Sugar Content of Fermented Beverages

by (4524) Updated February 21, 2011 at 6:24 AM Created February 19, 2011 at 4:36 AM

I know it's not strictly "paleo," but are there any kombucha brewers or wine/beer makers in the house?

I've finally gotten the hang of kombucha brewing, and have been making about three quarts a week for the past month (for the record, pear and ginger kombucha is divine!) Since the hubby and I no longer care for beer, I'm also experimenting with simple, homemade hard cider (apple juice + champagne yeast, fermented for 2-3 weeks) with great results. In both cases, the finished product is only vaguely sweet - but if we're going to continue to drink this stuff on a regular basis, I'd like to have a better idea of how much sugar is actually left in the fermented beverage. Does anyone know whether a sugar scale hydrometer would tell me what I want to know? Or is there a better litmus test for measuring sugar content in a liquid? Maybe I'm over-analyzing this, but the nerd in me wants to know!

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459 · February 20, 2011 at 12:28 AM

The problem with using a hydrometer is that the alcohol content changes the density of the liquid and throws off your readings. If you just want a rough guess, then here are some approximate adjustments you can make to the readings.

For kombucha, if you're starting with a 10% sugar solution, and ferment it to dryness, you should get a brix reading of around -.6. A dry wine on the other hand will give you a brix reading of roughly -1.2. Said another way, the hydrometer will underestimate the sugar content by .6% and 1.2% respectively.

If you want to move to the next level of accuracy, you can purchase clinitest tablets from a winery supply store. Interestingly, the clinitest tablets were created so that diabetics can measure the sugar content of their urin.

4524 · February 20, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Kombucha recipes vary so much - it seems everyone has a different method, but this is what is working for me. The instructions assume you do not have a SCOBY already, and are starting with a bottle of unpasteurized, store-bought kombucha (unflavored).

  • 12 c filtered water
  • 3 black tea bags
  • 3 green tea bags
  • 1 c sugar/sucanat (do not use honey - it is too anti-bacterial to work)

Boil 12 c of filtered water in a large stock pot, and steep 6 tea bags (I use 3 black and 3 green) for 10-20 minutes. Remove tea bags, and add 1 c of sugar (I use sucanat) and stir until dissolved. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature. (Make sure your starter kombucha is also room temperature.)

STAGE 1 - Aerobic Ferment:

Pour your tea and your starter kombucha into a clean, gallon-sized glass carboy. Cover with a cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Place in a darkish, non-drafty place on your kitchen counter. Resist the urge to move it or mess with it too much. In 5-7 days you should see a thin "mushroom" (SCOBY) floating on top.

Stage 1 of your first batch should be ready in 7-10 days. Test periodically for taste.

Reserve 2 c of kombucha and the SCOBY (you will use this to start your next batch of kobucha).

STAGE 2 - Anaerobic Ferment (carbonation phase):

Add 1/2 c fruit juice** to remaining kombucha, and transfer to clean, glass carafes with air-tight lids. Allow to ferment an additional 7-10 days at room temperature. Carbonation pressure will build up in the bottles, so I like to adjust the lids every couple of days to make sure that there isn't TOO much pressure (not sure how legitimate this concern is, but that's what I do). Refrigerate and enjoy.

Starting your next batch:

Make more sweet tea (as above); cool. In a clean, glass carboy, combine tea and reserved 2 c kombucha and SCOBY. Cover with a cheesecloth secured with a rubber band to start brewing your next batch of kombucha.

** Note: I've tried several fruit juices, but my hands-down favorite flavor combination is organic pear juice + fresh ginger root (1" thinly sliced per quart).

4524 · February 20, 2011 at 10:09 PM

My hard cider recipe is derived from instructions I found in the Wild Fermentation book:

Combine all ingredients in glass carboy and mix well. Plug with an airlock and allow to ferment at room temperature for 7-10 days.

Use a syphon hose to transfer cider to a new, clean carboy, leaving behind the sediment, which, by now, should have settled to the bottom.

Continue to ferment another 7-10 days, checking the taste every few days. When the cider is dry enough for your liking, bottle, refrigerate and enjoy. We think this stuff tastes a lot like a slightly dryer Strongbow hard cider.

801 · February 19, 2011 at 8:51 AM

I also have a continuous brewing kombucha culture... right now i'm pulling off about three 16oz bottles per day and bottling them with different flavors.

What are some of your favorite flavorings to add- you mention pear? I've dong ginger, blueberries and apple so far..

Also brewing kefir beer to make a little of my own alcohol. It reminds me of champagne.

Just wrote an article on fermented foods, check it out here.

I'm also wondering what the best way to measure the sugar content is. A hydrometer is the only option I've seen so far.

1208 · February 21, 2011 at 6:24 AM

I'm on my 3rd batch of kombucha and I love it. I have not tried any flavourings yet other than making some with half green tea and half rooibos (red bush tea) with some flavourings already in the tea. I read somewhere that your supposed to stick with green or black tea only, so I hope I have'nt ruined my scoby. I don't think I did because I let it go an extra week and my scoby is way bigger, so I'm assuming it liked it. I'm also interested in doing the continuous kombucha also. I've tried kefir too, but I'm not into going through that process everday. Anyway Yay for kombucha!

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