It pays to be especially careful if you’re interested in giving your child kombucha.
That’s because this fermented, fizzy beverage — traditionally made with black and green teas — may contain added sugar and small amounts of alcohol (1, 2, 3).
Kombucha is believed to have originated in China but has gained popularity in the West due to its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and blood-sugar-lowering properties (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Thus, while it may be a healthy drink, that doesn’t mean it’s always suitable for kids. In fact, some types of kombucha, such as homemade varieties, should be avoided for children, while others — the pasteurized, store-bought sort — are perfectly safe.
This article explores kombucha’s sugar and alcohol contents to explain whether it’s safe for kids.
Kombucha’s alcohol content
Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened black or green tea for 7–10 days with a special blend of microbes called a symbiotic culture of bacterium and yeast (SCOBY) (3, 5, 6).
During the fermentation process, the SCOBY feeds on the added sugars and naturally produces some alcohol.
Food industry standards require that store-bought kombucha maintain less than 0.5% and 1.1% alcohol by volume (ABV) in the United States and Canada, respectively, to be classified as a nonalcoholic beverage (7).
This small amount of alcohol is no different than what’s naturally found in foods like yeast bread, so store-bought kombucha should be safe for young children over age 4 (5, 8).
However, a Canadian study revealed that some store-bought kombucha brands tested above the regulatory limit, even in excess of 3% ABV (9).
This may occur in unpasteurized brands — those not exposed to heat to denature the SCOBY after fermentation — because the live yeasts continue to ferment even when bottled (8).
Similarly, home-brewed kombucha, which has unregulated levels of alcohol, may contain as high as 3.6% ABV (9).
These higher ABVs are comparable to some light beers, the consumption of which is discouraged for anyone under the age of 21 due to the risk of intoxication and brain damage (10, 11).
Thus, avoid giving your child homemade or unpasteurized store-bought kombucha.
Only pasteurized store-bought products, with their negligible levels of alcohol, are safe for kids. Read the label carefully to check for pasteurization status.
Alcohol is a natural byproduct of making kombucha. As alcohol content varies, avoid giving your kids homemade or unpasteurized kombucha.
Kombucha’s added sugar content
To start the fermentation process with the SCOBY, sugar is added to the tea. The bacteria and yeast feed on the added sugars to produce alcohol and acids (6, 7, 9, 12, 13).
Therefore, the final beverage is acidic and tart, and it may not be pleasing to taste. To increase palatability, some products are sweetened with juices and added sugars after fermentation (12, 14).
Here’s the sugar breakdown for 3.5 ounces (100 mL) of various kombucha products (14, 15, 16, 17):
As you can see, sweetened varieties may pack up to 46 times more sugar than unsweetened versions and 11 times more sugar than most sweetened sodas.
Still, not all fruit-flavored kombuchas are high in added sugar. For instance, California grape and tropical punch flavors from Health-Ade contain just 1.3 and 3.4 grams of sugar, respectively, per 3.5 ounces (100 mL) (18, 19).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that, starting at age 2, added sugar intake should be limited to less than 10% of daily calories (20).
That’s the equivalent of 30–40 grams (7.5–10 teaspoons) of sugar for lightly active children 2–8 years old who consume 1,200–1,600 calories per day. Keep in mind that calorie needs vary by age and activity level (21).
Depending on the brand, just 3.5 ounces (100 mL) of sweetened kombucha may reach over 400% of your child’s daily added sugar limit, while unsweetened or low sugar kombucha provides just 10%.
Be sure to read the nutrient label and choose a kombucha low in sugar for your child.
Sweetened kombucha is loaded with added sugars, while unsweetened or low sugar varieties are much likelier to be within kids’ recommended sugar intakes.
Will kids like the taste?
The fizziness of kombucha and its various fruit flavors may make it appealing to children.
Research shows that people develop a preference for sweets from early childhood. This means that children are more likely to be drawn to sweet beverages and may reject unsweetened kombuchas, which may have sour or earthy flavors (13).
For instance, my 4-year-old son enjoys 2 ounces (60 mL) of low sugar, pasteurized, passion fruit kombucha after meals on occasion, but he dislikes varieties with a strong tart taste.
Children may associate kombucha’s fizziness with soda. Notably, as long as you’re sure to choose low sugar varieties, kombucha contains less sugar than soda and may serve as a healthy swap for your kids.
Per 3.5 ounces (100 mL), grape-flavored kombucha contains just 1.3 grams of sugar, while grape soda packs 14 grams (18, 22).
Kids may associate the fizziness of kombucha with soda, but they may prefer sweetened or fruit-flavored varieties over unsweetened kombucha, which may be tart or earthy to the taste.
Is kombucha safe to give to your kids?
Store-bought, pasteurized kombucha is safe to give to children ages 4 and older. However, steer clear of homemade kombucha and unpasteurized varieties, as these may have higher alcohol content (5).
Furthermore, it’s best to choose products with less added sugar to reduce your child’s risk of cavities, childhood overweight or obesity, and heart disease or diabetes later in life, all of which are associated with excess added sugar intake (23, 24).
Limit your child to 2–4 ounces (60–120 mL) of kombucha — even of low sugar varieties — to stay within the daily recommended sugar intake. Be sure to limit other sources of added sugar, too.
Limit children ages 4 and older to 2–4 ounces (60–120 mL) of store-bought, pasteurized kombucha that’s low in added sugar.
The bottom line
Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened beverage made with black or green tea.
Store-bought, pasteurized kombucha contains less than 0.5% ABV, while home- brewed or unpasteurized types may contain as much as 3.6% ABV — comparable to some beers.
Plus, sweetened kombucha may exceed 400% of your child’s daily added sugar limit, while unsweetened or low sugar types provide just 10% or less.
As such, try to limit kids to 2–4 ounces (60–120 mL) of store-bought, pasteurized kombucha that’s low in added sugar, and only give this drink to kids ages 4 and older.
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