ATK Reviews

I Don’t Drink Alcohol. Can I Drink Kombucha?

This popular health drink is nonalcoholic according to the FDA, but that doesn’t exactly mean it’s alcohol-free.

Published Jan. 6, 2023.

Kombucha has some serious stans—and for good reason. This fermented tea tastes refreshingly bubbly and tart, sometimes with fruity and/or floral notes. Plus, it’s touted as a source of health benefits from its antioxidants and probiotics.

These days, it lines the shelves of natural foods markets and is mentioned in the same breath as smoothies and other healthy drinks, but kombucha is nothing new—it’s actually been around for over 2,000 years.

If you’re avoiding alcohol, you may be considering sipping kombucha in lieu of a cocktail. But because it’s fermented, is it really alcohol-free? 

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How Is Kombucha Made?

Kombucha is typically made by combining either sweetened black or green tea with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast). It’s left to ferment for days or sometimes weeks.

The SCOBY’s yeast is responsible for most of the alcohol production, eating the sugar in the tea and converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria then breaks down the alcohol to produce acetic acid, which is responsible for much of the flavor in kombucha.

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Does Kombucha Contain Alcohol?

Technically, yes—commercial kombucha does contain a small amount of alcohol, even when it’s labeled “nonalcoholic.” (This doesn’t include the many commercial hard kombuchas available that typically contain around 4.5%–7% alcohol by volume, or ABV, depending on the brand.)

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a beverage can contain up to 0.5 percent ABV and still be considered nonalcoholic in the U.S. Same goes for the many nonalcoholic spirits on the market today.

If you're making kombucha at home—which we have a recipe for in The Complete Guide to Healthy Drinks—it can be tough to determine the ABV because fermentation is an inconsistent process, so results may vary.

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So, Can You Drink Kombucha If You Don’t Drink Alcohol?

Because of the trace amounts of alcohol in nonalcoholic commercial kombucha, it’s important to approach consuming kombucha in a way that works for you. 

If you completely avoid alcohol, you might want to skip kombucha since it technically does contain alcohol. Especially if you’re in recovery, beware of any triggers and proceed with caution. 

For those who have a little more flexibility, keep in mind that other foods we consume have similar trace amounts of alcohol due to the presence of ethanol, including fruit juice, ripe bananas, and bread. With this information, you can make an informed decision about what’s right for you.

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