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Is your Kombucha real?

To , I have a story you might be interested in. As you know Kombucha has had an explosion in popularity with European market worth £180m and with its gut health other health benefits well documented.
AS CONSUMERS we expect foods to be correctly labelled. In the fast-expanding kombucha category, however - which has tripled in size since 2016 – many products sold as ‘kombucha’ are in fact adulterated variants that deviate from the traditional recipe. Some even contain added sweeteners like erythritol and steviol glucosides that, until recently, were banned from use in soft drinks within the EU due to their potential in sufficient quantity to irritate the gut-lining and cause bloating and diahorrea; the very digestive issues which real, gut-supporting kombucha is known to alleviate.

Yet few manufacturers of drinks sold as kombucha mention the industrialised processes their brands undergo, as required by food labelling
Reg No. 1169/1911.
When Gary Leigh launched kombucha into the UK retail sector in 2003 he foresaw today’s trends towards natural, low sugar soft drinks and alcohol alternatives. “Like other fermented foods that are also being processed to stabilise and extend shelf life yet are sold as the real thing, traditional raw kombucha made with basic ingredients and no adulteration or additives is now recognised by science as also conferring a benefit to gut health,” he says.

“When you start removing its individual beneficial components - such as filtering the yeasts or pasteurising to kill the bacteria - it’s no longer wholesome kombucha made in small, fully fermented batches,” Leigh adds. “Yet that’s what consumers assume they are buying into when they see the likes of Dr Michael Mosley and Liz Earle extolling the virtues of traditional kombucha on TV, only to then find an industrialised ‘kombucha’ variant in a supermarket.”

#TheRealKombuchaRevolution – a coalition of traditional UK craft kombucha brewers – is campaigning for greater transparency and label compliance to stop processed variants sold as ‘kombucha’ knocking traditional UK brands off retail shelves. “When processed ‘kombucha’ boasting ‘Proudly Australian made’ on the label is shipped 10,000 miles in plastic bottles to be sold in UK supermarkets, that can only grate,” muses Lou Dillon of Twisted Kombucha.

Despite winning 6 Great Taste Awards and with customers including celebrities and sports people, Leigh’s GO Kombucha range was delisted from Whole Foods in June after 13 years, leaving a bitter taste. “I built up the kombucha category from scratch, but money talks and we can’t compete by offering stores 3 months’ supply of mass-manufactured shelf fill. So traditional homegrown brands have united to call for a level playing field via label compliance and transparency; to safeguard our industry and livelihoods and to protect the consumer’s right to know what they are buying.”

“Transparency and honesty from ‘kombucha’ producers in the UK is paramount in order to educate consumers as to the attributes of the kombucha products that they are purchasing under the belief that they’ll all contribute towards better gut health equally,” says Genevieve Boast, Head of Sustainability at Equinox Kombucha.

Last week another traditional homegrown kombucha brand, Fix8, announced it is shutting shop, squeezed off the shelves by mass-produced variants that the health conscious will nevertheless buy believing them to be the same thing. “It’s a sleight of hand that is deceiving consumers at our expense,” says Colin Wynne, founder of Nutra Kombucha. “It has to stop.”

For more info about #TheRealKombuchaRevolution of UK craft kombucha brewers email or call Gary on 07956 228141 or Genevieve on 07876 504399

i) FOOD LABELLING REGULATION NO. 1169/2011 "If the food has been processed in some way, the process must be included in the title, for example ‘smoked bacon’, ‘salted peanuts’, ‘dried fruit’...A processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during preparation..."
ii) PRESS AND CONSUMER CONFUSION This article in the Good Health section of The Daily Mail (14/09/21) perfectly illustrates the widespread confusion and misconception about what kombucha actually is, among journalists and consumers alike. If the kombucha brands featured by The Daily Mail were traditionally made, by hand in small batches, they would each yield a similar if not identical range of benefits afforded to the consumer. Yet each are processed in different ways and contain varying levels of the microbial activity you would expect to find in homemade kombucha and traditionally brewed ranges. As such this feature perpetuates the misunderstanding around what kombucha really is