Kombucha might be the ultimate oldie but goodie – it’s been around since 200 BC, it came on the food scene in the 2000’s and Lauren wrote about it and it’s questionable alcohol content in 2014. Now, it appears alcohol is not the only thing we should have been questioning when it comes to kombucha.
First, let’s focus on the good. If you’re not familiar with kombucha, it’s a fermented tea. At Foodtrainers, we’re fermented food fanatics. “Ferm foods” (we have a nickname for all foods) are great for your digestion, appetite, mood, and weight. I find kombucha makes an awesome wine replacement, it mellows you out with a negligible alcohol content.
Last week, I received my weekly Foodkick delivery, with a bunch of GT Kombuchas (god forbid I lug a massive grocery bag home with them). I was about to post a pic of my beloved “unicorn” Third Eye Chai flavor to Insta story, it’s a pretty much impossible flavor to find and makes my day to be stocked with them. When I flipped it around and scanned the nutritionals, as I’ve done a million times before, my eyes caught something new:
Sugar: 10g… 10g of sugar per serving?! I’m no mathematician but, 2 servings per bottle… 20g of sugar in a bottle (which is 5tsp, ok that’s my math limit).
I thought there had to be a mix-up. I’ve downed several hundred of these, thinking I’m having negligible (~2g) sugar per serving, there is no way 10g sugar would’ve gotten past me.
I posted my Insta story. Instead of my unicorn find, it was more of a WTF did I just find moment. GT responded with a nonsense message “it’s the same product you’ve always drank” and upon our further email-harassing, sent an extended version of the following:
The bottles that have the higher grams of sugar are the newer labels that follow the new FDA regulation stating the we now have to provide the total amount of sugar used in the processing of our Kombucha. The bottles that show the lowest/average grams of sugar are our older labels listing the amount of sugar left after the fermentation process which is what you have and will always consume. There have been no changes to the recipe.
At first glance, this seems legit. Fermentation requires some sugar, and during the process, good bacteria metabolize most of the sugar into lactic acid. The end product has far less — but it’s tough to be 100% accurate with exactly how much less. So, they are *now* required to label with the amount in total they initially use. This sounds fine.
But thanks to my Insta friends, I learned there was much more to the story. There was a sugar-testing study by Kevita (a GTs competitor). In 2016, they tested 8 different brands of kombucha. While brand names were not named (incredibly frustrating), the study says:
“For all manufacturers, a range of 6.7-13.0 grams of sugars per 8 oz serving was found (*in the final product, I assume). Samples made by Manufacturers A and B had the largest discrepancies, with sugar content 311% and 291% higher than the expected value, respectively.”
Again, not a mathematician but the increase from ~2g sugar to 10g sugar per serving found in my little Third Eye Chai GT is along the lines of 400% increase.
So we reached out to our friends at Pilot, our favorite lower sugar brand.
The labelling requirements have changed but they are not enforced at all. When we were adding nutrition info to our labels someone fairly high up in the kombucha world told me to flat out lie or guess because nobody was checking and sending out for testing is quite expensive and must be done regularly (for alcohol, not sugar but it’s the same test). If you look at some labels carefully they don’t even include sugar in their ingredient list, even though sugar is one of the main ingredients in kombucha. We like to say that the sugar is for the culture, not for you, and we include it on our labels as an ingredient of the kombucha like so:
Ingredients: kombucha (water, tea, sugar, culture), herbs, spices, love, fruit, what-have-you
The common fermenter’s wisdom is that the residual sugar in kombucha is treated differently in your body from just plain old sugars because it has already been metabolized by the microorganisms. This is purely anecdotal.
We dig a ‘fermenters wisdom’, we’re hippy dippy at heart, but shouldn’t food labels be standardized?
Lauren immediately ordered a blood sugar tester (love her) to self-sample, and I called my blood sugar guru/ sister, Sarah Swanberg, who has type 1 diabetes (and also happens to be an amazing acupuncturist in CT). I asked if she notices a spike in blood sugar.
She texted back immediately: “oh their labels are total BS. I have a blood sugar spike immediately. I keep it to ½ of one.”
Very interesting! While Lauren and I get on testing our blood sugars, here’s what you can do:
Always reread labels. Cut any booch with added sugar or juice. Our Foodtrainers rule of thumb is 4g per serving max, and keep it to 1 serving instead of the whole bottle. Pair your kombucha with a savory snack such as walnuts or pumpkin seeds. The brands we love are: Pilot (stocked in our office), Revival and Monbrewcha. Katalyst and Kosmic are good brands too. Kevita is lower sugar, but it was bought by Pepsi, we’ll let you decide.
We’re sad to see you go GT… but I’d personally rather consume all that sugar in the form of my wine nightcap or a cookie.
One last note, if you’re a Foodtrainee: We’ve helped hundreds of clients lose weight and improve their health, including kombucha. However, when information changes, we have to pass it along to you.
Ferm (probiotic) foods are still awesome; in addition to kombucha, focus on miso, pickles, kimchi, kefir, etc. We will stay on top of this and let you know of any more updates.