How to Brew Kombucha with Date Sugar / Syrup
Are you wondering if it is possible to brew kombucha with date sugar? The answer is - yes and no. In this post we are going to take a look at what types of date sweeteners are suitable for kombucha, and how to make the switch.
Hey guys, today we are going to be talking about how to brew kombucha with sugar derived from dates.
Date based sweeteners are gaining a steady rise in popularity as a healthy form of sweetening. If you are thinking of using date sugar in your kombucha, but are unsure if it is possible, this is the post for you.
First up, let’s take a quick look at the different forms of date derived sweeteners there are, and which one is suitable for kombucha brewing.
Date Sugar Versus Date Syrup
There are two different types of date sweeteners, date sugar and date syrup.
Date sugar consists of finely ground up dates. For this reason it is an extremely healthy and nutritious form of sugar /sweetening. It retains its rich amount of fibre, which slows down our absorption of the sugar in the dates. The opposite of refined cane sugar which has 0 fibre, and for that reason causes the sugar to be taken up by the body all in one go. This shock on the pancreas and insulin regulation system is thought to be the cause of diabetes.
Besides having this great low GI, date sugar also contains potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin. Most dates sugars can also be categorized as 100% raw, as they have not been adulterated in any way and are not processed using heat.
Date Sugar For Kombucha Making
Unfortunately the downside for us kombucha brewers is that date sugar is not an ideal date based sweetener for kombucha brewing. The reason for this is that wonderful healthy fibre that date sugar contains. The fibre still present in date sugar is not dissolvable. Think about it. Date sugar is essentially finely ground up whole dates. If you add this to tea, the tea will not sweeten up properly. And, you will be left with a lot of date sediment at the bottom of the tea.
So using date sugar for your kombucha might not work out too well.
Date syrup is the other date derived sweetener available. The commercially sold date syrup is made by heating ripe dates, and extracting a sticky syrup from them. Although date syrup is healthier than regular syrup, it does not retain all of the healthy fibre of the whole dates, or as high an amount of the minerals. Date sugar on the other hand retains all of the healthy fibre and all of the minerals. Date syrup is considered less raw than date sugar, and undergoes heat treatment when being manufactured.
That said, date syrup is still a much healthier and less processed form of sweetening than refined cane sugar. It is also more suitable to use in kombucha making than date sugar.
Date Syrup for Kombucha
As stated, date syrup is better suited to kombucha making than date sugar. This is because, being in a syrup form it is dissolvable. Which is what we need when making the tea for kombucha fermentation. Unlike date sugar, the syrup will easily dissolve into the tea you are making for your kombucha
How to Brew Kombucha with Date Syrup
Now that we have established that date syrup is the option to choose for brewing kombucha, let’s get into how to make the switch.
First up, we need to talk a little about the kombucha SCOBY. SCOBYs are sugar addicts, and they prefer processed sugars, the more refined the better! Let’s take a look why this is so.
Why SCOBYs Do Not Like Healthy Sugars
Refined Sugar is Easier for Them to Eat
The reason why SCOBYs prefer refined sugars to healthier alternatives is because they are used to sugar in its pure form – 100% sucrose. They can easily eat this up and convert it to natural acids. SCOBYs are adapted to feeding and living off of processed sugar.
Refined Sugars do Not Contain Minerals
As mentioned, one of the reasons why raw sugars like date sugar / syrup is considered a healthier alternative to refined sugars is due to their higher mineral contents. Unfortunately SCOBYs do not like minerals. For some reason continual exposure to minerals can be detrimental to the health and vitality of SCOBYs.
This does not however mean that you cannot use raw sugars in your kombucha. Oftentimes SCOBYs are able to handle these types of things with minimal problems. However keep this in mind when monitoring your brews and the health of your SCOBY after switching to date sugar.
Could I Lose My SCOBY When Switching to Date Sugar?
Yes. There is always the possibility of this when introducing new ingredients to a SCOBY which are not ideal for it. In fact – there is always a chance you might lose a SCOBY, even when doing standard brews.
For this reason, we always recommend the following:
Make a SCOBY Hotel if You Have Not Done This Already
A SCOBY hotel – if you are unfamiliar with the term – is simply a glass jar filled with sweet tea and spare SCOBYs. The tea has to be changed every so often so that the SCOBYs have something to eat. This small task is a well worth the time, as it means that if ever anything happens to the SCOBY which you are brewing with, there is nothing to worry about. You just fish out a healthy SCOBY from your hotel!
If you are going to switch over to date sugar, or any other raw sugar for that matter, then having a SCOBY hotel set up is doubly important. Make sure you do this before starting the switch.
For detailed guidelines on how to set up and run a SCOBY hotel, check out our post How to Make and Maintain the Perfect SCOBY Hotel.
Ok back to our date sugar switch : ).
How to Adapt Your SCOBY to Date Syrup
As you can see, when you first introduce your SCOBY to date syrup, it might not be so impressed. The date syrup will be harder for it to process, and contain minerals which the SCOBY does not like. This is why the gentlest way to switch over for your SCOBY is to adapt it slowly.
Here is our step by step guidelines for introducing and adapting your SCOBY to date syrup.
Step 1: Mix Date Syrup and White Sugar
For your first batch in the process in introducing your SCOBY to date syrup:
Swop out a small portion of the regular white sugar that you use, with some of the date syrup you want to switch to. The exact amount will depend on the batch size which you are making.
Ratio of date syrup to white sugar:
Date syrup is slightly more concentrated than sugar in terms of sweetness. Aim to use about 2/3 of a cup of date syrup to every cup of sugar.
Rough Guidelines on Sugar / Syrup Amounts
If you are doing an average size brew, we would recommend that you replace the white sugar with date syrup 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.
Because you only need 2/3 of a cup of date syrup to every cup of sugar, this means that if you are swapping out 1/4 each brewing cycle, then you need only replace it with 1/6 of a cup of date syrup.
If you are swapping out larger or smaller amounts, roughly swop in two thirds of the sugar amount you are replacing with date syrup.
Step 2: Increase the Ratio of Date Syrup to White Sugar Each Cycle
Every cycle, decrease the white sugar by 1/4 a cup and increase the date syrup by 1/6 of a cup. 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.
At the end you will be using only date syrup – 2/3 of a cup in quantity.
Note: Monitor Each Brew Cycle Closely
While you are making this changeover to date syrup, 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, ferments might be unpredictable. If at any point your kombucha does not smell nice through this changeover process, throw it out.
What Could Go Wrong
While you are monitoring your kombucha batches throughout switching over to date syrup, here are some of the things to watch out for.
Mold is something which cannot get into healthy batches of kombucha. This is because the fermentation process drops the ph too low for pathogens like mold to enter. However if your SCOBY is struggling to process the date syrup, and fermentation takes a wobble – then this is a time when mold could occur.
Mold is identifiable by taking the form of round dry patches that are slightly furry. It can only grow on the surface of the SCOBY, not on the surface of the tea itself.
If you notice anything suspicious that looks like mold, throw your batch out, SCOBY and all. You should then start afresh with a new culture and tea.
A Fermentation that Has Stopped
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.
As mentioned above, if your kombucha smells off at any point then something has gone wrong. Do not drink the kombucha. Throw it out, and start again. You will again probably want to use a new SCOBY and start the adapting process once more.
Very Fast Ferments
Like I mentioned, date syrup has the tendency to speed up ferments. This is not ideal for the end result kombucha, as it is likely to be sharp in taste while hinting at immaturity and lacking in depth in the flavor profile. Although frustrating, fast fermetnation does not mean that you should throw out your brew and SCOBY. It merely shows that the SCOBY is still adapting to the date syrup.
If this happens, keep on with the switch over program and you should start to see an improvement at some point.
Switching Over in One Batch
If you do not have the patience for a gradual switch over to date syrup, 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 date syrup in a 2/3 cup date syrup to 1 cup sugar ratio. Set your batch to ferment and monitor it closely. It is likely that fermentation time will be impacted. It might go very fast, or slower than usual. Most people experience faster fermentations using date syrup.
This method might work. Particularly if you have a strong SCOBY which has been exposed to complex sugars in its genetic ‘history’.
If this method does not work and you are having brewing problems, then you can try out the switchover method.
Maintaining a SCOBY Hotel into the Future
Once you have made a complete switch to brewing with date syrup, it is time to consider the future and your SCOBY hotel. It would be wise to continue to keep up your SCOBY hotel, incase the exposure to minerals from the date syrup weakens your brewing SCOBY.
Unfortunately, if your SCOBYs have been living in their hotel in a sweet tea make from white sugar, then this is what they will be used to. You will then have to re-adapt one to date syrup (if the need arises to replace your brewing one). However if you feed the SCOBYs in the hotel with date syrup, then they too could stand a chance of being weakened by mineral exposure.
Here is what you can do:
Slowly Swop Out Your First Backup SCOBYs With Babies From the Brewing One
In order to have access to SCOBYs which have a little ‘raw sugar hardiness’ in their makeup, slowly swop out your backup SCOBYs with new babies from your brewing jar.
In the hotel, they will return to a diet of refined sugar. However, hopefully they will retain a genetic memory of processing date syrup efficiently, and therefore will not struggle too much if introduced back into it.
Date sugar is an infinitely healthier form of sweetening. Although not suitable for kombucha making, it’s slightly more processed relative, date syrup – is.
If you choose to switch your kombucha SCOBY over to a diet of date sugar, you might experience some brewing problems. However if you stick to a gradual change over method, then you should be able to adapt your SCOBY to this more complex form of sugar.
It is always important to keep some back up SCOBYs in the wings when brewing with a complex sugar. You should always keep a store of spare SCOBYs. Even if you get to the point where you have been brewin with date sugar for some time. This is because the long term mineral exposure could weaken your SCOBY. In which case it is time for a new one.
Brewers have experienced varying result with date sweetened kombucha. Some good, some bad. The final result of your date syrup trials will probably depend on your SCOBY. Give it a try, and let us know what your experience is.
Good luck with the switching over and may you enjoy many date syrup sweetened brews!