|Tea bags. Wikipedia Commons.|
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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