With sugar in almost everything we eat nowadays, I try to consume as little extra sugar in my diet as possible. So as an avid kombucha drinker and home brewer, I’ve recently wondered whether extremely low sugar, or even sugar free kombucha exists.
There are some kombucha brands that sell sugar free kombucha. These brands still use sugar during the fermentation process, but then use a special process to remove that sugar after fermentation, without removing any of the beneficial probiotics. The sweetness of the sugar is then replaced with artificial sweeteners.
If your curious about how sugar free kombucha is made, why it's so special, and where you can get it, you're going to want to read on.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a carbonated and flavored 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 is Kombucha Made?
In order to understand sugar free kombucha, we need to understand 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 alcohol, acids, and carbon dioxide.
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 second 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 develops carbonation and flavor. It’s then refrigerated and ready to be drunk by people like you and me!
Why Kombucha Has Sugar in It
As I said earlier, sugar is the food that the SCOBY uses to turn tea into kombucha. Without sugar, we have no kombucha. Even the brands that sell sugar free booch have to use sugar during the fermentation process, and then remove it after.
Most kombucha brewers actually don’t even want to make sugar free booch, because sugar gives kombucha its hint of sweetness that makes it so tasty. If there was no sugar in kombucha, it would taste like sour vinegar. This is why even brands that remove the sugar add artificial sweeteners after.
The amount of sugar in a bottle of kombucha varies greatly from brand to brand. Some brands brewing process gets rid of most the sugar, while other brands even add extra sugar after the kombucha is done brewing.
To help give you an idea of how much sugar is in different brands of kombucha, I’ve created a chart of the most popular kombucha brands and how much sugar is in a bottle (16 oz) of their kombucha.
Grams of Sugar per 16 fl oz of Kombucha in Popular Brands
To put the amount of sugar in these kombuchas into perspective, a can of coke has 39g of sugar and a bottle of gatorade has 34 grams.
How is Sugar Free Kombucha Made?
Some kombucha brands have found a way to create a kombucha that is sugar free, but still has probiotics. One of these brands is Hummer Kombucha.
Humm Kombucha says that to make their sugar free booch, they brew kombucha with sugar like normal, but "their special fermentation process then gets rid of all the sugar, and still keeps all the good-for-you probiotics."
After removing the sugar, they add a sweetener, sugar free flavoring, carbonation, and then sell the finished kombucha to people like you and me.
How is Sugar Free Kombucha Sweetened?
Sweeteners are artificial or natural substances that are added to some foods and beverages as a substitute for sugar. Sugar free kombucha brands use sweeteners to substitute the sweetness their drink loses when the sugar is removed.
There are a lot of unhealthy sweeteners out there, the most popular being aspartame, the sweetener used in diet coke. There are however, some sweeteners that may actually be healthier than sugar. Humm Kombucha Zero Sugar uses allulose and monk fruit, while Remedy Raw Sugar Free Kombucha uses stevia and erythritol.
I think it’s important if you're in the market for sugar free kombucha for you to understand exactly what you're drinking and if it’s even healthier than just drinking regular kombucha with sugar. Let's talk about each one of these sweeteners to find out!
Allulose is a relatively new sweetener that contains minimal calories and carbs. Because it isn’t metabolized by your body, it sort of just passes through your digestive system and then out in your urine without being processed by the body.
Some studies have found that allulose may help control blood sugar, boost fat loss, and protect against fatty liver. So although there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on it, allulose appears to be a safe and lower calorie alternative to sugar.
Monk fruit is a fruit found in southeast Asia that is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero fat, and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels.
There isn’t any evidence of negative side effects of monk fruit and the FDA recognizes it as “generally safe.”
The only bad thing about monk fruit sweetener that I could find is that some people don’t like it’s fruity taste.
Stevia is a zero calorie, natural sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It’s approved as safe by the FDA, however, there was one study that found that it alters beneficial gut bacteria. These are the bacteria we are hoping to consume by drinking kombucha, so drinking stevia sweetened booch could actually be counterproductive.
Erythritol is a low calorie sugar alcohol that is used as a substitute for sugar. It doesn’t increase blood sugar levels, may even reduce your risk of heart disease, and is considered very safe, but if you have a weak stomach it could cause some digestive issues.
Where you Can Get Sugar Free Kombucha
I have yet to see sugar free kombucha in stores, so if you'd like to try it out, you're probably going to have to get it online. The two most popular sugar free kombuchas on the market seem to be Hummer Kombucha Zero Sugar and Remedy Raw Organic Kombucha.
I was surprised at how many different flavors of Humm Kombucha Zero Sugar and Remedy Raw Organic Kombucha there are on Amazon and how cheap it is to get a pack of either.
How to Lower the Amount of Sugar in Home Brewed Kombucha
If you homebrew your own kombucha, which is something I highly recommend you do, it unfortunately is not possible to make it sugar free. You could technically wait until the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) has eaten all the sugar, but at that point your kombucha will be so fermented it's basically vinegar.
You can however, lower the amount of sugar in the finished kombuch
When you make booch, I always recommend using at least 1 cup of sugar per gallon of kombucha. Although this seems like a lot, you won’t be drinking this much sugar when your kombucha is finished, since most of it will be turned it into alcohol, acids, and CO2 by your SCOBY.
I’ve never tried using less than a cup of sugar per gallon, since I want to make sure my SCOBY has enough food to stay healthy, but if you want a lower sugar kombucha you could experiment with using less sugar and see how it turns out.
Another thing you can do if you want a lower sugar kombucha is simply allow your 1st fermentation to go longer, since the longer your booch ferments, the more sugar will be eaten by the SCOBY.
A final option for home brewers who want lower sugar booch is to water down the kombucha once it’s finished brewing.
Can I use Sugar Substitutes when Brewing Kombucha?
If you want to play it safe, I recommend you only use white sugar to brew your kombucha.
But if you’re going to experiment with a sweetener other than sugar, which could be a lot of fun, you should peel off some of your SCOBY and brew the kombucha in a separate container. This will keep your original SCOBY safe and prevent it from getting moldy or dying from lack of nutrition.
Some possible sugar substitutes to experiment with are:
Honey (Not raw - raw honey has its own bacteria culture that can hurt your SCOBY)
Coconut Palm Sugar
Although sugar is a necessary ingredient when brewing kombucha, some brands have found a way to remove it after fermentation and replace it with sweeteners If you’re someone who is trying to lower the amount of sugar in your diet but still wants to enjoy kombucha and it's probiotic benefits, sugar free booch could be a great option.
I think that even die hard classic kombucha drinkers would enjoy giving sugar free kombucha a shot. I personally am a classic kombucha lover and will always feel most comfortable drinking regular kombucha made with real sugar over sugar free with sweeteners, but I have to admit that I'm impressed with sugar free kombucha and plan on drinking more of it in the future.
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!