As kombucha home brewers, the type of ingredients we use are super important for the quality of our kombucha. I’ve written plenty of articles about which type of tea and flavorings to use to make booch, but haven't talked much about sugar, one of the most important ingredients used to make kombucha
So what is the best sugar for brewing kombucha?
Organic white cane sugar is the best type of sugar to use for brewing kombucha. The reason cane sugar is better for kombucha than beet sugar is because cane sugar has a lot less GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), which can negatively interact with the living bacteria culture used to make kombucha.
In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know about sugar and kombucha so that you can make the best tasting and healthiest home brewed booch possible.
How Kombucha is Made
In order for you to understand sugar's role in kombucha, I need to quickly go over how kombucha is made.
All booch begins as sweet tea. What turns this sweet tea into sweet and sour probiotic kombucha is a living culture of bacteria. This culture of bacteria, known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), eats the sugar and caffeine from the sweet tea and produces acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol.
Once it has eaten enough sugar to make the kombucha bitter tasting, the SCOBY is removed and the 1st fermentation is complete. At this point the kombucha can be drunk, but it's not carbonated or flavored yet.
The carbonation and flavor is added in a 2nd fermentation. During this stage, the kombucha is sealed in glass fermenting bottles that are filled with fruit, juice, or herbs for flavoring.
Over the course of a few days, the kombucha in the bottles develops carbonation and flavor. It’s then refrigerated and ready to be drunk!
What Type of Sugar is Best for Kombucha
While there are lots of different options when choosing the tea, SCOBY, and flavoring for your kombucha, the list of potential sugars is a lot shorter. From that small list, organic white cane sugar comes out as the best type of sugar to use for brewing kombucha.
Sugar comes from 2 different plants: the sugar beet plant and sugar cane. The reason you want to use cane sugar in your kombucha over beet sugar is because cane sugar has a lot less GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). In fact, it's estimated that over 95% of the sugar beets in the United States are genetically modified.
Whether or not GMOs harm the body is still being heavily debated. Some people claim that they lead to allergic reactions, cancer, and antibacterial resistance, while others say they are a harmless way to keep our food preserved and healthy.
Even if GMOs aren't harmful to our bodies, they could still be harmful to the living bacteria culture in kombucha.
Having any kind of living organisms other than the SCOBY in kombucha can be dangerous because of how sensitive the SCOBY is. Even a small piece of cloth that falls into the brewing vessel can put the health of the SCOBY in danger. So to ensure the health of the culture, it’s best to avoid GMOs by using cane sugar over beet sugar.
If you don't have any at home, you can get a 3lb bag of Anthony's Premium Organic Cane Sugar for only $10.99 on Amazon here.
Why you Should Use Organic Sugar for Kombucha
In order for you to understand why to use organic sugar for kombucha, you first need to understand what the heck organic even means. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
“USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”
So basically, organic sugar is sugar that has been certified to have been made from natural ingredients, without any pesticides or additives that go against the federal guidelines.
It’s not the end of the world if you use inorganic sugar to make kombucha, I myself have used it before and my brew turned out just fine. But if we’re in search of the best sugar possible, organic ensures that our kombucha is free of the most pesticides and additives possible, creating a better tasting and healthier drink.
Can I Use Sugar Substitutes to Make Kombucha?
So what if you don’t want to use white cane sugar for kombucha. Can other types of sugars or syrups work?
Things like brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, agave, and coconut palm sugar are generally not used to brew kombucha. This is partly because they all add noticeable flavors to the drink, but mostly because they can damage the SCOBY over time since the bacteria and yeast don't digest these sugars as well.
If you want to try out one of these options, I strongly recommend brewing in a separate container than your regular brew and not using your main SCOBY. This way if the sugar or syrup damages or kills the SCOBY, you still have the original to make regular kombucha with.
I personally have never experimented with sugars like brown sugar or maple syrup, but it could be a fun thing to try. If you or someone you know has used one of the sugar substitutes above to brew kombucha before, let me know how it went in the comments below.
Honey as a Substitute for Sugar
Honey is by far the most popular substitute for sugar in kombucha brewing. In fact, kombucha made with honey actually has its own name: Jun Kombucha.
Jun kombucha takes less time to ferment than classic kombucha and is called the “champagne of kombucha” due to its much lighter, less sour and vinegar-like taste, and extra carbonation.
I actually have already written an entire article on jun kombucha, detailing exactly what it is, its health benefits, and how to make it yourself. If you're interested you can find that article here.
The most important thing to know when using honey to make jun kombucha, is that you need to use a jun SCOBY. If you try to feed honey to a SCOBY that makes regular kombucha the quick change in food source will shock and possibly kill it.
You can train your SCOBY to become a jun SCOBY by slowly introducing it to honey over time. To do this, increase the amount of honey in your brew’s by about 20% each brew. So the first brew will be 80% sugar and 20% honey. The next will be 60% sugar and 40% honey. By the 5th brew you should be making 100% honey jun kombucha with your very own jun SCOBY!
While making your own jun SCOBY is possible, it’s going to take months of work. If you want to brew jun kombucha anytime soon you’ll probably have to buy your jun SCOBY.
The jun SCOBY I use to make jun kombucha is the Fermentaholics Jun Kombucha Starter Culture. It’s USDA certified organic and comes with mature starter liquid that will give your first brew the kickstart it needs. Plus it comes with free Prime one day shipping so you can get brewing right away. You can find the Fermentaholics Jun SCOBY on Amazon here.
Can you Use Artificial or Natural Sweeteners to Brew Kombucha
You may be wondering whether or not you can use artificial or natural sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit, aspartame, or splenda as a replacement for sugar to make your kombucha sugar free.
Unfortunately, you can't use sweeteners to make kombucha. Because sweeteners don’t have any sugar in them, they don’t provide any food for the SCOBY to use as energy for fermentation. Plus if the SCOBY goes without food for an extended period of time it will die of malnutrition.
There are some kombucha brands that make sugar free kombucha with sweeteners. But these brands still use sugar for the fermentation process and then remove the sugar with special technology afterwards and add in sweeteners to keep the sweet taste.
How Much Sugar to Use When Brewing Kombucha
So now you know what type of sugar to use and not use to make kombucha, but how much should you use. The common recommendation is to use 1 cup of sugar to make 1 gallon of kombucha.
That means if you want to make 2 gallons of kombucha, you should use 2 cups of sugar.
If you’re using an irregularly shaped container or don’t want to brew your kombucha to the gallon, you can brew it to the cup by using 0.0625 cups of sugar per cup of kombucha.
Just multiply the # of cups of booch you want to make by 0.0625 and you'll have the perfect amount of sugar for any size brew.
A cup of sugar per gallon of kombucha may seem like a lot, but remember that the sugar isn’t for us, it’s for our SCOBY. In the end, much of this sugar will be eaten and converted into acids and gases, leaving the finished kombucha with only 2-6g of sugar per 8 ounces.
Tips to Make your Kombucha Lower in Sugar
If you want to make your kombucha lower in sugar, whether for health or flavor reasons, there are a few tweaks you can make to the brewing process.
1. Only Use ¾ Cup of Sugar Per Gallon
It’s important that the SCOBY has enough sugar to stay healthy and fight off mold. However, if you’re trying to create a low sugar kombucha you might be able to get away with only using ¾ cup of sugar per gallon of kombucha.
A ¾ cup of sugar per gallon is probably the least amount of sugar you should ever use. Since if you go any lower your SCOBY may not have enough food to stay healthy.
2. Use a Longer 1st fermentation
With a longer 1st fermentation, more sugar will be eaten by the SCOBY and released as gasses into the air. The trick is not letting the kombucha ferment too long or else it will get vinegary tasting and become undrinkable.
If you’re trying to ferment your brew as long as possible to lower the sugar content, while still retaining a hint of sweetness for taste, I recommend taste testing the brew at least once a day to prevent it from fermenting too long and becoming undrinkable.
3. Use a Low Sugar Flavoring or No Flavoring at All
Another thing that you can do to lower the amount of sugar in your home brewed kombucha is use a low sugar flavoring or no flavoring at all.
Using no flavoring at all is probably the best way to get the sugar content of your kombucha lower. You can still have it go through second fermentation for carbonation, just don’t add any flavoring to the brewing bottles.
If you still want to use a flavoring for your low sugar kombucha, avoid fruits and juices and use lower sugar ingredients like roots, herbs or spices. One of my favorite low sugar flavor combinations is ginger turmeric.
4. Water Down the Final Kombucha
The last thing you can do to lower the sugar content of your kombucha is water it down before drinking. This will of course dilute the flavor, but will also lower the amount of sugar per glass.
Using 1 cup of organic white cane sugar per gallon of kombucha will make a great tasting and healthy booch.
If you do want to experiment with other sugars like maple syrup or molasses, I recommend using a separate container and SCOBY to protect the health of your main SCOBY.
And if you want to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to brew it yourself, check out the rest of my website!