11 November 2011

Kombucha don't know what this is

I've often got something growing on my counter. No, not because I don't clean it occasionally, but because I have jars of kefir, yogourt, sourdough starter, ginger bugs, or fermenting veggies on the go. So it wasn't out of character for me to seek out a kombucha starter to join the menagerie.

Kombucha, in case you're not familiar with it, is a fermented sweet tea drink. You make a sweet tea, then add a kombucha scoby, which looks like a tentacle-less jellyfish. The word scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. You leave it to ferment for a week or so, by which time the scoby will have spawned a baby jellyfish, which you can use to ferment more tea. You do all this because kombucha is reputed to be an amazing health tonic (the lights dim at the server farm when you google it) and is also a refreshing, lightly carbonated beverage.

So maybe you can't see why I was so keen to try this new fermenting adventure, and at this point I can't actually remember either. The first step was to find a kombucha culture. I don't actually know anyone in person with any scobys to spare, so I went bravely onto the internets. There are lists of folks who will send you a kombucha baby, along with its pedigree, for the postage. I sent a few emails, and didn't hear anything back, so I decided to purchase one from the one Canadian outfit selling them online. I won't mention the cost, but it turns out that the unit cost of drinkable kombucha has been embarrassingly high.

The starter arrived in the mail, packed inside 2 freezer bags and floating in some kombucha, which smelled suspiciously like apple cider vinegar. I'm pretty sure that's what it's supposed to smell like. I followed the instructions, and a week later I looked into the jar to find not much of anything. I left it a few days longer and harvested my first batch of kombucha, along with a baby scoby. I made two more batches and checked on them a week later, to find mold growing on the surface of both jars. The instructions had cautioned this could happen and offered advice about dealing with it. One batch looked bad, so I threw it out, but I rinsed off the other and started another batch -another batch of mold and some previously unknown lifeforms as it turns out.

I'm kind of surprised my kombucha adventure has turned out to be such a flop. The animals in my counter zoo usually die of boredom (and neglect) after a long life. They don't usually perish under my active guardianship.


  1. Girlfriend. I will give you a baby if you would like, hell, i will give you two or three. They're not supposed to mold up like that.

    That said, if you do leave it long, you get vinegar...surprisingly tasty vinegar too.

    But yeah, my other tip would be to keep your culturing crocks of something or other separate...at least at separate corners of the kitchen at least! Who knows the ways of the wee beasties we love so much.

  2. El, I would love to have one of your babies! I don't know if it's feasible in any way to ship these things across the border, but I'd gladly send you the postage, if it is.

    I had already decided that if I tried again, the kombucha is going in the office instead of the kitchen.

    Thanks for the offer!



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