The Atlantic

Is Fermented Tea Making People Feel Enlightened Because of ... Alcohol?

The ethanol in kombucha has some regulators concerned about the popular microbial drink.
Source: Charles Krupa / AP

If it’s not fermented, don’t eat it.

That’s a rule from a best-selling diet book that a health guru—maybe you, or Gwyneth Paltrow—could write. The cover could be you and Gwyneth surrounded by honey and dirt, applying probiotic ointments, eating kimchi and smile-laughing over a cauldron of home-brewed kombucha.

Kombucha is a smart choice, because the drink has the fastest-growing segment of the “functional beverage” market in the U.S.—a category vaguely defined by one industry publication as “drinks with added functionality, such as ingredients and associated health benefits and functional positioning.” As in, water isn’t functional. Or, used in a sentence: “Kombucha now occupies about one-third of our refrigerated functional-beverage shelf.”

That’s according to Whole Foods. Overall, kombucha sales in the U.S. this year will be around $600 million, with projections for 25 percent annual growth. Last month, PepsiCo acquired the small kombucha company Kevita for around $200 million. At least in that way, the drink is functional.

The unique functional ingredient, meanwhile, is microbes. The recent

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