blog - "To pasteurize or Not to pasteurize?"
This seems to be the question in the commercial kombucha world right now. As more & more brands opt to pasteurize their product we figured it's time to shed some light on this heated topic and offer some tips on how to distinguish the two.
Kombucha, a living beverage
Raw, unpasteurized kombucha has been around for a long time. Many of the oldest records go as far back as 221 B.C. in Eastern Asia. Ever since then, kombucha has been passed on from generation to generation by sharing scobies. Scobies (Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast) are the living organisms necessary to ferment the tea. During the fermentation the yeasts and bacteria transform the sweetened tea into delicious booch. These living organisms define the drink and are at the root of its success throughout the ages. They are present in each raw kombucha and deliver what many believe added health benefits.
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a heat treatment used to kill of any living microorganisms in food and beverages. Louis Pasteur, the French scientist also known as "the father of microbiology", was the first to prove that tiny organisms were responsible for the spoilage of food, and that it could be prevented by a controlled heat treatment. Depending on the type of food and microorganisms you want to pasteurize, the temperature and time of pasteurization needs to be adjusted. After the process, virtually no living cells remain. Obviously killing of bad microorganisms is a great thing. But not all microorganisms are bad. Even more, most are beneficial and have important roles to play.
Why consider pasteurization?
Before the invention of pasteurization and refrigeration, cultures across the world relied on fermentation to preserve their precious foods. The byproducts of fermentation such as, lactic acid, acetic acid, carbon dioxide, or alcohol prevent rapid spoilage, and thus enabled them to survive more difficult times. The same processes apply to kombucha where the low pH created by fermentation acts as a natural preservative.
However, without proper refrigeration, kombucha with left over sugar will continue to ferment and the flavour will change. More carbon dioxide will be produced and the drink will become more tart and more alcoholic. So even though kombucha is inherently protected from spoilage because of the fermentation, you still need refrigeration to preserve the quality.
Because of this, some sugar containing kombucha brands opt to pasteurize their product and kill off the natural living microorganisms. The pasteurization process allows them to produce a fully shelf stable kombucha. In other words, pasteurized kombucha does not need refrigeration, not in the store, not during transportation and not at home. This obviously simplifies the logistics and also lengthens the shelf life.
What are the consequences?
The first & most obvious consequence of pasteurization is that there are no more beneficial microorganisms active in the drink. Most kombucha lovers tend to enjoy their booch raw because of the potential health benefits they provide. Together with the University of Ghent, Yugen researched the amount of living cells in our kombucha. We found that every bottle or can contains as much as 3 billion living cells. The live cultures in fermented foods can help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut and may alleviate some digestive problems.
The second & more subtle consequence is that pasteurization also has a small but measurable effect on the flavour and aroma. It takes the edge of raw kombucha. The different flavours and aromas that characterize the drink become a bit less pronounced because of the loss of the volatile aromas.
The third consequence is that the heat process also decreases the amount of some nutrients like vitamin C. Because every Yugen flavour is packed with fresh pure juice this would greatly impact our nutritional value.
How to recognize a pasteurized kombucha?
Unfortunately, there are no laws yet that enforce the correct labelling of pasteurized products. But most brands do put this on their label. Just look for signs that say "raw", "unpasteurized", "store refrigerated", "cold storage", etc.
Whenever you find a sugar containing kombucha on the ambient shelf outside of the refrigerator, you can assume it has been pasteurized. Otherwise it would keep fermenting and create a big kombucha volcano mess. This does not apply to sugar-free kombuchas. The lack of sugar makes these inherently stable.
If you want your kombucha to be fresh and teaming with beneficial life, make sure you check the label or buy one that’s stored in the fridge.
Why Yugen chooses not to pasteurize
Yugen believes in the health benefits associated with natural and living fermented foods. We go to incredible lengths to present our customers a fresh & authentic kombucha, packed with naturally occurring beneficial bacteria. It’s definitely not the easiest way, but for us it’s the right way! Cheers!