Kombucha is a popular beverage for thousands of yogis and recently the drink has been removed from the shelves of many (but not all) stores due to elevated alcohol content. The legal level for products not containing a warning label is 0.5%, and according to Whole Foods Market who was the first retailer to test the products, the levels is measuring up to 0.7% on the shelf.
Kombucha is a fermented tea made from a “mother” of yeast and bacteria, or culture, and caffeinated tea and sugar. The process of fermentation can take up to two weeks, at which time the fermentation process yields a beverage with the measurable alcohol content at approximately 0.5% (if you are home brewing, the only way to know your alcohol content is to send a sample to a laboratory for testing), because the beverage is raw or “living” meaning that the bacteria continues to produce acids and enzymes, the alcohol percentage can increase as the Kombucha ages on the shelf, not too different from the fermentation process of cider.
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So why do people drink this stuff? Many people, and especially yogis, are very conscious of what they put into their bodies. The goal is to put in that which will be the most healthful and sustaining. Kombucha, as opposed to a regular cup of green or black tea, can contain a wealth of health building chemicals and bacteria that support everything from digestion to a healthy immune system to increased energy levels. Some of the components that can be found in Kombucha are: Acetic acid, Gluconic acid, Lactic acid, B Vitamins, and a host of other amino acids, enzymes and polyphenols.
The makers of the Kombucha brands that have been pulled from the shelves including the popular brand G.T. Dave’s which sparked the controversy, are careful to acknowledge that is not a product recall, and that there are no safety or contamination issues involved in the products’ removal. According to G.T. Dave himself, the product meets the alcohol requirement when it leaves the production facility, and due to the fact that it is a raw, unpasteurized product, continues to ferment while on the shelf therefore increasing it’s measurable alcohol content. Whole foods was the first to “temporarily” remove the products from the shelves while the issue was resolved, and many other chains and independent retailers have followed suit.
This issue presents many things to talk about in terms of our practice as yogis. One of the studios in which I work, as many others across the country do, sells Kombucha right in the studio. Have we been promoting more than a “yoga buzz” all this time? Often students walk in the door for class with a Kombucha in hand, and in truth, as the Kombucha craze grows, I’ve seen more Kombucha than water at yoga classes for a while. I myself have been known to down a Kombucha just before or after yoga class with no ill effects that I can speak of.
Have there been yogis who enjoy the feeling that this imbibing brings them? Were we as teachers unknowingly promoting an intoxicant? Who knows? Though the chemically measurable effect post yoga practice is considered negligible, the feeling of euphoria that results is most likely unrelated to the alcohol from the pre-class Kombucha. I did have a friend once tell me (while fasting) that she was sure she was getting a buzz off her home brewed Kombucha, so I guess it is possible!
For now, I don’t think we have to worry about our Kombucha drinking students stumbling into class and slurring their words, but maybe this can be a lesson in the potency of our choices. If we choose our health, we often choose products and practices that can have a powerful effect on our minds and our bodies. In that way, Kombucha and yoga are very similar. Making the choice to partake in either one can be giving you way more than you bargained for.
Lastly, Kombucha fanatics can rest assured that there are still some makers of the beverage who fall below the legal alcohol limit and whose Kombuchas will remain on the shelves, and the leading Kombucha distributor, G.T. Dave’s says this will be resolved within a few weeks, and the popular drink will return to shelves across the country.