Citing concerns over its alcohol content, Whole Foods has pulled leading brands of kombucha off the shelves in its stores. Kombucha is generally thought to have less than 0.5% alcohol-by-volume, but since it is a live, raw food that continues to ferment even once it's bottled, I can imagine its alcohol content varying from bottle to bottle. That said, I have never heard of anyone getting drunk from kombucha, and I have known teetotalers and recovering alcoholics who have consumed it without any problems. In my experience, kombucha's acidity is sufficient to prevent anyone from binging on it. For reference, weak American beer starts at 4.0%, so even assuming that kombucha can creep up to 0.75% ABV, say, you'd need to drink more than 5 bottles of it to get the amount of alcohol you get from one bottle of weak beer.
I visited my local Whole Foods to see for myself. There were a couple of brands of "kombucha" still in the cooler, but when I looked more closely, they turned out to be flavored teas with some kombucha added to them, and it was unclear whether or not they were raw. I asked an employee why my favorite brand was no longer on the shelves, and he said something about "labeling problems" that they were working on resolving. I told him that I was going to go to the food co-op around the corner to buy my kombucha.
A few months ago, in a similar move, Whole Foods pulled all raw milk from all its stores, citing safety concerns (see here). They called this move "temporary", but the raw milk never came back.
It's clear to me that Whole Foods no longer have the stomach (as it were) to be on the leading edge of the food movement. They are becoming more and more focused on liability, and less and less on real food.
(But to keep it in perspective, there are still much, much worse companies in the world. Monsanto? BP? ConAgra? Altria?)
For more information about the Whole Foods kombucha situation, see this posting on kombuchafuel.
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