What Kind of Sugar Should I use when Brewing Kombucha?

There are a lot of sugars out there. So which ones are best to use to brew kombucha? Let’s dive in. 

Cane Sugar Brewing Kombucha

With only a few ingredients in kombucha, it’s essential to understand the role that each one plays. Not to say that if you don’t know what sugar’s purpose is, it won’t ferment. The knowledge allows you the freedom to play around and tweak your recipes to make your kombucha brewing experience truly your own.

Why do you need to use sugar?

Sugar is food for the yeast and bacteria and them eating and breaking it down is the essence of the fermentation. The yeast breakdown the sugar and convert it into carbon dioxide and alcohol–The bacteria break it down into healthy acids. Without sugar, there would be no fermentation.

By the end of the primary fermentation, the majority of the sugar has been eaten up. It’s important to realize that the sugar in kombucha isn’t there for you–it’s there for the micro-organisms. In many store-bought brands, you may have noticed that the sugar content or carbs are higher than you’d like. This comes mostly from flavors added in the second fermentation, which is after the kombucha has finished fermenting. One of the beauties of brewing your own kombucha is the sense of control that you have over the final result. If you’re trying to avoid sugarcaffeinealcohol, etc., your brew can be tailored to suit your individual needs and goals!

What type of sugar is best for kombucha?

Organic cane sugar is the best option for brewing kombucha. It is easily broken down by the yeast and bacteria with consistent results. When sugar is more complex, it is less available for microbial consumption, introducing extra variables that can affect brewing duration, flavor, and overall success.

Can you experiment with different types of sugar?

I encourage you to experiment with the different variables in your brewing to see what works best for you. 

Before you ferment, though, I would recommend brewing a few times following the basic kombucha recipe until you understand the basic principals. Keeping a SCOBY hotel or backup of kombucha starter tea is good practice when you’re experimenting with different key ingredients. This way, you have a backup plan to start fresh if and when something goes awry with your experiment. In essence, a simple jar with 3-4 cups of matured kombucha starter tea will do, covered with a breathable cloth.

What are some different types of sugar that you can use?

Pro Tip: Before experimenting with any brew it, you should have a backup kombucha starter culture to start fresh in case something doesn’t work out as planned. 

  • Turbinado, Sucanat & Demerara

    Turbinado, sucanat & demerara are all common types of sugar that you may find in the grocery store. Each of these is a different type of cane sugar, refined to various degrees. These less refined sugars include more molasses, aka trace minerals for you and your SCOBY. If using, you’ll want to taste test often to make sure you don’t over ferment and let it get too sour!

  • Beet Sugar

    Beet sugar will ferment just fine, but I would not necessarily recommend it as it is highly processed, includes microbial inhibitors, and is made from GMOs. Most brown sugar in stores is made from beet sugar, so be sure to read your labels!

  • Molasses

    Molasses is made during the production of cane sugar. Sugar cane is juiced and goes through several stages of boiling, encouraging the sucrose to crystallize so it can be easily removed and processed as cane sugar. By the 3rd boil, most of the crystallized sugar has been removed, and the result is a thick, high mineral content molasses. Since it is so low in sucrose, I don’t recommend using it as a stand-alone sugar source in your kombucha. Instead, I would only replace about 1/4 of the sugar with molasses. Adding molasses increases the mineral content and adds some depth of flavor in your kombucha–especially for those wanting to brew more “original” flavored kombucha and not mess with flavoring during the secondary.

  • Honey

    Honey contains a high percentage of sugar and works great to ferment kombucha. Different types of honey include different ratios of sugar so that you can expect different results with a Tupelo honey (lower percentage of sugar) versus wildflower honey or Brassica (high percentage). It is a bit harder for the SCOBY to break it down when compared to cane sugar but will ferment and has the added benefit of minerals and a delicate honey flavor. If brewing jun kombucha, feel free to use raw honey. If brewing traditional kombucha, you’ll want to shy away from raw honey because of honey’s natural microbial content. What is jun kombucha?

  • Agave Nectar 

    Agave is extracted nectar from the agave plant and is the source of sugar for tequila fermentation. As a naturally derived sweetener, it’s popularity has risen recently for all kinds of uses–adding kombucha to that list! You may notice a few off-flavors or changes in fermentation time, pellicle formation, or yeast activity, but your culture will adjust. I would recommend supplementing with some cane sugar or rotating between brews.

  • Maple Syrup

    Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees and is comprised of mostly sucrose, making it an excellent choice for kombucha. Its high mineral content is a bonus for your SCOBY and you! Use about 3/4 cup per gallon of kombucha and expect an adjustment period with your brew.

  • Coconut Palm Sugar

    Coconut palm sugar is another sap-derived sugar, made from the coconut palm tree. The sap flows out of the cut flower stem and can be collected twice per day. The sap is heated to allow for evaporation and crystallization. It can be used as a cane sugar replacement for most applications, including kombucha. However, a lot of brewers will tell you that this sugar tends to create off-flavors in their kombucha. The primary sugar in coconut palm sugar is sucrose. 

Are there any sugars that you should never use in kombucha?

There are no real limitations on the types of sugars that you can use as long as they’re real sugars. There are a lot of “sweeteners” in the market that chemically mimics sugars, but the yeast and bacteria do not recognize them as sugars and, therefore, will not ferment. This includes sweeteners like Sweet n Low, Xylitol, Stevia, Splenda, etc. These work great for “back sweetening” if you want to add sweetness after the fermentation without restarting the fermentation. This is common in homebrewing wine, champagne, mead, and cider to add sweetness to a completely dry end product.

Is there a sweetener that you use, or have a question about one not listed here? Let us know in the comments below!

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