A Code of Practice for the kombucha industry
We interviewed Hannah Crum, the president of Kombucha Brewers International (KBI), the trade association committed to promoting and protecting commercial kombucha brewers around the world. On Monday of this week, KBI released the industry’s first Code of Practice, a food safety and quality standard for kombucha producers that creates transparency for consumers to make informed choices.
A flexible framework
The new guidelines aim to protect the integrity of the kombucha category while allowing for continued evolution and innovation.
KBI spent five years developing the code and expect that it will start a conversation among producers of the many varieties of product labeled ‘kombucha’. They have created what they see as a flexible framework that allows for continued innovation by producers. They recognize the kombucha industry is a diverse one and want the Code to be inclusive.
It was designed to not only unite the kombucha industry, but also to build consumer trust and understanding of the fermented brew – how it’s brewed, the ingredients and unique characteristics, and the different styles. The definitions and requirements defined in the Code of Practice will serve as guardrails for the industry and serves as the global unified standard.
The Code outlines the kombucha production process in great detail, from starter liquid and kombucha base to fermentation temperatures and pH levels. Microbiological standards are listed:
Ethanol compliance levels by country are listed. These vary from <0.5% in the United States and some European countries to <1.1% in Canada and a heady <2.5% in Colombia.
The brewing process flowchart reads, in part:
KBI expects seals will appear on bottles and cans which allow consumers to find a product that is right for them: pasteurized, from kombucha base, filtered, wild culture, and so on. Indeed, the Code of Practice aims to standardize manufacturing practices across the industry by establishing key descriptors and differentiators of the brewing and fermentation process, as well as the finished product.
Traditional kombucha tea, as stated within the Code of Practice, is defined as a beverage obtained from fermenting tea leaves, sugar and a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY); additional variations of kombucha can be produced from other acceptable plant materials, sweeteners such as raw honey and the like. In addition, the Code of Practice establishes standards for communicating key elements of the fermented beverage including sugar and alcohol content, added sweeteners, pasteurization, shelf-stable kombucha and more.
Hannah stresses the Code is not just for KBI members, or for those producing ‘authentic’ raw ‘booch.
If this Code of Practice had been released when we founded the organization in 2014 it would have been very straightforward: tea, sugar, SCOBY. Obviously, in the intervening six years we’ve seen a lot of innovation in the category. We’ve seen people who have a lot of different types of production processes.
To hear what Hannah says about the Code, the reasons it came about, and the impact she expects it have, listen to the podcast interview.