Busting the Fear of Sugar in Kombucha

The news is in: Kombucha is hot.


Okay..... you already knew that. But as with every new trend, product or salvation that comes around, there are naysayers, there is always an argument and it's always about BALANCE.

So today I am busting some kombucha myths and the biggest one: "I won't drink kombucha because it has too much sugar in it."

Kombucha will always have some sugar in it, no matter if you purchase commercially (store-bought) or make it yourself. This is because the SCOBY (kombucha culture) needs it to live. The bottom line is that the benefits of it being a fermented drink outweigh the downside of it having some sugar in it.

Do I have to use sugar? I never consume sugar so it puts me off Kombucha.

The sugar in Kombucha is for the culture to consume, not for you. The sugar is the 'starter' or 'feed' for our culture, that gets the transformation process going. When the fermenting process is complete, there will be about 2-6 grams per 8 ounce glass of unflavored Kombucha. (By contrast, natural carrot juices have 13g per 8 ounces.)

For home brewers, you can control the amount of sugar remaining by fermenting longer, for 3 weeks or longer sugar levels in Kombucha may be even lower – this is often recommended for diabetics and others with low sugar tolerance.  The problem with this is that often by the time we reach the 3-week mark, the kombucha is now vinegar. It's not recommended to drink vinegar on its own but then to water it down with juice negates the lower-sugar idea. Keeping your intake low, like 2-4 oz per day, is your safest bet if you are really concerned about sugar intake.

Why does Kombucha need the sugar?

Without sugar kombucha cannot ferment.  Sucrose is most easy to digest by the yeasts; they consume the sugar and put out CO2 (carbon dioxide, i.e. those delicious bubbles in your booch!!) & ethanol (alcohol). Which is nice.

As part of the fermentation process the bacteria consume the ethanol and express the healthy amino acids, trace vitamins and minerals.

Do I have to add all of the sugar?

Yes! The recommended recipe is 1 cup of sugar per gallon. Too little and you will inhibit the brew’s normal healthy development; no SCOBY, no acetic acid. Too much and the yeasts will either overrun the bacteria or fall 'asleep' and do nothing.

Are there other fermented foods that give me benefits other than kombucha?

Yes! If you are still concerned about drinking kombucha after reading all of this, there are other beautiful raw, organic fermented foods you can get or make like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, miso, coconut yogurt or milk kefir. Check out local grocers who carry some of these beautiful products.

What type of sugar should I use to brew Kombucha?

This debate can be heated, but it’s really simple. Most sugars are fine for Kombucha but there are preferred choices:

The color of sugar is determined by how much molasses is left after processing.

  • Plain White Sugar– the Kombucha culture consumes this easiest. Use only “cane sugar” to avoid GMO beet sugar. Concerns about trace toxins in white sugar processing should be considered.

  • Evaporated Cane Juice – My personal choice for our Experience Kombucha. Cleaner process but slightly more difficult for the Kombucha to consume.

  • Brown Sugar – Harder for the Kombucha to break down, it will also change the flavor significantly. Probably best for your experimental batches only.

  • Honey – Used with success in some brewers' homes, but DO NOT USE RAW. The honeys' bacteria will disturb the Kombucha SCOBY balance. Often we have concerns about sugar and think honey will be a great choice - raw honey is great for your coffee, tea or baking, but don't try it with kombucha.

Of course there ARE sugars you wouldn't want to use, like agave, xylitol or molasses. (For more details including ratios for how much to use per gallon, check out our friends' over at Kombucha Kamp. Types of Sugar to Use for Brewing Kombucha

Can multiple types of sugar be combined into one Kombucha brew?

For home brewing, absolutely! Just as with tea blends, blending different types of sugar can alter the flavor and add depth of flavour to your brew. Have fun and experiment!

Organic? Fair Trade? 

These don't matter to the Kombucha culture. Only to you. I make these (slightly more expensive) choices for the severely high standards that I hold for Experience Kombucha. However, no one should ever put off brewing Kombucha for fear of expense. Lipton tea bags and plain white sugar will get the job done too! If you have more questions about home brewing your own kombucha, you might get them answered in our Kombucha Q&A which is a gathering of the many questions I've had over the years as I teach home brew workshops.

To conclude....

The bottom line is that the benefits of it being a fermented drink outweigh the bit of sugar in it.

We are missing these active bacteria's in our modern diet and drinking kombucha helps offset that imbalance. There are a lot more benefits to taking in the probiotics/good bacteria from these foods/drinks (like our skin health, liver, digestion, immune system and more.) Our guts' need it. It'll love it! Keeping your intake low, like 1 oz per day to start, working your way up to 4-6 oz, is your safest bet if you are really concerned about sugar intake.

Hope this answers your questions about sugar and kombucha. If not and you have a fermentation question you need answered, feel free to simply contact me!