Does Kombucha Need Oxygen To Ferment?

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During the first stages of fermentation, kombucha requires oxygen to allow the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) to consume sugars and excrete alcohol and CO2. During this time, the kombucha needs to be well-ventilated with oxygen. However, during the second fermentation stage, the kombucha develops its carbonation and is kept away from oxygen. If the kombucha is exposed to oxygen during this time, it can make the drink go flat.

Kombucha has been gaining popularity among health enthusiasts and foodies alike. This fermented tea boasts a tangy, slightly sweet taste and is packed with probiotics, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds. But how does it actually ferment? One of the most commonly asked questions by kombucha fans is whether kombucha needs oxygen to ferment. Some argue that it is essential, while others claim that it’s not required at all.

In this article, we’ll dive into the science behind kombucha fermentation, the role of oxygen in the process, and the most accurate way to measure oxygen levels in drinks. So, whether you’re a kombucha newbie or a seasoned brewer, read on to find out if oxygen is a must-have ingredient for this popular health drink.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fizzy and tangy fermented drink that has gained immense popularity in recent times. Kombucha is produced by fermenting sweetened tea. The fermented tea contains a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (known as SCOBY). The SCOBY feeds on the tea’s sugar to produce a range of beneficial enzymes, acids, and probiotics that give the drink its unique flavor and health benefits.

The exact history of Kombucha is unclear, yet it is thought to of originated in ancient China, where it was revered for its healing properties. It was known as the “Tea of Immortality” and was believed to cure everything from digestive issues to arthritis. Over time, Kombucha spread to other parts of the world via the silk trade roads and became a popular health drink.

Today, Kombucha is enjoyed by people all over the world for its refreshing taste and numerous health benefits. It is rich in probiotics that promote gut health, antioxidants that protect against cell damage, and B vitamins that boost energy levels. It also contains acetic acid, which is known to have antimicrobial properties and may help prevent infections.

Kombucha comes in a variety of flavors, from classic black tea to fruity blends like raspberry and mango. It can be enjoyed on its own or used as a base for cocktails and mocktails. With its unique taste and health benefits, Kombucha has become a favorite among health enthusiasts and anyone looking for a tasty alternative to soda or other sugary drinks.

How Is Kombucha Made?

The process of making kombucha involves a few simple steps, but it requires some patience and attention to detail.

The first step in making kombucha is to prepare the tea. Black tea is the most commonly used type of tea, but green tea or a combination of both can also be used. The tea is brewed and then sweetened with sugar. At room temperature, the tea cools down and SCOBY is added. The SCOBY is what kick-starts the fermentation process.

The SCOBY feeds on the sugar and caffeine in the tea, producing organic acids, vitamins, and probiotics. During the fermentation process, the kombucha develops its distinct tangy and slightly effervescent flavor. Depending on the desired taste and strength, the fermentation process can take anywhere from 7 to 30 days, although 7 to 12 days is typically the favored duration for the first fermentation phase.

Once the fermentation process is complete, the kombucha is tightly bottled and flavored with fruits or herbs. This secondary fermentation process creates carbonation and enhances the flavor profile of the drink. The finished product should be a refreshing, slightly tart, and bubbly drink. 

Does Kombucha Require Oxygen?

To put it short, the answer is yes, but to a certain extent.

During the fermentation process, the SCOBY that forms on top of the sweetened tea requires oxygen to thrive. The yeast consumes the sugar in the tea to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2), while the bacteria convert the alcohol into organic acids that give kombucha its characteristic tanginess. In this aerobic stage, the SCOBY needs a steady supply of oxygen to keep producing these beneficial compounds.

However, once the yeast has consumed most of the sugar and produced enough alcohol, the SCOBY enters an anaerobic stage where it no longer requires oxygen. At this point, the bacteria take over and start converting the alcohol into organic acids. This stage is crucial for achieving the right balance of flavors and acidity in kombucha.

So, to answer whether kombucha needs oxygen, the answer is yes and no. While it needs oxygen for the first few days of fermentation, it can continue to ferment without oxygen after that point. 

However, it’s important to note that too little oxygen can lead to sluggish fermentation (slow SCOBY growth), an increase in alcohol content, and off-flavors (typically a yeasty and/or sour flavor) in your brew.

On the other hand, with too much oxygen the balance of the microorganisms in the brew change, overwhelming the culture. The causes of excess oxygen in kombucha are usually from too much airflow and when the surface area is too large in the brewing vessel. 

The Importance Of Reading Dissolved Oxygen When Making Kombucha

When making kombucha, it is essential to monitor the level of dissolved oxygen throughout the fermentation process. This is because the amount of oxygen available will determine how quickly the SCOBY will consume the sugar and produce the desired organic acids, enzymes, and probiotics. If there is too little dissolved oxygen, the fermentation process can slow down or even stop altogether, leading to an inferior quality product.

On the other hand, if there is too much dissolved oxygen present, it can lead to unwanted yeast growth and spoilage of the kombucha. This is why it is critical to maintain a consistent level of dissolved oxygen throughout the fermentation process to ensure that the kombucha remains healthy, delicious, and more importantly, safe for consumers.

How To Accurately Measure Dissolved Oxygen In Kombucha?

The most accurate way to measure dissolved oxygen in kombucha is by using a specialized probe. These probes are designed specifically to measure the concentration of dissolved oxygen in liquids and are commonly used in scientific/laboratory research and industrial applications. The probe works by using a small electrode to detect oxygen molecules in the liquid and convert that information into a digital readout on a display.

To use a dissolved oxygen probe, you’ll need to first calibrate it using a standard solution of known oxygen concentration. Once calibrated, you can then insert the probe into your kombucha and take a reading. It’s important to keep the probe clean and properly maintained to ensure accurate readings.

If your kombucha brewing is on a small scale, the Atlas Scientific Lab Grade Dissolved Oxygen probe will give you everything you need for reliable and accurate results. For large-scale brewing systems, you may want to consider the Industrial Dissolved Oxygen Probe. This probe holds a lot of electrolytes, making it last for a much longer time than a regular DO probe. The Industrial DO Probe also comes with a built-in PT-1000 temperature sensor, reducing the need for excess parts and making it easy to install in a pipe, if required.

If you don’t have access to a dissolved oxygen probe, there are other methods you can use to estimate the level of dissolved oxygen in your kombucha. One common method is to use a dissolved oxygen test kit, which uses chemicals to react with the oxygen in the liquid and produce a color change that can be compared to a chart to determine the concentration of dissolved oxygen. While less accurate than using a probe, this method can still provide useful information about the fermentation process.

Summary

Kombucha needs oxygen to start the fermentation process and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once enough alcohol has been produced, it can continue to ferment without oxygen as the bacteria convert the alcohol into organic acids. However, it’s important to maintain a proper balance of oxygen throughout the fermentation process for optimal results by monitoring the oxygen level with a dissolved oxygen meter.

If you have any questions on measuring oxygen in beverages, or what oxygen probe will best suit your brewing needs, do not hesitate to contact the world-class team at Atlas Scientific.

Dissolved Oxygen Probes & Sensors

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