Many Whole30 participants are curious about kombucha. Can you have kombucha on Whole30? Is there a “Whole30 kombucha?” Read on for an explanation of this popular fermented beverage.
(I can also skip to the chase: If you want a Whole30 Approved kombucha, look no further than Humm Kombucha. You’re welcome.)
Kombucha is a delicious, fermented-tea beverage that may add some probiotic benefits to your already nutrient-dense Whole30 meals. Still, “Is kombucha Whole30 compatible?” isn’t always the easiest question to answer. (It’s not just you. Whole30 kombucha was confusing for me, too.) Let’s dive in.
Kombucha is a fermented tea dating back 2,000 years, to ancient China. It requires tea, some form of sugar, and an active starter culture of bacteria and yeast (called a SCOBY)*. A basic recipe starts with a black or green tea, then add spring water, your SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), and cane sugar. You then cover it, store it, and allow it to ferment for 7-30 days. The longer it ferments, the more sour it becomes, so the length of fermentation depends largely on taste.
*Note, there are endless kombucha recipes, and there is no one “right” way; it’s all based on personal preference.
Wait, isn’t added sugar eliminated during the Whole30!
Added sugar (with the exception of fruit or fruit juice) is part of your Whole30 elimination. However, in the case of kombucha, the sugar isn’t added to the product after the fact, it’s used in the beginning to feed the SCOBY. That’s how it ferments. So sugar is a necessary part of this fermentation process.
Does all the sugar get “eaten up”?
No, that’s actually a myth. Some sugar remains in the finished product, depending on how long you ferment. (The longer you ferment, the less sugar is left.)
Aside: Doesn’t kombucha contain alcohol, which is also part of Whole30’s elimination?
Yes, but again, alcohol isn’t added to the product, it’s a natural byproduct of fermentation. Most things with a high sugar content (fruit, fruit juices) have bacteria that, through fermentation, produce ethanol—even orange juice! This natural fermentation by-product is not implied in the Whole30 program rules, so in this article, we’re just going to focus on the sugar.
What about store-bought kombucha? Is there sugar in that too?
Yeah, so this is where it gets really Whole30-tricky.
The Whole30 Rules vs. Application
The Whole30 rules say, “If you see added sugar in the ingredient list, the product is not Whole30 compatible.” This makes the program really easy to follow—just read your labels, and if you see sugar listed with the other ingredients, put it back on the shelf.
The trouble is, kombucha labeling isn’t as tightly regulated as other food labeling. That’s because it’s controlled by the FDA, not the USDA. This is why some kombucha brands list sugar in their ingredients, while others do not.
Let me be clear—ALL kombucha uses some form of sugar in the fermentation process. Most store-bought brands use a traditional form of sugar, like white or cane sugar. Others, like our Whole30 Approved collaboration with Humm, uses sugar in the form of fruit juice.
However, because the labeling isn’t as closely regulated, some kombucha brands note the sugar used in fermentation in their ingredient list, while others do not. This means if you’re browsing kombucha at your local store, anything that says “sugar” in the ingredient list is out for the duration of your elimination phase, even if the sugar is used only in the fermentation process. (To be fair, you can’t tell from just the label whether the brand used the sugar to ferment, added sugar to sweeten the flavor, or both.)
Truthfully, I like the fact that these brands are voluntarily transparent about what’s in their product. However, because these products include added sugar in the ingredients, they’re not compatible with the Whole30. This kind of sucks, because it feels like we’re punishing transparency. (Other brands who don’t include sugar used in the fermentation process on their ingredient label would be compatible.) But we need the Whole30 program rules to be easy to follow, and there isn’t space or room to educate everyone on the finer points of fermentation and FDA labeling regulations.
So yes, kombucha on the Whole30 can be confusing and complicated. That’s why we’re excited about the Whole30 Approved varieties of Humm Kombucha. Seeing our Whole30 Approved logo on the label removes all of the guesswork out, and lets you know the product is guaranteed compatible.
What I love the most about Humm is that they’ve pioneered the practice of using fruit juice (which has always been Whole30 compatible) in the fermentation process. That produces both a lower-sugar kombucha, and one that is richly flavored and effervescent.
Is Kombucha Whole30? Here’s The Final Word
If you buy store-bought kombucha and sugar is not in the ingredient list, is that Whole30-compatible? Yes.
If you buy store-bought kombucha and sugar is not in the ingredient list, but you do see fruit juice, is that Whole30-compatible? Yes.
If you see store-bought kombucha and see sugar (including stevia or other “natural” sweeteners) in the ingredients, is that compatible? No.
Thanks for taking the time to read. I hope this makes it abundantly clear how much I want to see you succeed with the Whole30! So much so that we’ve teamed up with our friends at Humm Kombucha to make a delicious, sparkling, fruit-based kombucha to make your Whole30 meals, social gatherings, and special events even more bubbly.
Co-Founder / CEO