When I measured out the sugar for my first batch of kombucha I was astounded. Is there actually that much sugar in kombucha? I thought this was supposed to be a healthy drink?
Have we all been duped? How much sugar is there actually in kombucha? I wanted to know, so as usual, I did a little research!
It turns out, the sugar content in kombucha is significantly reduced during the brewing process. The reduction in sugar is usually around 1/2. This is due to the hungry yeast breaking down the complex sugar molecules into a form that is easily digestible for the bacteria. This means, if we stick with the conventional 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brewed kombucha, we are left with around 9 grams per 8 ounces of kombucha.
That’s much more reasonable than I first thought. Just for some reference, a 12-ounce can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar and an 8-ounce glass of fruit juice contains 23 grams of sugar.
It’s also important to note that the sugar in kombucha is not the same as the sugar found in other sweetened drinks. Because the yeast breaks down the complex sucrose sugar into simpler forms (glucose and fructose) its easier for our bodies to process. This lessens the impact of the sugar even more!
How To Measure The Sugar In Your Kombucha
I’m not just guessing when it comes to measuring the sugar in kombucha. A member in a kombucha community I’m a part of recently did her own test. Here were the conditions:
- 14 day F1.
- 1 cup of sugar per 1 gallon kombucha
- pH of 2.8
She then boiled down the kombucha and measured the remaining solids. But what about the bits of SCOBY and tea? Well, she boiled down plain tea and measured the leftovers. She then subtracted these remaining solids to the kombucha tea and came up with 9 grams/cup of kombucha.
But that’s just home-brewed kombucha, what about store bought?
How Much Sugar Is In Commercial Kombucha?
Kombucha is just starting to reach the masses. And because most people’s first sip of kombucha is going to come from a commercially produced product, they tend to be a little higher in sugar content. The taste of kombucha can be a little offputting for some, so having a little extra sugar is going to help coax a few more customers into becoming regular bucha drinkers.
While every company is going to have slightly different brewing recipes, here are a few popular brands for your comparison:
- Brew Dr – 5 grams in 7 ounces
Gt’s Enlightened Organic Raw Kombucha Original – 2 grams in 8 ounces
Humm Lemon Ginger Kombucha – 7 grams in 8 ounces
Kevita Master Brew Kombucha Ginger – 8 grams in 8 ounces
As you can see, it’s not too far off from what we’d expect from homebrew. There is the odd company out there that has similar sugar levels as fruit juice (24 grams!) But this really isn’t kombucha at all and is usually pasteurized to kill off any of the bacteria (what’s the point?)
But what about those who wan the least amount of sugar possible? Is there a way to lower the sugar content even more?
How To Lower The Sugar Content In Kombucha
1. Increase Your Brew Time
The easiest way to lower the sugar content in your home brewed kombucha is to increase the brewing time. This provides the yeast and bacteria more time to digest the sugar and turn it into the acids that provide the kombucha its flavor.
The only downside to this approach is your kombucha will eventually become unbearably sour. It’s best to experiment with finding the fine line between a reduction in sugar and the sour taste.
I’ve heard the best way to do this is to lower the temperature of your brew by a few degrees to slow the fermentation process down. This is supposed to produce a more balanced flavor while still reducing the sugar content.
2. Do A Second Ferment
The second ferment is a way to increase the fermentation process without actually having the scoby present. This works in a similar way as increasing your brew time – it allows extra time for the bacteria to feast on the sugars.
A second ferment is accomplished by doing the following:
- Remove the brew from the brewing vessel.
- Seal it in an air-tight glass container.
- Let sit for a couple of days and then move to the fridge to drop the temperature for 7 days.
The end result will be a flavorful beverage with about 2/3 the amount of sugar as regular kombucha. The second ferment is also a great time to flavor your bucha. Adding a pinch of ginger, or a few small sticks of cinnamon can go a long way in the flavor department.
3. Use Pasteurized Honey
Around 80% of a typical honey’s sugar content is in the form of monosaccharides (glucose and fructose.) This makes it easier for the bacteria to gobble up during the fermentation process. As a result, the brewing cycle is typically reduced and you can expect a reducing in the overall sugar content.
Honey brews have been known to go sour much faster if not refrigerated immediately after brewing.
Be warned: do not use raw honey!
Raw honey is packed full of hostile bacteria that will clash with the yeast and bacteria in the kombucha. This will likely turn your brew sour, or worse, moldy.
While it may be nice to reduce the sugar content, you may be wondering, is it possible to have completely sugar-free kombucha?
Sugar-Free Kombucha – Is It Possible?
I’ve heard people ask if they can substitute the sugar in kombucha for common sugar alternatives. The short answer here is no. The reason being is kombucha is a living organism that requires fuel to grow.
Sugar is a necessary food for most living organisms on this earth. This includes the bacteria and the yeast in your scoby. Without the sugar, the scoby wouldn’t have the energy to produce the nutrient-rich beverage we’ve come to love.
Besides, having a little sugar in the bucha is a nice way to balance out the acidic flavor of the fermentation.
I highly recommend you avoid alternatives sugar as agave, baker’s sugar, or brown rice syrup. From the experiences of others, the result is usually something that is unpalatable and sometimes even mold-ridden!
Does this mean all sugar substitutes are bad?
No, not really. Here are a few of my favorites you can try out for yourself.
Sugar Substitutes – What You Can Use
I’ve done a little more research into what you can actually use as a sugar substitute. It turns out there are actually a few reasonable options out there besides sugar.
It’s a good idea to only use spare scoby from your scoby hotel if you want to experiment with other sugar sources.
If you’re looking for a completely unique flavor profile, maple syrup is the way to go. Maple syrup is largely unprocessed and is full of different trace minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and calcium.
It’s also low on the glycemic scale. Meaning it’s not going to affect your blood sugar as much as regular sugar.
It’s recommended you only use 100% pure maple syrup for a substitute to avoid any of the unnecessary exposure to more corn syrup.
Because maple syrup is so rich it’s recommended you only substititute 2/3 cup in place of 1 cup of cane sugar.
The flavor profile of maple syrup not out there enough for you? I think you’ll find what you’re looking for with molasses. Molasses is especially good for anyone who is really trying to cut down on their sugar content. It has the lowest sugar content of any sugar cane product.
It’s also packed full of even more essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium. And while it is still derived from the same cane sugar, it is digested much more slowly which may help in stabilizing your blood sugar.
Flavor-wise, expect something along the lines of an earthy caramel flavor.
I’ve heard of people having difficulty brewing a batch of 100% molasses kombucha. You may want to consider mixing it in with raw cane sugar, or even maple syrup if you’re feeling creative.
3. Coconut Water
I was surprised when I first encountered this style of brewing. Most people like to avoid heating coconut water altogether. Instead, they cold-infuse the tea with the coconut water acting as the water replacement.
Others choose to skip the tea entirely and only use coconut water as a replacement. I haven’t tried this myself, but the results sound interesting. It’s supposed to taste completely different and even stronger than conventional kombucha (it’s on my list of experiments!)
I have also heard of people mixing in the coconut water with their sweet tea mixture. While this won’t reduce your sugar levels, it’s bound to result in a unique flavor profile. You can also consider reducing the sugar content in your sweet tea and let the coconut water make up the difference.
Using coconut water as your primary fuel source results in about 50% less sugar overall.
Whatever you choose, there are always plenty of new experiments you can try to reduce your sugar content.
As you can see, the overall sugar content is going to vary by what brewing technique and the ingredients you choose to use. Overall, the sugar content of kombucha is much less than most other health drinks. The 4 grams of sugar per 8 ounces is just an average and shouldn’t be taken as an exact amount.
Do you have any other ideas for increasing or decreasing the sugar content in kombucha? Let us know in the comments below!