Sugar Flavor Profiles in Kombucha & What to Expect
Are you interested in trying out some new sugar types in your kombucha? Alternative sugars can be a great way to achieve deeper flavor profiles in kombucha. They can also be tricky to brew with. But! We have got you covered in this in depth guide.
If you are considering experimenting with different types of sugar in your kombucha, you are probably curious to know what effect different sugar types will have on the flavor of your booch.
White sugar, which is the most common type of sugar to use for kombucha, has almost no taste. This is because it is refined down to the point where all flavor adding components have been removed. However it does give great brewing results.
In contrast, less refined forms of sugar will have a distinct flavor profile, which will come through into your kombucha to varying degrees. Alternative sweeteners such as honey and date syrup can also have an effect on the flavor of your kombucha. And some alternative sweeteners and sugar will have little to no effect on the flavor profile.
To give you an idea of the different flavor profiles that sugar types can give to your kombucha, we are going to take a look an extended list of the sugars and sweeteners that one can use in your kombucha. And of course how using these sugars will affect your kombucha’s flavor. So that you know what to expect in terms of flavor, when trying out a new sugar type in your booch.
Let’s jump in!
White sugar is the sugar type most commonly used to brew kombucha. It is very simple in make up, containing no vitamins or minerals. Therefore kombucha SCOBYs tend to very well on it. Because of this, white sugar has very few brewing problems associated with it.
While white sugar has no inherent flavor of its own, it does make for tasty kombucha. The sugar adds no additional flavor, just some sweetness, and the taste of the tea and the kombucha are the stars. So all in all, white cane sugar is a good sugar to use for kombucha. Especially if you want hassle free brewing.
Coconut syrup is a sweetener which is made out of the sap of the coconut palm. Sap is collected by making cuts into the coconut palm flowers. The collected sap is then reduced to make coconut syrup. Coconut syrup is considered by many to be a lot healthier than regular cane sugar, as it contains the inherent nutrition found in the coconut palm sap.
Being low on the glycemic index, and containing various nutrients, coconut syrup is a popular alternative to sugar for those who want a healthier sweetening option.
Many of us make kombucha not only for its taste, but also for its health benefits. Which is why some kombucha brewers are keen to try out a healthier form of sweetening such as coconut syrup in their booch.
But at the same time, while kombucha is healthy for us, we still want it to taste good! So, what is coconut syrup’s effect on the flavor profile of kombucha? Let’s find out.
Contrary to automatic expectation, coconut syrup does not taste like coconut. Why? Because it is made out of the sap of the flowers, before they have matured into coconuts. So instead of having a coconut flavor, coconut syrup does not taste at all like coconut. In contrast it has a very mild caramel like tone.
Flavor: Caramel Tones
If you are a fan of caramel, then this could be a great sweetener to try out in your kombucha. The caramel tones are mild enough not to dominate the kombucha, while at the same time adding an additional layer of complexity to the flavor profile. Coconut syrup also produces a very fizzy kombucha. Yum!
So overall, coconut syrup can enhance the flavor of your kombucha, while acting as a healthier sweetening agent
Be aware that like coconut sugar, coconut syrup is one of the trickiest sweeteners to brew with. Long term brewing with coconut syrup often results in mold. However shorter term brewing with coconut syrup is generally fine. And a once off batch of kombucha using coconut syrup should be definitely fine.
Check out this full length guide where we get into how to make kombucha using coconut syrup.
Brown Rice Syrup
Another alternative sweetener which has become popular as a cane sugar replacement is brown rice syrup. It is made by using enzymes to break down the sugars in rice, which are then boiled to create a syrup.
Brown rice syrup is also a common sugar alternative among vegans wanting to avoid the animals bi-products utilized in cane sugar refining.
Brown rice syrup, while more nutritionally dense than refined cane sugar, is also quite refined. This makes it less healthy, potentially, than some other cane sugar alternatives. However, it does have a pleasant flavor, which can enhance your kombucha!
Flavor: Butterscotch Tones
Brown rice syrup has a flavor which is quite different to any other type of sweetener. Some people describe it as having butterscotch tones. This can be very pleasant when brewed into your kombucha. As with coconut syrup, the effect will be mild and won’t over power the flavor of your brew. But! It will add a pleasant layer of flavor and complexity.
Kombucha brewed with brown rice syrup also tends to be fizzier! Always a win when making kombucha..
So, overall brown rice syrup is definitely a great option for making kombucha.
If you are keen to try out making a batch of booch using brown rice syrup, or switching over to brewing with it full time – check out our guide. Here we get into how to acclimatize your SCOBY to full time brewing with brown rice syrup, and how to do a once off batch if you just want to try it out.
Sucanat is the brand name of a raw cane sugar. It has now become so well known that it is almost considered a sugar type on its own! However, Sucanat is essentially the same as a number of other cane sugar types which are in a raw or semi raw form.
Sucanant, and these other raw forms of cane sugar, contain a higher molasses content than refined white cane sugar. The molasses content lends extra flavor, and makes the sugar slightly more nutritionally dense. Sucanat has a flavor somewhere in between that of molasses and brown sugar. This taste can be great in kombucha.
Flavor: Molasses Tones
Unlike molasses itself, the molasses tones in sucanat are mild and easy on the taste-buds. So if you enjoy a hint of molasses, and not the full powered thing, then sucanat or other raw cane sugars can be a great choice. When used in kombucha the molasses flavors will add richness and body to the booch, and pair well will citrus flavors!
If you want to try out making a batch of booch using Sucanat, or switching over to brewing with it full time – check out our guide. Here we get into how to acclimatize your SCOBY to full time brewing with Sucanat, and how to do a once off batch if you just want to try it out.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar, also known as coconut sugar, is essentially the same as coconut palm syrup, only in crystal form. It is also extracted from coconut palm blossoms. The extracted coconut palm nectar is then dehydrated to turn it into a crystallized form with looks similar to sugar. Like coconut palm syrup, coconut palm sugar also does not taste like coconut. Instead, it too has a slight caramel-like taste to it.
As with coconut syrup, this flavor can pair very well with kombucha. Especially if you are a lover of caramel. Once again, the tones will be quite mild. However this can be very pleasant, especially if you are going to be incorporating other flavoring ingredients as well. By the way, if you are new to kombucha brewing, and want to know more about how to flavor your kombucha, check out this post.
If you want to try out making a batch of booch using coconut sugar, or switching over to brewing with it for longer periods – check out our guide. Be aware however that coconut sugar is typically one of the trickier sugars to brew with. Long term brewing with coconut sugar can often result in mold. However you can generally brew with coconut sugar for up to six weeks. And a once off batch should be fine as well.
Evaporated Cane Juice
Evaporated cane juice, is another alternative to refined cane sugar that is thought to be a healthier and more nutritious form of sweetener. It is made by applying heat to sugar cane juice. This reduces it to the point where crystals form.
While evaporated cane juice is much less processed than white cane sugar, it is not as natural and raw as the name suggests. Depending on the levels of heat used in the evaporation process, evaporated cane juice can end up being similar to an alternative raw sugar, such as sucanat, jaggery, turbinado or piloncillo.
Like these other less processed types of cane sugar, evaporated cane juice contains higher amounts of molasses. The molasses lends it additional flavor, and evaporated cane juice tends to have these flavor notes.
Flavor: Mild Molasses
The molasses and it’s malt like taste are similar to that in other raw sugars, and can make for great flavor profiles in kombucha. Molasses tones give extra body and a malty aftertaste. If you want you booch to have a deep and heavier flavor profile, then evaporated cane juice can be a great choice.
If you want to try out brewing some kombucha using evaporated cane juice as a sweetener, then head on over to our in depth guide. Here we take a look at what are the best practices to get you SCOBY accustomed to the more complex makeup of evaporated cane juice. We also provided guidelines for how to make a once off batch of kombucha using evaporated cane juice. For those of you who just want to try it out and see what the taste and effect is like.
Honey can be a lovely sweetener to use in your kombucha. It is one of the few naturally occurring sweeteners that needs no intensive processing. Which is why many people feel that it is the healthiest and most natural type of sweetener that you can use.
Because honey is make out of plant nectar, collected and converted by bees, different honeys from different places and times of year will vary in flavor. Almost all honey tastes slightly different, especially honey which is produced on a small scale. Depending on what plants and trees were in flower during the time that the honey bees were collecting their nectar, the honey will take on the tastes of these nectars. So if orange trees were in flower, honey in that area will taste of orange blossoms!
Needless to say, this can make for some lovely flavor profiles if used in kombucha. The flavor profile of the honey that you use, will transfer itself into the kombucha, and the fermentation process will act to complexify it further.
So if you were wondering if honey makes nice booch, it sure does! And you can get some interesting and unique flavor profiles going.
However there is one more area to take into consideration before brewing up a batch of honey kombucha. And that is, is honey okay for the SCOBY? You may have seen warnings saying that using honey in your kombucha will kill your SCOBY.
Is Honey a Bad Sweetener for Kombucha?
There is some controversy over whether or not it is a good idea to brew kombucha with honey. It has anti-microbial properties, one of the reasons why it is renowned as health giving, and good for colds and flu’s.
It is thought that if one uses honey in your kombucha, the anti-microbial action will start to weaken the SCOBY. Because the SCOBY comprises of yeasts and bacteria – which are microbes! While this may be true, there is a cousin ferment to kombucha, which uses only honey as the sugar source. And that is jun tea! Jun tea is traditionally fermented using green tea and honey. The result is a light, bubbly drink, often called the ‘champagne of kombucha’. Jun tea ferments also utilize a SCOBY, and jun tea SCOBYs show no adverse effects from being exposed to honey.
Brewing Kombucha With Honey
However, if you are keen to brew your kombucha with honey, there is one thing to keep in mind. Unlike jun tea SCOBYS, a regular kombucha SCOBY is adapted to feeding off of, and converting, cane sugar, which does not have any anti-microbial action. It is also a more complex sugar source for the SCOBY to work with. So, when you switch over to brewing your kombucha with honey, it is advised to follow the best practices associated with changing over to more difficult sugars in your kombucha. Check out our guide for full instructions, as well as how to go about brewing a once off batch of kombucha using honey.
Also, be aware that batches of booch made with honey tend to ferment quicker. They also produce more yeast strings. So be prepared to stop your ferment a little on the early side if using honey. And you may want to strain the finished kombucha to remove excess yeast string. Although this is not required.
It may be that your SCOBY does not take to the honey, even if you introduce it gradually. If this is the case, then that is too bad. But as long as you have some backup SCOBYs in the wings, you will not lose your culture. At the same time, there are brewers out there who have successfully switched over to full time brewing with honey, so just give it a try and see.
A traditional form of sugar, jaggery is a non-centrifugally processed form of cane sugar. Also known as gur, It is produced via boiling and reducing cane juice until it solidifies. Jaggery can also be made out of date syrup or coconut palm sap. However the cane sugar variety is the most common.
In India, jaggery has long been considered to be beneficial to the body. Jaggery does contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, thanks to being unrefined. The inherent molasses in the cane juice is retained in the manufacturing process, and with it, all of its beneficial minerals and vitamins.
Jaggery usually comes in a solid form.
Flavor: Spicy Molasses Tones with Hints of Caramel
Because jaggery retains all of the components of sugar cane juice, except for the water, it is full of flavor. Jaggery typically has some spicy notes of molasses, combined with caramel like tones. As you can imagine, this flavor combination can work really well in kombucha.
Jaggery’s flavor profile is quite complex, yet gentle. When you use jaggery in your kombucha you can expect to have gentle molasses and caramel layers coming in, which pair well with the tea. If you choose to further flavor your kombucha with fruit or spices during the second ferment, you can build even more complex layers of flavor, thanks to the jaggery.
If you want to experiment using jaggery in place of refined sugar in kombucha, this can be easily done. However you will need to allow for extra time for the solid pieces of jaggery to dissolve. And you will need to make some plans to protect your SCOBY. If you want to switch over to brewing with jaggery long term, then you will need to acclimate your SCOBY to the more complex sugar. For everything you need to know, go and check out our guide on how to brew kombucha with jaggery.
A traditional Mexican cane sugar, Piloncillo is very similar to jaggery. It is made in the same way, by heating sugar cane juice until a thick syrup forms. This syrup is then poured into cone shaped molds and allowed to cool and harden. Piloncillo, like other forms of raw and minimally processed sugar, contains high levels of molasses. Because of this it has moderate levels of vitamins and minerals, and is a healthier form of cane sugar than refined white sugar.
Thanks to it being a healthier sugar type, kombucha makers who are looking to optimize the nutritional profile of their kombucha may want to experiment with it.
What’s more, besides being healthier than refined sugar, piloncillo sugar also has superior levels of flavor.
Flavor: Smokey Rum Flavors With Hints of Caramel
Piloncillo sugar is prized by bakers and chefs, for its smokey rum like flavors and hints of caramel. If you choose to brew your kombucha with piloncillo sugar, you can leverage these flavors to enhance the taste of your booch. With fermentation, these flavors will mellow and gain in complexity to make some tasty finished kombucha. Plain kombucha made with piloncillo sugar will be more flavorful than kombucha made with regular sugar. And with the additional of further flavors such as fruit or spices, you can further enhance and experiment with the flavor profile of your kombucha.
So all in all definitely a great sugar type to try out using in your kombucha.
If you are keen to test out making a batch of kombucha using piloncillo sugar, go and check out our guide on how to brew kombucha with piloncillo. You can even attempt to brew with piloncillo sugar full time.
Muscovado sugar is another cane sugar which is only lightly refined, and contains high levels of molasses. Because of this it also contains certain minerals and vitamins, and is considered to be healthier than refined white sugar.
Flavor: Molasses Tones
The predominant flavor of muscovado sugar is molasses. So if you love the taste of molasses, this raw cane sugar is a great one to try out in your kombucha. It can be a better choice than straight molasses. While you can try and brew kombucha with pure molasses, brewing results can vary, and the flavor will be very strong.
So if you enjoy molasses, and want to incorporate the flavor into your kombucha, without overdoing it, then muscovado is a great choice.
For all the details on how to make kombucha using muscovado sugar, check out our guide.
Made from the first processing stage of cane sugar, turbinado sugar is lighter in color than many other unprocessed forms of cane sugar. The molasses content is lower than that of muscovado, piloncillo or jaggery.
This makes turbinado sugar a great option to use in kombucha if you want to switch to a less refined sugar, but do not want strong flavors.
Flavor: Similar to Brown Sugar
Turbinado sugar is very mild in flavor, and tastes pretty similar to regular brown sugar. If you use it in your kombucha, it will change the flavor profile somewhat. But in a gentle and mild fashion. This can be quite nice if you want gentle flavors in your kombucha, and are not a fan of heavy molasses tones.
If you want to try out a batch of kombucha made using turbinado sugar, go and check out our guide on how to make one. There you can also find instructions on how to go about switching over to brewing with turbinado sugar full time.
Maple syrup has to be one of the most lovely sweeteners on the planet. Like honey, it is one of the few sweeteners which can be harvested from nature with the least amount of processing. Maple syrup is quite nutritious, and there are a number of health benefits associated with it. Which is one reason why some people use it in their kombucha in place of refined cane sugar.
Besides being almost unprocessed, 100% maple syrup also has an amazing flavor. Infused with the essence of the maple tree, maple syrup has a deep, rich taste. Which can remind one of autumn, red leaves and campfires. In fact, maple syrup taste so good, that most people enjoy it more for its flavor than any inherent health benefits.
If you are wondering what kombucha tastes like that has been brewed with maple syrup, it can taste really great. The maple syrup flavor will seep right through your kombucha. And result in delicate maple tones that grow in complexity during fermentation.
If you choose to second ferment with fruit, spices or other flavoring ingredients, then you can build up even more complex flavor profiles, with the maple tones playing off of the fruit.
If you wish to start brewing up some maple syrup flavored booch, then check out our guide to find out how to setup up a batch. As well as how to transition your kombucha to full time brewing with maple syrup.
If you are someone who uses agave syrup in their drinks, you will be excited to know that you can use it to make kombucha as well. Agave syrup is derived from the agave plant, which is native to Mexico. It has become extremely popular thanks to being as sweet as sugar, while at the same time not affecting blood sugar levels as badly.
One of the drawbacks of kombucha is that if you want it sweet, it will come with certain sugar levels. Most of us do not want to brew our kombucha to the point of mouth puckering tartness. But if you are having blood sugar issues, this may be your only option. Unless of course, you want to try out agave syrup in your kombucha.
So if you are watching your blood sugar levels like a hawk, you may want to test run a batch of kombucha using agave syrup.
Kombucha made with agave syrup tends to be mild and pleasant in flavor. If fully matured, it tastes less sweet than regular kombucha. However at the same time, it is also less tart. So if you want a gentle kombucha, with a very low GI index, then agave syrup kombucha might be your baby.
To find out exactly how to go about making agave syrup kombucha, go and check out our guide.
Cassava syrup is a form of glucose processed from cassava tubers. It is considered to be a healthy sweetener. Cassava syrup is fairly new on the market, and not as wide spread a sweetener as things like agave. However, it is popular enough for it to have already been added in to kombucha brews!
Flavor: Light, Refreshing
Cassava syrup, while a highly experimental form of sweetening for kombucha, seems to react well with the SCOBY. It produces a kombucha that has a light and refreshing taste. With no heavy tones or bitterness. The fermentation process tends to go well, with no adverse effects to the SCOBY.
Be aware, if you make a batch of kombucha using cassava syrup, you will need to use larger quantities. Roughly 1/4 more than the volume of sugar you would usually use.
Derived from dates, date syrup is another alternative sweetener that you can make kombucha with. Dates are incredibly healthy, and contains high levels of vitamins and minerals. For this reason, date syrup is considered to be a nutritious and healthy sweetener.
Flavor: Rich, Dark, Complex
Date syrup is a very flavorful sweetener, being rich, dark and complex in taste. These elements will of course tranfuse into your kombucha, giving it a darker hue and flavor profile. Some kombucha brewed with date syrup even turns purple! Although date syrup is a tasty and nutritious sweetener, it is one of the least ideal to brew kombucha with. Brews tend to mature very fast, and can taste tart and flat. Kombucha made with date syrup can also taste more alcoholic.
However this does not mean that one should not experiment. If you want to try out a batch of date syrup kombucha, go for it! Only through trial and error can we figure out what works and what does not. If you want to try your hand at a batch, go and check out our post on how to brew kombucha with date syrup, to get all the guidelines.
Sugar Cane Juice
The least processed form of cane sugar is sugar cane juice. Sugar cane juice is extracted from sugar canes by a crushing action. The juice that is pressed out of the sugar cane is what typically goes on to be processed further, down into cane sugar in either raw, brown or white forms. All of these types of cane sugar, even ‘raw’ varieties, have been exposed to some heat and processing.
Sugar cane juice on the other hand is almost unprocessed, except for the juice extraction. Because of this it still retains some of the live enzymes and found in sugar cane (if used fresh). Sugar cane juice also contains a certain amount of vitamins and minerals. And, what’s more, it tastes amazing! Fresh, sweet and light, sugar cane juice is a delicious sweetener.
If you are lucky enough to have access to freshly pressed sugar cane juice, then you are probably wondering if you can use it in your kombucha. And, if so, what will the finished kombucha taste like?
Flavor: Light, Fresh, Grassy
Sugar cane juice does not have any strong flavors of its own. However it does have a certain gentle flavor profile. Which is light and effervescent with an almost grassy aspect to it! This light and bright but gentle flavor profile can work really well in kombucha to offset the heavy flavor of the black tea.
If you want to try out using sugar cane juice in you kombucha, then head on over and check out our guide on how to go about it. There we cover how to swap out regular cane sugar for sugar cane juice. Including how much to use, and best practices to implement in order to protect your SCOBY. Remember, SCOBYs are creatures of habit. If they are used to brewing a particular sugar type, they can have some difficulty brewing alternative sweeteners.
SCOBYs also do not like minerals, which typically is what healthier and less processed sweeteners tend to contain. So, to make sure that your SCOBY does not diminish in brewing vigor, and die completely, be sure to follow the best practices.
One of the most intense forms of sweeteners, molasses is the bi-product of refined cane sugar. Molasses is very dense in terms of minerals and nutritional value. This is because it contains everything that is stripped away from refined white sugar by processing. Many people use molasses in dishes because of its nutritional profile. And some adventurous foodies even use it in their kombucha!
Flavor: Malt, Bitter
We are not gonna beat around the bush here. If you use molasses in kombucha, in place of sugar, the flavor can be super intense. Molasses has a deep, malty taste that is very strong if used in large amounts. If used in excess it can make kombucha bitter.
However! If you want to incorporate some molasses into your kombucha, a great way is to add small amounts of molasses. Rather than swapping out the sweetener you are brewing with. This way the molasses tones will be milder and won’t dominate the ferment. But they will add complexity and depth to the flavor profile.
Molasses and the SCOBY
Besides being a little too strong in terms of flavor, there is another reason why you may not want to swap out the sugar in your kombucha for molasses. Molasses is not very sweet, and does not contain that much sucrose. This is because most of it has been refined out to make sugar. So, if you use only molasses in your kombucha, this leaves the SCOBY with very little sucrose to eat. What’s more, to get the sucrose levels up, you may need to use more molasses. This will make the molasses flavor even stronger in your kombucha.
Molasses also contains relatively high levels of minerals. As mentioned above, SCOBY cultures tend to not be too fond of minerals. High mineral levels can actually harm and weaken SCOBYs. So if one is brewing with all molasses as the sweetener, there is a chance that your SCOBY will not manage.
Of course this is not to say that one must not use any molasses, ever, in your kombucha. SCOBYs tend to be hardy cultures, and there is some room for leeway. If you want to experiment with adding molasses to your kombucha, then go and check out our guide. There you will find the best practices that you can use, to make brewing with molasses safe for your SCOBY. Heads, up molasses brews tend to finish early. So keep an eagle eye on that ferment while it is going.
Stevia and Non Nutritive Sweeteners
Sorry to break the news, but non nutritive sweeteners like stevia do not work for kombucha. The reason why is because the kombucha SCOBY needs something to feed on. It is crucial that there is a nutritive form of sweetener available for the yeast and bacteria to eat. Without a nutritive form of sweetener present, fermentation will not be able to take place.
A prolonged absence of sugar will cause the yeast and bacteria to stall, and eventually die. So it is not advised to trial brews with any types of non-caloric sweeteners.
As you can see, the flavor profiles of sugar, can play a big role in the taste of your kombucha. Typically, one brews kombucha with white refined sugar. And then go on to flavor with fruit and spices to develop complexity in the final flavor profile.
However, brewing with alternatives to refined sugar, can have some impressive results in terms of flavor. Maple syrup, honey, coconut syrup and sugar, and raw forms of cane sugar all have unique and distinctive flavors. Fermentation deepens and adds complexity to these, and can really add some va-va-voom to your kombucha flavor profile. If then paired up with interesting fruit and spice combos, you will have some seriously tasty booch on your hands!
SCOBYs are generally accustomed to feeding off of and converting the simple sugars found in refined sugar. Because of this they may find more complex sugars tougher to process. If you are wanting to switch over to full time brewing with a more complex sugar, then it is best to do so slowly. So that the SCOBY can become accustomed to the new and more difficult to process sugar. For most of the sweeteners that we have listed, we have guides on how to start brewing with them.
So if you want to try any of these out in your kombucha, go on over and check out the associated guide.
Good luck, and let us know if you get any tasty results!