How to Brew with Kombucha with Coconut Sugar
Are you wondering if it is possible to brew kombucha with coconut sugar? It definitely is - and in this post we are going to take a look at exactly how to make the switch.
The standard recipe for the tea for kombucha calls for quite a lot of sugar. Once cup to one gallon to be exact. This is often off putting to the healthy minded new kombucha maker – who is likely trying to avoid consuming high quantities of sugar. Fortunately, the fermentation process of kombucha making converts a portion of the sugars present into natural acids, depending on how long you brew your kombucha for.
The other thing is – you can opt to use a healthier form of sugar, such as a raw cane sugar or coconut sugar.
Although kombucha is traditionally brewed with white refined sugar, it is becoming more and more common for brewers to use ‘raw-er’ forms of sugar. Coconut sugar has become a popular raw sugar alternative to regular cane sugars.
On the brewing side of things, because the kombucha SCOBY is adapted to live off of refined sugar, switching to a more raw and less processed form of sugar such as coconut sugar, should be done gradually and gently.
However, before we get into how to start brewing your kombucha with coconut sugar let’s take a quick look at what exactly coconut sugar is, how it is made, and why it is better for you than refined sugar.
How Coconut Sugar is Made
In brief, coconut sugar is a product which is derived from the sap of the coconut palm. Incisions are made into the flowers of the coconut palm, and from this it’s sap is collected. The sap is then heated until the moisture has been evaporated out. This process is very similar to how evaporated canes juices and other raw sugars are made.
Why Coconut Sugar is Considered Raw
Now you might be wondering. Hold on, coconut sugar is supposed to be a raw sugar. But it is heated during manufacturing? Yes. This is the case. However, with regards to sugar, the term raw refers to a level of processing which is considered minimal. All sugar requires some processing to reduce it to crystal form. Heat is needed to evaporate out all the moisture so that sugar crystals can form.
Coconut Sugar Versus Refined Cane Sugar
Although there are lots of critics who indicate that raw sugars such as coconut sugar and raw cane sugars are no better or different to refined white cane sugar – there are facts to the contrary. Both coconut sugar and raw cane sugars contain higher amounts of minerals than that of white sugar. Additionally, coconut sugar has a low GI index – almost half that of regular refined cane sugar.
Coconut Sugar has a Higher Mineral Content than Refined Cane Sugar
Coconut sugar contains amounts of calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, as well as polyphenols, antioxidants and some short chain fatty acids.
As opposed to refined white sugar which is 100% sucrose, tests have shown that coconut sugar contains merely 71% sucrose. The remaining 29% is made up of nutrients, antioxidants and inulin (a type of soluble fibre). Which brings us to our next point.
Coconut Sugar has a Lower GI Index than Refined Cane Sugar
As said above, coconut sugar contains amounts of a soluble fibre called inulin. Studies (1, 2) have indicated that inulin can have an inhibiting effect on the uptake of sugars and can result in lower levels of sugar within the blood stream. Which explains why coconut sugar comes in so low on the GI scale. At a reading of 35, compared with refined white sugar’s reading of 60.
The SCOBY and Coconut Sugar
As you can see, coconut sugar is a much less processed and therefore, healthier form of sugar. For humans that is. SCOBYs on the other hand are adapted to refined white cane sugars. This is the sugar type that keeps them healthy. There are two reasons for this:
The SCOBY Finds Raw Sugars Harder to Digest
Because the kombucha SCOBY is used to consuming pure sucrose -i.e. white sugar – any more complex form of sugar is a little more difficult for it to process. This means that using a less refined and more complex sugar such as coconut sugar can result in slower brews.
The Additional Minerals in Raw Sugars Can be Damaging to SCOBYs
As outlined above, raw sugars like coconut sugar contains levels of minerals, which processed white sugars do not. While being of benefit to us, these minerals can however be detrimental to the SCOBY. Exposure to minerals and foreign substances can clog and damage the SCOBY.
All this does not mean however that it is impossible to brew kombucha with a raw sugar like coconut sugar! It just means that you need to up your brew game a little and tune into your SCOBYs health and wellbeing while it gets used to its new, more complex sugar source.
How to Start Brewing Kombucha with Coconut Sugar
The trick to changing over to brewing kombucha with coconut sugar is to make the swop slowly, by degrees. This way your SCOBY will still have some of the pure sucrose that it likes and can easily eat. But also starts to become adapted to converting the more complex coconut sugar as well.
Here is a step by step guide on how to gradually make the changeover from 100% white sugar to 100% coconut sugar.
How to Get Your SCOBY Used to Coconut Sugar
Step 1: Mix Coconut Sugar and White Sugar
For your first batch in the process in introducing your SCOBY to coconut sugar:
Swop out a small portion of the regular white sugar that you use, with some of the coconut sugar you want to switch to. The exact amount will depend on the batch size which you are making.
Rough Guidelines on Sugar Amounts
If you are doing an average size brew, we would recommend that you replace the white sugar with coconut sugar in 1/4 cup increments. This means that if you are using three cups of sugar per batch, it will take you 12 brewing cycles to switch over completely.
If you are brewing small quantities of kombucha, then rather replace the sugar in 1/8 cup increments.
Step 2: Increase the Ratio of Coconut Sugar to White Sugar Each Cycle
Every cycle, increase the the ratio of coconut sugar to white sugar by 1/4 a cup. So if you normally make 1 gallon batches with 1 cup of sugar, it will take 4 brew cycles (about a month and a half) to switch over completely.
Switching Over in One Batch
If you do not have the patience for a gradual switch over to coconut sugar, then you can also try out making a once off switch and see how this goes.
Simply replace the regular sugar which you use in your kombucha with coconut sugar. Set your batch to ferment and monitor it closely. It is likely that it will take quite a few extra days to ferment properly. This is fine, as long as fermentation is actually taking place.
If at the end of an extended brewing period you have a fully fermented batch of kombucha on your hands, then great! SCOBYs can be erratic creatures, and what works for one does not always work for another and vice versa.
If you try this method, make sure your have a store of backup SCOBYs in the wings and do the following during each brewing cycle:
Note: Monitor Each Brew Cycle Closely
While you are making this changeover to coconut sugar, be sure to keep a close eye on your fermenting batches of kombucha. This is important, because faced with the complex sugar and presence of minerals, if your culture is not strong, fermentation can stall completely. If this happens there is a chance that your kombucha could go off. Pathogens such as mold can enter it. This is because if fermentation stops, then the ph of your brew might not be low enough to keep any pathogens or agents of decay out.
If at any point your kombucha does not smell nice through this changeover process, throw it out.
If you notice that fermentation seems to have stopped completely – you can still leave the batch to see if it will pick up. Take note though that the longer you leave it with very little fermentation taking place, the higher the chances are of mold developing on your SCOBY.
If you do not have backup SCOBYs, then mold can spell disaster for your kombucha brewing operations. Which brings us to the next section.
What Can Happen When You Start to Brew Kombucha with Coconut Sugar & What to Do
As mentioned above, when changing over to brewing your kombucha with coconut sugar, it is important to keep a close eye on it and monitor its brewing. Introducing a more complex sugar like coconut sugar cause some erratic brewing results, and even cause you to lose your culture if you are not careful.
No / Super Slow Fermentation of your Kombucha
A common occurrence when introducing complex forms of sugar to SCOBYs is that fermentation can take longer and be slower. This is fine, longer and slower fermentations are actually good for kombucha flavor profiles.
If however fermentation stalls completely, as mentioned above this can result in pathogenic bacteria entering the batch of kombucha. The kombucha could go rotten and smell bad, develop mold etc.
When brewing with coconut sugar or other types of raw sugars, then the additional mineral levels can have a negative impact on the SCOBY. It can weaken and lose brewing power. This will contribute to the above point of super slow or stalled ferments.
What to DO
If you are keen to use coconut sugar for your kombucha, do not let these hurdles put you off. There are just two simple things you need to do in order to navigate these problems. First, keep an eagle eye on the brewing process when making the switch to coconut sugar. And the second is….
Make A SCOBY Hotel
For those of you who who do not know what a SCOBY hotel is… It is simply a large tea filled jar. In this you can keep extra SCOBYs. This is very important if you are going to be doing any kind of experimental brewing. This is because experimental brewing always increases the chance of damaging / losing your SCOBY.
In the case of starting to brew your kombucha with coconut sugar, having a well stocked SCOBY hotel is doubly important. Depending on the genetics of your SCOBY it can take some time for your culture to adapt fully to the more complex coconut sugar. This might mean that new SCOBYs do not grow for a few brews. Over the course of these brews you might even need to introduce a fresh culture if the one you are brewing with has weakened. And of course if you encounter mold or a rotten batch – then your will definately need a new culture!
For full guidelines on how to make and maintain a SCOBY hotel, check out this post . Even if you are not yet going to be switching to coconut sugar, I still recommend you set one of these SCOBY storages up. It is always a good brewing practice : ).
Flavor of Coconut Sugar Kombucha
Once you start to introduce coconut sugar to your kombucha batches, you will probably notice a difference in flavor. And no, the difference will not be towards a coconut flavor!
Coconut sugar does not taste like coconut. Rather, it is similar to brown sugar in taste. This could give your kombucha a slight note of caramel flavor. The flavor is usually mild and not unpleasant.
If you are after a more molasses like flavor for your kombucha, then you should try out one of the very raw forms of cane sugar. Here is a post on the different types of raw sugar one can use for kombucha and how to switch over to brewing with them.
As you can see, brewing kombucha with coconut sugar is fairly easy.
Although there is some chance of brewing mishaps when switching over to complex sugars, it is a simple process. As long as you have a few backup SCOBYs in the wings not too much can go seriously wrong.
On the flip side, brewing kombucha with coconut sugar means that you will be getting a healthier and more nutritious brew. Also, the caramel notes of flavor from the coconut sugar can add a pleasant depth of flavor to your kombucha!