Can Children Drink Kombucha Tea?

Can children drink Kombucha tea? This is a controversial topic, as it contains doses of alcohol. Let's find out more in today's article.
Can Children Drink Kombucha Tea?

Last update: 10 October, 2023

Kombucha tea is a beverage that has gained popularity due to its unique taste and potential benefits. It’s made from fermented green tea or black tea, both of which are famous for their health properties. In addition, it’s a potential beverage to replace soda. But is it safe for children to drink kombucha tea? To answer that question, we have to evaluate its preparation and what it contains.

In this article, we’ll examine whether or not children can drink kombucha tea, how it’s prepared, what benefits it offers, what nutrients it contributes, and if there are any contraindications. And, of course, we’ll take a look at the ingredients it contains. Keep reading, and soon you’ll know if you can share a kombucha tea with your child!

What is kombucha tea?

To be sure whether or not to give kombucha tea to a child, let’s review what kombucha is and how it’s prepared. The Journal of Food Science published an article in 2022 explaining the ingredients and how to prepare it.

Kombucha tea is a fermented beverage with a fruity, sour, and mildly sparkling taste. After 10 days of fermentation, it can take on the taste of wine vinegar.

It’s made from black, green, red, or yellow tea (Camellia sinensis) that undergoes fermentation by adding sugars and microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts). The process takes 7 to 14 days.

The ferments are known as SCOBY or “tea fungus,” which is nothing more than a beneficial mixture of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and yeasts that produce acetic acid, lactic acid, and alcohol. Once fermented, it’s pasteurized and kept refrigerated for marketing.

Kombucha tea can also be prepared with herbs, fruit juices, soy, milk, and other ingredients. The appeal of this drink is its taste, effervescence, and potential beneficial properties. But is it made for all ages? It contains alcohol, so is it allowed for children? Let’s analyze this question below.

Can children drink kombucha?

To answer this, we must analyze the pros and cons that this drink can have for children, as well as take into account its regulations.

Does it offer any nutrients?

The nutrients found in kombucha tea come from the raw material and the synthesis carried out by the fermenting microorganisms themselves. In the journal Antioxidants, it’s reported that kombucha tea contains some minerals such as iron, fluoride, manganese, and potassium. Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins are also found, but their concentrations aren’t high.

In other words, kombucha tea isn’t considered an important source of nutrients for children. Fruits and vegetables can provide them in greater quantity and variety.

How much alcohol is produced?

During the fermentation process of kombucha, the SCOBY yeast transforms the added sugar into alcohol, which increases with each passing day of fermentation. When the beverage is pasteurized, the SCOBY is inactivated, and alcohol production stops.

But how much can be produced? The values vary according to the region and the substrates and ingredients that are part of the beverage. That’s why kombucha tea is standardized in different parts of the world.

What the standards say about alcohol in kombucha

A study published in the Journal of AOAC International clarifies that there are limits on the alcohol content of kombucha. In the United States, to be classified as “non-alcoholic,” alcohol values must be between less than 0.5 and 1.1 percent by volume.

In Brazil, regulations separate this drink into “non-alcoholic” kombucha (up to 0.5 percent) and “alcoholic” kombucha (0.6 and 0.8 percent). And, according to Canadian regulations, limits mustn’t exceed 1 percent.

As you can see, the final alcohol values aren’t alarming, but beware! Remember that we’re referring to pasteurized kombucha tea.

When prepared at home or by unregulated artisanal processors, there’s a risk of higher alcohol production. An article published in the Journal of Food Protection reveals that some of these kombucha teas can have more than 3.6 percent alcohol.

What about added sugar?

We know that health organizations warn about the excessive consumption of sugary drinks in children with the production of cavities, excess weight, obesity, and other health disorders. But is kombucha tea a sugary drink?

The sugar added to the drink, which ranges from 1 to 20%, is turned into acids and alcohol by the SCOBY. Therefore, at the end of the process, there should be little of this ingredient left. A “no sugar added” kombucha tea has 3.5 percent or less.

However, to achieve a balance in the acidic taste of the tea, some are sweetened with juices, sugar, or even artificial sweeteners after fermentation. This is indicated by a study published in the journal Beverages in 2020.

According to the study, the amount of added sugar can range from 0.2 to 6 grams per 100 milliliters of tea, and the calories vary between 3.6 and 29%. For comparison, the sugar content of a popular soda is almost 11% and calories 39%.

So, frequently ingesting kombucha tea becomes significant in terms of sugar and calorie intake.

Does it offer any benefits?

A paper published in the journal Nutrients in 2020 points out that kombucha tea is a source of antioxidants, due to the presence of active compounds such as polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids that have recognized health benefits.

At the same time, a study published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, which conducted tests on experimental animals, found that it had antibacterial and anti-diabetic properties, lowered cholesterol in the blood, boosted the immune system, and detoxified the liver.

Kombucha tea may also have a probiotic effect and thus support intestinal health. It can be infused with the probiotics Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and others. However, it should be noted that this type of tea isn’t pasteurized because of the risk of destroying the “live” microorganisms.

It should be clarified that most of the benefits of kombucha have been recorded in laboratory trials with animals or empirically. Therefore, clinical trials in humans are lacking, including the effects of the beverage in children.

Contraindications and adverse effects

The general consumption of kombucha tends not to present adverse effects. However, the chemical composition of the tea, the storage conditions, the microbiological factor, among others, may contribute to some contraindications.

In this context, an article published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safe indicates that some people manifest dizziness, nausea, vomiting, allergies, headaches, or neck pains after drinking kombucha tea without proper fermentation or if there has been contamination during the preparation process.

This is because it can lead to the formation of toxic compounds, such as acetic acid and ethanol. Moreover, kombucha tea isn’t recommended for pregnant women, infants, and children under four years of age, as alcohol values below 3 percent produce adverse effects.

Those who suffer from some pre-existing diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and allergies, among others, should consult with their doctor before consuming it.

So, can children drink kombucha tea?

As you’ll notice, there’s a wide variety of kombucha teas on the market, with or without added sugar, with or without probiotics, pasteurized or not, with different fruit or herbal flavors such as ginger, mint, lemon, blueberry, strawberry, mango, among others. This allows us to have a range of products to select from.

So, based on the possible benefits, bioactives, and nutrients that kombucha has in regard to other beverages, it’s possible for children to drink this tea, although with prior professional consultation and some conditions:

  1. Choose pasteurized kombucha teas. Never choose homemade or unregulated artisanal options. This guarantees the stopping of the fermentation process after bottling and, consequently, the production of alcohol.
  2. Read the product label carefully. Look for information on sugar, calorie, and alcohol content. Make sure it doesn’t contain any ingredients that may cause allergies in the child.
  3. Select kombucha beverages with little or no sugar and with regulated alcohol levels.
  4. In the case of kombucha teas with probiotic characteristics, remember that they’re not pasteurized. So, consult with your health professional about their suitability. There are other non-alcoholic probiotic products that can be considered in the diet.
  5. Keep in mind that the average serving for an adult is approximately 12 ounces. You can allow children a small glass of 6 ounces two or three times a week.

Remember also that natural foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables are the best option for making drinks with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds beneficial to the child’s health.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.