Kombucha — the fermented tea drink long appreciated by a certain generation of organic food lovers for its probiotic promises — is facing an ages-old problem as it becomes increasingly more mainstream, with more brand recognition and Whole Foods shelf space. Now, it’s receiving attention from the feds.
According to The Associated Press, kombucha producers are facing pressure from federal regulators to identify the alcohol content of their products, or face fines.
Although kombucha is known to contain a small amount of alcohol, that level has been considered negligible, until now. The fermented drink is now “in the sights” of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) because fermentation can sometimes make the concoction too alcoholic for it to be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage, and because kombucha has grown into a $600 million dollar industry, according to retail analysts at Markets and Markets.
At the moment, some producers are fighting the current marker for an alcoholic beverage —.5 percent — saying the value is too small to result in intoxication, and that certain fruits can reach the same level of fermentation when simply left alone on store shelves. Meanwhile, the TTB is less than sympathetic.
“What we’re concerned about here is that when a consumer picks up a product, they know the product is alcoholic,” TTB spokesman Hogue told the AP.