Under the new kombucha Code of Practice, can a drink still be called kombucha if it’s sugar-free, hard, filtered, dealcoholized or made from a syrup base?

Yes, says Hannah Crum, president of Kombucha Brewers International (KBI), the organization that made the code. But that variation needs to be defined on the label. Crum shared details behind the development of KBI’s new kombucha Code of Practice during a webinar with The Fermentation Association, moderated by fermentation author (and TFA Advisory Board member) Alex Lewin. KBI released the code in July with the aim to provide consumers with transparency.

The code is meant to  help the kombucha industry self regulate as it continues to grow, providing separate seals for both certified and traditionally fermented brews. This approach, according to Crum, leaves room for all types of kombucha. KBI is in the process of finalizing the definition for each of these classes of kombucha. 

“We’re going to see fermented beverages as a category proliferate,” Crum says, noting drinks like kefir, fermented sodas and kvass will all face the same regulations as kombucha. “We want that diversity. There’s going to be a kombucha for every time, place and flavor. Everyone will have a personal profile, and there’s going to be a flavor for everybody.”

Kombucha has gained huge favor among health-conscious consumers, and the industry has grown to over $600 million in sales. The beverage  has historically been made with a traditional recipe of tea, sugar and SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.)  But kombucha in its original recipe is a hard process to commercialize and today many brands sell kombucha in various forms. The code, Crum stresses, is not intended to ban any variety from calling itself “kombucha;” rather it’s a way to distinguish kombucha types for the consumer.

“You’re not obligated to use it,” Crum points out. “Purists will say we’re too lenient — those making it from a base don’t want to define it. Look, kombucha with a weird, globby thing floating in there is not everyone’s idea of delicious. We want there to be products out there that bring people into our category that maybe have a more approachable flavor profile.”

The kombucha industry has been plagued by labelling issues. In 2010, a health inspector found multiple kombucha brands contained more than the 0.5% alcohol limit required to be deemed “non-alcoholic.” In response, Whole Foods pulled kombucha from the shelves, just as the industry was starting to take off. After new ethanol testing requirements were put in place, Whole Foods again sold kombucha. But lawsuits — lately, within the industry — have continued. Court cases over alcohol content, sugar levels and amounts of probiotic bacteria have been filed in the last few years — cases most often pitting one kombucha brand against another.

Crum says that these legal actions have created unnecessary drama  and secrecy in the industry.

“Do I like that brands were narking [tattling] on other brands to the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau)? Or that they were instigating class action lawsuits against other brands? No, I don’t think that’s a great way for the industry to build themselves up,” Crum says. “It creates division, it creates chaos, it tears things apart. we need to be unified, on the same page.”

But Crum struck an upbeat note in conclusion.

“The category is just getting started,” she says. “We’re going to get more bubbly and more fun. We’re going to see more creativity, imagination and sophistication.”

Is plant-based meat the next major trend for fermentation? Specialists at the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) July virtual event said more product formulators are using fermentation to optimize food flavor and preservation. They predict using fermentation to create plant-based meat will be the next big trend. Culinary experts like Noma in Denmark are already discovering “uncoupling traditional culture-substrate combinations is a viable way of discovery in fermentation,” says Jerome Diaz, a doctor at Wageningen University and Research. He said: “Traditionally, fermentation as a means of improving food quality has been the basis for many of the foods we enjoy today. Examples of such food products include beer, wine, cheese, sausages, sauerkraut, among many others. Over the years, increased understanding of microorganisms and the unique functionalities they bring to food allowed the use of fermentation for the production of specialty ingredients.”

Read more (Food Ingredients First

In an effort to help struggling farms during the coronavirus pandemic, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is expanding their fermentation program. 

The upscale restaurants (Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County) have long been at the forefront of farm-to-table dining. But, like all restaurants in New York, Blue Hill closed in March when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Though co-owners Dan and David Barber are confident the traditional restaurant model will once again return, the brothers are troubled by the catastrophic impact on farms.

Blue Hill Farm and Stone Barns Center (a non-profit farm and educational center) have partnered to form a new entity resourcED, which surveyed over 500 farmers. A key conclusion — over a third of farms will not survive the pandemic. August sales at farms are expected to be down by 50% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and over 30% of farmers say they are struggling to cover expenses. 

“The excess product is a huge concern. That’s shaped our box program, our fermentation program,” says Andrew Luzmore, Blue Hill’s market forager. 

The resourcED survey was the impetus at Blue Hill to launch their picnic dining and box program. Diners can buy a picnic dinner and eat a farm-to-table meal on the farm’s patio or lawn (physically distanced from others), still allowing Blue Hill to purchase food from local farmers. This program allows consumers to pick-up a box full of produce, dairy products, seafood or meat, all sourced from local farms.

Blue Hill’s mainstay fermentation and preservation programs, used for over 15 years to maintain food flavor and nutrients through long Northeastern winters, have also been expanded, to absorb more of excess farm production.

“The focus on preservation program is bred out of necessity, and necessity breeds creativity,” says Cortney Burns, chef, fermentation consultant for Blue Hill and author of “Bar Tartine, Techniques & Recipes” and the forthcoming “Nourish Me Home.” “What we’re doing now with fermentation at Blue Hill rides on the coattails of what has been part of the backbone of Blue Hill for years. Working here has me looking at fermentation through a different lens these days. How can we be completely in service to good agriculture? How can we create a greater economy for farms?”

Adds Luzmore: “The fermentation program has definitely expanded a lot. We’re shifting more to helping farmers with excess product.”

For example, Blue Hill recently purchased  napa cabbage that would have been wasted from a Hudson Valley farmer. They are fermenting the cabbage, “making a delicious, nutritious  probiotic-rich food for our diners, whilst  buying up overabundant harvests,” Burns notes.

It’s conscious cooking, Burns says “We’re not just buying for the sake of preservation. We want to create variety.” Another example is how the Stone Barns Center is trialing preserving different beet varieties.

Fermented grapes and capers, buckwheat vinaigrette, peach umeboshi and whey tonic are among the creations Blue Hill has served picnic-style and in boxes. Some of the fermented food being offered is purchased from local farmers. Local cultured dairy — such as farm fresh cheese and yogurt — makes up a large percentage of their dairy box, for example.

“There are all these different ways we’re harnessing the power of fermentation,” Burns says. “We’ve had to shift our expectation of a restaurant kitchen. We need to make sure that first, the food doesn’t spoil, and second, that we have lots of probiotic rich food loaded with flavor to serve people.”

A picnic meal at Blue Hill is $195 per person and the boxes range from $45 to $170. Blue Hill is also donating boxes to families with food insecurities. 

Luzmore hopes other restaurants will innovate ways they can support local farms during the pandemic. “It’s almost impossible to buy exactly the amount a restaurant needs, especially now when there’s a greater need to support farms. Considering the constant and changing flux of product coming into the restaurant for the boxes and donations, fermentation allows for a more holistic approach of using excess product.”

“Chef Dan [Barber] has said many times throughout the launch of resourcED: we’ve kind of gone from being a restaurant to a food processing facility. Blue Hill is a fine dining restaurant. We still maintain that mentality and quality, but it’s at a different level. The scale, we’re now thinking of purchasing pallets instead of pounds.”

Special Note: Learn more about the new Kombucha safety and quality standards on The Fermentation Association’s Kombucha Brewers New Code of Practice Webinar (Wednesday, July 29th at 10am PT/1 pm ET). Hear from Hannah Crum, president of KBI, as she shares her insights into the Code and her experience in the years-long process to publish the standard. Register here for free.

Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) unveiled a kombucha Code of Practice this month, the first set of safety and quality standards for the industry. The goal of these guidelines is to give transparency to the consumer.

“This is about protecting kombucha as a traditional beverage,” says Hannah Crum, president of KBI. “Kombucha has to taste good and deliver on its health benefits. It has a reputation hundreds or thousands of years old. But you say the word ‘kombucha’ today and a lot of people don’t even really know what that means. We’re seeing products that don’t adhere to the spirit of kombucha.”

Crum will be addressing the new Code of Practice during a free webinar with The Fermentation Association on Wednesday, July 29.

The kombucha industry is exploding in growth. Retail data from SPINS shows kombucha sales were up 21% from 2018-2019, yielding $728.8 million in sales. But that growth has come with growing pains. Kombucha can now be found in most retail channels, sold in the refrigerated section or pasteurized in shelf-stable cans; brewed with a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) or processed from a base; fermented with higher alcohol content or made with sweetners. These different kombucha categories have been a sticking point with kombucha brewers. Over the years, various lawsuits have plagued the industry — most brought on by other kombucha brands.

“We’re an interesting industry. We’ve had some difficult lawsuits,” Crum says. “It’s created a lot of tension, a lot of secrecy, a lot of drama. The craft beer industry doesn’t sue each other. It flies in the face of what we view the industry to be.”

The new Code of Practice makes room for all types of kombucha, but ingredients and brewing processes must be defined on the label. A seal program will certify authentic kombucha —  made with tea leaves and potable water, utilizing a SCOBY and sugar or nutritive sweeteners. Additional ingredients — like flavorings, carbon dioxide, vitamins, minerals or probiotic bacteria — are only allowed if they do not exceed 20% of the finished product.

The seal certification will be granted based on standards outlined in the Code of Practice, but a third-party auditing firm will review confidential information from each brand in order to certify the product.

“What we’re struggling with, and it’s what every traditional fermented food is coming up against, kombucha doesn’t lend itself to mass production,” Crum says. “I’m a traditionalist, I’m not going to lie about it. But what I also recognize, we do not want one kind of consumer. We want a diverse range of consumers, with diverse tastes. Someone wants a zero calorie kombucha, while someone else wants a full-flavor kombucha made with SCOBY. They’re entirely different consumers.”

The Code was developed over five years, with input from various KBI members. But KBI did not apply for an official standard of identity with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the trade organization wants the Code of Practice to be an evolving, flexible framework.

“That’s the benefit of being self-regulated. We don’t have the bureaucratic red tape,” Crum says. “We’re not here to walk into your facility to chide and scold you, that’s not our business. What we’re concerned about is commerce, trade, promoting the category, helping consumers get excited about kombucha, and helping them understand the category.”

A food science professor weighs in on the Sqirl restaurant mold scandal. The trendy Los Angeles eatery is famous for serving toast on a housemade jam without preservatives. But allegations surfaced that Sqirl was making the jam in an unlicensed kitchen where buckets of jam were covered in mold. Dr. John Gibbons, an assistant professor of food science at University of Massachusetts Amherst, is an expert on beneficial and detrimental molds. He says: “Because I study this stuff, and I’ve seen some of the really bad effects of different toxins, I don’t really take chances with it. That being said, fungal-fermented foods are some of my favorite foods — I just don’t trust it happening spontaneously.”

Read more (Grub Street)

World-famous  restaurant Noma is getting a new head of their fermentation lab. After four years as director of the fermentation lab, David Zilber is stepping away and will be replaced by Jason White.

White most recently was head of the food research lab at Audrey restaurant in Nashville. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, White began a career as a fermentation consultant for restaurants and distilleries in Texas. He worked for two years at Noma before returning to the U.S. last year.

Zilber has helped to define modern fermentation. A creative with a love of science and arts, he’s become a mentor for a new wave of fermentation cooks and enthusiasts. In 2018, he co-authored the book “The Noma Guide to Fermentation” with Noma founder and director Rene Redzepi.

Leaders of the wine industry are asking the community to rally and appeal tax hikes. As the industry continues reeling from losses related to COVID-19, a new round of potential tariff hikes threatens the industry. In 2020, a 25% tariff imposed on certain European wines and cheeses was described by some as the greatest threat to the wine and spirit industry since the prohibition era. U.S. President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs in retaliation for a tax imposed in France on several large American tech ferns, such as Facebook, Google and Airbus.

Read more (Vinepair)

When consumers buy beverages today, they want drinks that go beyond simply quenching thirst. Drinks today need to meet consumer’s health needs, too — improving sleep habits, aiding gut health, lowering stress levels and boosting energy.

 “There’s this real explosion of outcome-based beverages in the industry at the moment,” says Howard Telford, head of soft drinks for Euromonitor International. “Ten years ago, it was easy to identify what was an energy drink. That’s no longer the case, clearly. Because every category now has some form of products on the shelf with a functional proposition. These ingredients-based category lines are blurring. Consumers are rethinking what’s our morning option, what’s our late afternoon option, what’s our evening beverage.”

Clean ingredient lists with functional appeal will differentiate brands. In a beverage trends webinar hosted by FoodNavigator, brand leaders in the beverage industry shared their insight. Here are six beverage trends for 2020:

1. More Consumer Need States for Different Ingredients

Modern beverages straddle between food and dietary supplements.

“Every time (consumers) spend a dollar on a drink or a food item, they want that food or drink item to do more for them,” says Chris Fanucchi, co-founder of drink brands Limitless and Koia. “Brands are starting to put more marketing on the front of their labels, that say ‘Hey, we help you with calming you or with inflammation or with pain or anxiety.’ As consumers start to see that more and more, they’re going to start to expect that. And the second they start to expect that is when the consumers are going to be demanding that their beverages have more and more function to them. So a functional beverage right now I think is definitely about identifying those need states that are more relevant to consumers today.”

2. Mindfully Purchasing Natural Health Products

Consumers are looking for ingredient lists without artificial ingredients (33%) and with limited or no sugar (35%), according to research by Euromonitor International. Sixty percent are following diets – lowering carbs and saturated fat, monitoring weight and tracking calories.

Holly McHugh, marketing associate with Imbide, thinks consumers will seek out healthier products at the end of the coronavirus pandemic. “Like a detox that you see in January because people have overindulgences over the holidays…I do think there will be a bump when people go back to their normal lives.”

“There’s absolutely a stigma against sugary products for your overall health. And people are really concerned about their health right now,” McHugh says.

However, McHugh doesn’t think brands will completely abandon sugar. Instead she hypothesizes brands will provide more options. Like a full-sugar, low-sugar and no-sugar drink, then drinks with alternative sweetener like stevia and natural sweetener like honey.

3. Rise of Cannabis/Hemp in Beverages

Consumers are experiencing mounting stress due to the pandemic and are seeking drinks with stress-reducing ingredients.

Estimates show legal cannabis sales will rise to $150-170 billion by 2023 according to Euromonitor International, mostly from North America. Huge innovations in CBD industry as proving hemp-derived drinks is a growing market. CBD-infused beverages grew by 500% last year.

“I think CBD is going to be a very big category,” adds Thomas Hicks, chief growth officer for Ojai Energetics, which produces various CBD products, including a CBD drink. “The consumer demand is phenomenal and you can see that online. About 90% of our business is direct to consumers.”

Ojai Energetics has seen sales increase 20% during the pandemic.

CBD is poised to become as big of a category as energy drinks. However, more clarity around CBD needs to be provided by the Food & Drug Administration. Thomas notes the FDA has not yet defined the different elements of CBD.

“It’s a race to the bottom if you don’t have really good branding and, quite honestly, a patented process,” says Hicks, who has formerly worked with big drink giants like Hansens and Coca-Cola.  

4. Cost Major Factor During Health, Economic Crisis

Brands looking to add more premium ingredients to their drinks need to note consumer’s pocketbooks. Howard Telford, head of soft drinks for Euromonitor International, said he predicts certain drink categories will decline because of cost in a COVID-19 era.

“This event (coronavirus pandemic) is translating to an economic crisis more than a public health crisis, I think we have to be very cognizant of price,” he says.

Comparing sales during the 2008 Great Recession, Telford says consumers will trade down premium products. “Affordable luxury” needs to be the focus of new drink launches, adds McHugh.

“I think cost will be a really important consideration given the uncertainty of the economy right now,” McHugh says. “Brands will need to introduce products that are affordable and meet those clean, quality, functional qualities during this time.”

5. Brands Need to Better Educate Consumers

As more consumers routines are impacting during the outbreak and they turn to healthy eating during, will they turn to kombucha over Coke? Telford believes so. Long-term, consumer’s beverage choices will change because of COVID-19. They’re reducing sugar, trusting health ingredients.

“When we decide to indulge, we’re conscious of the ingredients in those products,” he adds.

Especially CBD.

“There’s still so much education around CBD with the general public,” Hicks adds.

Research provides CBD helps regulate the immune system, and consumers are becoming savvier and seeking out that research, Thomas says. Key, he adds, is researching the specifics behind CBD brands. Brands should publish their lot number certification online. Consumers should easily be able to research CBD batches should go through two different labels to make sure they are acceptable and organic, he advises.

6. Shelf Brand Launch Until Post Pandemic

Faccuchi, who sold Limitless to Pepsi/Keurig last year, said smaller companies are struggling securing capital to launch. An entrepreneur, Faccuchi invests in beverage companies.

“Lots of clients, especially in the energy category, are having zero luck with retail meetings, confirmation of placement on shelves,” Faccuchi says. “They’re seeing around waiting for those opportunities. It makes it all the more difficult when there’s really no light at the end of the tunnel. These brands could lose a lot of cash over the next several months, they could go belly up.”

His advice to people wanting to launch a new beverage company: “Make sure the category you’re jumping into actually has a need. I run into a lot of entrepreneurs who build this awesome product out of different ingredients that you’d never hear of, and the unfortunate truth is some of those ingredients are just not supply chain ready. So you can’t get the price point necessary for consumer to actually try the brand, which is the No. 1 thing when you’re launching a new company. So make sure you’re identifying a need space that people actually have. Your best way to test that is online marketing.”

Find people in food and beverage industry that are looking to champion brands, he advices. “Those people do exist.”

INVIMA, Colombia’s National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute, released a “sanitary alert” against kombucha. The alert said: “It should be noted that ‘Scoby’ is an ingredient that has not been authorized by INVIMA for use in food and beverages.” INVIMA’s inspections found irregularities detected in locally-produced kombucha, and called out five Colombian and one U.S. kombucha brands for various “health situations,” like using the unapproved phrase “probiotic culture of Kombucha” on the label, conducting unauthorized alcohol fermentation and manufacturing the kombucha at a different address then what was provided to INVIMA. .
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Kombucha Brewers International (@kombuchabrewers KBI) released a statement supporting kombucha brewers. The statement reads: “Kombucha is an incredibly safe product to brew at home as well as commercially. As a traditional fermented food, it’s microbial makeup and the organic acids it produces ensures that it is well preserved even without refrigeration. The role of fermented foods far precedes other types of preservation technology such as refrigeration, pasteurization or chemical preservatives. …Colombia has a long history of using fermented foods to provide nutrient dense foods for their native population. Cassava, cacao and maize have all been fermented through traditional processes to create almidón agrio, chicha, champús, masa agria, guarapo and many more.”

Read more (KBI)

Hops used to be the biggest thing in beer to create a powerful flavor — now it’s yeast strains. Brewers are using yeast strains from around the globe for the best flavor.

According to the New York Times: “For some time, it’s been a hopped-up arms race as breweries regularly double or triple the amount of hops to create stronger aromas. With breweries using the same hops, many beers are starting to smell alike. … In search of distinct aromas, brewers are embracing yeast and bacteria strains from across the globe. They’re creating beers that let each type of microbe speak its unique language, and drinkers are listening.”

DeWayne Schaaf, owner of @ebbandflowfermentations Ebb & Flow Fermentations brewery in Missouri, calls himself a “yeast nerd.” He does not use commercial yeasts in his drinks, instead fermenting with yeast strains from Scandinavian farms, bottles of Spanish natural wine and Colorado dandelions. Few hops are required in his drinks as, during fermentation, the yeast converts sugars into alcohol for the flavors.

Other fermenters featured in the article include: @omegayeast Omega Yeast (supplier of yeast strains in Chicago), Berg’n (a beer hall in New York), @alvaradostreetbrewery Alvarado Street Brewery (brewery in California), @yeastofeden Yeast of Eden (brew pub in California), @bootlegbiology Bootleg Biology (yeast lab in Tennessee), @whitelabsyeast White Labs (yeast supplier in North Carolina and California) and Lars Marius Garshol (Norwegian author of “Historical Brewing Techniques: The Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing

Read more (New York Times)