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Scientifically proven tips for better kombucha brewing

Kombucha, the tangy, fizzy fermented tea, has exploded in popularity thanks to its supposed health benefits. Researchers at Shippensburg University are uncovering ways to fine-tune the process of brewing kombucha tea.

“Brewers typically see making kombucha as an art more than a science,” says Jeb Kegerreis, a physical chemist and one of the team’s principal investigators.

“So, when we are doing a consultation, we also walk the brewer through the biochemistry of what’s happening during fermentation.”

What’s SCOBY in kombucha brewing?

SCOBY, an essential fermentation factor, stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.” This lively community of microbes is the magic behind kombucha.

The yeast gobbles up sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (that’s where the fizz comes from). Then, the bacteria step in, converting most of that alcohol and other sugars into flavorful acids.

It’s a beautiful partnership, but since SCOBYs are living things, each batch can turn out a bit differently. This variability is where the Shippensburg University team comes in to help both home brewers and commercial producers.

Silicone bags for kombucha brewing

Shippensburg University’s research reveals that brewing kombucha in silicone bags yields some surprising benefits:

Kombucha brewing speed

Brewing time gets slashed from two weeks to one! Why? Silicone is more porous than glass, allowing more oxygen in, and that fuels the bacteria to work faster.

Less booze

The extra oxygen helps the bacteria break down alcohol more efficiently, which is great news if you want a low-alcohol kombucha.

Tangy twist

Silicone brews seem to have more gluconic acid, which provides a tart flavor without the vinegary punch of acetic acid (another common acid in kombucha).

“We think this acid will become more popular with brewers,” says Kegerreis. “Gluconic acid provides acidity without the sour vinegar taste you get from acetic acid, and that may appeal to more tastebuds.”

Different sugars in kombucha brewing

Typically, kombucha is made with plain sucrose (table sugar). But the Shippensburg team wanted to see how starting with different types of sugar would impact the fermentation process.

“During the fermentation process, yeast in the SCOBY breaks sucrose into glucose and fructose. By using just glucose or just fructose, we looked at how removing that first step affects the whole brewing process,” explains chemistry student Abbi Czarnecki.

Here’s what the researchers found:


Using pure glucose as the SCOBY’s food gave a kombucha with loads of gluconic acid and very little alcohol.


Fructose-fed kombucha had higher acetic acid levels (that vinegar tang) and more alcohol. It also tended to be sweeter.

“If minimizing ethanol production is the measure of our success, fructose failed in that department. Out of all three sugars, it produced the most ethanol,” Ian Loscher, another chemistry student on the team adds.

Benefits of kombucha

Kombucha is packed with a variety of health benefits, making it a popular choice among health-conscious individuals. The top benefits of drinking kombucha include:

Rich in probiotics

Kombucha produces a wealth of probiotics during the fermentation process. These beneficial bacteria are known for their positive impact on gut health, aiding in digestion, inflammation reduction, and even supporting the immune system.

Antioxidant powerhouse

The tea in kombucha, especially when made with green tea, contains powerful antioxidants. These substances can protect the body from oxidative stress and free radicals, which are linked to various chronic diseases.

Supports a healthy heart

Emerging research suggests that kombucha can positively affect heart health. It may improve cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease risk. The antioxidants in kombucha are particularly beneficial for the heart, helping to maintain healthy arteries and blood pressure.

Detoxification benefits

Kombucha includes detoxifying properties. It contains glucaric acid, which can help detoxify the liver and promote the excretion of toxins from the body. Regular consumption of kombucha may support the body’s natural detoxification processes.

Boosts energy

Thanks to the presence of small amounts of caffeine, B vitamins, and iron released from black tea during fermentation, kombucha can provide a gentle energy boost without the harsh effects associated with high-caffeine beverages. The iron may also improve oxygen flow to tissues, further increasing energy levels.

The future of kombucha brewing

Who knew there was so much science bubbling beneath the surface of your kombucha jar? With insights like these, you can ditch the guesswork and create brews perfectly suited to your taste buds.

The future of kombucha is bright. Expect better quality, flavors you can customize, and greener brewing methods.

Science and tradition are working together to make kombucha even more delicious and healthy. Cheers to better kombucha through the power of science.

Visit the ACS Spring 2024 program to learn more about the study.


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