How to Brew Kombucha with Raw Sugars
Thinking about making your next batch of kombucha using raw sugar? Great idea! In this guide we get into the different types of raw sugars which are available, as well as how to begin to brew kombucha with raw sugar.
Today we are going to talk about how to brew kombucha using raw cane sugars. The standard recipe for making the kombucha tea calls for plain old white sugar. This is often off putting to new brewers who are interested in making kombucha largely for its health benefits. White sugar is not healthy! Do I have to use white sugar? Do I have to use so much?
To answer these questions – yes, you have to use a form of calorie containing sweetening, and you cannot reduce the amounts too much. The SCOBY within your kombucha requires the sugar as its food source. Without some form of calorie containing sweetening, the SCOBY well be unable to ferment your tea, and eventually starve.
But, while you do need a sweetener, no you do not have to use white sugar. You can use the other healthier kinds of raw cane sugars instead. These raw forms of cane sugar are generally considered by many to be a healthier and more nutritious form of sugar.
They can however be slightly trickier to brew with than regular processed white sugar.
Why Use Raw Sugar for Your Kombucha
Before we get into how to brew your kombucha with raw sugars, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of using them in place of white sugar.
The Health Benefits Raw Cane Sugar
There are many articles on the internet which state that ‘raw’ sugar is simply a buzzword, and that raw sugars are simply ordinary sugar dressed up by producers as a health product. While the buzzword syndrome of our internet age is one to be avoided – raw sugar does have proven scientific health benefits. Some of these benefits are described as unique to sugar, which means that you can not get them from other sources.
In addition, if you are familiar with Ayurvedic medicine you might be interested to know that raw sugar cane derivatives are often prescribed for the management of iron deficiency anemia. The Unani system of medicine also prescribes raw cane sugar – mostly for its liver supporting effects.
Scientific Findings on the Health Benefits of Raw Sugar
It is not only the East which advocates the health benefits of raw sugar – Western science has revealed a stack of properties as well.
- Liver protective(2)
- Blood sugar normalizing (3)
- Diuretic activity(4, 5)
- Acetylcholine release (6)
- Anti-inflammatory effects (7)
- Antihypercholesterolemic effects(8)
- Antithrombotic activity(9, 10)
- Contains beneficial microbes that enhance healthy gut flora (11)
- Immunological and redox-anti-oxidant effects(12, 13)
- Anticariogenic effects( 14, 15)
This list of health benefits revealed by studies was compiled by Donald R. Yance, Jr., CN, MH and a full article by him detailing the health benefits of raw sugar can be found here. For those of you interested in the studies, I have tracked down the ones I can find online – and they are linked here and at the bottom of this post.
What IS Raw Sugar & Why is It so Healthy?
Getting the scientific findings in for raw sugar is fantastic, but before we go on I just want to distinguish what exactly constitutes raw sugar. Raw is becoming one of those buzzwords which is often stamped onto products by manufacturers with no real backing or truth behind the claim. At this point in time there are no controls, standards or governing body to be passed when it comes to terming a food product ‘raw’. Unlike with organic, the stamp ‘raw’ does not have to be verified by anyone!
Therefore, when you are buying and selecting a ‘raw’ sugar, be aware of this kind of misleading labelling. Do the research, and make sure that what you are buying as ‘raw sugar’ is in fact minimally processed and not merely inaccurately and misleadingly labeled.
What Constitutes a Raw Sugar
Although there are various ‘raw’ forms of sugar, it does not appear that there are any widely available varieties of sugar which are processed completely without any level of heat applied. This contradicts the term raw – however rawness can also be associated with the concept of minimal processing. So in this case, it appears that the ‘rawness’ of sugar is determined by the level of processing it has gone through, as opposed to merely what heat has been applied during the processing.
So, when looking to determine if a brand’s raw sugar does actually constitute as raw, check the level of processing. In the case of sugar, raw refers to sugar which has had the lowest level of processing.
Why is Raw Sugar so Much Better than Processed Sugar
Proper raw sugar is the purest form of sugar we can make. It retains most of the minerals, vitamins and elements inherent to cane juice.
Molasses and raw sugars which are high in molasses contains the following vitamins and minerals:
Medium levels of –
Low levels of –
6 Raw Sugars to Use in Your Kombucha
There are a number of different types of sugar which fall under the term ‘raw sugar’. These include different variations of raw cane sugar, as well as kinds which derive from the coconut and other palms. You can use any of these below sugars for brewing kombucha. They vary slightly in color and taste, but will have similar effects on the flavor and brewing cycles of your kombucha.The sugars below are listed in order from most to least processed.
Turbinado is a raw cane sugar. It is made from the first pressing of sugar cane and retains some natural molasses. It has a mild caramel flavor and can be substituted in for white sugar at a 1:1 ratio. The name is often used interchangeably with demerara (see below) because both sugars are produced in the same manner and look and taste similar. However what distinguishes them apart is that some of the molasses in turbinado sugar is extracted via steam. It is therefore lighter in color and taste, is less sticky, more free flowing and finer in grain than demerara sugar.
Demerara sugar, turbinado’s less processed cousin, is a pale amber colored cane sugar with a large grain and a slight toffee taste. It is produced from the first crystallization stage of turning cane juice into white sugar. This stage is similar to how naturally evaporated cane juice is made. While similar in look and taste to brown sugar, unlike brown sugar demerara gets its dark coloring from the already present molasses which it contains. Brown sugar on the other hand is made up of white sugar (which has undergone all of the heat and chemical processed to extract it) combined back with some molasses to darken it.
Sucanat is made from either coconut, other palms or java plants. It is extracted using centrifugal methods, heating and evaporation. It retains much of its natural molasses, however some is lost due to the centrifugal extraction process involved.
Muscovado is another cane sugar which is considered to be ‘raw’. Unlike Demerara and turbinado, it is not a bi product of the first processing of cane juice into white sugar. Muscovado is considered to be a sugar derived from a non-centrifugal extraction method which consists of evaporating the liquid out of the cane juice via either a spray dryer or manual method. Nowadays however some producers do use centrifugal extraction machine for making muscovado. This method rids the sugar of some of its naturally occurring molasses. If muscovado has been produced via traditional methods it is dark and rich in color with a strong molasses content.
Piloncillo / Rapadura
Pincillo and rapadura refers to traditional unrefined sugar which the Mexicans and South Americans typically produce. These sugars are made via boiling cane juice until all of the liquid has evaporated and only the dark sugar crystals remain.
Because of its simple manufacturing process, rapadura and piloncillo sugar are rich in molasses and the minerals which it contains.
Jaggery is another non-centrifugally extracted form of sugar. It is made from sugar cane or date palm sap, and has a high molasses content. Although heat is applied during the evaporation process through which the sugar crystals are extracted – it is also classed as a high quality raw sugar.
Which Raw Sugar Should I Use for My Kombucha?
As you can see the different raw sugars available differ largely in their molasses content. Besides price and availability, this is what you need to consider when choosing which one to use for your kombucha brewing.
High Molasses Sugars Versus Low Molasses Sugars for Kombucha
Molasses has a strong and distinct flavor. When you use a raw sugar, its high level of molasses will make itself known in the taste of your kombucha. If you do not like the flavor of molasses very much, then you may want to consider using a milder raw sugar which has slightly more processing – like a turbinado.
However on the other hand if you enjoy the flavor of molasses, then you can opt for a strong, more molasses rich and ‘rawer’ sugar like jaggery or rapadura.
If you follow the slow change over method we outline below (from white to raw), then you can also feel out how much of the molasses flavor you want in your kombucha. See Step 3.
When it comes to sugar, molasses and kombucha – it is also the SCOBY which needs to be taken into account. SCOBYs are most often adapted to brewing kombucha which contains completely refined white sugar. This sugar is devoid of molasses and very easy for the SCOBY to break down.
Sugars which have a high molasses content can present a little more difficulty for the SCOBY to process. If the SCOBY is not introduced to the high molasses sugar correctly, fermentation can experience a serious stall.
This does not mean that you must not brew kombucha with a sugar which has a high level of molasses in it. It simply means that making a switch of sugar to one which has a moderate level of molasses – like turbinado – is a less drastic change that switching to one like jaggery or rapadura.
Again, this does not mean that jaggery, rapadura or any of the other high molasses sugars should not be used. It simply means that one needs to implement a slow change over process. Which brings us to our guide!
Ready to start brewing with raw sugar? Let’s get going. : )
How to Start Brewing Kombucha with Raw Cane Sugars
I have divided the guide into two parts. How to implement the changeover from white white refined sugar to a raw sugar for your kombucha, and how to maintain healthy brews over time using raw sugar.
Take note that while we are going pretty deep into the different sugars, how they are made, and the process of starting to use them in your kombucha – this switching over is simplistic. There is also no need to worry too much about starving or damaging your culture, if you have a SCOBY hotel in place. Therefore –
If You do Not Have One Already – Make a SCOBY Hotel
When doing any kind of experimenting with your kombucha and its SCOBY, it is a good idea to have a SCOBY hotel. In fact it is always a good idea to have a SCOBY hotel! If you have not heard of them before, a SCOBY hotel is simply a place to store extra SCOBYs. This way if you have any mishaps with the culture that you busy using to brew with, you can simply haul out a backup. For a full guide on how to make a SCOBY hotel check out our post How to Make and Maintain the Perfect SCOBY Hotel.
How to Change Your Kombucha Over from Processed to Raw Sugar
Once you have decided which raw sugar to use for your kombucha, (and have a backup SCOBY or two) it is time to make the switch. Because your SCOBY has been living cushy and eating a very easy to process sugar , you should optimally try to introduce it to the raw sugar bit by bit.
How to Gradually Introduce Your SCOBY to Raw Sugar
Step 1: Mix Raw Sugar and White Sugar
For your first batch in the process in introducing your SCOBY to raw sugar with more molasses, swop out a small portion of the regular white sugar that you use with some of the raw 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 raw 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 Raw Sugar to White Sugar Each Cycle
Every cycle, increase the the ratio of raw 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.
Step 3: Taste Test Each Brew Cycle
As you go through this process of adding more and more raw sugar to your batches while decreasing the white sugar, taste and evaluate your kombucha along the way. The taste of raw sugar is much stronger than white sugar – which does not really have a taste! If at some point during the switchover you feel that the brews are getting too much of a strong molasses taste and you do not like them, scale back or stop right there. You can always leave it there at that raw sugar to white sugar ratio permanently, if you feel that the taste is optimal. Remember, the better your kombucha tastes, and the more you like it, the more you will drink of it!
There is also the case that you do not want stop at a certain white to raw sugar ratio because you feel that you do not want to buy or ingest white processed sugar in any way. If so, then you can also consider selecting a sugar which is still ‘raw’ but does not have such a high molasses content – such as turbinado.
The Immediate Switch to Brown Sugar
If you do not want the hassle of doing a slow switch over from white to raw sugar, you can also just jump right in and make the change in one brew.
The process is simple: just replace your white sugar with brown sugar.
This means you’ll use about 1 cup of brown sugar per 1 gallon of tea right away.
Once you have done this, you will want to keep a close eye on your brew. You may find that the SCOBY will need a few days to more than a week longer to ferment the tea given the new more complex sugar to process. If fermentation progresses, just slower than normal then this is good.
If at the end of an extended brewing period there is very little fermentation, then you might find that the change was too sudden for your SCOBY. Take note that the risk of getting a sour, off-tasting brew is higher with this method. However, you may find you have no issues at all.
How to Maintain Healthy Kombucha Brews While Using Raw Sugar
Once your SCOBY has accustomed itself to breaking down the more complex raw sugar you are giving it, it should continue to be able to do this indefinitely.
However there is another aspect to raw sugar which can present a brewing hiccup, and that is its mineral content. While the minerals in raw sugar are great for us, they are not so great for the SOCBY. SCOBYs do not like to be in contact with high levels of minerals, and can in fact be damaged by them.
If over time you find that your SCOBY is starting to lose vitality, it might have been impacted by the exposure to the minerals in the molasses content of your sugar.
Rejuvenating Your SCOBY
A quick way to boost your SCOBY if it is showing signs of strain from the minerals is to give it a batch or two of tea to process which you have made with refined sugar. This could give it a needed break to regain its vitality.
Swapping Out Your SCOBY
The other option is to simply ditch the SCOBY which has slowed down, and replace it with a new one from your SCOBY hotel. Most likely, if you are feeding your SCOBY hotel and keeping it going, it will be producing its own baby SCOBYs in there.
The sugar amount and type called for in the basic kombucha tea recipe can be offputting to a lot of potential brewers. Many people who want to brew kombucha are interested in it for health reasons, and most health conscious people are usually on a mission to lower their sugar intake. Having to add cups and cups of white refined sugar to one’s kombucha can really go against the grain!
While a certain amount of the sugar required for making kombucha does get worked away by the yeasts, some does remain. If you are going to be using raw sugar instead of white, then this residual sugar will be of a much better quality. Besides this, because of the high molasses content of raw sugars, your kombucha will contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals.
Lastly, by choosing to buy raw, and more importantly organic sugars, then you are supporting a the production of a healthier and more ethical type of product.
Although raw sugars are not as simple for the SCOBY to process as refined ones, it can definitely be worth the extra effort of switching over. And remember, if you have some spare SCOBYs as back ups, any problems you might run into can be quickly overcome.
Goodluck and happy brewing. : )
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