How to Brew Kombucha with Maple Syrup
Most kombucha recipes will call for the use of processed white sugar for the source of sucrose during the first ferment. The kombucha SCOBY needs a form of sucrose to feed on during fermentation. White sugar is a cheap and readily available form of sweetening, so in that regard economy meets practicality.
Sometimes however, whether due to health concerns, desire for a different flavor profile, or large scale availability, one might wish to try an alternative form of sucrose, such as honey, molasses, stevia etc. Brewing with an alternative form of sucrose, while not outlined in most recipes, if done with care, is possible…and in some case, desired.
In this article we are going to show you how to make kombucha with maple syrup as the primary sugar source for your kombucha ferment. Maybe you love maple syrup and want to incorporate it into your kombucha hobby on a permanent basis, or maybe you just want a one time brew to sample the unique taste of a maple buch.
Either way, we will outline how to go about it, what to watch out for, and how to protect your culture in order to ensure that you do not lose your faithful SCOBY fermentation friend.
And of course, how to get the best tasting maple kombucha possible.
Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup contains relatively high amounts of zinc and manganese, and trace amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium. It is also high in antioxidants, is thought to fight inflammatory diseases and cancer, and has a low score on the glycemic index. This means that maple syrup does not have as drastic an effect on the body’s blood sugar as levels as other refined forms of sucrose.
Although much of the sucrose in kombucha is used up during the fermentation process, there is usually some left over in the finished tea, especially if you prefer you kombucha slightly less tart and a bit more on the sweet side, and tend to stop it before too much of the sucrose has been processed away.
Yet another great thing about maple syrup is that it is by nature largely unprocessed! It is harvested straight from the tree, and that is basically the form in which one consumes it. The only processing which maple syrup undergoes is that some of the liquid in the maple tree sap is allowed to evaporate out to give a thicker, sweeter and more concentrated product – which is the maple syrup which we consume.
Lastly, if taken in comparison to the sugar industry, maple syrup is a more sustainable form of sucrose production and harvesting. This is because the sugar maple tree’s usual lifespan is about 300 years, with some specimens reaching 400 years. During this time the maple trees are busy doing all of the services to the planet that an ordinary tree would, such as producing oxygen, cleaning the air, stabilizing soils and combating erosion, creating habitats for small life forms, and helping to slow climate change. Large scale agricultural sugar cane industries on the other hand, have many of the opposite effects. These include, to name but a few; loss of species habitat and biodiversity, erosion and soil destruction, and large scale carbon dioxide emissions from the yearly burning of sugar cane fields in most sugar producing countries.
So, taking the health benefits into consideration, as well as the ecological ramifications, if you are deciding to go all maple – you have reason to get excited about it!
Why Kombucha Usually Needs White Sugar
Most often a kombucha recipe or guideline will call for refined white sugar to be used as its sucrose ingredient. The reason for this is that refined white sugar is a very pure form of sucrose. Brown sugar, treacle sugar, and molasses are more complex sources of sucrose. In developing degrees, the strongest being molasses, they also contain levels of minerals. These minerals while being healthy for us and a nice thing to have in one’s kombucha, are not always the best thing for the health of the SCOBY.
On a side note, this same presence of minerals is what can cause SCOBY cultures to become damaged if exposed to hard water. If you have hard water and use it to brew your kombucha, and you noticing a drop in vitality of your SCOBY, check out How to Brew Kombucha from Tap Water for info on how to deal with hard water.
Another reason why kombucha cultures usually do best on white sugar is that as white sugar is the predominant source of sucrose most widely used for kombucha, and most cultures have adapted themselves over long periods of time to use this as their preferred food.
What can happen when you change the sucrose source during the first ferment
There are two things which can happen when changing to a new source of sucrose:
- The flavour of your kombucha can change. This can be due to flavour from the new sucrose source coming through – as in the case of maple syrup which can imbue kombucha with a very pleasant and distinct new flavour profile.
- It might take longer for fermentation to take place fully, if the SCOBY culture has to deal a more complex source of sucrose which it is not adapted to.
If you have changed over to an alternative sweetener, done a few brews with just that, and the SCOBY has not had any exposure to its usually source of food, white sugar – the SCOBY might start to starve a little. This is because it has not yet adapted itself to the new and maybe more complex sugar form, and is unable to access enough food to sustain itself and carry out fermentation.
Switching to a new source of sucrose can, through a drop in energy availability and exposure to minerals, bring down the vitality of your SCOBY. This will result in sub standard ferments that take a long time to mature, and lack fullness of flavour and carbonation.
However, the rather unique flavors that can result more than make up for this. Changing the sugar source during the first ferment is one of the basic (yet most powerful) experimental flavor changes you can do with Kombucha. You can also try brewing with Honey, Molasses, Agave, Brown Sugar, and other exotic sugar types.
For more info on what a healthy kombucha fermentation should look like, check out Top 7 Signs of a Perfectly Healthy Kombucha Brew.
What’s the Best Sugar Type for Kombucha?
Kombucha does BEST in terms of growth and health on pure white refined cane sugar or pure cane sugar. However, that’s not to say it won’t do well enough on other sugar types, or even non-standard sugar types like Molasses. Make sure you read our guide to the best types of sugar for Kombucha for more info.
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.|
Things to Note Before Brewing with Maple Syrup
Maple syrup, in its pure form is a beautiful ingredient for kombucha. While there are certain brewing pitfalls to negotiate due to it being a more complex form of sucrose, and using maple syrup for kombucha can be quite costly due to its high price, the delicate flavor it imparts can be well worth it.
Try a Maple Syrup Second Ferment First
If you have not yet tasted kombucha made with maple syrup, wish to try it out, or are thinking of replacing the sugar in your brew with maple syrup for health reasons – then the first thing to do is make a maple syrup batch to try before fully committing.
One low-commitment method is to brew a second ferment batch with maple syrup rather than a first ferment batch. While the flavor won’t exactly be the same as replacing the sugar in the first ferment with maple syrup, you’ll get an idea if you like the taste or not by doing a second ferment with maple syrup.
Use Spare SCOBY
Before your start your maple syrup trials, you should be sure to have at least one spare SCOBY culture on hand. Even if you are not experimenting with new ingredients, having some backup SCOBYs is a good brewing practice to maintain. If anything happens to the culture during fermentation, whether it is a mold infestation, or a case of fruit flies getting in and laying their eggs in the culture, you can simply chuck out the compromised culture, and grab a new one. The storage container for extra backup cultures is called a ‘SCOBY Hotel’. If you want to find out more about how to set one up and maintain it, check out this post How to Make and Maintain the Perfect SCOBY Hotel.
Check for Pure Maple Syrup First
When purchasing the maple syrup for your maple syrup kombucha, check and make sure that it is pure maple syrup. Some brands sell a corn and maple syrup blend – which in my opinion defeats the purpose of brewing with it. Whether you are wanting to brew with maple syrup for health reasons, or for the lovely flavor, if one is going to be using a diluted variety, then you should rather do a combination of pure maple syrup and the sugar which you usually use, for your new brew. This way the culture has some of what it is familiar with, and the kombucha will contain roughly the same volume of actually maple syrup. High fructose corn syrup is definitely not a health food and is renowned for being highly processed. I would definitely avoid it.
Tip: You can also do this mixture of sugar and maple syrup if you don’t want to spend so much on the maple syrup, but want to have some of the flavour come through.
It May Ferment Faster
Brewing with Maple syrup typically brews between 5 to 9 days at 77 degrees rather than the usual 7 to 12 days it will take you if you use white sugar. The takeaway is that the fermentation may be finished a few days sooner.
How to Make Maple Syrup Kombucha: The Steps
So here’s how to start brewing Kombucha with Maple Syrup instead of sugar.
- Brew up the tea for your new batch of maple syrup kombucha in the usually way.
- Wait for the brewing tea to cool slightly, before beginning to add the maple syrup. This is to avoid losing any of the antioxidant properties of the maple syrup through exposure to the boiling hot tea.
- Use approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of maple syrup to every 1 cup of sugar which you would normally use. If you are doing a maple syrup/sugar combo, then do the same, replacing every cup of sugar which you will be substituting out with 3/4 of a cup of maple syrup.
- Stir in the maple syrup (or maple and sugar mix).
- Let the whole batch cool right down to room temperature.
- Combine with your SCOBY in your kombucha jars, cover and leave to ferment.
- Keep checking and smelling your fermenting kombucha – as soon as it has reached the sweet/sour balance which you like, you can stop the fermentation.
- At around 77 degrees, the fermentation will likely be finished between 5 to 8 days, which is 2 or 3 days sooner than with regular white sugar.
- Try out your maple syrup kombucha and see how you like it!
How to Protect Your SCOBY If You Substitute for Maple Syrup
If you absolutely love the taste of your maple syrup kombucha, and have decided to start brewing with it all the time instead of with sugar – then you have two choices with regards to using maple syrup and keeping your SCOBY healthy.
1. SCOBYs From the SCOBY Hotel
For this method you will need to have at least one spare SCOBY in a hotel, preferably more. Make every batch of kombucha with maple syrup. Once each batch is mature and you are ready to do a new one, swop out the brewing SCOBY for one which has been chilling in the hotel. The science behind this is that the SCOBY which has been doing the fermenting will have a chance to recover from any adverse effects from the maple syrup, and get to feed off of its preferred source of sucrose –white sugar – while resting in the SCOBY hotel.
It is a good practice to make sure that one SCOBY stays full time in the hotel. In the event that for some reason – whether it is high mineral levels or some other unknown factor – the maple syrup brews are seriously impacting the health of your cultures, even with holidaying in the hotel, then you will always have a unused healthy one to fall back on.
2. The Slow Adaption Method: Weaning Your SCOBY off Sugar
The other strategy one can use is a slow conversion of the SCOBY over from sugar as its preferred source of food, to maple syrup. This is kind of like readapting the culture, to feed efficiently off of the maple syrup.
- Start off slowly by substituting a small amount of sugar for maple syrup.
- Let fermentation take place.
- Next batch substitute out a little bit more (take care to keep the 3/4:1 maple syrup to sugar ratio).
- Repeat this with every batch until you have swopped out all of the sugar and are just brewing with maple syrup.
This process should take about 8-10 batches to complete. If all goes well then you should be left with a culture which is more adapted to maple syrup. This method is not guaranteed, you might find that the SCOBY does not take well to the change and starts to lose vitality and brewing power. This will manifest through things like slow brewing times, lack of carbonation, lack of structure to the SCOBY, no new layers forming on the SCOBY, and no baby SCOBYs developing on the surface of the ferments.
1 Batch Sugar, 1 Batch Maple
If you want to alternate between using sugar and using maple syrup this is also good for keeping your SCOBY healthy. Merely make one batch with maple syrup, and then the next batch with ordinary sugar. This way your culture will get a break from anything it dislikes in the maple syrup, and will get its sugar fix.