Pasteurized vs. Organic Raw Kombucha

Unpasteurized kombucha delivers a potent combo of probiotics and bold taste. But how does raw booch stack up with its pasteurized counterparts? Find out here.

Food labels in the modern marketplace can be a wealth of helpful information, but only if you know what you're looking for. Different types of certifications can leave the busy consumer with the wrong impression, potentially undercutting the ability to make healthy choices. 

The same goes for kombucha—understanding the nutritional basics will make a world of difference. We may pick up our favorite booch flavors for the taste, but the healthy outlook is what keeps us coming back to the kombucha lifestyle.

So, what are the main contrasts between one kombucha and the next? How does the pasteurization process affect the bottom line? What are the benefits of going with raw and organic kombucha brands? Understanding what's in the bottle is an essential part of choosing a favorite type of kombucha. Read on for more about the differences between raw and pasteurized options, and how to get the most out of every bottle of booch.

Kombucha in the Raw: A Long-Time Favorite

If you were an intrepid trader working the Silk Road, you might have had spices, glassware, or exotic stones in your wagon. You also might have had a tasty fermented tea, which was already popular when the Silk Road opened for business in the second century BCE. By the time of Marco Polo's Silk Road adventures, versions of kombucha had been around for more than a millennium.

For merchants traversing the long roads and sea routes of the Silk Road (despite the name, it wasn't really a single road), kombucha was an ideal traveling companion. The fermentation process used back in the day was also similar to how modern raw kombuchas are made. 

Specific yeast and bacteria (also known as SCOBY—a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), sugar, and tea are combined and left to culture at a specific temperature. The sugar feeds the yeast and bacteria and the byproducts of alcohol and carbon dioxide are released.

But the key has always been cultivating the right kinds of bacteria. The colonies of bacteria remain alive during and after fermentation, ultimately delivering the gut-health benefits booch lovers enjoy. Much like the probiotics in yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, the good types of bacteria gave ancient humans the same health boost we experience today.

What Makes it Raw?

Kombucha is considered raw if it is never heated beyond a certain temperature, allowing the variety of bacteria to multiply. Some of the top producers make sure that the kombucha is never heated above 75 degrees, creating ideal conditions for good bacteria to flourish. Once the kombucha is cooled and bottled, the fermentation process stops and those colonies no longer multiply but remain in a stable existence.  

How Kombucha Pasteurization Works  

Pasteurizing kombucha, on the other hand, radically alters the brewing process. Instead of keeping the brew below a temperature threshold so as not to harm the naturally occurring bacteria, the brew is deliberately heated to kill all bacteria. For commercial producers of pasteurized kombucha, the belief is that it is better to kill off any potential pathogens than to keep the beneficial bacteria alive and well.

RELATED: Organic vs. Conventional Kombucha: Making the Best Choice for Your Health

The temperature used in the pasteurization process is also extreme when compared to that of raw versions of kombucha. Most state agricultural departments recommend that pasteurized kombuchas be heated to 180 degrees, which is more than double the temps used for unpasteurized versions. 

This fundamentally alters the concoction and destroys the probiotics that otherwise would have developed. Although generally acceptable for mass production, pasteurized kombucha ends up undoing thousands of years of kombucha tradition.

Probiotics in Unpasteurized Kombuchas

In a world of over-pasteurization, many kombucha newbies view pasteurized kombucha as a safer option. Because we pasteurize milk, yogurts, and most juices, we're used to the idea of zapping some of the nutrition in the name of safety.

But live probiotics are also the keys to delivering most of the health benefits we've enjoyed since the very beginning. Many of these pro-pasteurization manufacturers artificially add probiotics to supplement their kombuchas with bacteria, but those bacteria are not as numerous or diverse. Meanwhile, naturally occurring probiotics have been tied by health studies to a wealth of potential benefits, such as:

  • Aiding digestion issues (e.g., Lactose intolerance, IBS)
  • Helping with respiratory infections
  • Improving skin issues (e.g., eczema)
  • Mitigating the effects of gum disease

This doesn't mean raw kombucha will instantly improve your health outlook—experts overwhelmingly recommend using kombucha as one component of a healthy lifestyle. But nutritionists also favor natural probiotics over supplements. While natural probiotics have a positive track record in the lab, probiotic supplements are much less proven and researchers remain skeptical.

How Safe is Certified Organic Raw Kombucha?

The debate over food safety has completely changed alongside kombucha's rise in popularity. Modern consumers now have much better tools for determining what food and beverages are the safest and most nutritious. Diets that are low in GMOs (or genetically modified organisms) and rich in fresh, organic ingredients have a significant edge in creating a healthy lifestyle. For anyone looking for healthy habits, certified organic raw kombucha fits right in.

A kombucha that is certified organic means it has at least 95% organic ingredients in the bottle. In many cases, it's closer to 100%. The organic certification also means there are no GMOs. With every bottle from a top producer, raw booch drinkers know they are consuming the purest and freshest ingredients available. Raw kombucha is a safe, carefully made beverage designed to deliver maximum taste and nutrition.

RELATED: 7 Kombucha Side Effects You Didn't Know About

Non-organic kombuchas, meanwhile, are not held to the same standards and can also come in pasteurized forms. Some producers might describe their products as “Made with Organic” elements, which means they can contain up to 30% non-organic ingredients. While the pasteurization process kills both the good and bad bacteria, consumers have much less clarity about what they're drinking. Because of the transparency and health boost, raw organic kombuchas are the gold standard for a reason.

The One Exception to the Rule

At the store, kombucha is best raw and unpasteurized. But many kombucha enthusiasts also like to create their own concoctions at home. This can be a fun way to try out new flavors and learn the basics of the process, but homemade brews simply can't be as safe as the ones produced by professionals. The best kombucha makers have full control over the production, ensuring the highest possible standards. Any homemade kombuchas should be fully pasteurized to improve the brew's safety outlook.

A Change in How We View Raw Foods and Beverages

Eating raw foods used to be limited to a handful of fruits and vegetables. These days, raw-food enthusiasts consume a range of raw foods and beverages, from chickpeas and unpasteurized honey to wheatgrass juice. The goal is to maximize the potential of every food, replacing expediency with nutritional discipline. But even with the potential benefits, it can be difficult (and expensive) to stick solely to raw foods.

Raw kombucha can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to lean into the raw-food trend. Whether a consumer wants to be exclusive or casual with a raw-food diet, unpasteurized kombucha fits into a lifestyle designed to enhance nutrition while eliminating unnecessary ingredients. It also tastes miles better than wheatgrass.

The Best Way to Make Raw Kombucha

The nutritional punch you receive in every bottle comes down to the quality of the kombucha production. The highest quality kombucha has a carefully refined production process devoted to letting good bacteria thrive while using only the best ingredients. Beyond the taste and nutrition, the top raw kombucha producers have a positive impact on the community and environment.

We like to keep things raw and organic, just like kombucha was originally intended. We ensure our brews are crafted in the ideal environment for making kombucha.  We also maintain our brews at a precise temperature to keep the good bacteria safe and sound. Even the sugar we use to feed the bacteria is organic. We were also the first national kombucha company to become B Corp certified, showing our commitment to benefiting both the environment and the greater community.

Brew Dr’s many unique and delicious flavors are excellent ways to discover your favorite variety of raw kombucha. Take a look at our delicious concoctions—you’re sure to find the one that will make it impossible to go back to pasteurized kombucha.

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