Kombucha Series Part 3 - Choosing Sugar

Are all strapped in and ready for part three in my kombucha series?  I sure hope so.

In case you missed the previous hoopla:
Part 1 focused on making your own SCOBY from scratch.
Part 2 was all about choosing the right tea for successful kombucha brewing.

If you’ve been following along so far, you are well on your way to successful home kombucha making.  Your SCOBY should be in fine shape and hopefully you have some tea on hand that will eventually be turned in to some delicious ‘buch.  Before you get started, however, there is one final element needed to get the fermentation ball rolling.

Fuel.

That SCOBY you now have is a bundle of living creatures whose very nature it is to eat and procreate.  Now, you won’t have to put on any Barry White music to encourage those little bacteria yeasts to make wee babies, but you will have to provide them with food to eat to fuel their reproductive efforts.  That is where the sugar comes in to play.

Right about now I anticipate a comment like this:  “But!!!  But!!!  But!!!! Isn’t sugar BAD for you?!?!?!”

Yes.  It isn’t called the white devil for nothing.  HOWEVER!  We’re talking fuel here.  We aren’t talking about added sugar to be consumed by the teaspoonful.  We aren’t even talking about making something that is even considered “sugary”. The bacteria and yeast need food to eat so they can proliferate and therefore ferment our tea into ‘buch.  By the time it is all said and done, there will be far less sugar in a bottle of ready-to-drink kombucha than there was when you started brewing it.  My point is, do not freak out over the use of sugar.  It’s a necessary part of the process.

barbados sugar cane

(A sugar cane field in Barbados)

The deal with sugar is this: There are almost as many kinds on the market as there are types of tea.  What to use?

Let’s first talk about what all of those sugars are, how they’re made, what their individual merits are.  Then we’ll move along to a recommendation or two.

Sugar comes from one of a few sources – sugar cane, sugar beets, a beehive (honey), leaves (stevia), various grains (corn syrup, rice sugar), and even sap from various plants (coconut sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.)  Generally speaking the raw materials are harvested, refined in some way by removing impurities, and then packaged for sale and consumption.  That is REALLY watering down the process, but for what we are covering here, the exact tedious and history-rich process is not important.

Sugars

  • White sugar – The ubiquitous white sugar is very processed sugar cane (or sometime sugar beets) that has all impurities, molasses, and excess water removed from it.  It is usually sold in five-pound bricks in any supermarket.
  • Raw sugar – Although calling raw sugar “raw” is a bit misleading, it is not as processed and manipulated as its cousin, white sugar. When sugar cane or beets are processed into table sugar, they go through several steps of refinement. The original crop is chopped, crushed, and essentially juiced of all the liquid inside. That liquid is boiled to concentrate it and the resulting product is molasses and molasses-rich raw sugar crystals. Further refinement of these crystals extracts more molasses and turns the crystals white and into the common white table sugar. The reason that raw sugar has a light brown color is because it is only partially processed and molasses has not been completely removed.
    Other names that raw sugar is sold under include turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, and the brand name Sugar in the Raw.
  • Barbados or Muscovado sugar – This is a type of sugar found very commonly in the United Kingdom and has a very high molasses content. The sugar crystals are a bit larger than one would expect from standard white table sugar, and the texture is slightly sticky. Elsewhere in the world, Barbados or Muscovado sugar is called Panela sugar or Rapadura.

  • Brown sugar – Unlike raw sugar or Barbados sugar which are indeed brown, brown sugar, the kind commonly used in baking, is not actually partially processed sugar. Instead, it is processed white sugar that has molasses added back into it to give it a brown color, sticky texture, and the ability to be packed like wet sand.
  • Cane juice – Cane juice is another name for the liquid that is yielded in the preliminary steps of sugar processing when sugar cane is mulched into small pieces. The resulting liquid can be bottled and used directly as a sweetener and is sold as cane juice.
  • Evaporated cane juice – It is exactly what it sounds like. The cane juice, which is a product of grinding up sugar cane, is heated and the water content evaporated leaving sugar crystals behind. Evaporated cane juice is often sold under the brand name, Sucanat.

There are several other types of sugars and sweeteners out there, but they are not at all recommended for kombucha making.  This list of no-nos include honey (unless pasteurized), molasses, stevia (leaves or liquid), agave nectar, coconut sugar, rice sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, or any artificial sweetener like aspartame, saccharine, xylitol, etc.

So, given the list of acceptable sugars, which one do I highly recommend?  The answer might surprise you!  Plain old, highly-processed, inexpensive white sugar.

Because it is just about pure sucrose, there is really nothing in it that will interfere with SCOBY growth and development, taint your kombucha with a molasses flavor, or discolor it in any way.  It has the right chemical compound in the right proportion that is easily accessible to the bacteria and yeast that will fuel the SCOBY’s fermentation power.

A drawback to white sugar is that it is difficult to find organic white sugar.  In the previous installment I was adamant about using organic tea to make kombucha because you just don’t know what else is on the tea leaves when they’re not organically grown and handled.  The same is true for sugar. Do you know what they put on sugarcane or sugar beet fields to keep pests at bay and to facilitate crop growth?  Me either, but it’s typically chemical laden garbage that ends up in your food and there for in your body.  Blah.  Chemicals and fertilizers and pesticides do not make good SCOBY food either.

Also, if you are avoiding GMO goods, white sugar made from GMO beets are an obvious do not use product.

So, what to do?  Truthfully, I grit my teeth and use regular white sugar anyway.  On the off day that I can find organic white sugar, I buy some and use it happily.  But most other times, I just use the conventional white sugar made from cane.

Lionel cream and sugar

(Yeah, this is a Lionel Richie cream and sugar set.  Wanna fight about it?)

A few words about how much sugar to use
In upcoming installments, I will share my kombucha recipe with you.  It will contain proportions and measurements for each ingredient.  Please do NOT skimp on the amount of sugar called for.  Remember, it is in the recipe because it is SCOBY food/fuel.  It is a very important part of the yummy chemical experiment you will be conducting in your kitchen.  I know that as a healthy eater it seems almost counter-intuitive to use heaps and heaps and cups and cups of sugar, but trust me on this one.  You will be rewarded with a healthy SCOBY and delicious fizzy kombucha.

Ok!  That’s all for this week.  Please let me know if you have any questions, problems, or concerns.  I want to hear from you!  Email me, contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.  And heck you can even find me on Instagram.  Tell me about your own kombucha experiences or what you would like to experiment with in the first place.
And don’t forget that these kombucha posts will be a weekly occurrence for a while so if you have issues, questions, or topic suggestion for future weeks, tell me in the comments or through one of my aforementioned social media outlets and I’ll do my best to address it.

5 Comments

  1. Acupressure books
    August 6, 2013 7:35 am

    I do consider all the concepts you have presented
    in your post. They are very convincing and can certainly work.
    Still, the posts are very quick for beginners. May you please extend them a bit from next
    time? Thank you for the post.

  2. Joshua Jarman
    June 4, 2014 5:20 pm

    Have you had any success with fruit juice as a sugar, like apple juice? My water kefir is adapted to coconut water, I’d love it if I could adapt my kombucha to tea and apple juice, but i can’t find much info anywhere about which sugars the kombucha is able to break down.

    • Jill
      June 4, 2014 5:43 pm

      I haven’t had much success with it but I encourage you to give it a shot! Perhaps you’ll have better results.

  3. Starr Stern
    February 19, 2015 1:32 am

    who can describe the diff of moscavado and demarara and rapadura ?

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