Is Kombucha Illegal? Actor Andrew Keegan Busted for Selling Homemade Brew


The heartthrob of the early aughts has made headlines after he got in hot water for selling kombucha — but did you even know there are restrictions on this health food store staple? (Photos: Getty Images)

Actor Andrew Keegan was everywhere in the late 90s and early 2000s when he appeared in shows like 7th Heaven and Party of Five, but he eventually fell out of the limelight. Now, he’s making headlines again.

The former teen heartthrob was swarmed by undercover agents with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control last week for illegally selling kombucha tea at the Full Circle, the new age religious center he founded in Venice, Calif. 

That’s right—he was busted for selling tea.


Keegan in the early 2000s. (Photo: Getty Images)

But kombucha isn’t just any tea. It’s a raw, fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast, and can have up to three percent alcohol by volume. (You might remember that Lindsay Lohan got into hot water in 2010 for violating her probation by drinking kombucha.) If the brew contains less than  0.5 percent alcohol (which most do), it’s fine to sell or serve without a liquor license. But if it’s over 0.5 percent, then, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a liquor permit is needed.

That’s may not be a fact that many drinkers of kombucha are aware of, including, it seems Keegan: “Kombucha is something we’d never imagine to be an illegal substance, and it’s frustrating the system has that perspective,” he told Argonaut News. Full Circle received a misdemeanor citation for selling alcohol without a license.

The tea, which is a mixture of acetic acid, malic acid, butyric acid, oxalic acid, lactic acid, and a minimal amount of alcohol, is believed to have originated in China several centuries ago and has a serious celebrity following (Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, and Halle Berry reportedly drink it).

Related: Why the Kombucha Craze Is Here to Stay

According to claims — which haven’t been scientifically proven — kombucha can help with digestion, prevent diseases, improve energy levels, and even inhibit aging. But can a tea really do all that?

A lot of the claims surrounding kombucha are overstated, but it does have some health benefits, says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of New York Nutrition Group.

“It contains energizing B-vitamins and is a good source of healthy probiotics that aid in digestion and have been linked to strengthening the immune system,” she tells Yahoo Health.

Kombucha may also have some antioxidant benefits, says New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording. However, she says it’s important to consider the source of the information — kombucha brands themselves. “We really don’t know that drinking a supplement is better than eating the whole food that those antioxidants will be found in like berries, green tea, and citrus fruits,” she tells Yahoo Health.

While kombucha has some known benefits, Moskovitz points out that it isn’t for everyone. Some can experience gastrointestinal issues after drinking it, and its alcohol content means it’s not ideal for pregnant women, children, and people at work, depending on your sensitivity to alcohol. 

Related: The Best Teas for Sleep, Weight Loss, Stress Reduction, and More

Sure, kombucha offers up probiotics (an eight-ounce bottle of Synergy Kombucha has approximately two billion probiotic organisms), but Cording says you can still get those probiotics from yogurt — and will also get calcium and vitamin D in the process. 

Moskovitz says you can also get a lot of the same perks of kombucha from other fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, and miso paste, as well as B vitamins found in the drink from seeds, nuts, and lean meats.

Interested in trying kombucha? It’s important to only buy it from a trusted source, says registered dietitian nutritionist Beth Warren, author of Living a Real Life with Real Food. “Because it is raw, it is not pasturized,” she tells Yahoo Health. As a result, she says, it has good bacteria in the form of probiotics but it can also grow bad bacteria that can lead to foodbourne illnesses.

Overall, Warren says kombucha is definitely a “healthy” beverage with a unique flavor — provided you opt for one that’s low in sugar.

Cording also cautions that people trying kombucha for the first time should only drink two to four ounces and wait to see how it affects them before drinking more.

Read This Next: Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Cocktail? 

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