Makan

All-natural kombucha takes US by storm

NEW YORK The recent US kombucha craze has been fermenting for decades. All natural, low in sugar and packed with supposed health benefits, the once-niche drink has invaded grocery stores, supermarkets and cafes.

US sales of the cloudy, bubbly beverage reached US$412 million (S$570.6 million) last year, according to Nielsen data, up 42 per cent from the year before.

The now-ubiquitous fermented drink is even stocked by the US retail giant Walmart. And it is not uncommon to find shops offering up to 10 different brands.

For Ms Alex Ingalls, who founded Pilot Kombucha in 2015, the popularity of the slightly alcoholic drink (the kind sold in stores has only 0.5 per cent alcohol content) is due to "a mix of things".

A "hardcore base" that has drunk kombucha for years was drawn to its supposed health benefits, particularly for the digestive system, she said, though there has been no clinical study on the matter. The claim is based on the fermentation process used to make kombucha, which contains probiotics.

However, Ms Ingalls mainly sees the kombucha wave as the result of its major advantage over sodas and even juice - low sugar levels.

"These days, everyone is conscious about sugar intake," she said. "They are trying to drink less soda and even less diet soda."

Four years after founding her company, Ms Ingalls produces 368,000 litres of kombucha a year, which she sells at 400 locations throughout the New York area.

Hers was one of the first New York area brands, and she will soon open her first office in Red Hook, Brooklyn, anticipating that her production levels will triple.

In Ms Ingalls' opinion, kombucha is going to be like craft beer - which also took bars and supermarkets by storm - "where everybody has different variations and riffs on certain styles". The home-brewing process for kombucha is simpler than that for beer, leading to a proliferation of amateur fermenters across the US. - AFP

Food & Drink