SEATTLE — PCC Natural Markets brought two new brands of raw kombucha to its nine stores last week.
Kombucha is a fermented tea growing in popularity amongst health enthusiasts due to its detoxifying and immune-enhancing qualities. But the drink has been harder to come by in recent weeks, ever since kombucha's alcohol level came into question in June. Because the fermentation process continues after the tea is bottled, by the end of its shelf life alcohol content can swell to as much as 3%. The problem is that most kombucha is marketed as non-alcoholic, meaning that it can only contain a trace amount of alcohol, or less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
Earlier this summer, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, pulled the drink to avoid labeling discrepancies. Shortly after, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau began taking samples to conduct tests and determine whether products were in compliance with federal laws.
The controversy kept PCC from sourcing two raw, or unpasteurized versions of the drink: Millennium and High Country. The retailer also stopped selling raw kombucha on tap.
“Our distributors stopped delivery and the manufacturers were required to have their products' alcohol content tested further for alcohol levels at the end of their printed shelf life and to create systems for regular testing and monitoring,” PCC's grocery merchandiser Stephanie Steiner told SN. “For kombucha products to be considered non-alcoholic for the duration of their shelf life, new recipes or shelter shelf life dates may be required.”
PCC's replacement kombucha comprises five flavors of Vibranz, an organic kombucha that is less carbonated but with a traditional kombucha taste; and Rejuvenation, an organic kombucha with natural effervescents.
“Both brands are compliant with requirements to be distributed as raw, probiotic beverages, with test results below the legally allowed limit of 0.5% alcohol,” said PCC spokeswoman Diana Crane.
PCC chose Vibranz and Rejuvenation not only since they are in compliance, but also for their taste, quality and ingredients, according to Crane.
Vibranz and Rejuvenation kombucha joins pasteurized versions sold at PCC. Pasteurized kombucha isn't subject to the same scrutiny as raw varieties since during pasteurization the alcohol evaporates. The process is also thought to do away with some of the health benefits.