As everyone orders gose, mead, and low-ABV cocktails this summer, you may want to consider sipping on another buzzy, kind of alcoholic beverage: kombucha. For those not familiar with the effervescent drink, kombucha is tea that's fermented using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. During this process, the culture turns sugar in the tea into ethanol, a type of alcohol. The bacteria consumes this alcohol and turns into vinegar, which is what gives kombucha its sour taste. However, some of that alcohol gets left in the drink itself. So, the question is, could that make you drunk?
The thing is, bottled kombucha that you'll find in stores has to comply with government requirements for non-alcoholic beverages, says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "This means that any kombucha you buy at the store will have less than 0.5% alcohol, [which is] a trace amount," she says. For perspective, a bottle of beer has about 5% alcohol, while a glass of wine contains 12% alcohol. (Some people who are sober choose not to drink kombucha for this reason.) Companies take this rule pretty seriously, and usually have to go through rigorous third-party testing to ensure that their products meet regulatory standards and can be sold.
Some brands, like GTs and Kombrewcha, sell kombucha with a touch more alcohol in it that's sold as an alcoholic beverage, meaning you have to be 18 to buy it. But even that typically isn't enough to give you a buzz. Considering how low the alcohol content is in kombucha, you'd have to drink about eight bottles of kombucha in order to feel anything at all.
On the other hand, home-brewed kombucha can be higher in alcohol, and can have as much as a can of beer, Davis says. While that might sound intriguing, DIY-ing is not recommended. Home-brewed kombucha doesn't have to go through the regulation process like bottled kombucha does, so it can be dangerous. In some cases, you could end up over-fermenting the tea or contaminating it with harmful bacteria or mould. According to the National Capital Poison Control, homemade kombucha has been linked to at least one death, a case of cardiac arrest, several cases of hepatitis, one case of severe muscle weakness and inflammation of the heart muscle, and anthrax.
So, sticking with bottled kombucha sold in a store is the safest way to go. If you're looking to get buzzed, then you'd have to drink a lot of kombucha to feel anything — and that's not really a good idea, either. Some people report stomach problems, yeast infections, allergic reactions, nausea, or vomiting after drinking excessive amounts of kombucha, Davis says.
This information isn't meant to be a total buzzkill. It's pretty normal to feel a little something after drinking kombucha, because it contains caffeine, Davis says. "Depending on how high the caffeine content is, it might energise you," she says. Ultimately, there are a number of reasons to drink kombucha, and some people simply enjoy the taste. But if you're looking for a drink that will make you feel tipsy, you may want to just go for the frosé cocktails after all.