Does Kombucha Need to Be Refrigerated?
And what happens to kombucha when it sits out for too long?
Whether its store-bought or homemade, kombucha is a finicky drink, and in order to make the most of your raw kombucha, you have to store it properly. A lot of people think that since kombucha is a fermented drink, it doesn't need to be refrigerated until the bottle's been opened. But that's not true at all. Kombucha needs to be refrigerated at all times, even when the bottle is unopened. That's according to Sean Lovett, CEO of craft kombucha makers Revive Kombucha, who explained to me in an email, "If the kombucha is a true live, raw kombucha, then it needs to be kept refrigerated while it is stored so that it can maintain a taste, and its health and wellness profile as a probiotic."
The good news is that because it is live and raw, kombucha rarely goes bad or spoils, and kombucha has a pretty long shelf-life. But there's a caveat. Kombucha will stay fresh "as long as you keep it refrigerated," notes Lovett. "True live raw kombucha should never be left out of refrigeration, once [bottling is finished], as it will rapidly change in flavor and functionality."
The folks at Rise Kombucha also vouch for the long shelf-life of kombucha but note that the quality can decline with time. As they explain in their FAQs, "Although kombucha doesn't actually expire, we still put a 'best before' label on our kombucha. That's because we can't guarantee it will have the same flavor, texture or alcohol content as the day it was bottled after six months go by."
So what happens to kombucha that you left out of the fridge? "At some point it will turn into vinegar," according to Lovett. And you'll know when your kombucha has gone bad, because it will taste like vinegar or super-acidic, not a lovely carbonated drink. Plus, at that point, it won't have any of the live probiotics that make kombucha an appealing healthy drink in the first place.
If you leave kombucha unrefrigerated, the drink will also continue to ferment and create more carbon dioxide, and that can cause the bottle of kombucha to explode when you open it. This another reason why the experts at Rise recommend you, "Treat kombucha with the same respect you'd give to milk and store it in the fridge."
Really, you should only removing your bottle of kombucha from refrigeration when you're actually ready to drink it. Oh, and don't shake the bottle or store it on its side, either. Otherwise you'll have a real mess on your hands.