How to Brew Kombucha with Agave Nectar
If you want to get experimental with your Kombucha, one of the easiest ways is to substitute the regular sugar ingredient during the primary fermentation with alternative sugar sources. You can swap sugar for Molasses, Honey, Maple Syrup, raw sugars, and even Agave Nectar.
Changing up the sugar source to something that’s not common ‘sugar’ is part of what we call Flavoring the primary ferment. This is a broad term used to describe the technique of flavoring kombucha by adding in substances to the batch while the SCOBY culture is fermenting the brew.
One exotic sugar alternative you can try is Agave Nectar, which can make quite delicious and wildly unique Kombucha taste.
Flavoring the Primary Ferment
Most often new brewers are advised to stick to adding flavor to their kombucha brews only after the SCOBY has been removed. This is because foreign substances such as fruit, alternative sources of sweetening, herbs and spices can mess with the fermentation process and have a harmful effect on the SCOBY culture.
If however you have been brewing for some time and have a few extra cultures on hand, then testing out different ways of flavoring the primary ferment can be interesting and yield some delicious and unique results.
There are quite a few ways to flavor the primary ferment – using a different form of sweetening such as agave syrup, honey or molasses is just one of them. One can also flavor the primary ferment with fruit, spices, herbs, fruit juices and herbal teas.
Substituting an alternative form of sweetening in place of sugar is a common kombucha brewing practice. Sometimes it is done not only for added flavor but rather for the health benefits which come with some of these sugar alternatives.
Kombucha Sweetner Guide
The 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.|
What to Expect from Agave Syrup When Fermenting
Agave syrup is derived from the agave cactus plant which is indigenous to South America. The juice from its leaves is processed to produce the agave syrup which is high in iron, calcium and fiber. Agave syrup has seen a fast gain in popularity as a healthy sugar substitute due to the fact that it contains more fructose than glucose. This means that it has a less drastic effect on blood sugar levels when ingested than cane sugar. Agave syrup can be used as a healthier choice of sweetener as it not only doesn’t not cause blood sugar level spikes and sugar rushes, but it is also thought that the body only absorbs as much fructose as it needs from the syrup.
While the low levels of glucose present in agave syrup are great for blood sugar levels in humans, it is not so ideal as a food source for the kombucha SCOBY. SCOBYs are adapted to feeding off of sucrose. Sucrose is a combination on glucose and fructose. Glucose + fructose = sucrose!
This absence of its usual sugar and energy source can cause problems for the SCOBY and with that for the fermentation process. It is by no means impossible to brew kombucha with agave syrup in the place of ordinary white sugar, but you might encounter some hiccups.
What Happens When You Ferment with Agave instead of Sugar?
The SCOBY might go into a slight state of starvation. This is not a catastrophe, as it will take more than one or two brews for the SCOBY to really suffer from a lack of its usual sugar form. However what can also happen is that the fermentation process is inhibited. On the opposite side of brewing results, another phenomenon which can happen when brewing with agave syrup is that the brew can go sour quickly.
These developments you will have to watch out for while brewing. If you see that the ferment is starting to sour quickly, then stop it! If it is struggling to get going, you can try can placing it in a warmer spot to stimulate the fermentation process.
What Flavor does Agave Add to Kombucha?
On the flavor front, agave syrup tends to lend brews a unique caramel like taste which can be very pleasant. The end flavor result will actually vary, depending if you use Amber Agave or Raw Agave, the two ‘types’ of Agave Nectar, with each tasting slightly different. Those differences will be present in your Kombucha.
If the Agave flavor is too potent for your liking, you can also try an agave syrup and sugar blend. While influencing the flavor away from the agave taste, this combo technique will also favor the SCOBY, and help it to feed adequately and ferment successfully as its preferred sugar source is present. This combo method can also work out more cost effective as sugar is usually much cheaper than agave syrup.
When flavoring the primary ferment, or using a substitute sweetener, the first thing to take into consideration is the impact this will have on the SCOBY culture which you will be using. As the alternative sugar substitute (or flavoring substance) can either starve or damage the SCOBY, you will need to brew the experimental batch with a spare SCOBY.
This way, if the SCOBY becomes compromised to the point where you want to chuck it out, this is not a problem as brewing can continue with one or more of your other cultures.
When brewing kombucha, you will be getting new baby cultures. If this is not happening, what might instead occur is a thickening of the existing culture as it forms new layers. A culture that is becoming very thick can be split. For info on how to split or divide cultures, have a look at these posts How To Divide A SCOBY (Remove Baby from Mother) and How To Cut A SCOBY In Half.
Instead of ditching new cultures which form, the best thing is to store them in a SCOBY Hotel. SCOBY Hotels can allow you to have a bunch of cultures on hand which you can use to replace your brewing SCOBY when it gets old and tired, pass on cultures to friends who want to brew, and use to do experimental batches with, such as primary ferment flavoring! SCOBY Hotels can also provide a source of super potent starter liquid.
What Agave Syrup to Buy
When deciding which brand of agave syrup to get for your kombucha making ensure that you are getting pure agave syrup. Some manufacturers add in corn syrup to produce a less costly product.
These varieties will not have the same flavor and will not have the same nutritional value. The best type of agave syrup to go for is a brand which either states that is it Organic, or 100% Organic.
By law, brands which state they are organic need to contain 95% organic ingredients, and a brand which says that it is 100% organic has to be just that – made up of only organic ingredients. Besides being an ethical choice with regards to the environment, organic agave syrup will also be only lightly processed, as opposed to some non-organic brands which go through extensive processing.
The color of the agave syrup which you are buying will also be able to give you an idea of the level of processing which it has undergone.
Light or pale colored agave syrup will have been through extensive processing, might not be pure agave syrup, and even if it is, it will not be as nutritious as when in a more raw from. Highly processed agave syrup also has almost no flavor. If however the brand of agave syrup is quite dark in color, this means that it has undergone the minimum of processing, and therefore is much more nutritious and has a stronger caramel like flavor.
Typically you’ll see two types of organic agave sold on the market: RAW Amber Agave and Raw Agave. The difference is the Amber Agave has been processed while the Raw Agave is less processed and has a stronger flavor. Both will work, but we recommend Raw Agave as the best choice.
Recommend Agave Syrup
If you want a quality raw Agave, the Madhava Agave is about as good as you are going to get. You can make a delicious flavored Kombucha with this brand. For under $25 you get 46 ounces — plenty to power your flavorings for a long time to come.
Note: there is a difference in taste between Amber Raw and Raw, but I personally prefer the Raw over the Amber Raw as the raw is a bit stronger and more full flavored like roasted nuts.
Is Agave Healthier Than Sugar
There’s some debate about this. In theory, Agave is better than table sugar, but there is not a lot of research to really back up actual health claims.
Agave has 60 calories per tablespoon, compared to 40 calories that common white sugar has. It’s also about 65 percent fructose, which your bodies do not process as easily as glucose. The one ‘advantage’ is that the Glycimic index, that is how fast it’s absorbed by the body, is significantly lower than sugar and other sweeteners.
So is it healthy?
In large quantities, definitely not, and certainly not any better than regular sugar. However, Agave, like any sugar, in large quantities is not healthy. Just because it’s marketed in health circles as a better alternative to sugar does not necessary mean it is.
The real benefit here when it comes to Kombucha is NOT the health benefits (again, you are not getting any additional health benefits over sugar by replacing it with Agave) but for the flavor enhancement that Agave brings to Kombucha. Making Kombucha with Agave gives a different flavored Kombucha. And that’s why you might want to try it.
Kombucha and Agave
When it comes to Kombucha, the cultures can process the higher fructose levels just fine. However, SCOBYs typically do best on sucrose (table sugar which is a mix of fructose and glucose) rather than other sugar forms like fructose. This means you may have quicker fermentation or the fermentation may be weaker; sometimes the brew may go sour. The bottom line is that you’ll have to watch the fermentation more carefully if you replace sugar with Agave syrup when making Kombucha
How to Flavor the Primary Ferment with Agave Syrup
Before setting up your new ferment with agave syrup, decide whether you wish to do one with pure agave syrup, or a mixture of agave syrup and sugar. This recipe will be for pure agave syrup, but feel free to swap some out for sugar instead if you want to minimize cost, have a more subtle agave flavor, or have a more predictable ferment.
Agave syrup is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter that pure cane sugar. This means that you can use quite a bit less agave syrup than the amount of sugar which you usually use for your kombucha brews. As a loose guideline, for every cup of sugar which you would be using, substitute that for two thirds of a cup of agave syrup.
What You Will Need
- 2/3 cup agave syrup
- 1 gallon on brewed black tea
- 1 healthy SCOBY
- 1 brewing vessel
- Starter liquid (in a ratio of 1:2 to the sweet tea)
- A cloth covering & piece of string or rubber band
- Optional: thermometer
- Optional: bamboo or other straw with which to test the brew for maturity or sweet/sour levels
How to Do It
Step 1: Brew your tea as usual. Let it cool slightly and then add the agave syrup. Stir until the syrup is dissolved and let the whole brew cool down to room temperature.
Step 2: Pour into your brewing vessel and insert the SCOBY. Cover the mouth securely with your cloth covering, making sure that no openings remain through which fruit flies could enter.
Step 3: Leave to ferment.
Step 4: Check you brew regularly to see how it is doing. It is a particular good idea when brewing with agave syrup to taste and smell it daily to make sure that if it is souring quickly, you can stop the ferment at the sweet/sour balance which you like. As agave brews can sour quickly, do not hesitate to harvest your kombucha as soon as it is at the right taste, even if you think it has not been brewing for that long.
Step 5: When it is time to harvest, strain the agave kombucha, bottle and enjoy!
Step 6: Second Ferment it. If you still wish to do a second ferment, you can find out how to do this in this post How To Make Second Ferment Kombucha (And Why You Absolutely Should).
Useful Tips About Fermenting Kombucha with Agave
When planning to do a second ferment with a batch of kombucha which is brewing with agave syrup as its sweetener, then it can be a good idea to stop the ferment even earlier than the point when it has reached the sweet/sour balance which you like.
This is because the brew will continue to sour during the second ferment, even if you have added in an additional source of sweetness, such as fruit or juice. The new sugar source will actual stimulate the fermentation process back into high gear even without the SCOBY present.
If it’s too tart…
If your agave sweetened kombucha brew gets ahead of you and is too tart for your liking before you have had a chance to stop the ferment, then there are some ways you can make the overly sour batch quite enjoyable once more.
You make a blend of the booch with some fruit juice of your choice, add it to a smoothie, or merely combine it with pure water for some refreshing hydration!
Diluting sour kombucha is my favorite method of making mature kombucha less strong, especially if one doesn’t feel like a sweet drink, but is finding a batch a bit harsh on the palate.
If you are big on the bubbles, a great combo is mature kombucha and sparkling water.