If you missed yesterday’s post on why growing your own SCOBY from a
bottle of Kombucha is not a recommended practice anymore, please click here.
I love what Kombucha does for my daily life, as a living food, a message to spread and a path to empowerment.
One of the critical tenets we hold here at Kombucha Kamp is that ALL Kombucha is good. With the uphill battle we face in so many areas of nutrition and public policy, all of us must be united in delivering this hopeful message that change is possible, one diet and one healthy, repopulated gut at a time.
Still, there are basic truths regarding any food preparation that apply in the extreme to Kombucha and particularly the SCOBY.
Because you are dealing with a LIVING ingredient, it will require certain conditions to produce the kind of quality beverage any homebrewer wants when they make their own Kombucha.
After all, you are making Kombucha at home because you are conscious about your health and want to have access to a better alternative to sodas, coffee and other sugary drinks. So then it only makes sense to use the best possible ingredients to make your Kombucha.
We discussed in yesterday’s post why growing your own Kombucha SCOBY can be difficult and even deceptive following the reformulation.
However, there are two other Golden Rules we are yet to cover. Let’s review.
The Golden Rules
- …use a refrigerator stored SCOBY to make Kombucha.
- …use a dehydrated SCOBY to make Kombucha.
- …attempt to grow a SCOBY from a commercial bottle of Kombucha that:
- has been pasteurized
- has been flavored
- has been filtered or reformulated
- says anything less than “100% Kombucha” on the label
- …use a fresh, full-size Kombucha SCOBY to begin brewing.
- …store your SCOBYs in a SCOBY Hotel in a dry and dark place.
- …pass along healthy, fresh SCOBYs with at least 1-2 cups of mature Kombucha Tea and complete, clear instructions to ensure success. If you cannot, recommend a reputable source instead.
Kombucha SCOBYs From The Refrigerator
The most harmful widespread piece of misinformation that exists about Kombucha today is that SCOBYs can or even should be stored in the refrigerator.
Perhaps rooted in our society’s deep disconnection from the concept of fermentation, this nasty nugget of unwisdom is passed around from well-meaning brewer to brewer as a tip for storing cultures, often with the caveat of “So they won’t rot,” or “It puts them to sleep.”
People mean to be helpful, but really this is terrible for the cultures. Kombucha never “goes bad.” In fact, storing them at such cold temperatures may cause more harm than good.
Instead, they should be stored at room temperature in a SCOBY Hotel, in a dark dry place out of the way. They will “sleep” in the jar and only “wake up” when you add sweet tea to keep them wet or decide to use one of them to brew.
What is so bad about the fridge? In one word: mold. The cultures do not like the cold temperatures of the fridge and all the living things that protect the brew from invasion go into a deep sleep.
Sometimes, if they haven’t been stored for too long, the cultures will brew alright. However experienced brewers report the first few batches are flat and not particularly great tasting. After a few batches, the culture may regain it’s strength.
Just as common however, the brewer encounters mold. A strange, as yet unexplained, fact: mold often occurs during the second batch brew, not the first, after removing the culture from the fridge.
Why it skips a batch before molding is unclear, but it happens regularly. While it may be possible to have success with a culture that has been in the fridge, more people report that they have problems getting it to ferment properly.
Here is a recent post from a Brazilian Kombucha blog showing their experiments using cultures that had been stored in the fridge (the page has been translated by Google).
After a period of almost 600 days, the colonies had a darker aspect. Some were very thick and a few still remained with the light color. All without exception had a look healthy, although they apparently were not producing gases which concluded on the basis of the cover will not even be stuffed, as it normally would.
So they looked okay, or had been mostly preserved in appearance, yet they were inactive. That sounds like they would brew up just fine, or at least appear as though they would to an inexperienced brewer.
The results? One culture did nothing, the other two got mold. Three tries, all failures. The cultures produced mold because they lacked their innate ability to protect themselves from invading micro-organisms.
Dehydrated Kombucha SCOBYs – Life Without Water?
Less common but just as ineffective are dehydrated Kombucha cultures. The issues are the same only this time, the living things that protect from mold are too weak from dehydration, rather than cold, to protect the Kombucha.
The additional problem with dehydrated Kombucha cultures is that they require a process of rehydration that can take up to 6 weeks to complete, and that’s before even attempting the first batch.
Once rehydrated, they follow a similar pattern as those stored in the fridge, exhibiting mold after either the first or second batches in many cases, and producing a less “vibrant tasting” Kombucha that is sour and flat.
It makes sense right? If water is the basis of all life, and we want to make a living beverage, why would we start with something that’s supposed to be alive, but has no water in it? Again, we only need to use common sense here to understand that hydrated cultures are better for starting Kombucha, and when the experience of brewers worldwide is factored in, the case is clear.
Whenever I receive an e-mail (from non-clients) that someone has gotten mold, the first question I ask is “Was your culture dehydrated or stored in the refrigerator?” At least 9 times out of 10, the answer is, “Yes.”
Moreover, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, new brewers blame themselves for the failure, with no idea that they have received bad advice and a bad culture. (I confess that part of the reason for writing this post is to have a place to send these poor folks who don’t understand why their brew didn’t work out and I won’t have to type as much everytime! 🙂 )
Mold is one of the incurable problems of Kombucha – which is why we keep a SCOBY Hotel in the first place, for just in case. When embarking on the rewarding journey of brewing Kombucha at home, I recommend that you obtain a quality culture from a trusted source, be it a friend or seller.
But first, ask them where they got their culture, how it’s been stored and how long it’s been since they used that culture. Never assume anything when purchasing a culture.
There are sellers who offer silver dollar sized or even test tube sized cultures, and rarely does a day go by that I don’t hear from someone new who was disappointed with a sub-par culture they received from an online seller.
However, it’s not just online that you must be careful. A client (he became a client) wrote in last month with mold problems after getting his SCOBY at a farmer’s market. When I questioned, he remarked that they had stored the SCOBYs in a cooler packed with ice as they “didn’t want them to go bad” while at the market!
These are not bad people. I don’t believe they have bad intentions, but the customer pays the price anyway.
Ask before you buy or even accept as a gift an inferior culture. Make sure you are receiving at least 1 cup of starter liquid to fully protect your brew. If the answers you get don’t satisfy you, keep looking!
Start with a full size Kombucha culture that has never been compromised and you will have much greater brewing success and more delicious Kombucha than you ever imagined.
The right culture makes all the difference.
“Know before you Grow!”