Does Kombucha Expire or Go Bad?

by Charlie
Homemade Fermented Raw Kombucha Tea

Popping up in stores everywhere lately, kombucha is the newest health food craze. This refreshing, sparkling tea has ancient origins but is also a hit with the health-conscious crowd today.

Kombucha is jam-packed with beneficial bacteria and probiotics. 

Before grabbing one of these trendy drinks for some refreshment on a hot summer day, you may be wondering, does kombucha expire? The answer may be more complicated than you think!

Does Kombucha expire? In most cases, Kombucha does not expire. When stored correctly in a cool environment, kombucha technically will never go bad, but after a long enough fermentation time it will become mostly vinegar. Improperly stored kombucha can expire since it is full of biological ingredients.

What is Kombucha?

The first big question on your mind if you’re new to the kombucha world is probably “What even is kombucha?” 

Kombucha, colloquially known as “Booch” is a sweetened black or green tea that has bacteria and yeasts added to kick start fermentation. 

These yeasts and bacterias will combine to form something called a SCOBY, which stands for “Symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. This SCOBY will continue to feed off the sugar in the tea, fermenting it further day by day. 

Once the first fermentation is complete, the kombucha is transferred to airtight bottles with a bit of fruit juice to undergo its second fermentation. During this fermentation, the kombucha will become carbonated and reach its final form for drinking.

The rumor that kombucha is secretly alcoholic has been going around forever, but in reality, even though the fermentation does result in a little bit of alcohol, the amount is negligible. The alcoholic content of kombucha is about equal to the alcohol content of a glass of juice.

How Long Does Kombucha Last?

Being the amazing, naturally fermented beverage that it is, kombucha can last an incredibly long time. There are a few factors that determine how long your kombucha will stay good for. These include.

Storage Temperature

Kombucha must be stored somewhere cool, preferably refrigerated. When kombucha is stored this way, the fermentation grinds nearly to a halt and you have a lot more time to enjoy your kombucha at peak deliciousness.

If the kombucha is stored somewhere warm, the fermentation will continue unhindered, leading to an almost all-vinegar beverage that, while still safe to drink, will taste absolutely terrible.

The second, more dangerous risk of over-fermented kombucha is that it will continue to swell and expand, giving it the potential to explode in weaker glass bottles. Glass shards flying everywhere is a nightmare!

Properly Sealed Containers

Another downfall for kombucha can be an improperly sealed container. Properly stored kombucha should be in an airtight bottle, meaning nothing is getting in or out until that bottle is opened for consumption. 

If the bottle wasn’t properly sealed, then outside sources of bacteria could get into the kombucha, causing it to spoil. Not all bacteria are created equal, and the bacteria used to form the SCOBY are not the same bacteria floating around in the air. 

Just like any food made up of natural ingredients, when not in an airtight container kombucha can spoil and become dangerous to consume. Use your best judgment when it comes to taste and smell when enjoying your booch!

Length of Time

Just like kombucha stored at warm temperatures, kombucha that has been sitting for extended periods of time can occasionally over-ferment. 

As we know, over-fermented kombucha will become very vinegary and has the slim potential to explode, even when stored at proper temperatures.

Why Does Kombucha Have an Expiration Date?

You may be surprised to learn that for most foods, an expiration date isn’t required by federal law. 

The only foods that must have expiration dates are baby formula and baby foods. Milk, eggs, and meat are sometimes subject to regulation by state laws, and therefore will have to have expiration dates. 

So why do other foods have expiration dates?

Foods, even non-perishable ones like kombucha, have expiration dates determined by their manufacturers to ensure that they are consumed when they are at their best.

Basically, a years-old kombucha that has been perfectly stored is still safe to drink but is probably going to taste terrible. So to avoid their customers drinking nasty booch, the manufacturers will print an expiration date so everyone drinks their kombucha at peak tastiness. 

How Long Will Opened Kombucha Last?

Unlike kombucha still sealed in its airtight bottle, opened kombucha can and will spoil. Once you open the kombucha, it has to be stored in the refrigerator. Refrigerated opened kombucha will safely last for around a week.

So why does opened kombucha spoil? Once the seal on the bottle is cracked, bacteria can easily get into the drink and spoil it, just like any other opened food or drink. 

This is especially true if you’ve already drunk from the container. The human mouth can introduce all kinds of bacterias to an opened bottle of kombucha, speeding up the spoiling process. 

Spoiled kombucha can be dangerous to ingest. There is no telling what kinds of bacterias and molds have made their way into your kombucha.

 If your drink smells rank or looks discolored, go ahead and discard it. It isn’t worth the risk of getting sick to taste test it. 

Home-Brew vs Commercial Kombucha

One more factor to consider when it comes to the expiration of kombucha is where it originated from.

Kombucha that has been commercially produced with strict quality control is going to last longer as a rule. These kombuchas are uniformly packaged and sealed, meaning there is less margin of error.

The kombucha that your friend made you, on the other hand, is going to expire sooner. It is unlikely that kombucha made at someone’s house is going to have a perfect seal, and the quality control is probably nonexistent.

This isn’t to say that homemade kombucha isn’t awesome in its own right! Just be more aware of how old this kombucha is, and don’t drink anything that smells or tastes strange to you.

Final Thoughts

Kombucha is pretty amazing! It’s naturally carbonated, full of probiotics, and has been found to aid in digestion.

Not only that, but it’s also super delicious and refreshing.

Kombucha can last an extremely long time, but just like most foods, it is best enjoyed before its expiration date. Kombucha past its printed expiration date usually isn’t harmful to drink, but it will taste strongly of vinegar.

Use your best judgment when enjoying kombucha. Happy sipping!

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