The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Myths about tea and mold.

Tea bags.  Wikipedia Commons.
Mold allergy sufferers are under constant attack from allergens that can be lethal for highly sensitive folks. The study of allergies is a relatively new area, and mold is one of the newer allergens to appear in scientific studies. Mold contamination in tea is an even newer topic of research, and scientists have not yet performed many studies specifically on mold and yeast spores in tea, so conclusive information is lacking.

Yeast expert Sidney M. Baker advises that allergy sufferers avoid brewing tea with tap water, which may carry mold spores, as well as chemical contaminants, and drink only bottled or filtered water. While many allergy sufferers have been advised to avoid all cheese, bread and other sources of yeast and mold spores, Baker has also said, "individual tolerances have to be determined on a trial and error basis by each person.” As with most new areas of study, the available information is often a combination of facts and myths.

Myth: “Real tea is moldy, so mold allergy sufferers should drink organic herbal tea.” True tea has been processed in a way that discourages the survival and growth of natural or added mold and yeast spores. Herbal teas, or tisanes, are made from other herbs, spices, fruits and flowers and are processed differently. According to expert Terry Mabbett, this “endless list of plants contributing roots, tree-bark, leaves, flowers, fruit or seeds” involves a “correspondingly endless list of fungal contaminants” which “will persist because the ingredients are sun-dried and not artificially dried at high temperature like black tea.” Also, organic herbs have not been grown with the use of pesticides or fungicides, so they may be more likely to be contaminated with mold spores than true tea!

The available information seems to suggest that mold allergy sufferers should avoid herbal tisanes, including rooibos, tea blends that contain flower petals, spices or other herbs for flavoring or decoration, as being more likely to contain active mold and yeast spores. Organic tea -- Camellia sinensis – while grown without fungicides (so more likely to contain mold and yeast spores), shares natural antifungal and antibacterial properties with commercially grown teas, and is processed in the same way, using high heat, discouraging the survival of any yeast or mold spores.

Myth: “Loose teas and bagged teas are equally moldy.” Most experts recommend that mold allergy sufferers avoid bagged teas, no matter what kind of tea is inside, and choose loose-leaf tea instead. This is why: the tea bag fabric is not sterilized with high heat, and it can catch and harbor mold and yeast spores from the surrounding air. The tea bag is therefore able to contaminate any tea that is put into it. It is also easier to see or smell mold spores on loose tea leaves. The experts also recommend using a tea strainer that can be sterilized in the dish washer, to brew the tea, rather than a fabric “tea sock” or “tea sac,” and advise sterilizing the tea strainer between uses.

Myth: “Tea companies can guarantee that their tea is 100% mold- and yeast-free.” Currently, the best tea companies conduct their tea processing work under the highest degree of sanitation, so they may be able to assert that they have not allowed mold or yeast spores to contaminate the tea once it entered their factory. However, the pervasive nature of mold and yeast spores in the natural environment make it impossible for them to guarantee the complete absence of mold and yeast spores within the very fibers of the tea leaves.

There are several tea companies that are experimenting with airtight packaging, which prevents the flavor oils from evaporating, as well as prevents further contact with microbes in the air. Tea expert Nigel Melican of Teacraft, Ltd., calls this the “zero microbe” state, and says that this can and should be maintained through storage, packing, and shipping. TeaSource is one tea company that has implemented this kind of packaging, sealing their tea in gold foil zipper bags, which are 99.9% air-tight as long as they are kept sealed. This method seems to be the best that is currently available, but it can not guarantee complete sterility.

There is also a theory, as yet unproven, that rinsing loose tea leaves with boiling water before infusing them will wash off any residual mold or yeast spores.  As you can see, there is a lot of interesting information out there, but much of it is conflicting, and the whole topic needs more exploration. As the issue now stands, there is no single kind of tea or tea company that can guarantee a safe and healthy tea experience for everyone with mold and yeast allergies. The best thing for tea drinkers to do, who are allergic to molds and yeasts, is to do some further research for themselves, and work with their doctors to come up with a plan that will work for them!

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Linda J. said...

Thanks for this information!

Lady Dawnya said...

Excellent article on a unique topic. Great job Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

hello. trying to know your opionion about boiling herbs will kill the mold and make them safe to use. some on net that 10 minutes of boiling will kill the molds (others say 20-30 mins) I know the normal would be better to stay away from moldy herbs. but in my location climate as such that everythings gets moldy very fast/easily irregarless of how stored and wont have any herbs left if just keep throwing them away. I not a tea drinker. just use for medicine

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Yes, I would say that boiling the herbs would kill any mold spores that were on them originally. Making an herbal decoction (where you boil the herbs in water for 10 minutes) instead of an infusion (where you soak the herbs in water that is boiling hot but no longer actually boiling) would result in a tisane, or herbal tea, that would be mold-free while it's still hot, but once it cools down, it would get contaminated with mold spores in the air, and get moldy. You'd probably have to add some alcohol, like wine or brandy, to an herbal decoction to keep it from molding after it cooled. The best way, where you get the best flavor and medicinal properties, is to make one serving or dose of the decoction at a time, so that it's always fresh.

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Dr X Ph...frickin D said...

This is NO MYTH. I have been in significant back pain from some unknown inspection. It has gradually worsened over the course of a month. Could fine no reason for it. THEN..noticed mold in the prepared green tea container i have been using. Cleaned it thoroughly, and issue resolved itself in about 2 days.

Dont tell me its a myth!! I know first hand it is not.

Anonymous said...

It takes 560 temperature for several hours to destroy aspergillus

irridescent glow said...

It doesn't matter what you do to 'kill' mold spores; the 'dead' mold spores that remain will still cause allergic reactions.

Syu Eidaa said...

I see some mold spores on the green tea leaves when i open the tea bag , should i just throw away all the tea ? Is it save for me to consume it ?

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

If you see or smell any mold, you should throw it out! The mold has already developed and is no longer simply spores.

Rosalynd Osorio said...

I bought some mango leaves and they all developed mold. it was so expensive, I'm wondering if I can salvage them. my husband said I could just rub the mold off. this is the first time this has happened. please help!

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Hi Rosalynd,

Mold spores will still remain on the leaves even after you rub the visible mold off, so the mold will always come back! Sorry, but I don't believe you can salvage them!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)