In the past couple of blogs, we have been discussing how probiotics are popping up everywhere - in coffee, cereal, dog food, and cleaning products. We explained spore-forming bacteria and why they are convenient to the manufacturer but may have no benefit to the consumer. Then, we took a closer look at kombucha -- we went over the ingredients in the drink, the heavy sugar load often associated with these drinks, common homebrew issues, some risks for biological and chemical contaminants and even cited a few extreme cases where the drinks were linked to consumer deaths. If you haven’t read those blogs, you may want to start there:
Here, we are going to take a closer look specifically at commercially produced kombucha brews and our concerns with the industry.
A number of small kombucha companies have sold to larger drink manufacturers in recent years. For example, KeVita was bought by Pepsico in late 2016 and more recently Coca-Cola has invested $20 million in Health-Ade in May 2019. Often with growth and expansion comes the need for new ways of doing things in an effort to scale-up and fulfill orders. It is hard to say for sure, but it seems that buy-outs and rapid growth have ultimately lead to product changes. One article noted that KeVita kombucha was originally crafted as a raw fermented beverage but the company later switched to, “...a manipulated and pasteurized formulation that allows for mass production and increased profits.” We will look at this particular case in more detail later.
The top three commercially produced kombucha brands in the USA include GT’s Living Foods, Pepsi’s KeVita and Coca-Cola backed Health-Ade -- all of whom have been through various beverage-producing hurdles in recent years.
In 2017, GT’s Kombucha and Whole Foods Market reached an $8.2 million class-action settlement over allegedly false claims regarding the alcohol and antioxidant content of their drinks. The settlement required financial restitution as well as changes to the product labels, specifically that they stop using the term “antioxidant” on the packaging, and they add warnings that the product does contain alcohol, and correctly reflect sugar content on the labels.
Later that year, in October 2017, a false advertising class-action lawsuit was filed against KeVita/Pepsico over allegations that they deceived consumers into believing that the drinks contained live probiotics that were produced from fermentation. Documents submitted by a consumer make some valid points, she alleges that at some point after 2011 KeVita, “...shifted from its original raw and unpasteurized formulation for a manipulated and pasteurized formulation.” She goes on to explain that the final products do not contain the live probiotics promoted by the company, “The bacteria killed during the pasteurization process includes, among others, the very probiotics touted on the KeVita website…”
In order to work around this problem, companies like GT Living Foods and KeVita are adding in select bacteria strains after the pasteurization step. In the KeVita lawsuit, the consumer argued that this is still deceptive because consumers have been led to believe that KeVita’s kombucha was, “...fermented without subsequent pasteurization and contained beneficial organic acids yielded from the fermentation and live probiotics which were (also) derived from that original fermentation and not subsequently added to the product after pasteurization.”
The organization, Kombucha Brewers International (KBI), commented on some of these lawsuits and noted that they are attempting to develop a ‘standard of identity’ for kombucha. At a minimum kombucha should include tea, sugar and SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). In their opinion, if you don’t have these three basic components you don’t really have kombucha.
Health-Ade Kombucha and Whole Foods Market were hit with a class-action lawsuit in March 2018 -- a consumer alleged that the beverages, purchased at Whole Foods, do not warn that the drink contains alcohol. The consumer said that the drinks may contain more than twice the alcohol allowed for non-alcoholic beverages and that the sugar content of the beverages is understated to make them appear healthier. A year later it was announced that Health-Ade and Whole Foods would settle the claims in a deal costing just under $4 million dollars. Health-Ade agreed to change the labeling to include alcohol warnings and also to tweak their recipe to control for the amount of alcohol produced during the fermentation process.
This brings us back to our first blog in this series - Probiotics in Your Coffee? Granola Bar? Cleaning Products? -- the trick to putting what we usually consider fragile, living, bacterial cells into all of these drinks is done by using “unconventional” bacteria that form spores, also known as endospores. Spores are dormant or vegetative cells. As we wrote in our earlier blog, but feel it important enough to repeat here: since they are dormant they are highly resistant to just about anything thrown at them both physically and chemically, which makes them ideal for manufacturing, shipping, and storage! In fact, studies have shown that they can survive extreme levels of heating, freezing, drying and even radiation -- so refrigerated storage is not required! How convenient! But wait, if a spore is an inactive vegetative bacteria -- does it do anything useful? Probably not.
KeVita uses the spore-forming bacteria known as Bacillus Coagulans MTCC 5856 (Lactospore®) and GT’s Living Foods adds in Bacillus Coagulans GBI-30 as well as the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. One study on LactoSpore® stated that, “B. coagulans MTCC 5856 (LactoSpore®) is a probiotic endospore which can survive for decades in hostile environments without dividing.” Which leaves us wondering, if they aren’t ‘waking up’ from their dormant spore state -- how are they benefitting us when we consume them? The reality is, we are probably drinking them in one end and eliminating them out the other end in the same inactive spore state.
If the real probiotics, produced during the natural fermentation process are removed during the heat-treatment (pasteurization) step, and the probiotics added back later are inactive spores -- these drinks obviously leave something to be desired in terms of probiotic benefits. If you really want to experience the benefits of taking probiotics, Natren’s strains are backed by numerous scientific studies both in the lab and in human clinical trials. We are committed to providing you with the best probiotics in the world and we have been doing it for over 35 years!
We invite you to take a look at our world-class manufacturing process that takes place in Westlake Village, California, USA. Learn more about the extensive efforts we go through to make sure our probiotics are properly packaged, shipped and stored since they are fragile, live bacterial cells. Review some of the incredible science we have backing our probiotics including a new gluten-sensitivity study recently presented at Digestive Disease Week in San Diego, CA. And finally, browse our probiotic products for the one that is right for you or your kids or contact us for assistance in selecting the right probiotic for your individual needs.