Sugar is the food for cultures. Whether it is the lactose in dairy which feeds yogurt bacteria, or the cane sugar in water kefir which feeds the water kefir grains, sugar is essential to success. Many people work hard to avoid sugar in their diets, which we fully support!
Please do keep in mind that cultures are very simple organisms, and may not be able to use the less refined, or low-glycemic sugars gaining in popularity.
Read over the instructions carefully for your starter. Check out our Culturing Help section to find articles on choosing the best ingredients for your starter. Once you’ve chosen the best ingredients, be sure to avoid overculturing, which can weaken the bacteria and lead to poor culturing down the road.
There are ways to reduce the total amount of sugar in the final product. Due to the nature of culturing, it’s impossible to predict your outcome ahead of time, though. Tasting your cultures will help provide information on the sugar level. The less sweet the culture tastes, the less sugar it generally contains.
Yogurt, Buttermilk and Sour Cream
Lactose is the sugar in dairy milk. A longer culturing time will nearly eliminate the lactose in your dairy cultures. Check out our article, The Benefits and Perils of a Long Culturing Time for Yogurt for tips on reducing the lactose content of your yogurt. These tips also apply to buttermilk and sour cream projects.
Our Milk Kefir Grains also consume lactose. To keep the grains safe, we recommend doing a second ferment (also called a ‘ripening’) to reduce the final lactose levels. Read more in Reducing the Lactose Content of Kefir.
To create a low-lactose cheese, a longer culturing time is necessary just as with other dairy cultures. However, it’s not advised to lengthen the steps in cheesemaking. Doing so can create problems with the curd and final texture and flavor.
Water kefir is naturally a sweet beverage. This makes it a wonderful choice for those new to culturing, or reluctant to try the stronger flavored cultures. This does mean it has a higher sugar content. If sugar is something you must avoid, water kefir may not be the best choice for your home.
There are ways to reduce the sugar content of water kefir, however. While it’s tempting to simply culture the grains in the sugar water longer, or use less sugar to begin with, this will cause permanent damage to the grains. Instead, ferment the finished water kefir for a second time after removing the grains.
Kombucha is a wonderful option for those looking for a low-sugar cultured beverage. While it is critical to use the sugar called for in the instructions, kombucha can be cultured for an extended period of time. The finished kombucha will be quite tangy and not sweet at all.
Because homebrewing with packaged yeast is a carefully controlled process, it’s easy to see how much sugar is in your final product. Use a hydrometer to measure the original gravity (OG) of your brew, and measure again before bottling. To get the lowest sugar brew, use a high-attenuating yeast. Wine and champagne yeasts tend to be good choices...