When you think of alcoholic beverages, it’s highly unlikely that you think of kombucha tea. But the truth is that kombucha does contain some alcohol. We examine how much and what kind, and whether you should worry about having one too many cups.
Does Kombucha Contain Alcohol?
The simple answer is that yes, kombucha tea does contain some alcohol. It is not usually considered an alcoholic beverage, however, unless it is made specifically to contain more alcohol than usual—so-called “hard” kombucha. More about that below.
For regular kombucha, the small amount of alcohol that is in the beverage comes from the fermentation process. As the bacteria and yeast feast on the sugary tea, they release three products:
- Carbon dioxide
- Lactic acid
These are all byproducts of fermentation. Keep in mind that vinegar is fermented, too, and it also contains small amounts of alcohol. The same is true of soy sauce, kefir, and sauerkraut.
To understand this, it helps to delve a little deeper into the fermentation process. Once you cover your kombucha jar and store it away, the beneficial bacteria and yeast in your SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) break down the sugar you added to the tea into alcohol and acids, making the tea more nutritious and providing enzymes that help encourage digestion.
That means when your tea is finished fermenting and ready to consume, there is going to be a little alcohol in it.
How Kombucha and Beer are Similar
When reading about the fermentation process above, did you think of beer? If so, that makes sense, as there are some similarities between the two beverages, but also some important differences.
Beer comes from malt and barley, while kombucha comes from tea and sugar. They both undergo fermentation, however. Kombucha uses a SCOBY to consume the sugar and create alcohol and acids, while beer uses yeast to consume the malt sugar and make alcohol.
The difference between the two is that kombucha uses bacteria and yeast, whereas beer uses only yeast. Bacteria removes some of the alcohol, so you’re left with a lot less of it—an outcome you don’t want with beer (so you don’t include the bacteria).
How Much Alcohol is In Kombucha?
Now that we understand how the alcohol gets there, the next question is: How much is left once the tea finishes fermenting?
That depends on the following factors:
- Fermentation time: How long was the tea left to ferment? This varies from bottle to bottle and batch to batch. The longer the fermentation time, the higher the alcohol content (up to a certain point).
- Type of yeast: Yeast that can ferment at lower temperatures will produce a lower-alcohol tea. Homebrewers may heat their kombucha to destroy harmful bacteria, and this will increase the alcohol content.
Commercially available kombucha tea must have 0.5 percent alcohol or less to be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage. Homemade kombucha typically contains 1-3 percent alcohol, which is not enough to cause any side effects as long as you consume your kombucha in moderation.
Which Kombucha Has More Alcohol: Store-Bought or Homemade?
In most cases, homemade kombucha will contain a little more alcohol than commercially available kombucha for a couple of reasons.
- Manufacturers have to follow rules: Commercial manufacturers have to adhere to strict guidelines as to how much alcohol can be in their beverages. To be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage, each serving must have 0.5 percent or less alcohol.
- Brewing process: Whereas home brewers tend to allow the kombucha to ferment naturally, commercial manufacturers often heat their brews to “burn off” any excess alcohol. This method is effective, but it can also kill some of the beneficial bacteria that we look to kombucha to provide.
What is Hard Kombucha?
Hard kombucha is a term used for kombucha tea that has a higher level of alcohol. These beverages are trendy right now as they have a reputation of being tasty and buzzy while still being “good for you.”
Hard kombucha differs from traditional kombucha in its proportions of tea, sugar, and starter culture, as well as its fermentation time (it’s fermented longer). These differences produce more alcohol, so the end product has a higher alcohol content.
Once the kombucha has more than 0.5 percent alcohol, it is considered an alcoholic beverage, and you must show appropriate identification when buying it, just as you would when buying wine, beer, or spirits.
How Does Hard Kombucha Compare to Other Alcoholic Beverages?
Manufacturers produce varying types of hard kombucha beverages with different levels of alcohol. Most vary between 4.5 and 7 percent alcohol by volume, which is about the same as beer or malt liquor. A glass of wine typically contains about 12 percent alcohol.
There is debate on how the increased level of alcohol may affect the beneficial probiotics in the kombucha tea. Currently, there is no guarantee that you’ll get a significant amount of live and helpful probiotics in hard kombucha because the alcohol can damage them.
Still, hard kombucha may contain more health benefits than other alcoholic beverages. It’s brewed from natural ingredients like black or green tea and bacteria and yeast, and it contains good-for-you acids that enhance digestion and increase antioxidant activity. Because kombucha is free of wheat and barley, it can also be a great alternative for those who need a gluten-free beverage.