Kombucha is easily one of the best things to incorporate in your daily life because of the amount of utility it provides. It can be used to enhance basically any recipe out there, from chicken to burgers, and best of all, it's ridiculously easy to make at home on your own.
So, does kombucha go bad?
The biggest downside to this amazing drink is that when well prepared, telling if it's gone bad isn't straightforward at all. It's easy enough when you've bought a ready-made batch, but even then, it's not simply a matter of taking that date for an absolute fact. On one hand, you might be throwing away perfectly good drink, and on the other, you're putting yourself at risk of getting really ill.
What is Kombucha Anyway?
Kombucha is a probiotic drink that's made by fermenting tea, sugar, a starter and a SCOBY over the course of 7 days to a month.
According to Wikipedia, a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) refers to a group of beneficial bacteria and yeast that work together to produce a specific kind of fermentation.
The longer the Kombucha sits, the more its flavor is altered (the tangier and sweeter it becomes), but only up to a certain point. Otherwise, the yeast starts to take over.
It's traditionally a Chinese drink, and if properly done, the final product should be naturally carbonated, fizzy and sweet.
It's naturally acidic profile gives Kombucha a wide variety of uses when it comes to food. It's been professed to be an incredibly healthy food because it contains probiotics and a ton of other minerals, for one. It can also be prepared in the form of tea and used as a weight loss regimen (source). Hrefna Palsdottir, MS, states that probiotics have the potential to regulate body weight.
How Long Does Kombucha Last? Does Kombucha go bad?
Like all fermented drinks, kombucha will ultimately go bad, if not refrigerated. How long it will last is not nearly as straightforward to answer. Once again, this depends on whether the product is store-bought, opened or was prepared at home.
Store-bought kombucha will usually come with a 'best by' date somewhere on the product. 'Best by' as opposed to 'expiry date' means that that's the latest date it can be assured to still be fresh. After that date has passed, it will get tangy and bitter thanks to an acid buildup, but it can still be safely used, especially considering it's an already-fermented product.
Note that taking too much of acidic foods can be harmful to your health, according to recent research (source).
If you expect to keep the kombucha unused past the best-by date, you should keep it in the fridge to help retain its flavor.
Once opened, the kombucha should always be stored in the fridge, unless the manufacturer states otherwise on the bottle. It won't go bad if stored properly, but the taste fades away with time.
If you want to enjoy kombucha tea at peak carbonation levels with the flavor just right, drink it all within a week.
There's not much to homemade kombucha unless you find a recipe that specifically states it can stay out of the fridge and still be usable. Even when stored in the fridge, note that most homemade kombucha will start to lose its flavor in a month or two, unless, once again, stated somewhere in the recipe.
How to Tell if Kombucha SCOBY is Bad?
Kombucha doesn't 'go bad' in the normal sense, as indicated by a characteristic change in taste and smell. Rather, the probiotics keep fermenting the kombucha until it completely loses its flavor. This makes telling whether kombucha has gone bad or not a little more difficult. There are three signs that should help you know.
The most obvious sign of spoilage is mold. This will happen on very rare occasions in homemade kombucha and almost never with store-bought. This is the result of a new colony of bacteria forming. It's not safe for use and can lead to severe symptoms, according to the CDC (source).
The second sign is a drastic change in taste. If you don't find it good enough to drink anymore, it's likely stayed out of the fridge too long.
Lastly, if the kombucha starts to smell different, first try to drink it from a glass, if you normally drink it straight from the preservation jar. Normally, bacteria from the mouth contaminates the neck of the bottle, leading people to mistakenly think the kombucha has gone bad. If it still smells bad even when placed in a glass, then it's definitely gone bad. Get rid of it.
How to Store Kombucha Scoby Properly?
This all begs the question - how exactly should kombucha be stored to take advantage of its maximum shelf life? That is going to depend on whether the kombucha is store-bough and unopened, opened or made at home.
There isn't just a single rule that guides the storage of all store-bought kombucha because of the tremendous differences in the production process. Brands with added preservatives or preserved by pumping out air from the bottle can safely be stored for even six months without going bad. However, some brands always require refrigeration, so it's best to consult the bottle. Once opened, store-bought kombucha should always be refrigerated.
Homemade kombucha should always be stored in the fridge. This should only happen once you're satisfied it has fermented enough. Otherwise, the fermentation process will be slowed down or stopped completely.
Why is it so important to keep kombucha refrigerated, you may wonder, and is there any exemption to the rule?
Since kombucha is made through a fermentation process, the active bacteria tend to get more active at room temperature or higher. If they are allowed to get too active, the kombucha drink will get too carbonated and have its taste altered almost completely. If overdone, it might even turn to vinegar altogether. Too much carbonation itself isn't very healthy, either (source).
Refrigeration is pretty important. The only exception to this rule is store-bought products that state the kombucha can be stored in the pantry without any trouble. This likely means the product has some added preservatives or it's undergone processing to lengthen its shelf life.