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Kombucha tea is making a quiet return (News from the Natural Products Expo)

March 11, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • Kombucha tea is becoming available again, with less alcohol.
Kombucha tea is becoming available again, with less alcohol. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Kombucha tea, a fermented, sweetened black tea, is popular in alternative health-food circles. It's promoted as a tonic for a variety of illnesses and conditions.

But Kombucha products disappeared last year when the federal government announced it was testing the alcohol content of the drinks to see if they should be labeled as alcoholic beverages. It was common for the teas to contain more than 0.5% alcohol — the legal U.S. limit for nonalcoholic drinks.

Some manufacturers are changing their formulas to reduce the alcohol content while others may decide to choose to label a product as an alcohol drink.  The popular kombucha brand GT's Kombucha has a new product that will keep the alcohol level within the 0.5% limit. The company is also making an over-age-21 kombucha drink.

The variety in the market is causing some confusion, said Stephen Lee, found of Kombucha Wonder Drink. Lee's product, which as been on the market since 2002, is a pasteurized kombucha. Since it has no alcohol, it was not subjected to the recent upheaval.

"Pasteurization maintains the essential benefits of kombucha," Lee said  Friday at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim. "That's not affected by pasteurization."

Some retailers, however, may think the all-kombucha drinks are now alcoholic drinks for purchase by people age 21 and older only. Lee said he has heard of reports that teenagers have been unable to buy his product. Conversely, parents won't want the over-21 products to end up in the hands of kids. It could be a nightmare for retailers.

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