It's a universal fact that no-one wants to drink anything spoiled or expired. When most drinks expire, its pretty easy to tell by the color changes and terrible smell. Kombucha however, already has such a weird smell and is full of natural bacteria, so it can be hard to tell whether or not it's still good to drink.
Unless it has visible mold, kombucha never really expires. It does however, get more bitter and vinegary tasting the longer that it is stored. Kombucha can be stored in a refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process and keep its sweetness. In fact, an unopened kombucha can stay good in the fridge for months after the expiration date on the bottle, as long as no mold has appeared.
Lets talk about exactly how you should store your kombucha and what to look for to know whether or not it's expired.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a probiotic drink made from fermented tea that has become quite popular in recent years due to its great taste and many health benefits such as improved digestion and gut health, detoxification, and immune system strengthening.
How Do I Store Kombucha to Keep it from Expiring?
Because kombucha is always fermenting, the longer you wait to drink it the more fermented the drink will be. In kombucha that has not been fermented much, the bacteria and yeast haven't eaten much sugar, so it will have a lot more sugar in it and taste much sweeter than kombucha that has been fermenting for a long time and had much of the sugar eaten.
If kombucha was not fermented at all it would just be sweet tea. And if it were fermented for too long, it would eventually turn into vinegar. The sweet spot in the middle of sweet and sour is where kombucha brands and home brewers like myself try to make our booch.
The reason that kombucha is recommended to be stored in a fridge is because the cold temperature slows down the fermentation process significantly. Most people want to preserve the sweetness of their booch as long as possible and so they keep it in the fridge to prevent it from fermenting too fast and changing to a more bitter taste.
How to Store Store-Bought Kombucha
Most bottles of store bought kombucha will tell you to refrigerate them, and will probably have an expiration date on them. If you want to keep the storage of your kombucha simple, you can just refrigerate it and throw it out once it has passed the expiration date.
Although this is an easy way to do things, kombucha actually stays good months past the expiration date, and doesn’t always need to be stored in the fridge. If you always throw your kombucha away when it reaches the expiration date on the bottle, you're probably throwing away good kombucha and wasting a lot of money! I personally refrigerate the kombucha I buy at the store, since I enjoy the balance between sweet and sour that you get right when you buy it. But, if you’re someone who likes your booch more bitter, you can store it outside of the fridge for a few days without a problem.
If you are going to store kombucha outside of the fridge, I recommend that you keep it out of sunlight and hot environments since they can increase the likelihood of mold growth.
As for expiration, I’ve found that refrigerated, unopened booch keeps good for 1-3 months after the expiration date. I’ll talk a little later about how to know when it’s time to throw out your booch, but let's talk about home brewed kombucha first.
How to Store Home Brewed Kombucha
Since home brewed kombucha is made to personal preference, the storage of it is really up to you. Obviously the longer your 1st fermentation is, the more bitter your booch will be. And if you enjoy more carbonation in your booch, then you can leave the 2nd fermentation outside of the fridge for a little longer.
Once your kombucha is finished, I recommend keeping it in the fridge. This will preserve the flavor that you worked so hard for and will also keep the kombucha from becoming too carbonated and exploding the next time you open it.
If however, you grab your kombucha from the fridge and it isn’t carbonated enough, then you can store it outside of the fridge for a few days and the booch will resume fermentation and build up some more carbonation.
Just like a store bought, your home brewed booch when refrigerated and unopened should stay good for months. Just make sure to check for any mold before drinking. I'll talk about how to do that in a second.
How long does Kombucha last after it has been opened?
Once you’ve opened your kombucha I recommend drinking it within the next few days. Although it doesn't have much of a risk of going bad, the longer you wait to drink it after opening the more carbonation and flavor it’s going to lose.
If I open a bottle I always try to finish it the same day, since even the day after it doesn’t taste quite as good.
How to Tell if Kombucha Has Expired
Time itself won’t make kombucha go bad, it will just make it taste progressively more bitter. The only thing that will actually make your kombucha go bad is mold.
What Kombucha Mold Looks Like
If mold is going to develop in your kombucha, it’s probably going to happen during the 1st fermentation. Once kombucha is in the 2nd fermentation and has been bottled, its high acidity will prevent mold from growing.
This means that store bought kombucha will rarely become moldy as long as it is stored with the cap on. However, I can't talk about expiring kombucha without talking about mold.
So what does kombucha mold look like? Here are a few descriptors you can use to identify mold in your booch.
1. Mold always grows on the surface
Because mold is an aerobic being (it needs air to survive) you’ll only find it on the surface of kombucha. This means that anything floating under the surface is not mold.
2. Mold’s texture is dry and fuzzy
Mold is made of tiny hair like structures known as hyphae that are fuzzy to the touch. Knowing this, we can rule out anything smooth and moist as not moldy.
3. Mold develops in circles
Mold usually grows in clumps, circles, or rings.
4. Mold is an interesting bright color
The bacteria culture in kombucha is usually brown/tan, so if you see colors of white, green, blue, or black, there could be mold developing. White is probably the hardest to define as mold but if you use the other identifiers in this list (is it circular? fuzzy?) you should be able to identify it as mold or not.
I Can’t Tell if my Kombucha is Moldy
An important thing to remember is that MOLD IS RARE. Most of the time, if you're not sure about whether or not your kombucha is moldy, it probably isn’t.
If you’re really not sure about whether or not your kombucha is moldy, wait a few days. Either more mold will develop and it will become obvious, or nothing will change and you know that there is no mold growth occurring.
Don't Waste Your Old Kombucha!
If your kombucha has been stored for too long and is too vinegary for you to drink, don't throw it out just yet! As long as it's not moldy you can use old booch as a vinegar substitute.
Kombucha vinegar can be used to make salad dressings, vegetable glazes, as a hair wash, cleaning fluid and more! You can learn all about kombucha vinegar, including how to make and use it in my kombucha vinegar article here.
Kombucha never really spoils unless it develops mold or ferments to a point where it tastes too bad to drink. To keep it tasting good, I recommend you refrigerate your booch.
Refrigeration will prevent it from becoming vinegary and help it retain its sweetness and flavor. If however, you like your kombucha more bitter or just don’t have a refrigerator at the moment, you can store it at room temperature for a while without any problems.
If you still want to learn more about whether or not kombucha expires, you can watch a really good youtube video on the topic by You Brew Kombucha here.
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!