ABSTRACT

Kombucha is a sweetened tea beverage fermented by bacterial and yeast cultures. Sweeteners, such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, and others are converted by yeasts into ethanol and then by Acetobacter and other bacterial species into a weak acetic acid solution that is diluted, flavored, and packaged into glass or aluminum cans for consumer consumption. Naturally, fermented kombucha contains 0 to 3% alcohol by volume (ABV). However, kombucha containing ethanol is concerning for pregnant women and young children for whom low levels of ethanol consumption (<3% ABV) create adverse medical outcomes. In the province of British Columbia (BC), Canadian beverages containing >1% ABV are regulated as liquor. This study assessed ethanol concentrations in kombucha collected from processors and purchased at retail venues in BC. Ethanol values were compared with the place of manufacture (country or province) and place of purchase (grocery stores, restaurants, farmers' markets, recreational centers, and processors). Ethanol (n = 684) levels were measured by using a headspace gas chromatography–mass spectrometry method with a detection limit of 0.0002% ABV for ethanol. Overall, teas contained mean and median ethanol of 0.77 and 0.62% ABV, respectively, ranging from nondetectable up to 3.62% ABV. Four kombucha teas (0.6%) made by BC processors tested over 3% ABV, and 31.5% of samples contained ethanol that exceeded the BC regulatory limits for nonalcoholic beverages of 1% ABV. Kombucha manufactured in BC had significantly higher mean ethanol values (1.16% ABV) in comparison to all other places of manufacture. Similarly, mean ethanol tea values obtained from BC processors (1.2% ABV) and restaurants (1.01% ABV) were significantly higher than those obtained at other retail venues. This study demonstrates the potential for alcohol harm to at-risk populations consuming kombucha teas sold in BC.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kombucha teas (n = 684) were purchased in BC, Canada.

  • Mean and median ethanol concentrations were 0.77% and 0.62% ABV, respectively.

  • Highest value of ethanol concentration was 3.62% ABV with a mass spectrometry method.

  • Samples (31.5%) were noncompliant with BC regulatory ethanol concentrations.

  • Samples processed in BC contained higher ethanol than other samples (P < 0.05).

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