I read the results of few different experiments on the effects of different sugars in the fermentation of beer, and was inspired to make my own caramel use as the sugar source for a batch of kombucha. One of the reasons this appealed to me is that I’ve never followed the conventional advice to dissolve my sugar in my steeped tea as it cools. I’ve avoided this out of a concern that some of the sugar might caramelize, which could have some effect on the flavor of the kombucha (seems somewhat likely) or health of the microbes (seems unlikely).
I started by combining 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup distilled water, and a splash of lemon juice in a saucepan, and heating it on the stovetop until it was moderately dark. I then added this as the sugar portion of a 1 qt micro-batch of kombucha that was otherwise normal.
- 6 days: pH 3.4. The flavor was slightly tart, slightly sweet, with a bit of dark bitterness.
- 13 days: pH 3.2. The flavor was sour with a caramel sweetness, and a thin, flimsy scoby. It’s okay, but the flavor doesn’t work so well for me. Maybe it would work better in fermented coffee?
As for my concerns… Yes, it does affect the flavor. I didn’t care for it that much, but it’s drinkable. YMMV. Surprisingly, the thinness of the scoby makes me wonder if the caramelized sugars aren’t fully utilized by the microbes, or if the there’s a caramelization by-product that somehow interferes with bacteria or it’s scoby formation. I’ve since read this guide to making “candy syrup”, which makes me wonder if I should try again, and see how a more extreme beginning flavor affects the final flavor.