Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that is promoted as an elixir for all kinds of digestive health trouble. The process to make it is similar to wine and sauerkraut, which begs the question, does this fizzy probiotic drink go bad?
Kombucha is a complicated beverage. It is technically safe to drink indefinitely but will grow more acidic as it continues to ferment. Stored at room temperature, it will likely become undrinkable within 2 months. Some brands pasteurize their kombucha to make it shelf-stable for up to 6 months. Unopened and refrigerated kombucha will stay fresh for 6-8 months. Once opened, it is recommended to drink the entire bottle within 48 hours.
If you find the taste and health benefits of kombucha fit your lifestyle, you will want to know more about how to store it and when not to drink it.
Does Kombucha Go Bad? How Long Does Kombucha Last?
Technically, kombucha is just constantly fermenting, which means that over time it simply becomes more acidic, like vinegar. How the drink is made and stored greatly impacts how long it takes for kombucha to become too acidic.
How Long Does Kombucha Last On The Shelf?
At room temperature, the bacteria and yeasts in raw kombucha continue to ferment. This will make the drink taste more and more like vinegar within a couple of months, but will not necessarily make it dangerous to consume.
Some commercial brands will manufacture their kombucha drinks to store at room temperature. Be sure to check for any storage instructions on the label, and always store homemade kombucha in the fridge.
Shelf-stable kombucha is likely pasteurized. This means that it has been heated to kill some microbes to extend its shelf-life, but this also often kills some of the helpful bacteria that make the drink so healthy for you. Some brands will add in probiotics to balance this effect.
How Long Does Kombucha Last in the Fridge?
Raw kombucha contains live cultures and should be treated like milk or yogurt. In the refrigerator, the fermenting process is significantly slowed down, and kombucha will maintain its freshness even after the bottle has been opened.
Generally, kombucha can be expected to last 6-8 months in the fridge. This may equate to about a month after the best by date printed on the bottle, but use your best judgment before consuming.
If not refrigerated, the live cultures will ferment the remaining sugars in the bottle. This will lead to it eventually resembling vinegar, but also a build-up of CO2. In extreme cases, the bottles can explode with pressure.
How Long Does Kombucha Last in the Freezer?
It is widely debated that freezing kombucha can kill the live cultures that make the drink beneficial to your digestive health. For this reason, some advocates believe you can preserve the live cultures if you flash-freeze your kombucha.
Freezing kombucha does little to extend the shelf-life. The probiotics that make it a healthy drink will die after about 3 months in the freezer. For best results, plan to consume it within a few weeks of freezing it.
It not recommended to ever re-freeze kombucha. Some probiotics may die in the first freezing, so thawing it and freezing it again will certainly kill whatever cultures that may have survived otherwise.
Kombucha is a live and fermenting beverage, which is what makes it so good for your digestive system. At room temperature, it will continue to ferment, but the cultures are dormant in cold temperatures, keeping the drink from spoiling.
How To Tell If Kombucha Has Gone Bad / How To Know Kombucha is Fresh
When it is fresh, kombucha should be fizzy, a little tart, but mostly sweet. It will naturally have floating sediment and brown strings of yeast inside it. This is left over from the SCOBY, part of the process of making kombucha. So how can you tell if your kombucha is spoiled?
Smell. If your kombucha smells like vinegar, it has over-fermented. The longer it sits and ferments, the stronger this smell will get. It is still safe to drink, but you may find it repulsive.
Taste. Store-bought kombucha is made with enough acid to prevent bad bacteria and mold from growing in it, at least until the bottle is opened. If your homemade kombucha, or an opened bottle, starts to taste “off” in any way, it is likely time to throw it out.
Mold. Typically, it is the SCOBY that will begin to grow mold. It is a living organism and it will die. In rare situations, your kombucha may grow blue/green, white, or black mold. Because mold is always dry, it will only form on the surface of the tea, and floaties beneath the surface are usually normal. Once it has begun to grow mold, the entire bottle should be thrown away. Drinking it may make you sick.
How to Store Kombucha?
Storing kombucha at room temperature will further ferment the tea. The yeast continues the process of eating the sugar, and over time, the tea becomes acidic like vinegar, or in some cases, alcohol.
While you are making kombucha, the SCOBY will die in high heat or cold. Store it at room temperature, in a dark place.
To slow the fermentation process, store raw kombucha in the fridge. Raw kombucha still contains living bacteria, just like yogurt or kefir. Beneficial bacteria lay dormant in cold temperatures.
Some brands of pasteurized kombucha can be kept in the pantry, at least until opened. It is recommended to follow storage instructions, unique to the brand you prefer.
Can You Freeze Kombucha? How?
Some experts believe freezing kombucha will kill the probiotics that make it a healthy drink. It may just be the slow-freezing process to blame, but it is said you can flash-freeze kombucha and maintain at least half of the probiotics it contains.
Freeze kombucha in an airtight container with room to expand. Some people suggest you can freeze store-bought kombucha directly in the bottle you bought it in. Others instruct that you pour the kombucha into a slightly larger airtight container.
You can flash-freeze kombucha at home. All you have to do is submerge the sealed container of kombucha into a bucket of ice and sprinkled salt until it becomes solid. Then transfer it to the freezer.
Kombucha makes great frozen treats. You can retain all the probiotic value and enjoy a popsicle or slushy made with kombucha and usually fresh or frozen fruit.
It is not recommended to freeze a SCOBY, but it is possible. The living organism that is used in making kombucha can die when frozen, but some believe it is possible to flash-freeze the SCOBY without harming it.
How to Thaw Kombucha?
Only thaw kombucha in the fridge, and plan to consume it the same day. Once thawed, the cultures will begin to die if left in the fridge or at room temperature.
Because it will need to be consumed immediately, it is recommended you freeze kombucha in small batches. This is why many people make popsicles and slushies out of it, and store the beverage in the fridge instead.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kombucha’s Shelf Life
What is a SCOBY? SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It is a living organism that breeds beneficial bacteria and yeast and provides the probiotic value. It is a rubbery layer of substance that typically grows on the surface, but you will occasionally find “baby SCOBY” forming at the bottom of any bottle of kombucha.
Can kombucha become alcoholic? With additional sugar, kombucha can be fermented into an alcoholic beverage similar to beer. Yeast feeds on sugar to produce alcohol. This will not likely happen with the bottle of kombucha you picked up at the store, especially if you store it in the fridge. But if you are brewing kombucha at home, you can brew it into an alcoholic beverage.
This probiotic tea can be desirable for anyone looking to drink healthy. Humanity has been drinking it for over two thousand years. It is carbonated, and contains caffeine, making it a great alternative to sugary soft drinks. Store it properly, and you should be able to enjoy digestive balance.