Whether you’re new to kombucha or have been enjoying the drink for a long time, every once in a while you’ll get a sip that burns the back of your throat. Which is a feeling that can be annoying for some people. So what causes this burn and how can you avoid it?
Kombucha is partially made of acetic acid (the main component of vinegar) and alcohol, both of which can give a burning sensation on the throat when drunk. A kombucha that has been fermented longer and flavored with herbs or spices such as ginger and cayenne will burn the throat more.
In this article I’m going to explain exactly why kombucha burns your throat, and then go over how you can fix it depending on whether you bought the kombucha from the store or made it yourself. Let’s get started!
Why Kombucha Burns Your Throat
If you get a burning sensation or a “kick” in the back of your throat when you drink kombucha, there are 2 main components of the drink that are to blame: acetic acid and alcohol. Let’s talk about each one individually.
If you’re unfamiliar with acetic acid, it’s basically what vinegar is made of. Most vinegar is just 4-7% acetic acid and 93-97% water.
The acetic acid in kombucha, which gives it a slight vinegary kick, is created as one of the products of kombucha's fermentation. Most brews will end up at around 1% acetic acid.
As you know if you’ve ever had a shot of apple cider vinegar or used vinegar as a salad dressing, it’s a very acidic liquid.
The pH scale, which is a 1-14 measurement of a substance's acidity, with 1 being the most acidic (stomach acid has a ranking of 1 pH) and 14 being the least acidic AKA most basic (liquid drain cleaner), ranks vinegar at 2.5, which is very acidic.
As you probably know, acids burn, which is why when you drink kombucha with acetic acid/vinegar in it, your throat may feel a burning sensation.
I’ll talk a little later about how kombucha brands and homebrewers can lower the amount of acetic acid in their booch to make it burn less, but first we need to talk about 1 more ingredient that may be contributing to kombucha burning your throat.
All properly brewed kombucha will have a small amount of alcohol in it that is a natural result of the fermentation process. In the same way that the bacteria and yeast cultures of kombucha naturally produce acetic acid during fermentation, they also create alcohol.
The actual amount of alcohol in kombucha is super low. Bottles you buy at the store will all be 0.5% or less alcohol since that’s the federal cut off for a drink to be marketed and sold as nonalcoholic. This amount of alcohol in kombucha is so low, that it's similar to the amount of alcohol found in a ripe banana and grape juice.
We all know that a shot of liquor burns going down. And even though it's a small amount, the alcohol in kombucha can still give the drink a boozy taste and contribute to a burning feeling in your throat when you drink it.
Ok now you know why kombucha burns your throat, but how can you fix it?
How to Keep Store Bought Kombucha From Burning Your Throat
Choose a Different Flavor or Brand
The amount of acetic acid and alcohol in a bottle of kombucha can vary greatly depending on the company's brewing process. The longer and warmer the fermentation, the more sugar is consumed and more acetic acid and alcohol are produced.
This means that if you drink a bottle of booch that burns your throat, the easiest thing to do to fix it is try a different brand of kombucha. Maybe the brand you were drinking before ferments their kombucha longer or with different techniques that contribute to a more bitter, acidic, and alcoholic drink.
Another thing you can do is choose a sweeter flavor of booch, since the sweetness can mask the harsher alcoholic and vinegary flavors. Fruity and citrus flavors like mango, peach, and blueberry do a good job of lightening and reducing the harsh burning taste of the drink.
If you’re trying to reduce the burn of kombucha, avoid root and spice flavors like ginger or peppers since these in themselves are spicy and will only add to kombucha’s throat kick.
Store It In the Fridge
Another tip to keep your kombucha from burning as it goes down is to keep it refrigerated as much as possible. The cool air in a refrigerator slows down the activity of kombuchas bacteria and yeast culture, keeping them from continuing fermentation and producing more alcohol and acids.
If you leave your kombucha out in a warm environment, it will continue to ferment and create more acetic acid and alcohol, causing more throat burn for you when you drink it.
If the strength and acidity of kombucha hurts your throat, another easy solution is to just dilute it with water before you drink it. I’ve never done this with kombucha since I like its strong flavors, but I have used water to dilute lemonade in the past when I thought it was too strong and it worked great.
This ones a little extreme, but another option to reduce the acidity of your kombucha is to neutralize it. Neutralization is a chemical process where a base is added to an acid to create water, moving the acids pH from 1-3 up to around 7.
Now obviously we don’t want to turn kombucha into water, so we’ll only neutralize it slightly to lower the throat burn it gives you while keeping most of its acids and flavors.
You can do this by slowly adding calcium carbonate or potassium bicarbonate to the drink. You should be able to find both of the chemicals at any health store that sells vitamins and minerals.
How to Brew Kombucha So it Doesn’t Burn Your Throat
If you brew your kombucha yourself you have a few more options to choose from to keep it from burning your throat.
Reduce Fermentation Time and Temperature
The easiest adjustment to make is to just brew your kombucha for less time so that it has more sugar and less acids and alcohol in it. To do this while still ensuring your kombucha ferments long enough to get its signature bitter flavor I recommend taste testing it every day.
To taste my booch with as little hassle as possible I cover one end of a straw and pull a little kombucha out of the jar with the other. This way I don’t have to handle the SCOBY or try pouring the kombucha out of the jar.
Also be sure to keep the temperature of your brewing booch below 80 degrees F (26 C) since hotter temperatures will dramatically increase the speed of the fermentation.
Dilute or Neutralize
Just like store bought booch, you can dilute or neutralize your home brew once it’s finished to lower the strength, acidity, and throat burn.
Use Sweet Flavors
And as I also said in the store bought section above, sweeter flavorings will better mask and lighten the throat hit of kombucha.
I’ve found that using sugary fruits and sweet additives like honey and vanilla really hide the bitter and vinegary taste of kombucha that is more obvious with other flavor combos.
A slight burning sensation in your throat is common when drinking kombucha because of the low levels of naturally occuring acetic acid and alcohol in it. If this feeling bugs you and you want to drink kombucha without it, you can use the methods above to lighten the taste of the drink and reduce the burn.
I hope this article could be helpful for you. If you’d like to learn more about kombucha, including home brewing and health tips, be sure to check out the rest of my website! Have a great day!