How to Brew Kombucha with Turbinado Sugar
Are you looking to start brewing your kombucha with turbinado sugar? If you are, it is a good choice and in this post we will walk you through exactly how make the switch from using refined sugar in your kombucha, to using turbinado sugar.
Welcome to another raw sugar kombucha brewing article! Today we are going to be dealing with turbinado sugar.
As science is presenting us with more and more information ( 1, 2, 3) on the negative effects of highly refined sugar, many brewers are looking to start making their kombucha with healthier and ‘rawer’ alternatives.
So, first off, let’s take a look at the health benefits of raw sugars. They are quite interesting!
Health Benefits of Raw Sugars
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. Interestingly, refined sugar on the other hand has been shown to have damaging effects on the liver.
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(4)
- Blood sugar normalizing (5)
- Diuretic activity(6, 7)
- Acetylcholine release (8)
- Anti-inflammatory effects (9)
- Antihypercholesterolemic effects(10)
- Antithrombotic activity(11, 12)
- Contains beneficial microbes that enhance healthy gut flora (13)
- Immunological and redox-anti-oxidant effects(14, 15)
- Anticariogenic effects( 16, 17)
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.
Health Benefits of Turbinado Sugar
Genuine turbinado sugars falls into the category of raw sugar. It is minimally processed in comparison to white sugar. However, it is not the ‘rawest’ of sugars. Turbinado sugar is usually cleaned via a steaming process, which sugars like muscovado and demerara are not. This extra step of processing rids it of a additional molasses. This is why turbinado sugar is usually lighter in color that muscovado and demerara.
However even though some molasses is lost during the steaming of turbinado sugar, enough remains to render turbinado sugar a source of the following minerals:
Medium levels of –
Low levels of –
Now you might be thinking, well should I not use one of the darker raw sugars then for my kombucha? Not necessarily.
Why Use Turbinado Sugar for Kombucha
As mentioned above, turbinado sugar is slightly more processed than other raw sugars. This can actually be a good thing for kombucha making, depending on what your tastes are.
Turbinado Sugar for a Milder Flavored Kombucha
Very dark and minimally processed sugars can impart strong notes of molasses flavors to your kombucha. If you like the taste of molasses, then this is of course not a problem. However if you are not fond of the flavor of molasses, then it is.
Molasses has a very distinct taste, and if you do not like this, and your kombucha tastes strongly of it – you will probably not drink as much kombucha as you ordinarily would.
So, if you are a person who does not like molasses tastes, then turbinado sugar might be the perfect choice. Because turbinado sugar does not contain as high levels of molasses as other raw sugars, it will render a milder kombucha. At the same time, it is still a raw sugar, and has undergone minimal processing.
In addition, turbinado sugar can be easier on your SCOBY. Raw sugars are not the easiest for SCOBYs to process. Turbinado sugar however, being less rich in molasses, can be a good middle-of-the-road sugar for them.
Let’s take a look at why raw sugar can be challenging for SCOBYs to process.
Challenges for the SCOBY When Brewing with Raw Sugar
There are two reasons why SCOBYs can struggle a little when presented with raw sugar.
Raw Sugar is More Complex to Break Down for the SCOBY
White and processed sugar is made up of 100% sucrose. Raw sugars on the other hand have a more complex makeup of sugars. This means that the SCOBY has to work extra hard to convert them. Most SCOBYs are adapted to living off of and working with a diet of completely processed sugar, which is in 100% sucrose state. This is the easiest sugar to brew with, and will present the minimum of brewing problems.
Raw Sugars Contain Minerals
As mentioned above under health benefits of raw sugars, these sugars contain minerals. While these minerals are great for us, they are not so great for the SCOBY. If SCOBYs are exposed to a high amount of minerals over a period of time, they can become damaged by them.
This is one of the reasons why raw sugars can cause brewing hiccups. Turbinado sugar is as mentioned, a lighter form of raw sugar. Therefore it should present slightly fewer potential brewing problems.
Make a SCOBY Hotel to Keep Your Culture Safe
If you have not made one already, I advise you to set up a SCOBY hotel before you begin brewing with turbinado sugar. This is important, because even though turbinado sugar is less likely to harm your brewing SCOBY than darker raw sugar – it is still possible.
A SCOBY hotel is a large tea filled jar in which you can store extra backup SCOBYs. The jar is fed new tea every so often to keep the SCOBYs alive. However the tea is added less frequently to keep the cultures in a state of dormancy. This way they require less frequent feeding, which means less work for you.
For our full guide on how to set up and maintain a SCOBY hotel, go to these posts, How to Make and Maintain the Perfect SCOBY Hotel and How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel (to Store Extra SCOBYs).
It is always a good idea to have a SCOBY hotel in the background, because if anything unforeseen happens to your brewing SCOBY, whether sugar related or otherwise, you have spares to fall back on.
What to Expect When Brewing Kombucha with Turbinado Sugar
If you are thinking about starting to brew your kombucha with turbinado sugar then you are probably wondering what your batches will turn out like.
Turbinado sugar will definitely alter the flavor of your finished kombucha. Most raw sugars give kombucha hints or strong tones of molasses. Turbinado sugar, while it does do this to some extent, has more of a caramel like taste.
Most kombucha made with brown and raw sugars will need slightly longer fermentation times. This is because the sugar is more complex for the SCOBY to break down. You might find that over time your SCOBY becomes better and better at converting the complex sugars, and brews speed up a little.
But to begin with, expect to give your kombucha an extra few days to complete its brew cycle.
How to Brew Kombucha with Turbinado Sugar
There are two main ways to start brewing your kombucha with turbinado sugar. You can either choose to do a gradual change over process, or switch over in one brew cycle. The first option is probably the safest, as your culture will have time to slowly adapt to the new and more complex sugar. However that does not mean that you can not try an immediate switch over if you choose. Just be prepared that an immediate switch over increases the chance of brewing hiccups.
Let’s start with the slow method, and then I”ll run you through the conversion between turbinado and white sugar for those of you who do want to do the immediate switch.
How to Gradually Introduce Your SCOBY to Turbinado Sugar
This is the slow change over method, outlined step by step. The conversion ratio between white processed sugar and turbinado sugar is 1:1. So simply substitute the amounts in as instructed by a one to one ration.
Step 1: Mix Turbinado Sugar and White Sugar
For your first batch in the process of introducing your SCOBY to turbinado sugar with more molasses, swop out a small portion of the regular white sugar that you use with some of the turbinado 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 turbinado 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 Turbinado to White Sugar Each Cycle
Every cycle, increase the the ratio of turbinado 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.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Brews
Monitor your brews during this transition closely. This is very important, because as stated, raw sugars like turbinado sugar can cause brewing problems. If at any point your kombucha smells off or rotten, throw it out! The same goes for in the event that you spot mold. If you see so much as a spot of mold on your SCOBY, throw out everything. The kombucha, the SCOBY and all.
How to Switch your Kombucha Over to Turbinado Sugar in One Batch
If you do not have the patience to slowly make the switch over to turbinado sugar, then you can also try the immediate switch method. Simply swop out the regular sugar you are using at a one to one ratio with your turbinado sugar.
This might work fine, depending on what kind of a SCOBY you have on your hands. If the strain of culture you have was exposed to complex sugars somewhere in its genetic history, it will have the most chance of handling the fast change over well.
If you find that this method does not work, because you are experiencing brewing problems afterwards, you can always try the slow method.
What to Look Out For When Brewing with Turbinado Sugar
Because raw sugar is harder for the SCOBY to process, if you are busy brewing with it or changing over to it, you should keep an eye open for brewing changes.
Changes in Fermentation Time
Raw sugars like turbinado can influence how fast or slowly your kombucha ferments. Some sugars like date syrup are almost guaranteed to speed up the rate of fermentation. Brown and raw cane sugars however are more prone to slow down your ferment. This is not a problem, as longer, slower ferments usually produce a better kombucha.
However if your kombucha ferments so slowly that it is on the point of stalling in fermentation completely, then this can be a problem. You might not be able to harvest a mature kombucha, and an overly slow ferment could open your brew up to the below problems.
If you at any point you see mold on your SCOBY or anywhere in the kombucha vessel, this spells a complete lack of fermentation. You will have to throw out the whole lot, SCOBY and all, and start again.
As said above, if at any point your kombucha smells off, chuck it. Kombucha which smells bad signals that fermetnation has stalled and pathogens have been able to enter the brew.
What to Do
Because you are busy changing to a more complex sugar, there is not much you can do, as you have to allow the SCOBY to adapt to the new sugar. However, these are two precautions which you can take to make sure that your brew is protected from pathogens, and that fermentation does not stall.
Use Enough Starter Liquid
It is always important to use enough starter liquid when setting up fresh batches of kombucha. The acidity of the starter liquid protects the new batch from being invaded by mold or other pathogens. In the case of switching over to brewing with turbinado sugar or raw sugar, then this is doubly important. Because of the complex sugar, it can take time for fermentation to get into swing. During fermentation the kombucha will be acidifying itself. However if there is an interval in between before things get going, and the tea is not acidified enough by the starter liquid, this is when invasive microbes can jump in.
Use the Gradual Switch Over Method
If you are really struggling with getting your SCOBY to carrying out successful fermentations on turbinado sugar, try out the gradual switchover method. If you are already using the gradual switchover method and experience brews that do not want to ferment, you can slow down the rate at which you introduce additional turbinado even more if you like.
This should give better results if you have been struggling, as this way your SCOBY can slowly adapt itself to the complex sugar.
How to Maintain Healthy Brews Long Term with Turbinado Sugar
If you are going to be brewing with turbinado sugar indefinitely, then you must think of your SCOBY hotel.
Keep a Refined Sugar Fed SCOBY Hotel
It is not too difficult to adapt a SCOBY to raw sugar, especially if you take it slow. However once you are successfully brewing with turbinado sugar, remember that the minerals in it can impact your SCOBY over time. This is not a problem if you have spare SCOBYs.
It is best to feed the SCOBYs in your hotel with white sugars, otherwise they too could become compromised from the minerals in the turbinado sugar.
Stock Your SCOBY Hotel with Raw Sugar Adapted Babies
Make sure that over time you fill up your SCOBY hotel with babies that have formed in the turbinado kombucha batches. This will mean that they already have a genetic memory of processing and living on complex sugar. Hopefully, when you introduce them into the mix again they should not take too long to re-adapt.
If you are thinking of switching to a raw sugar for your kombucha brewing, turbinado sugar is a great option. While still being minimally processed, it does not contain as high a molasses content as some other raw sugars. This means that your kombucha will have a lighter and less molasses-ey flavor. It also means that the turbinado sugar is easier for the SCOBY to process than a darker raw sugar.
When wanting to switch to using turbinado sugar for your kombucha, you can either do the switch over in one batch, or over several. Doing the switch over several batches is recommended. SCOBYs sometimes need a little time to adapt to complex sugars. If you are doing a gradual switch over, the SCOBY will still have a portion of the easy to digest refined sugar to fall back on.
All SCOBYs are different however, and if you feel that you do not have the time for a gradual switch – then do it in one batch and see. Your SCOBY might not even miss a beat.
Happy brewing and good luck with switching over to using turbinado sugar!
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