Ingredients 101: Sugar
The best sugar that leads to the most consistent, healthy brew is cane sugar. This can go by a few different names and take a few different forms:
Plain white sugar
Evaporated cane sugar / evaporated cane sugar
Those are all great options for kombucha. There are other types of cane sugars that have been processed differently (things like brown sugar, muscovado sugar, demerara…) and they may affect your brew differently than the plain stuff.
Can I use sugar substitutes?
In general, if you’re just starting out, I do not advise using anything other than plain white cane sugar. Your SCOBY feeds on this and needs it to do its job. So if you give it a sugar substitute or something different than its food source, you may end up starving it, harming it or weakening it over time.
That means you should avoid:
Artificial/alternate sweeteners like stevia, monkfruit extract, aspartame, Sweet’N Low, Splenda, Equal, etc.
Honey, especially raw honey (the bacteria there can compete with your kombucha bacteria)
Powdered sugar (contains cornstarch)
Can’t I experiment?
I’m all for experimenting! And you’re certainly more than welcome to play with your brew and do your bucha the way you want — but just make sure you’ve got some “pure” SCOBYs and starter tea as a backup in case something goes wrong!
If I end up doing some experiments in the future using alternate sugar sources, I’ll be sure to post my findings here on this site.
What if I’m trying to cut back on my sugar intake?
This is a choice you’ll need to make, taking into consideration your own personal health. But if you want to make real kombucha, it requires a certain amount of sugar to feed the kombucha culture. I recommend at least ¾ cup per gallon batch. If you cut back on the amount of sugar in your fermentation, your brew may not ferment properly because you’re starving your SCOBY.
It is worth noting that a good amount of that sugar does get eaten up by the yeast, so it doesn’t all remain in the brew. And by the time your brew ferments, the sugar is broken down into fructose and glucose, which have a lower glycemic impact on the body.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. To make it less sweet, you can ferment your brew longer in the first fermentation stage. Or you can water it down with water (sparkling water works well as a "mixer" with kombucha!). Or you can just drink smaller amounts of kombucha.
For what it’s worth, both my parents have Type II diabetes, and they both drink kombucha regularly because they claim it gives them energy, relieves their joint pains and alleviates cravings for sugary sodas and desserts. So for them, the payoff is worth it. But that’s just them. I make no medical claims or recommendations about kombucha, so if you’ll have to listen to your body and to your doctor’s guidance on this one.