What Is Raw Kombucha?

Raw Kombucha, Anyone?

When you think of raw foods, you may imagine sushi, carpaccio or steak tartare. These raw dishes are considered delicacies and people spend a pretty penny to get the best. But what about raw kombucha? What is it and is it safe?

We get asked this question quite a bit and there are some misconceptions about raw kombucha floating around out there so we decided to get to the bottom of it once and for all. Kombucha is raw, except when it’s not. It all depends on how it’s made.

Raw vs. Pasteurized

Every manufacturer, even home brew makers, create kombucha in their own way after including the basic ingredients necessary for brewing, namely water, tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria (or starter). Traditional kombucha, however, the kind that may date back thousands of years, is made adhering to a precise process and a mixture of certain ingredients. Since kombucha is, at its core, fermented tea, keeping the beneficial bacteria that is created alive and well is part of the process.

Here’s where things can go in a different direction: if the brew is heated above a certain temperature during the fermentation process, the beneficial colonies of bacteria are killed along with the harmful colonies of bacteria. Commercial orange juice, for instance, is almost always pasteurized by heating it to a high temperature for a short time to kill any pathogens that may be present. For many kombucha drinkers, the colonies of beneficial bacteria are precisely why they choose kombucha over other beverages.

Some brewers make the decision to overheat their kombucha in order to safeguard against any harmful bacteria from forming. This is more likely in home kitchens, where sanitation and precautions may not be up to par with that of commercial manufacturers. Because kombucha ferments for a long period of time, you can see how easy it would be for a small amount of harmful bacteria to grow rapidly and contaminate the entire batch.

Most commercial manufacturers, on the other hand, have more control and awareness of the sanitation precautions in their manufacturing facilities. They must adhere to certain FDA regulations that inherently makes contamination difficult. To be safe and to stop the alcohol formation, however, some manufacturers choose to pasteurize their kombucha. In order to provide the beneficial bacteria consumers want, they supplement with probiotics after the fermentation process. Their kombucha is still not considered raw, however. Once heated to these temperatures, kombucha is now pasteurized.

Is there a difference between naturally-occurring bacteria strains and the bacteria added in after the brewing process? An interesting study found nearly 10 trillion colony-forming units of “good” bacteria were found in fermented products like kombucha, compared with 10 billion commonly found in supplements.

Is Raw Kombucha Safe?

Raw kombucha is safe to drink, just as yogurts, kefir and sauerkraut are safe to eat. There is a caveat: doctors typically advise pregnant patients to avoid unpasteurized products. While the risk for consuming harmful bacteria in raw kombucha is extremely low, some doctors still list it as one of many products to avoid during pregnancy.

So, to break it down simpler: raw kombucha contains a wide range of naturally-occuring, safe bacteria strains. Pasteurized kombucha is not raw.

If you want to be sure you’re getting the beneficial bacteria strains that are unique to traditionally-brewed, raw kombucha, you may have to go beyond reading labels. Not all manufacturers post on their labels whether their kombucha is raw. Check their website if you’re unsure or give them a call and ask.

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