Fermented foods and beverages were always very popular in Asia and eastern Europe, usually recognised by Western countries as not edible. The reason for popularity of homemade fermented beverages is not only caused by poverty, but also by the lack of access to beverages produced and sold in the western countries. Story of kombucha is long and originates from couple different counties as all of them had their own way of making it depending on the available ingredients. I remember from my childhood couple different homemade fermented beverages (including homemade wine that wasn’t available for me at that time). Sweet fizzy drinks such as pepsi or coke became available only at the beginning of the 90s. Why then kombucha became so popular in western countries? I’m going to show you one example.
Kombucha is reportedly the fastest growing product in the functional beverage market and one of the most popular low-alcoholic fermented beverages in the world. Kombucha sales have grown exponentially in the United States and Europe. Globally, it’s promoted as an “elixir of life” and touted as having health benefits for the digestive system and detoxifying properties.
BUT IS EVERY “KOMBUCHA” A KOMBUCHA?
KeVita started as a small brand in 2008 by a Certified Nutritionist named Chakra Earthsong. The beverage called “kombucha” was sold in eleven different flavors and was initially a cold-pressed, non-pasteurized product that required constant refrigeration. Chstorageakra was soon joined by Will Moses, an entrepreneur, along with a motley crew of other experts, such as Geoff Pfeifer, their Chief Science Officer and long-time fermenting fanatic. By the next couple years KeVita become a quite big brand.
Recognizing growing market of “healthy products” in 2016, PepsiCo purchased KeVita, a popular functional probiotic and kombucha beverage maker. In 2017, retail sales of kombucha and other fermented beverages increased 37.4%, and in 2018, kombucha showed a +49% dollar growth over the year. As you might know I love to dig deeper, especially when it comes to popular products advertised as “healthy” and produced by big companies. So when I stumbled up on the information that PepsiCo bought a small kombucha making company it immediately made me look for more information.
Kombucha false advertising lawsuit.
As usuall when big money gets involved thing gets wrong. Wrong for consumers. The Kombucha false advertising lawsuit alleged that in 2011 KeVita continued to assert the product contained live probiotic cultures even though pasteurization was added to the production process. In 2016 KeVita has been sold to PepsiCo for $220 million. And looks like the situation didn’t get any better for kombucha consumers. Unsurprisingly, given Kevita is a Pepsi-owned brand, they arguably approach kombucha with a more commercial mindset, than their more traditional-focused competitors. While most of the industry is quite proud to talk about how long they ferment their kombucha, Kevita is pretty quiet on the issue. The process of making kombucha by Pepsi is similar to the other brands. They use organic, non GMO black and green tea and add sugar to start fermentation process. And given that the sugar is largely just fuel for the fermentation process and that most of it will be eaten up during fermentation, it is a suitable source. The problem starts later. After brewing their kombucha, they pasteurize it, filter it and dilute it with sparkling water. Pasteurization by definition is a “partial sterilization of a substance and especially a liquid (such as milk) at a temperature and for a period of exposure that destroys objectionable organisms without major chemical alteration of the substance”. Which means that most of the good bacteria, yeast, vitamins and microelements that has been grown in the fermentation process will be destroyed. In KeVita’s product probiotics still exists on the label because they are added after the process of pasteurization. They are not naturally produced by the fermentation process itself. KeVita’s probiotics come from only one type of bacteria, being Bacillus Coagulans. If you have read the previous information carefully you will know that during fermentation process creates all sorts of probiotic bacteria, fungi and microelements.
Next thing is that KeVita intentionally adds supplemental caffeine as green coffee bean extract to their product. We can only assume this is because they want people to feel a real energy boost when they drink KeVita. And at the very end we have a sugar content: KeVita has even 45% more sugar than other kombucha brands.
How does it make you feel?
If you feel a bit fooled you’re not the only one. According to California law firm Bradley/Grombacher, LLP in 2017 the Kombucha False Advertising Lawsuit is Emma Brenner v. KeVita Inc. and Pepsico, Inc., in the Superior Court for the State of California. A California woman is alleging that KeVita is falsely marketing its Kombucha products by claiming the beverages contain live probiotics even though the product is pasteurized before sale. The lead plaintiff, Emma Brenner, alleges that KeVita and Pepsico are attempting to cash in on the recent increase in public awareness about healthy bacteria.
Brenner alleges that KeVita goes to great lengths to hide from consumers the fact that their kombucha is pasteurized. The Kombucha false advertising lawsuit states that KeVita attempts to dupe consumers by selling the product in the refrigerated section of the store alongside competing non-pasteurized kombucha products, even though KeVita kombucha is actually transported to stores in non-refrigerated trucks. Additionally, Brenner claims, that the beverage is falsely advertised as “handcrafted” to trick consumers into thinking that KeVita has maintained its small-batch roots. KeVita’s ‘pasteurized kombucha’ is perhaps more aptly titled ‘kombucha flavored tea’ because the benefits of healthy bacteria have been lost during that process.” The lawsuit notes that consumers have no way of knowing at the point of sale that KeVita kombucha is pasteurized. Brenner is seeking an end to the false advertising as well as a disgorgement of all profits received through deceptive marketing. The plaintiff is also seeking damages for herself and class members who purchased KeVita kombucha under the alleged false pretenses.
What does it mean for us – consumers?
Never take advertisement on faith. Read the labels, check what the producer says on their website. Are they clear about their production process? Do they explain how their kombucha is made? Is it pasteurises or it’s not? Always make sure what you get before buying, so you won’t feel fooled paying lots of money for something you can get really cheap.
Like most things in life, some good foods just cannot be packaged or processed. It always ends up taking away some portion of the quality or essence of the food when creating something “safe” and with a long shelf life. Which kombucha you’ll choose? It really depends on what do you expect from your kombucha?
Pros & cons of store bought kombucha:
- pros – convenience – no preparations, no waiting time,
- pros – safety – production process provides product safety,
- cons – price – simply if you like kombucha it will cost you some money,
- cons – pasteurization – this process deprives kombucha from it’s natural variety of good bacteria, microelements, vitamins etc.
Pros & cons of homemade kombucha:
- pros – health benefits – homemade kombucha is full of probiotics, other natural healthful by-products that occur specifically during fermentation,
- pros – sustainability – SCOBY is self-sustainable, since it propagates a new kombucha mushroom each time (to be used in your next batch, passed to others etc.),
- pros – inexpensive – homemade fermentation will save you a tons of money – ingredients are very cheap and easy to get,
- pros – quality control – you can choose what quality ingredients you will chose to make your brew,
- pros – variety – you are able to choose you favourite flavouring, sweetness, simply create your custom kombucha,
- pros – simplicity – uncomplicated and easy to follow process, doesn’t require any bigger knowledge or experience,
- cons – waiting time – kombucha takes about 7-14 days to ferment,
- cons – storage – homemade kombucha have to be stored in the fridge up to 7 days,
- cons – preparation – you need to keep the process hygienic, it means you will need to keep your tools and storage bottles clean and sanitised, also control the process of fermentation.
And what do you think about it? Which kombucha would you choose? Do you have a habit of checking labels on food products? Are you interested how and by who are they made? Let me know in the comments below.