kombucha shelf life

Kombucha Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

So, you’ve just heard about kombucha tea from one of your friends. It’s always interesting to sample a new food item. Since you are totally new to this fizzy-looking drink, you want to learn a bit more before making a purchase.

Perhaps, you decide to make kombucha at home. However, you are not sure about its storage.

Either way, such a situation begs the questions: how long can kombucha be kept in the refrigerator? Does kombucha go bad?

Fear not, we take a closer look at kombucha’s shelf life, storage, and common signs of kombucha going bad. Sounds like what you’re looking for? So, read on!

What Is Kombucha?

Before we touch upon the technical parts, let’s start with a general overview of kombucha.

You’ve probably heard that kombucha is a fermented drink. That’s right – more precisely, kombucha is made from brewed tea (usually black or green tea) and sugar. The mixture is fermented with a starter culture termed SCOBY. The so-called SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or simply called as the “mushroom” or “mother.”

The fermentation takes place at room temperatures for 7 to 30 days. The result is a fizzy and acidic beverage. It is sometimes flavored with fruits and herbs to enhance the taste.

Kombucha originated in mainland China and has been around for thousands of years. It is gaining wider popularity in the US and other countries in the past decades. It is mainly valued for its health benefits, although these claims still need further studies. (*)

Kombucha is available in regular supermarkets or health food stores. Meanwhile, some fans are willing to go extra miles in making their home-brewed kombucha.

How To Store Kombucha

Sometimes, you see the producers mention “raw”, “unpasteurized,” on kombucha’s label. It means you should consider kombucha as a living product, so refrigeration is required to maintain its freshness and shelf life.

Storage is easy, with no prep needed. You can just put kombucha inside the refrigerator. After serving, put it back immediately to prevent spontaneous fermentation.

Next to that, kombucha is susceptible to microbial spoilage. Hence, practicing good hygiene is vital to the durability of your kombucha. Always keep the lid tightly closed to keep contaminants at bay.

If you make this fizzy tea at home, make sure to follow the procedures correctly to avoid cross-contamination. Once you are finished with the fermentation, store it in sealed bottles or glass jars in the refrigerator.

Does kombucha go bad if not refrigerated?

Remember that kombucha contains living organisms. It doesn’t really go bad, but fermentation continues at a faster rate when kombucha is left at room temperature.

It turns much more acidic and tart, some say it becomes vinegary. At some point, it may not be appealing anymore. Also, be careful with the build-up gas or effervescence that can leak or explode the bottle.


How Can You Tell If Kombucha Has Gone Bad?

As with most foods, kombucha also degrades in quality and eventually goes bad. Spoilage happens more often with homemade kombucha since an aseptic and sterile environment can’t be guaranteed.

Let’s start with some regular occurrence that doesn’t necessarily indicate spoilage.

Sediments on the bottom

This is harmless because the product doesn’t always undergo a filtration process. To fix this little issue, simply swirl the sediment for a few times, instead of shaking up the bottles.

SCOBY

After a while, you may see a jelly-like disc floating in the bottle. Don’t panic, this is the active living culture that continues to grow. Maybe you forgot to leave the container outside. In fact, you can actually make a new batch of kombucha using these floaties!

When it comes to spoilage symptoms, there are several generic signs you can keep in mind.

1. Molds

Your kombucha can get moldy because of different reasons, from dirty utensils, wrong place, etc. It mostly happens to your homemade kombucha rather than commercially-prepared ones.

Either way, if you spot colorful layers on the surface, like blueish, white, green, or black, it’s time to bid farewell to this fizzy drink.

2. Overly acidic, tart, or vinegary taste

Kombucha gets more acidic as it ages, especially after being left out for a while. If kombucha becomes overly acidic, it’s not necessarily bad, but you probably don’t want to drink it anymore. Luckily, you can still use vinegary kombucha for other purposes, that is for vinegar substitute.

If everything seems pretty reasonable, give it a sip to determine whether to keep it or not. Whenever in doubt, it’s always best to stay on the safe side.


How Long Does Kombucha Last?

Commercially-prepared kombucha typically lasts for 6 to 8 months, indicated with a “best by” or “use by” date on the package.

In most cases, you can expect that a food product remains edible beyond its recommended date, given proper storage and perfect packaging.

As long as it is unopened, kombucha may remain safe to drink beyond this date for the next few weeks. The exact range is difficult to estimate, you should check for yourself using our guideline above.

After opening, kombucha should be consumed immediately—within 3 to 10 days. Each brand may have different suggestions regarding the number of days. So, it’s better to follow the instructions on the package. Remember that the flavor and taste diminish over time, so better enjoy it while still fresh.

Meanwhile, homemade kombucha can last for around 1 to 3 months after bottling, when prepared, bottled, and stored correctly.

Kombucha typesPantry
Store-bought kombucha (unopened)6 to 8 months, orBest by date + a few weeks
Store-bought kombucha (opened)3 to 10 days
Homemade kombucha1 to 3 months

This table is a rough estimate. The actual shelf life depends on the preparation methods, ingredients, and storage conditions. Forget the “best by” date if you see apparent signs of spoilage.


FAQs

Does kombucha have caffeine?

Yes, kombucha contains a small amount of caffeine. The exact amount may differ on brand and flavors, but much lower compared to coffee.

Does kombucha have alcohol?

Just like other fermented drinks, kombucha may contain naturally-occurring alcohol as a by-product of the fermentation process. The amount is negligible and is usually below 0.5%. Therefore, it is not subject to alcoholic beverage regulations. Home-brewed kombucha may contain a higher amount of up to 3%.

Does kombucha have added sugar?

Yes, it takes three to make kombucha—brewed tea, sugar, and SCOBY. Sugar acts as a substrate or the food for SCOBY to live. Hence, without sugar added, there won’t be fermentation that turns brewed tea into kombucha.

Final Thoughts

Kombucha is a fizzy drink made from fermented tea. Although it has a considerable shelf life, it declines in flavor and taste, and also goes bad.

You can consider kombucha as a living product since it contains living organisms. Hence, it needs refrigeration at all times. Room temperature speeds up the fermentation process, which only makes kombucha more acidic earlier. It’s better to drink it a few days after opening.

Kombucha is prone to microbial spoilage. So, if you find colorful molds (other than the SCOBY), it’s time to say goodbye! Likewise, if kombucha becomes overly acidic.

kombucha goes bad

Image by fuzullhanum/depositphotos

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