Kombucha is an unusual health drink when you first hear about it. I mean, who really craves fermented tea anyway? However, despite the vast array of health benefits, some find its taste to be off-putting, which is entirely okay.

If you are a frequent kombucha drinker, you might know that it has a relatively long shelf life, which means that it expires less quickly than many other drinks. But kombucha can go bad but maybe not in the way you expect it to.

As Kombucha is fermented, it technically doesn’t expire and can be drunk safely after its supposed “expiration date” that is as long as it is stored correctly. That said, kombucha can become undrinkable if left for too long as it can turn into vinegar, become moldy, or be contaminated.

So, before you take a swig of your kombucha that has passed its expiration date, it is essential to know the risks of drinking expired Kombucha if any, and how to spot a batch that has passed it prime.

What is Kombucha?

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Kombucha is a sweetened and fermented tea. Because of the fermentation process, the beverage is slightly alcoholic and has a light, effervescent quality. The drink is best served cold and has been around for over a thousand years, often consumed for its supposed health benefits. Usually, kombucha has a sweet, vinegary taste.

Benefits of Kombucha

There are many purported benefits to drinking kombucha. Some of these include:

  • Healthy digestive system thanks to the inherent probiotics
  • Improved metabolism with green tea kombucha
  • Antioxidants protect against free radical damage, thus preventing many chronic conditions 
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • May help manage type 2 diabetes
  • May help protect against cancer

How is Kombucha Made?

Kombucha is made by introducing something called “SCOBY” into a brewed black or green tea. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The mixture is then left to ferment from anywhere between a week and a month. The sweetness of the drink will depend on the fermentation time; essentially, the final product will become less sweet the longer it ferments

All About Kombucha Expiry Dates

Despite kombucha being fermented, it does still expire. The fermentation process, however, results in a longer lasting product.

Many people will have heard that kombucha can be consumed beyond its expiration date. But if you want to know what happens to kombucha after it expires, here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions

Best Before vs Use By Date

Firstly, it is important to distinguish between the best before date and the use-by date.

The best before date is the recommended date of consumption. Most stores use this date as a guideline of how long to display the item on their shelves. However, the product should still be safe to eat for several days after this date.

The use-by date, on the other hand, tends to refer to the last possible day of consumption. This date is used in products that go rancid more quickly than fermented drinks like kombucha.

Can You Drink Expired Kombucha?

The simple answer is yes, however, many different factors can make your kombucha go bad both before and after the official expiry date. Let’s discuss what those factors are:

How Long Does Unopened Kombucha Last After Expiration?

Most kombucha companies put an expiration date on their bottled kombucha, but the truth is, it is usually safe to consume for quite a long while after this date. How long it lasts depends on a variety of factors. Depending on how the kombucha was bottled, it can last between six and eight months after the noted date.

How Long Does Kombucha Last After Being Opened?

After kombucha has been opened, things change quickly. Once the beverage interacts with the air, decomposition and nutrient loss will begin to take place in the kombucha. You will notice that the beverage loses its fizz and its strong taste. If you plan to drink from the same bottle after opening, you should always try to store the beverage in a sealed container in the fridge, which will help it last longer

How Long Does Kombucha Last in the Fridge After Opening?

If you have a can of kombucha, it is recommended that you consume the drink immediately after opening. If you have a resealable bottle, you may be able to store the bottle in the fridge for 3-5 days after opening without the drink going bad.

Can I Drink Unopened Expired Kombucha?

This all depends on how the beverage was stored and how long it has been “expired”. Because kombucha doesn’t technically expire, it should be safe to drink if it has been stored correctly and remains well sealed.

Refrigeration is important because heat can have adverse effects on the cultured drink. Generally, if you add two or three months to the expiration date, you should be ok. The living cultures in the drink will become more active at room temperature, which can cause excess carbonation and a sour or tart taste.

If you notice your kombucha tastes quite vinegary, it may be a sign that it has been stored at a warm temperature for too long or that it is too far past its expiry date.

How Long Does Homemade Kombucha Last?

If you are beginning to experiment with making your own kombucha at home, you will probably be following a kit initially. This kit should tell you a rough expiry date for your kombucha. In most cases, homemade kombucha lasts between one and three months when stored in a sealed container in the fridge.

Does Expired Kombucha Have More Alcohol?

Essentially, an older bottle of kombucha will have fermented for a longer period of time than a newer bottle. During the fermentation process, yeast converts sugar into alcohol. So, yes, the longer a bottle ferments, the higher the alcohol content. Nevertheless, kombucha contains very low levels of alcohol, so in most cases, alcohol content shouldn’t trouble you when you drink an older kombucha.

How to Spot Bad Kombucha

How can you tell if your kombucha has gone bad? Many people assume that floating bits in the drink are an indication that the drink is no longer safe. However, this is a misconception. These bits are SCOBY and are a sign that your kombucha is still full of healthy live bacteria. Clear kombucha is a sign that the drink is pasteurized or filtered, therefore containing no bacteria at all, good or bad.

One sign of a bad kombucha is mold. This occurs very rarely, but, as you likely already know, mold is never a good sign. Another important sign is the smell and taste of the beverage. If it is very tart or vinegary, chances are it’s no longer healthy to drink. Luckily, there are a few other excellent uses for over-fermented kombucha.

Tips to Prevent Kombucha From Going Bad

Keep it Refrigerated

This method is the easiest way to lengthen your drink’s shelf life. Since Kombucha is affected by how you store it, keeping it cool can help prevent it from going bad. The ideal temperature for storage is above 32°F. The cool environment can slow down the fermentation process and keep it from becoming Kombucha vinegar. 

Avoid it from getting too cold as that can kill off the drink’s bacteria entirely. Don’t get it too hot either, as anything above 80°F can also affect the drink’s quality. 

Drink From a Glass

One possibility of a Kombucha going bad has to do with contamination. To prevent even this chance, drink from a glass instead of directly from the bottle. 

Keep Away From Possible Sources of Mold

We have discussed that mold is a potential issue if you’re storing your Kombucha. Make sure to separate your open bottles of Kombucha from food that could be a source of mold. 

What Happens If You Drink Bad Kombucha?

In the rare event that your kombucha has really passed its expiration date, what happens to the body?

For the vast majority of us, old kombucha doesn’t pose many threats. However, if you have any underlying health issues, your body may have extra trouble fighting off the bacteria you have consumed. In some cases, old kombucha can contain excessive amounts of bad bacteria, which can result in an allergic reaction, a mild infection, or an upset stomach when consumed.

Final Thoughts

Kombucha is far more complicated than many people realize.

The fermented drink is filled with bacteria and yeast, which, for some, can seem intimidating. Generally speaking, kombucha is a very healthy, beneficial beverage that contains a variety of good bacteria.

Because of the fermentation process, the drink can last for a few months after its expiry date. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the bacteria suddenly become bad when the drink “expires”. Instead, be sure to store the beverage in a refrigerator, and taste test your drink to make sure it isn’t too vinegary. If it tastes quite sweet and bubbly, sit back and enjoy drinking some healthy bacteria!