What Kombucha Labels Tell Us
As with all foods, kombucha brewers are legally required to include nutritional information on their bottles and cans. This allows us to see the amount of calories and sugar in each brand.
However, labels in USA differ from those in the UK and Europe.
The United States
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for labeling. They publish detailed compliance requirements. The values come from independent laboratory testing. Interestingly, the regulations state “Regardless of its source, a company is responsible for the accuracy and the compliance of the information presented on the label.” Also, the “FDA does not have the resources to analyze products upon request. However, FDA will collect surveillance samples to monitor the accuracy of nutrition information. The manufacturer, packer or distributor would be advised of any analytical results that are not in compliance. Additionally, depending on circumstance, FDA may initiate regulatory action.”
In other words, companies are responsible for the accuracy of their nutritional information, unless, and until “surveillance samples” are taken. How often does that happen?
The nutrition facts label must include serving size, calories per serving size, calories from fat as well as the percentage of daily recommended values for fat based on a 2,000 calorie diet, plus vitamin and mineral content, expressed in terms of their percentage of daily recommended values.
Europe and the UK
The Guardian reports that
While labels in the US have been regulated since the early 1990s, the same level of uniformity was only recently introduced in EU. Last December , the EU passed a comprehensive provision on the required content and presentation of nutrition labels, which will become mandatory in December 2016, but technically in the EU the nutrition labels are still voluntary. The provision includes minimum font size for mandatory information, a standard presentation of allergens and required nutritional information such as energy – fat- carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt.
Key differences between US and EU nutrition labels
- The EU does not require the indication of the number of servings.
- Perhaps the largest discrepancy between the two systems how they communicate calories. In the US, nutritional labels must indicate the number of servings per container. In the EU, all calorie listings are based on 100 mL (3.5 oz).
The Guardian notes:
Each method has its advantages – in the EU, because all packaged items’ calorie counts are measured by 100g or mL, the metrics are the same, making it easy to compare the nutritional content of food items [e.g. kombucha vs. soda]. However, in the US, carefully researched portion sizes are meant to eliminate the need to do math at all.
In both cases, consumers who drink the whole bottle (doesn’t everyone?) must check to see either how many servings are included (typically two servings in a 16oz bottle) or how many mL (typically 275mL) and multiply accordingly. However, some companies in the US (like Whalebird Kombucha, see below) will report values for the whole can or bottle.
To keep things in perspective, take a look at the nutritional information of a couple of other beverages. You’d have to drink a heck of lot of ‘booch to match the sugar and calories of one serving of these beverages.
In addition to the ‘raw data’ required by law, we’ve come across a couple of creative labels, which help the ‘booch drinker decide on the buzz the drink will give them, as well as the flavor profile. Coincidentally, these were on cans not bottles.
Kombucha Town in Bellingham, WA indicates the caffeine content. The graphic clearly shows the can of Original Ginger pictured below has 32mg of caffeine per serving.
Kombucha Town CEO Chris McCoy states that “the amount of caffeine varies a small amount from batch to batch but it’s safe to say that it is 30-32mg per serving. Only a small amount of the caffeine is consumed in the fermentation process.” The graph below shows the caffeine for each of their flavors.
Whalebird Kombucha in San Luis Obispo, CA shows the flavor profile of their ‘booch. They also list the caffeine content per 16oz can (in the vertical gold bar to the right of the flavor image). Founder Mike Durighello states that he developed these graphics because he “wants to highlight the flavor, since we are a craft brew where flavor on top of the base ‘booch is important, and consumers can see this at a glance.”
With the Kombucha Brewers International initiative to quantify a standardized sour/sweet numerical value for different brews, expect to see more along the lines of the Whalebird label in future.
Here’s an example from the wine industry of a complex flavor profile chart listing differences in terms of: Floral, Citrus Fruit, Stone Fruit, Tropical Fruit, Honey, Creaminess, Minerality, Bitterness, and Herbal/Green.