How to Brew Kombucha With Honey
Is It Ok To Brew Kombucha With Honey?
Brewing with honey is a controversial question amongst brewers. New kombucha makers often ask this question, but whether or not one can successfully brew with honey over extended periods of time isn’t always clear.
Health conscious people deciding to make their own kombucha at home tend to be concerned about the amount of refined sugar required to brew the sweet tea base.
Honey is considered to be a nutrient dense antibiotic super-food, and while using it for kombucha brewing will in most cases cost a lot more, some people prefer the idea of making honey the sucrose source for their kombucha, rather than refined white sugar.
Note: there is a special subset of Kombucha known as June Kombucha tea which is brewed ONLY with honey, green tea, and a specific species of SCOBY that lives on honey.
The truth is, that while Honey does pack more nutrients and enzymes over regular refined sugar, it’s not necessarily an absolutely better, more healthier alternative to sugar, both for regular sugar use and for brewing Kombucha.
A 2009 study took all the sweeteners available and compared them. Honey was found to slightly better than maple syrup in terms of antioxidant content, but only just a little more than plain regular table sugar. On the other hand, Date Sugar or Blackstrap Molasses (read our article How to brew Kombucha with Molasses), which ranked 1 and 2 on the list of healthiest sugars by antioxidants, contained 500 to 600 more antioxidants than regular sugar.
If you want an increase in enzymes added to your Kombucha, then by all means, try honey over sugar for Kombucha — you’ll get a nutritional boost. Additionally, you might also like the slightly different flavor honey will give the brew over regular sugar.
But, if you are trying to squeeze out that maximum health benefits you can by substituting honey for sugar, realize there really won’t be too much of a boost (besides a few added enzymes). Keep in mind you will likely be using pasteurized honey; and pasteurization (heat) changes many of the enzymes found in raw, unpasteurized honey. So you won’t be getting most of the benefits of raw, unpasteurized honey, necessarly.
Honey vs. Sugar
Here are a few things to consider about honey vs sugar when deciding which one to use.
The usual reason for using honey in place of sugar for kombucha making is the fear that the refined sugar that is recommended for kombucha brewing is unhealthy and makes the end product kombucha harmful to the body instead of being a tonic. This is however dependant on the time that the kombucha is left to brew, and is usually not something one needs to worry about. If kombucha is left for long enough, the yeasts and bacteria will consume the sucrose present, leaving a virtually sugarless brew.
You can judge roughly what level of sugar is present in your brewing kombucha by tasting it. The sweeter the taste the more sugar, the more sour the taste the more of the sugar has been consumed by the microbes.
Honey has more enzymes than table sugar, but this depends on the level of pasteurization (raw honey vs heat treated honey); raw honey has more enzymes. In terms of antioxidant levels, honey is nearly the same as sugar (which is to say, very little).
Brewing Results with honey vs sugar
Some people say that they get beautiful results from honey brews, with more flavour and higher levels of carbonation. Others claim the opposite, reporting a drop in culture vitality and inconsistent ferments.
Brewing with honey may add more time to the fermentation (honey is not as easy as refined white sugar for SCOBYs to process). It also may, if the fermentation goes awry, give a sour tasting brew. So be warned.
My own experiments with honey have been mostly positive — I love the flavor of Honey-Brewed Kombucha. There is a different taste to the brew vs regular sugar.
You’ll have to experiment though to see if you like the flavor and how well your culture does with it. I recommend using pasteurized organic honey vs raw honey, though you can try unpasteurized and see how it does — you may find you can brew just fine with it.
Kombucha Sweetner GuideThe complete tabulated guide to flavoring Kombucha through sugar replacement...and the effects of each sweeter on the brewing process. For more information about the types of sugar and Kombucha brewing, please read our Types of Sugar to Use for Brewing Kombucha article.
|Sugar Type||Brewing Time||Amount to Use||Effect on Flavor|
|White Sugar||Temperature dependant – the average brewing time for white sugar kombucha is 7 to 10 days||1 cup to 1 gallon of tea.||White sugar results in regular tasting kombucha, and steady fermentation results. Good levels of carbonation etc.|
|Honey||Shorter than white sugar, apt to sour quickly – 5 to 8 days.||7/8 of a cup to every 1 cup of pure cane sugar.||Can produce light bubbly ferments which carry the flavor of the honey used – citrus, almond, etc.|
|Molasses||Usually longer than white sugar – 7 to 14 days.||Same as that of regular refined sugar: 1 cup to 1 gallon of tea.||Can produce a strong tasting and sometimes slightly bitter brew. The overall taste: malt.|
|Raw Forms of Cane Sugar||Usually longer than white sugar – 7 to 14 days.||Same as that of regular refined sugar: 1 cup to one 1 of tea.||Raw forms of cane sugar can add in a richer flavor profile, but not as intense as that of molasses|
|Evaporated Cane Juice||Very similar to ordinary processed sugar.||Same as that of regular refined sugar: 1 cup to 1 gallon of tea.||Good choice for great tasting ferments and good SCOBY Health|
|Maple Syrup||Similar to that of white sugar – 5 to 8 days||1/2 - 2/3 of a cup to every 1 cup of pure cane sugar.||The taste is – you guessed it! Yummy maple syrup.|
|Agave Syrup||Shorter to that of white sugar – 5 to 7 days||2/3 of a cup to every 1 cup of pure cane sugar.||Can give really nice flavors that hint of caramel|
|Raw Sugar Cane Juice||Slightly longer than that of white sugar - 7 to 10 days||Recommended: Mix with 25% of sugar usually used.||Neutral, similar to regular sugar. Mostly unprocessed and a healthier source of sugar.|
|Coconut water||Often quite a bit shorter than white sugar - 5 to 8 days.||When fermenting coconut water, the naturally occurring sugar acts as the sugar source. You can also aid the fermentation by mixing in 25% of usual amount of sugar.||Coconut water flavored kombucha which has fermented successfully can be a beautifully light and refreshing ferment.|
|Raw Fruit (pureed or diced)||Shorter - 5 days usually.||Fruit replaces the sugar. Use about 1 cup of fruit in lieu of the 1 cup of sugar.||Completely changes the flavor, giving it a strong, fruity flavor with a hint of a fermented bite. This is a good experiment for those who want to try a completely 'natural' combucha|
|Fruit Juice (freshly juiced, store bought, concentrate)||Shorter - 5 to 7 days||The juice replaces the sugar & tea OR is blended with existing tea, but replaces the sugar. Use 1 cup of raw or store-bought fruit juice per 1 cup of sugar. If concentrate, use 50%. Make sure you use double the starter and / or stronger started from a SCOBY hotel.||You get something like a second fermented, but a deeper version due to the longer fermentation time. The flavor will vary depending on the type of juice you use and if you completely replace the tea with the juice or blend the juice. If the later, you get a fruity tasting Kombucha. If the former, you get a fermented fruit juice drink that does NOT taste like Kombucha.|
Possible Reasons Why Not to Use Honey
The main reason why some brewers advise against using honey in place of sugar for making kombucha is that there is a theory that the antibacterial properties of honey can damage the bacterial sector of the kombucha SCOBY.
This does sound logical, as honey has been proven to have antibacterial properties, and is used extensively as a natural remedy against infection.
While having antibacterial properties, honey is also supposed to contain its own particular strains of bacteria. There are opinions which state that introducing these strains of bacteria into your culture could be damaging to its health.
Another line of reasoning states that the kombucha bacteria and yeast which are present in your SCOBY have probably been adapted to feed off of sugar for decades, which makes honey an inferior nutrient source for them.
Now, despite this, you still CAN use raw, unpasteurized organic honey and get a fermentation — even a great fermentation. However, using raw honey for long periods of time with your Kombucha may damage the culture due to the antibacterial properties of the raw honey.
How to Make Honey Kombucha with Best Results
It’s pretty simple: just sub in honey for the sugar and you are done!
Here’s the steps:
- Use pasteurized organic honey (use unpasteurized if you feel lucky, but you may not get good results)
- Use slightly under the ratio of honey as you do for sugar: 3/4 cup of honey per 1 gallon of tea
- Give yourself another few days of fermentation time as honey may slow things down slightly (I usually add on 2-5 more days, but do use a taste test or pH strip to determine exactly when you want to remove it)
- Once you are done, either put the SCOBY back into a regular, sugar-based kombucha brew for the next batch, or if there were no issues, brew another batch of Honey Kombucha with the same scoby and repeat
What The Brewers on The Ground Say – Long Term Effect on SCOBY Health
Tired of the same old warnings repeated without any firsthand advice, there are a lot of kombucha makers who have tested out brewing with honey and posted their results in forums.
The conclusions reached by the brewers seem to vary widely, from one extreme to another. Some brewers report that they have been brewing for months with honey and experienced no problems whatsoever. Others state that the health of the SCOBY cultures went steadily down.
There doesn’t really seem to be a blanket result or consistent conclusion. Personally I get the idea that honey can, and often does, have an effect on SCOBY vitality, but that the signs of this can sometimes take many months to show.
Pasteurized vs. Unpasteurized Honey
A factor which seems to have an influence over whether or not honey can affect the health of the SCOBY culture is whether or not it is pasteurized. Overall, the word is that pasteurized honey is better to use in kombucha than raw honey, as some of the antibacterial properties are lost in the pasteurization process, meaning your SCOBY won’t be damaged.
This is a plus in a way, as although raw honey contains more nutrients and is more potent than pasteurized honey, it is also often comes with a considerably higher price tag.
Using honey in your sweet tea base for kombucha can be costly on the pocket as one has to use such large quantities. There are reports however that some people use smaller volumes of honey than sugar when brewing with it in the sweet tea base, and still get very good results.
The only conclusion that seems to cover the majority of testimonials available, seems to be that it is possible to brew with honey as a substitute for sugar in your sweet tea base just fine, however you need to keep a close eye on your culture health, and probably work out a system to ensure consistently good brews and healthy SCOBYs.
I’ve used honey to make Kombucha and I find it’s generally a pretty good brew with a unique taste. You can pretty much use a direct replacement for the sugar (2 cups of honey per 1 gallon of tea), though you can play around with this. I opt for pasteurized honey as in the paste, I’ve found raw honey has affected the fermentation result in a negative manner when doing consistent brews using it. This may not be the case for you, depending on your SCOBY and the strain of honey you use.
What Honey Brand To Buy?
Honestly, anything will work, as long as you get the best quality you can. Pick Organic.
Then you need to decide if you want to risk the raw, unpasteurized honey with your Brew (it may work) or the pasteurized honey (it will definitely work). Most of the differences between raw or pasteurized will most likely be seen over the long term if you consistently brew cycle after cycle with that particular honey. You’re SCOBY health will likely deteriorate after a few brews with raw honey, while you can brew more cycles without problem with pasteurized honey.
Regardless of your choice, I recommend you use a backup SCOBY and, if you want to keep using the SCOBY and any baby that forms, rotate the SCOBY every other cycle into a sugar + tea base to keep it healthy.
For raw organic honey: I particularly like the Honey Land 100% Pure Raw Organic Honey Comb Honeycomb because this honey includes the actual honeycomb in it (yes you can dump it into your Kombucha in place of sugar if you want to get experimental). For a non-honeycomb, raw organic honey, Y.S. Eco Honey is pretty fantastic (and cheaper).
For organic pasteurized honey: Honey Stinger Organic Honey is a honey I recommend. However, as long as you find some high quality pasteurized honey, any will work. Keep in mind though that not all honey tastes the same — the honey type will impart unique flavor profiles into your Kombucha.
Note: Before you start your honey kombucha trials, it would be best to make sure that you have a few extra back up SCOBYs on hand in a storage container. In the home kombucha brewing world these are called SCOBY hotels.
For more info on how to make and maintain your own SCOBY hotel, have a look at How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel (to Store Extra SCOBYs). It is always a good idea to have a few SCOBY cultures in storage, as this way you will never be without a SCOBY to step up to the brewing vessel, if the one you are using succumbs to mold, foreign bacteria invasions etc. It is also advisable to swop out your brewing culture for a new one every few batches, as though kombucha cultures are hardy things, they too can get old and tired.
If your ferments are going well and your culture is in balance, then you will probably be getting loads of baby SCOBYs. If this is not happening you might notice that your culture is getting thicker and thicker. In this case, you can also cut off a layer to store.
Use your SCOBY hotel to rotate cultures
If you are busy deciding to start brewing with sweet tea bases which have honey as the sweet ingredient instead of sugar, then what you should do is plan a rotation system. The idea is to give the culture which has been exposed to the honey for 2-3 brews a break in a batch of sweet tea made with refined sugar in order for it to recover and feed, in the event that the honey sweet tea bases are adversely affecting it.
If you have a SCOBY hotel already then this is the perfect place for you to let your cultures recover in, providing that you dose the hotel with regular additions of fresh sweet tea. If you do not have a SCOBY hotel, it is very simple to set up and look after, check it out!
Of course you will need 2 or 3 cultures for this. If you have been throwing away your extra cultures, then you could always do one or two more batches with sugar as a sweet tea base to grow an extra culture (or allow the brewing one to thicken so that you can split it) before you start the honey trials.
What’s the Best Choice for You?
If you want to brew with honey, then there is nothing stopping you. Just have some back up cultures, keep an eye on the health of the one you are brewing with, and consider swapping out and giving it regular holidays in its conventional sugary tea! You can even do TWO brews at the same time: one with unpasteurized honey and one with pasteurized honey. Compare the two brews and see what does better and what tastes better!
You might also consider brewing June Tea (also called June Kombucha), which is a Kombucha alternative that tastes like Kombucha, but has a much lighter and more subtle flavor. This type of kombucha is made ONLY from honey. It’s similar to Kombucha, but not the same and requires a special June mother SCOBY. June tea is made from a June SCOBY, green tea, and honey.
If you have been brewing with honey and want to share your results, remember you can always leave a comment below.
Make sure you check out our other advanced Kombucha sugar-replacement guides: