Q & A: Honey In Fermented Beverages?

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Today’s Q & A is one of my own questions. I’ve had it since I began making Kombucha.

“Since honey has anti-microbial properties, can one use it in fermented beverages and fermented foods? Or will it kill the mother culture?”

The Story Behind The Question

When I first started making Kombucha, I experimented with different sweeteners. I combined different amounts of honey, molasses and agave. (I no longer use agave – read Agave Syrup: Good or Bad?) The experimenting was fun and we enjoyed trying the different flavors. My scobys survived it all.

Then someone commented saying that I should not use honey because of its anti-microbial properties; it would kill the scoby over time. Oh. I searched the internet and found some other references to this, so I edited my recipe to say that I didn’t recommend using honey for that reason. And I no longer used honey.

Then canyonwren chimed in with:

“Hi, I just found your place, looking for a recipe for kombucha, make with honey.

I saw that you were doing that then quit because someone thought it might kill the scoby. I note that it did not kill it when you were using it, and I used to make it with honey, but lost my starter and recipe, hence my search on the web.

What I wanted to mention to you is that perhaps honey is not “antimicrobial” in its own right. It is a very thick sugar solution, and the concentration of sugars may be what gives honey its antimicrobial and humectant properties. Once diluted, it is not likely to be antimicrobial…

Think for a moment of fruit leather, or dried fruit. It does not mold or rot, and that is because the natural sugars are at a high enough concentration to make it a hostile environment for microorganisms.

I think you should feel safe in using honey, and if you were to keep one or two of your jars going with honey kombucha, you would not be risking all…”

Good Thinking

I really liked canyonwren’s logic. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, though still not changing my overall recommendation.

Yesterday, I was reading in Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. I don’t know why this passage didn’t catch my eye before; perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear it.

“When by chance honey is mixed with water, fermentation happens. Yeasts surfing through the air aboard particles of dust find their way to that sweet, nutritive honey-water. When the honey is pure, it acts as a preservative and inhibits microscopic life. But honey diluted with water becomes a stimulating medium for airborne yeast to land in, feast upon, and reproduce exponentially, bubbling and vividly alive.”

So, you be the judge. For me, I’m going back to using honey now and then without fearing an ill effect on the mother culture. I will always dilute it, not using it straight and pure.

What About White Sugar?

This is a side issue, but a question you might likely have. You might wonder why I don’t use white sugar for making Kombucha, as Sally Fallon Morell recommends in Nourishing Traditions. She wrote that when consuming white sugar, the scoby produces more glucuronic acid (a powerful cleanser). Rapadura and honey work as well, but the glucoronic acid produced is less. Whether or not white sugar produces more beneficial compounds, I prefer traditional sweeteners. If Kombucha is a traditional fermented beverage, then my choice is to use a traditional sweetener – white sugar is not that.

Next week, on Friday April 2, 2010, Annette @ Sustainable Eats is hosting a Lacto-Fermentation Blog Carnival. That sounds great! I’m going to try at least one new lacto-fermentation recipe to share in the carnival. Do you have any old or new blog posts about lacto-fermentation? I hope you’ll join me in participating in her carnival. She’s hosting it next Friday, and you can read more information here.

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Comments

  1. Christina Dickson says

    I ran out of sugar and was using honey for awhile.
    Drinking my daily kombucha with lunch had the same effect as drinking a few sips of wine (I’m really a “light weight” :) Anyway made me feel relaxed… My husband commented he could smell the yeast.
    We concluded that our kombucha was definitely part mead (a honey wine). I finally bought some white sugar just for komucha :)

  2. says

    I have tried honey, I think it will work just fine, but all the research and reading I have done shows that the glucuronic acid won’t be high and thus the full benefits of Kombucha won’t be had. We also tried it with green tea which also lowers the glucuronic levels. We have stuck to white sugar and haven’t regretted it. We also really didn’t like the flavor change using honey.
    I personally feel because of the amount we drink that it isn’t feasible to use honey. We’ve reaped great benefits drinking kombucha, so I go along with Sally Fallon Morell on using white sugar / black tea.
    .-= Pamela´s last blog post… Molly the Barn Owl and Rockin’ Robin!! =-.

  3. says

    Michelle – With water kefir, white sugar isn’t the best anyway. It doesn’t have any minerals left for the kefir grains. The grains love unrefined sweeteners best!

    Christina – Oh, funny! I’m a light weight too.

    Pamela – Thanks for sharing your point of view. I should look into black tea, as I use jasmine green all the time. And for the honey, you’re right, the flavor can be strong. I never used 100% honey, or 100% molasses, though, just experimented with different ratios for good flavor. Using 100% honey would definitely break the bank! :-) I hope you know that I don’t think there’s a right/wrong answer here, just my preference is to avoid using white sugar. I certainly respect your informed decision to do so!

  4. beau10 says

    Michael Roussin has a book re Kombucha available on-line. All those intending to brew this material might consider accessing the info at least – considering some of the use possibilities: in tests on mice there was serious enlargement of the spleen and liver. Some info: there is NO glucuronic acid in all tests done – there is glucaric acid. Kombucha will interact w/ medical drugs and hormone replacement therapy. Kombucha is, in actuallity, almost totally void of all B vitamins. Just some things to consider.

  5. Lindsay says

    My dad made wine and beer and such for a while.. We really enjoyed his “apple cyser” (might be spelling that wrong), which was basically wine brewed with honey instead of sugar, a mead, I think they used to call it. So tasty!

  6. Karil says

    I’ve never made any kombucha or fermented vegis, though I love both! I think I shall try it out soon.

    In baking, I know that raw honey is not used when making long-rise breads, because an enzyme in the honey supresses the yeast. However, if the honey is heated and then cooled, this enzyme is destroyed. I don’t remember how hot the honey must be heated—not much, as I recall. Perhaps the same treatment might suppress any detrimental effects the honey might have on the scoby.

  7. Jory says

    Okay, I know Im late on this post but I am just wondering if anyone else gets a headache from the caffeine in Kombucha. I was making it and drinking it everday for awhile. Then when I stopped for a day I had a horrible headache….just like I get with other caffeine. Ive read that the scoby is supposed to digest all the caffeine but it didnt seem to for me…unless maybe I didnt let it sour enough???? Any thoughts?

  8. Ravi says

    Honey loses its ant bacterial properties when diluted with water. See Wikepedia’s article on honey which explains that in its pure form, the sugars are concentrated thereby preventing fermentation. However, in a diluted form as in tea brewed with water, the anti microbial property disappears. There is so much disinformation in the web with people making bald statements about using honey in kombucha without research or thought.

    How did your experiment using honey to make kombucha pan out?

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