IS KOMBUCHA SAFE FOR KIDS?

A Special Feature

by Alison Ruth Schmitt

with Kombucha Hunter staff

  

Karla Cadeau—a stay-at-home mom from Toronto, Canada—vividly remembers when her daughter Emilia, who was around 18 months at the time, took her first sip of kombucha. “It was met with the most adorable lip-puckering, wide-eyed look of complete and utter mind-blowing amazement of what had just happened in her mouth,” Karla recalls.

Three-year-old Emilia sips on her favorite "boocha." Photo courtesy of Karla Cadeau.

Three-year-old Emilia sips on her favorite "boocha." Photo courtesy of Karla Cadeau.

Since then, Emilia has been regularly enjoying her “boocha,” as she likes to call it. “I’m mindful of her consumption but I don’t measure or fret the amount,” says Karla, who likes to brew a lower caffeine kombucha at home, with green, oolong and hibiscus tea. “The rose-hued color is a favorite for my pink-loving little girl,” she points out.

Over in Charlotte, NC, Demetria L. Cox-Thomas’s 7-year-old daughter Desiraye tried kombucha for the first time at a local Vegfest. Her reaction: “Yum! It tastes like soda,” recalls Demetria. These days, mother and daughter will share a 16oz bottle together, once a week. “She’s normally satisfied after 4-6oz,” says Demetria.

Desiraye, 7, enjoys her daily serving of kombucha. Photo courtesy of Demetria Cox-Thomas.

Desiraye, 7, enjoys her daily serving of kombucha. Photo courtesy of Demetria Cox-Thomas.

Drinking kombucha has also given Desiraye a better insight into health foods in general. “She reads the nutrition labels and is aware that kombucha has less sugar than a typical soda,” says Demetria, who runs a holistic lifestyle blog. “That's important to me, because there are solid connections with high sugar diets and health/behavioral issues. I can see kombucha benefiting families who struggle with those issues.”    

Indeed, a recent study compared kids on a day when one group was given a can of sugary soda and another that consumed no soda at all. They found that kids who consumed the sugary drink experienced decreased learning performance and more hyperactivity than kids who went soda-free.

But even given these findings, the public at large still has mixed feelings about children drinking kombucha, which has a dramatically lower sugar content than a can of soda (a typical 12 oz bottle of kombucha has around 8 grams of sugar versus soda’s 39 grams). Demetria even had a "concerned" Instagram follower criticize her for allowing her daughter to drink kombucha because of its trace alcohol content (the vast majority of commercial brands have .5% ABV, the same amount as a glass of orange juice). And then there was this crazy story from 2012 about a 7th grader who was dismissed from school for bringing a small amount of kombucha in his lunchbox.

To date, there have been no definitive studies done on the subject of whether kids should drink kombucha, but there is plenty of information in the public domain about kids, probiotics and fermented foods, and the received wisdom here is generally positive.

Data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and found that nearly 12% of children aged 4 to 17 years use complementary health approaches. Probiotics or prebiotics were among the top three natural products used by children in 2012, with 0.5% of U.S. children (294,000) using them. While the FDA does not regulate fermented foods, USDA microbiologist Fred Breidt, Jr. has been famously quoted as saying that, safety-wise, fermentation is “almost bulletproof,” when done correctly. Echoing that sentiment, we found no shortage of websites and blogs encouraging feeding fermented foods to kids, even to very small children.

Elliott's mom claims kombucha makes him "happier." Photo courtesy of Sarah M.

Elliott's mom claims kombucha makes him "happier." Photo courtesy of Sarah M.

For Karla Cadeau’s daughter, kombucha has also been a healer. After Emilia was diagnosed with celiac disease at age two, “we really started down the path of gut health and gut healing,” says Karla. “Incorporating probiotic-rich kombucha into her diet was a natural evolution of that process.” Within a year, Emilia experienced dramatic changes. “She has gone from completely falling off the growth charts and a failure to thrive diagnosis to the extent where doctors weren’t sure if she would ever walk,” says Karla, “to where she is today—a healthy and robust rosy-cheeked running and jumping 3-year-old. So far, knock on wood, my daughter has barely had a sniffle her whole life, which is quite a remarkable feat.”

Another mom—Sarah M from Ontario, Canada, whose 3-year-old regularly drinks kombucha—has also noticed fascinating changes in her son. “Elliott is far less gassy, way happier and far less irritable and moody on the days he has kombucha,” she tells us. Another benefit: “When he has it several times a week, he is less susceptible to the colds going around daycare.”

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When it comes to deciding on whether kombucha is safe for kids, there is certainly no better authority than professional kombucha-brewing moms. So we chatted with three of them: Sarah Schomber, mom of two kids and co-founder of Buchi Kombucha in Asheville; Kate Zuckerman from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Bucha, mom to two young children, and Adina Martinez from Mighty Bucha in Atlanta, who has a young daughter.  All share fascinating insights into how kombucha factors into their individual parenting styles.

Kombucha Hunter: Should kids drink kombucha?
Sarah:
Whether kids should or shouldn’t is a personal family choice. We have no real scientific research on the subject, so it generally comes down to “this is what I did.” You have to check in with yourself and see how it feels to you.
Adina: I won’t say that kids should drink kombucha, but I do think it is safe for them to do so.
Kate: Kombucha is unpasteurized, so whether kids should drink it or not is up to the parent’s comfort level. If you are comfortable with giving your kids sauerkraut, then kombucha isn't much of a leap.

KH: What is your own kids’ relationship with kombucha?
Sarah:
I started making kombucha for my oldest daughter when she was around 4. And I started making it, because I wanted her to have a different option other than water when she was weaning from mama’s milk. And if she didn’t have a choice like kombucha, which is really healthy and full of probiotics, then what were the other choices? Juice? Sodas?
Adina: Our daughter loves kombucha! She wants to drink what we drink, of course, but she often asks for it—even if she only drinks a few sips. It is unlike any other beverage that she gets and I think that makes it fun and interesting for her.
Kate: Our kids have both been drinking kombucha since they were in utero. Now they're 2.5 and 4.5 years old, and they drink it in moderation.

KH: Is the alcohol content in kombucha appropriate for kids?
Sarah:
In my experience, home-brewed kombucha tends to want to hover around 0.5 to 1.0 ABV. When you think of a child having, say, 4oz of that kombucha, that’s not an amount of alcohol that can cause intoxication. And when home-brew is too high in alcohol you can tell: two clues are extremely high carbonation and a yeasty smell. Just use common sense, educate yourself, and have an awareness of what it smells and tastes like when it’s higher in alcohol.
Kate: Whether it's a commercial or a home-brewed kombucha, we suggest that you make sure you trust your source—certain brewing techniques can increase the alcohol content in kombucha, and you want to make sure you're giving your kids a non-alcoholic beverage. Also, certain kombucha companies test regularly, as we do. Ask questions of your kombucha producer and make sure you're comfortable with their answers.

KH: Did you drink it during pregnancy?
Sarah:
I drank kombucha throughout my second pregnancy and throughout nursing, and it worked fine for me. It wasn’t an issue. I have very, very healthy children! They rarely ever get sick.
Adina: I do drink kombucha during pregnancy and I know there are varying opinions about doing so. I am very much in tune with my body and hyper aware of how food makes me feel during pregnancy, and I notice that I crave kombucha less and have the desire to drink less, so the amount I consume is really dictated by that. I know that I am not consuming an alcoholic beverage by drinking kombucha, especially since it is one that I have made, so it is not a concern for me.
Kate: Yes, I drank it during both of my pregnancies. Personally, I found that it helped settle my stomach and kept me well hydrated. I also enjoyed having a festive non-alcoholic option. I drank kombucha that we were brewing, and we test for alcohol content, so I was not concerned.

Blue Ridge Bucha founders' two kids enjoying their parents elixir. They've been consuming kombucha since in utero. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Bucha.

Blue Ridge Bucha founders' two kids enjoying their parents elixir. They've been consuming kombucha since in utero. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Bucha.

KH: Does kombucha increase interest in sweet—or sour—foods?
SARAH:
I definitely think it has given them a leaning towards sour foods. They love sauerkraut—they eat it for breakfast!
Adina: I don’t think it increases interest in sugary foods. If anything, it expands their palate and introduces them to an alternative flavor that they may not try elsewhere.
Kate: Our kids love pickles, sauerkraut, olives, kombucha —they have broad palates and enjoy their leafy greens, too. We think their exposure to kombucha early on in life has something to do with this.

KH: Do you think children need the probiotics in kombucha?
Sarah:
For my own kids, I felt like it was absolutely the boost I wanted them to have. I gave them sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles: all kinds of fermented foods. Personally, I think it’s a big thing that’s lacking in our diets from a young age.
Adina: Probiotics help the good bacteria in our gut flourish, and a majority of our immune system resides in the gut. A healthy gut can contribute to improved overall wellness, and we have seen this with ourselves and with our daughter (with other added probiotics, not only those from kombucha). There are other factors involved in gut health, of course, but incorporating probiotics is a practice that is very important to us.
Kate: Our kids each had their first sip of kombucha at around five months of age, but until they were about two years old they were only allowed to have small sips. For a developing digestive system, we felt it was best to introduce all fermented foods in moderation. However, this is based on personal intuition, not hard science.

KH: What feedback have you had from other parents about this?
Sarah:
In general our customer base is all about sharing kombucha with their kids. We have a huge customer base OF kids! I’ve observed very few people not wanting to give it to their kids.The lion’s share of people are super excited for their kids to like it or, if they already love it, then it’s a family thing: they buy it for their kids, they all drink it.
Adina: We’ve received positive feedback from friends and customers about how much their kids enjoy drinking kombucha. Kids can be picky, of course, so sometimes it is just that weird drink with the funny name. For some, having it together is a ritual that they share. I have one friend who’s daughter really loves it and has one every day, even though her mom is not a fan!
Kate: Parents have told us that they appreciate having an alternative to sodas that they can offer to their kids.
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It’s clear from speaking to moms in the industry that their kids—as well as their customers’ kids—have been enjoying kombucha for a long time with no ill effects. In fact, the opposite seems to be true: kids love it and it seems to set them up well for appreciating lower sugar foods and it takes the place of unhealthier choices. As offering fermented foods and probiotics to children becomes more common in the US, there is no obvious reason why kombucha cannot be a part of that movement, consumed in sensible amounts of course.

The strongest advocates, of course, are the kids themselves. “It makes me feel full and satisfied, ready to do anything!” says 13-year-old Skylee, whose mom is Sarah Schomber. According to Sarah’s other daughter Aurora, who is 8, kombucha makes her “feel full of energy!”     

If kombucha is new to your kids and you are leaning towards wanting them to have it, but are still a little unsure, choose a commercial brand that you trust, rather than brewing your own, and make sure you are satisfied with the sugar and alcohol levels stated on the label. Seek out a pasteurized brand if you prefer, and always refrigerate after opening to prevent any further fermentation occurring. Smell and taste it yourself before offering it to your kids, and let them enjoy their kombucha in modest amounts, say 4oz at a time.

As Buchi’s Sarah Schomber says, “When you consider what the majority of kids in America are consuming—soda, juicy-juice—kombucha is exceptional. You’re getting probiotics. It’s a lower sugar option. It’s a healthy beverage. And so, as a parent, you’re thrilled if your child likes that instead of wanting to have the soda that the neighbor kids have. My kids don’t care about soda. They don’t like it!”

 

If you have questions about any information deemed medical, please consult a qualified doctor or professional healthcare provider.

Stacy Gueraseva