At first glance a bottle of commercially available Kombucha looks a whole lot like one of the many boutique, iced teas being aggressively marketed to thirsty consumers. Twist off the top, and you hear that pressurized snap, and then, as soon as that kombucha redolence is liberated, you know this is not your quotidian iced tea.
Kombucha is a fermented, and significantly pungent, cold tea drink containing the basic ingredients of black tea and sugar. In my experience it is a little bit like drinking apple cider vinegar, but personally, I have yet to develop much of a taste for the stuff; however plenty have. According to market researching company, SPINS Inc., sales of kombucha and other “functional” juices in the United States topped $295 million last year, up 25 percent over a two-year period, and in 2009 alone, Americans bought more than a million bottles of GT’s Kombucha, the leading commercial variety made by Millennium Products. The drink dates back thousands of years, and has no real clear point of origin, but seems to have recipes and history in almost every Asian culture. While the unique pungent flavor alone is hardly enough to get thirsty consumers to pay upwards of $4 a bottle for Kombucha, the generous health claims, ranging from cancer prevention to skin care, make Kombucha an enormously appealing option for the willing and faithful.
This is great, right? Not if you are the Treasury Department or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
As of June, there has been somewhat of a crackdown on Kombucha by federal regulating bodies on account that the inherent alcohol content (usually around 0.5 percent) exceeds the legal limit for a drink not to be considered alcoholic. The Treasury Department issued a warning stating that kombucha may be subject to the same taxes and regulations as other beverages containing alcohol, and the FDA is working in concert with the Treasury Department ensure that Kombucha products are in full compliance with federal law. So as a result, Kombucha is disappearing from market shelves in a sort of soft and elective recall, and Kombucha lovers are feeling rather sour about this deficit. Natural Foods giant Whole Foods Market have removed raw kombucha, from stores, saying they won’t restock until they know more, and other retailers (and distributors) have followed suit.
As expected, many “booch-lovers” are crying foul on this form of prohibition (albeit likely a temporary prohibition) and sorely miss their daily Kombucha “buzz,” which is likely more easily attributed to the natural caffeine content than the negligible alcohol content. In the meantime, many of the faithful are looking elsewhere to independent Kombucha cultivators for their fix, as many have begun (long before the deficit) making their own kombucha, trading recipes and selling home brews.
So the market is being driven underground (at least temporarily) and libertarian Kombucha lovers are making a stink. For those of you who have tried Kombucha, or even love Kombucha, do you think this government interference is warranted? Would it be OK to sell drinks with a negligible alcohol content to children, or someone who is “on the wagon?” Will this dearth just breed more independent innovation and make Kombucha more accessible, in a micro-economy sort of way? What are you thoughts?