The sugar content of kombucha is one of the most FAQ and common concerns we get about drinking kombucha. When reading that the standard kombucha recipe calls for one cup of sugar per gallon, many brewers often ask if it is okay to use sugar substitutes. Additionally, some commercial brands of kombucha contain up to 10 grams of sugar per serving (yikes!), it’s no wonder there are skeptics out there! Rest assured, not all kombucha is created equal. When using the YEABUCHA Method, home brewed kombucha contains only 2-6 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving.
We believe the benefits of kombucha made with our tried-and-true method of using organic cane sugar, are well worth the relatively small amount of fermented sugar. We also wanted to see if it was possible to achieve a similar result using an alternative sweetener. For our experiment we selected 5 common sugar substitutes that are considered healthy. We grabbed some extra SCOBYs from our SCOBY Hotel and got to work!
For the experiment, we used: coconut sugar, monk fruit sweetener, brown sugar, agave syrup and maple syrup. We opted for all organic ingredients, and continued to use our YEABUCHA Brew Method, just swapping out one cup of sugar, for the equivalent substitute sweetener. We set out to do 3 rounds of brewing, each with a 10 day F1 and 3 day F2. A few batches were discontinued prematurely when mold occurred. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t worth it for us to use an alternative sweetener. None of the brews came out tasting nearly as good as our typical cane sugar kombucha! Nonetheless, we are glad we experimented with these alternatives to share with you!
Substitute #1: Coconut Sugar
Batch 1: In our first attempt with this type of sugar, the brew took on a dark maple brown color, and a lot of sediment formed in the brew, making it cloudy. It smelled oaky and had absolutely no carbonation (which isn’t a very good sign - remember carbonation is a byproduct of fermentation)! The baby SCOBY that grew was paper thin and grew a small patch of mold in the corner. We tossed this batch and skipped bottling and flavoring for F2. This was the end of our coconut sugar experimentation!
Substitute # 2: Brown Sugar
Batch 1: The brew took on a light brown color, and was surprisingly very cloudy, so much so we couldn’t see the SCOBY in the brew jar. It smelled like normal kombucha, but there was no carbonation, again not a good sign. The new SCOBY grew mold, so we tossed this batch down the drain! That meant no bottling and flavoring for F2 for this batch either!
Substitute #3: Monk Fruit Sweetener
Batch 1: With this alternative, the brew took on a light amber color and smelled pungent and sour, and had no carbonation. We also noticed an increase in strings of yeast floating about, yeast itself is not a concern, but a sudden abundance was abnormal. A very thin, jelly-like SCOBY grew on top, but thankfully no mold with this one! After 3 days of F2 flavored with mixed berry we gave it a taste and can’t say we enjoyed it, but we’ll give it another shot!
Batch 2: After this round of fermentation, small white dots grew all over the thin new SCOBY, and it smelled so pungent and rotten that we could not even bring ourselves to flavor and bottle it. This did not appear to be healthy to drink so it was dumped and that was the end of the Monk Fruit Sweetener!
Substitute #4: Agave Syrup
Batch 1: With this batch, the brew developed a light orangish color, and a haze of yeast grew throughout the brew, which surprisingly looked like floating bats. This batch smelled very sour and had no carbonation, but grew a pretty decent new SCOBY on top, about ¼ of an inch thick. After 3 days of F2 flavored with mix berry, we gave it a taste and would NOT recommend it. There was no carbonation and it was entirely missing that classic kombucha tang!
Batch 2: Again, we saw a light orangish color, though the unusual yeast growth seemed to have subsided. Similar to the first round, this batch smelled very sour and had no carbonation, SCOBY growth decreased this week. We bottled and flavored for a 3 day F2, but could only manage about a teaspoon before dumping this batch. It just was not good, especially when you’re used to delicious home brew!
Substitute #5: Maple Syrup
Batch 1: The brew had an amber color with mild cloudiness. This batch smelled a little more sour than normal kombucha, but it wasn’t too strong! This was the only alternative batch where we saw great carbonation! A thin SCOBY grew on top, fully attached to the Mother. After 3 days of F2 flavored with mix berry, we gave it a taste and it was sweet and tart, with maple undertones. It wasn’t terrible, but 2 sips were plenty for us.
Batch 2: - With the second batch of maple syrup, the amber color remained but cloudiness subsided. The smell stayed consistent, definitely a little off, but not as rotten smelling as the monk fruit experiment. The carbonation was impressive once again, and SCOBY growth was about ¼ inch and appeared healthy. We bottled and flavored for a 3 day F2, and poured ourselves a glass! Can’t say we finished the maple syrup booch...and may have swapped it out for a bubbly glass of the good stuff. Although the taste wasn’t for us, we still wanted to see the experiment through to the final round. This would be the only batch that would make it to round 3.
Batch 3: For the final round, we cut back to ½ a cup of maple syrup instead of a full cup, as the maple sweetness was beginning to become overbearing. This time, the SCOBY grew patchy and bumpy. The brew grew strands of yeast that appeared to be very stringy and form in clumps. Once again, there was good carbonation, and we moved forward with bottling and flavoring for one last 3 day F2. We opened the bottle fresh from the fridge and poured one last glass. It smelled strongly of maple, thought it lacked depth and that classic kombucha tart punch. One sip was more than enough for us!
Through our experimentation we learned a lot and were happy to gain new knowledge. Of all our different batches, the maple syrup was the most successful, yet still left us wanting our classic kombucha. Our final assessment: save the sugar substitutes for baking, and reserve organic cane sugar for your mouth watering kombucha! If you are interested in experimenting with sugar alternatives or something else, make sure you’ve got plenty of healthy SCOBYs in your SCOBY Hotel so you can keep your kombucha going strong!
While we’ve never experimented with honey, you can make a similar beverage with honey called Jun Tea. It is important to be careful when brewing with honey, since many types of honey have bacteria in them (often the good kind!) but it can interfere with SCOBY health. Let us know if you experiment with honey, we’d love to hear about your experience!