The BBC Radio 4 Food Program

In this BBC Radio 4 program, broadcast on October 8th, host Jaega Wise talks to two finalists in the BBC Food & Farming Awards drinks category and investigates the health claims of kombucha.

The Old Tree Brewery, Brighton

We profiled this brand in Booch News in May 2019. Since then, they have continued to prosper.

Founder Tom Daniell shares that their kombucha is made from a blend of Assam and Sencha. They also experiment with local herbs. Oak and Mugwort lend a tangy fruitiness to the kombucha.

There’s a variety of beneficial acids. Acetic is primary, also gluconic, and glucuronic acid that is healthy and detoxifying. It’s not a simple drink; it’s quite complicated.

The challenge in selling kombucha in the UK is people know tea but tend to only buy what they know. The average person in Britain might not be receptive — they are resistant to people messing with their cuppa!

In the past two years, they’ve seen an explosion in kombucha brewing in the UK. Lockdown pushed people into it.

LA Brewery, Suffolk

William Kendall is an organic farmer and investor who was looking for non-alcoholic drink alternatives. He met Louise Avery, founder of LA Brewery, and invested in her company six years ago. He is now the company Chairman.

We invested in building Louise’s first brewery in Suffolk, where I live and farm. We’ve now built a second, much bigger brewery, and the business has grown from there.

BBC: Can you talk about how the market in the UK has grown?

The market in the UK has certainly grown; I wouldn’t say it’s grown exponentially. When I discovered Louise and what became LA Brewery, I thought it would grow very, very fast. I have to say I’ve been rather disappointed. I visit the States quite often; I’ve seen how explosive the growth has been there. I know it’s slowed down but at a very high volume. If you look at the range you’ll find in a typical supermarket or even in a bar, I assumed that by now, in the UK, you’d have a multiplicity of flavors and kombucha drinks on the shelf, and for whatever reason it’s taking a lot longer. And I have to say, after 30 years in the food and drink industry, I’m baffled as to why it is taking so long.

BBC: Could you have a gander as to why?

I think there’s a lot of prejudice against high-quality, non-alcoholic drinks in certain areas of retail. I think the traditional wine buyer, the traditional beer buyer – I’m talking about trade buyers, I’m not talking about consumers – I think they like the whole mystique and world of alcohol. I think if you’re a sommelier or in a good restaurant, you love talking about alcohol, about wines and how they’re made, and I think something that is non-alcoholic which aspires to the same status somehow is resented. And I think people who are the gatekeepers for those sectors, for some reason in the UK, are very resistant. I think they just don’t know what to do.

The market stats are very, very powerful, with over 50 percent of the British public saying they either don’t drink anymore or they want to drink less in a world where we are essentially overfed and over-watered. There aren’t many business opportunities like that, and yet the slow growth and the reluctance to seize the opportunity, I have to say, I find baffling.

Home brewing

Mark Ilan Abrahams lives in Bristol. He started brewing kombucha at home during the pandemic for fun. He likes the taste, which satisfies his craving for a drink that is cold, fizzy, and a little sour. Brewing his own is like having a “little living food pet in my kitchen.”

Health claims

Paul Cotter is the head of the food biosciences division of Ireland’s Teagasc — the research arm of the Agriculture and Food Development Authority. They aim to support science-based innovation in the agri-food sector and broader bio-economy that will underpin profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability.

Over the past decade, molecular methods have revolutionized the study of fermented foods, revealing how microbes affect the quality of these products and the gut effects of consuming fermented foods. Advances in bioinformatics offer more significant potential to enhance our understanding of fermented foods and their impact on the human microbiome and health. Integrated molecular approaches are changing how we think about microbial communities in food fermentation and their role in creating unique food products.

Fermented foods are especially important because they introduce live microorganisms and microbial metabolites into the gut, bridging the gap between the environment and the human body.

We employ foods, food components, and health-promoting microorganisms as food-based solutions to address key societal diet-related health concerns, including gut health, obesity, and infant nutrition. We also exploit microorganisms, microbial metabolites, and bacteriophage as agents to control deleterious or pathogenic organisms in food systems or the gastrointestinal tract.

Peterston Tea Estate, Cardiff, Wales

Lucy George is a commercial tea producer (in Wales!) who also makes kombucha.

Kombucha made from our own tea was a natural progression. When we process tea, we are often left with some broken leaf, which, although it tastes amazing, doesn’t quite make the grade visually for sale as loose-leaf tea. It adds value to what would otherwise be a waste product. Fermenting this leaf into a really special, premium kombucha gives us the opportunity to use every bit of tea we can produce here on the farm. We’ve grown all the tea and all the fruit that goes into it.

As they would say in Wales: Mae hynny’n anhygoel!

The Land Down Under

Kara Monssen, a food and wine critic at the Herald Sun in Australia, says kombucha “had a moment” in 2015 in Australia. The rise of the Instagram influencer and fitness model was a bandwagon kombucha jumped on.

BBC: Why is it so popular in Australia?

There’s an outdoor lifestyle that is a factor.

BBC: How available is it?

It’s available at any supermarket in the main cities. It’s become a cool drink to reach for when you don’t want a beer or a wine.

You can listen to the entire half-hour program on the BBC Sounds website.

PS. The fact the BBC has Food & Farming awards lends credence to my suspicions that The Archers is in fact a documentary, and Helen’s Borcetshire Blue cheese, the Grundy’s Tumble Tussock cider, and even Jill’s lemon drizzle cake would sweep the lot!

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