's impossible for the kombucha breweries to put an exact percentage on the label because the alcohol level will fluctuate, depending on storage.

The Problem With Kombucha Storage

Unpredictable storage may affect the alcohol level in any bottle of kombucha... and since most storage is unpredictable, most bottles were likely affected.

Will the amount of alcohol in a bottle of kombucha change?

Because real kombucha is fermented and not pasteurized to kill the yeasts and bacteria, and because it's not filtered, the amount of alcohol in kombucha varies from brew to brew and depends very much on refrigeration. If you take the bottle and let it sit, it could become more alcoholic (and more acidic, too).

Can I get drunk on kombucha?

No matter how hard you tried, you probably wouldn't get drunk on "nonalcoholic" kombucha, even if you left it out to ferment. You'd have to drink so much you'd probably get sick to your stomach before you got even a little tipsy.

Most beers are 4.5% alcohol, and most kombucha has about 0.5%. So you'd have to drink 9 bottles to equal a beer's worth of alcohol. It takes most people more than a beer to get drunk, so any way you do the math, that's just way too much kombucha for one person to drink!

Without pasteurization, any bottle of kombucha that sits too long unrefrigerated, or simply too long in a refrigerator, or simply rots for another reason, could have a significant alcohol content.

— James Hamblin in The Atlantic

Is kombucha safe to drink?

I don't want anyone to think that kombucha is unsafe. It's certainly as safe as any other raw, unpasteurized drink sold commercially. Although the validity of all the health claims (see list below) can't be verified, it's probably a fairly healthful drink for most people to enjoy.

However, drinking it should probably be avoided by some people. If you're worried, you should discuss it with your doctor.

Who should avoid drinking kombucha?

  • children,
  • alcoholics,
  • anyone who wants to carefully monitor their alcohol intake,
  • people with alcohol or caffeine sensitivities,
  • pregnant or breastfeeding women,
  • people who are on medications that don't mix with alcohol,
  • diabetics or people who need to watch their sugar intake,
  • people with weakened immune systems (those with kidney disease, cancer, HIV, etc.),
  • people with acid reflux or heartburn,
  • anyone who has candida,
  • those who have been diagnosed with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or ulcers,
  • and anyone whose religious beliefs prevent them from drinking alcohol.
  • Although it's touted as a gut-improver, some report feeling gassy or bloated after drinking kombucha, so everyone should pay close attention to how their bodies react to the stuff.

Can I drink kombucha if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

Although there have been no reputable large-scale studies on the subject, avoiding kombucha might be the safest bet for pregnant or breastfeeding women—not only because its alcohol content is questionable, but also because it contains caffeine and isn't pasteurized.

What are the purported health benefits of kombucha?

  • Gut Health. The probiotic bacteria in kombucha are very much like the good bacteria that occur naturally in your gut, so consuming probiotics may improve your overall gut health and support digestion. Probiotics have been used effectively to treat diarrhea and ease IBS.
  • Anti-Inflammation. Chronic inflammation is strongly linked to arthritis and can trigger numerous other problems, including arthritis, allergies, periodontitis, and maybe even cancer. (I have rheumatoid arthritis. If you do, too, you might want to try Homemade Ginger & Turmeric Tonic for Joint Pain.)
  • Bacterial Infection or Illness Prevention. A 2000 study found that kombucha killed microbes and bacteria, so it might help prevent gut infections or illnesses caused by bacteria.
  • Mental Wellness. A 2017 survey was done that looked at many kombucha studies and found strong evidence that suggests probiotics help with depression.
  • Lowers Cholesterol. Studies done on rats in 2012 and 2015 both found evidence that kombucha might assist in the reduction of cholesterol levels linked to heart disease in rats... although I can't find any studies done on humans.
  • Liver Health. Since kombucha has antioxidants, and antioxidants are proven to help reduce damaging molecules in the body, it can help the liver do its job. On the other hand, alcohol is not great for liver health, so
  • Cancer. Some think kombucha might help fight cancer cells, although no significant studies have been done on real people that fully verify this claim. One 2008 lab study found that it helped prevent the growth of cancer cells, and another conducted in 2013 found evidence that it diminished the survival rate of cancer cells.

Even though a kombucha beverage may have less than 0.5% alcohol by volume at the time of bottling, fermentation may continue in the bottle after it leaves the production facility, depending on how the kombucha beverage is made and stored. As a result, the alcohol content may increase to 0.5% or more alcohol by volume. Such a product is an alcohol beverage, which is subject to the laws and regulations governing the production, taxation, labeling, marketing, and distribution of alcohol beverages.

— U.S. Department of Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image

        Adam 

        3 weeks ago

        This is a really interesting topic I've been researching myself recently.

        I found a couple of interesting articles and facts on fermented drinks, kombucha specifically, and alcohol levels. This one is really explanatory: https://www.ombucha.co.uk/is-drinking-kombucha-hal... and there's a note on this verified on Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha

        There's foods I never even realised containing more alcohol than you'd actually imagine, which is quite fascinating but really obvious when you start to think about it!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, delishably.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://delishably.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)