Bringing My (1.5 year old) Kombucha SCOBY Back to Life

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I had a SCOBY sitting in some old kombucha on my counter top for about a year and a half. I know, that’s crazy, right? Next to that jar sat a jar of fermented squash pickles just as old which I did, in fact, throw to the chickens.

But they looked perfectly viable, minus the fact that they were mushy. So I decided to take a closer look at that SCOBY. The jar smelled quite tangy upon opening and I wouldn’t have even attempted this SCOBY CPR if I saw any funky mold or smelled anything questionable.

And since we were all clear, I decided to go ahead and see if I could salvage the thing. Here’s how it went…

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Any time I’ve neglected a mother starter, I try to give it a little TLC to see if it will forgive me for the neglect I put upon it. So, while I might usually make a gallon or two of kombucha from on SCOBY, this time I decided to start out with just a quart.

I added 1/4 cup of white sugar and two oolong tea bags to about 1.5 cups of boiling water, let it steep, and topped it up with cool water after removing the tea bags.

I inspected the SCOBY closely for any signs of distress. Like I said above, I wouldn’t go through with it if it seemed to have gone bad in any way. I decided to remove the upper part of this fairly thick SCOBY and just use the “baby” portion, figuring it might be at least a little less old than the original mother.

I added this to the room temperature sweet tea, threw on a coffee filter and canning ring, and let it sit for about 1.5 weeks. It was now time to test out the SCOBY’s viability.

At this point I just wanted to see if the SCOBY would actually culture the sweet tea into kombucha. My first litmus test for the health of any ferment is the smell. If any ferment – beverage, vegetable, dairy, sourdough, etc. – smells “off” then I’m very cautious. Sour, tangy, and alcoholic are all acceptable smells, to some degree. I have never had a ferment go off and not known as soon as I’ve smelled it.

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This quart of sweet tea had a thin layer of SCOBY growing at the top and was now smelling like kombucha! So I poured a bit off and took a sip. Still barely sweet, but definitely with the tang of kombucha. Yay! So I decanted about a pint and then saved the rest for a new batch.

I like to make around two gallons at a time, at least, but since I am still babying this SCOBY I don’t want to stretch its limits. So, in order to ensure that it is getting fed adequate amounts of sugar before asking too much, I moved on to a half-gallon jar. After this half-gallon batch I will move to one gallon and then two gallons.

I thought this was a really good reminder of just how resilient these cultures can be. While it’s important to take good care of them if you want them to last, much like a pet, you might also be surprised by their resiliency when we ask a lot of them.

Have you ever brought a culture back from the brink?

Shannon

Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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Comments

  1. Ruth Y says

    Can I split a SCOBY?

    I am so new at this. I threw away a SCOBY that could have been saved. I even threw a baby away not knowing what was growing on top of my kombucha. I will look back and laugh at myself.

  2. Marie says

    I neglected mine for a year! I am reviving mine ! Mine is about 5 inches thick! Taking baby off and giving away scoby’s thanks for the reassurance !

  3. Marion says

    My kombucha scoby has been in a sealed fruit juice bottle filled with old ‘mother’ tea for 20 years.
    It was given to me whilst I was breastfeeding my daughter who is now 20 years old.
    I could never throw the kombucha away and just left it for when I’m ready.
    Well..after 20 years I’m ready and have opened the glass bottle. The scoby has made about twenty layers and smells like vinegar but looks clear, smooth and still a nice Amber color.
    I’ve boiled up the tea with the sugar and am about to introduce 4 of the top scobys ( appr. 8 cm circles across) from the bottle with 100 ml of the ‘mother vinegar’ . It all smells like it will continue living.
    Who would have thought after 20 years it is still alive without having added new tea brew?! Shall let you know how it ferments over the next 10 days.

    • Marion says

      Follow up after reviving the 20 year old scoby…
      Made green tea brew with sugar and waited for the temperature to become Luke warm, then introduced the 20 year old scoby, which had many many layers after being stored in a glass fruit juice bottle.
      As per recipe I added a cup full of the old fluid it had lived in the last 20 years. To your info this fluid had not been changed or fed whilst in a closed bottle for 20 years. I also added the same amount of fresh green tea brew to the old scabies in the stock bottle. Well….the scoby formed over three weeks on top of the cupboard in a large glass jar but after that it started to grow a greyish looking layer. I checked images of scobies on the Internet, healthy ones and moldy ones. There is such a huge variety in how they can look. How ever for safety reasons I decided to abort the reviving and get a new one from a close by connection. But still how awesome that it is still alive after 20 years of being neglected in a closed bottle without replenishing its food.

      • says

        Marion – That is really cool! I agree, there is a great variety in SCOBY appearance, even just thinking of the various ones we’ve had over the years. And I think it is always wise to be more cautious about these things. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Eppy LeCroy says

    Curious to know if you used a small amount of distilled white vinegar or store bought unflavored kombucha as your starter liquid in addition to your water, sugar, & tea? Thanks! I am attempting to revive an old scoby as well & not sure if I should include some of the old kombucha from the jar which the scoby has been stored in or if I should use store bough kombucha or vinegar.

    • says

      Eppy – I did not use white vinegar to start it because the kombucha it was sitting in was very acidic. That said, it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and use the vinegar to be absolutely sure the pH is low enough. Hope you ‘bucha revival works!

  5. tina says

    thank you for the tips! I am trying to revive an old mother that’s been in the fridge for over two years – the kombucha is not very ‘fizzy’ after a week of steeping – it is so vinegary!! So next i’ll try to do a smaller batch to give said mother a little break – we have 8 children – the oldest ones (in college now) are not going to believe we are making kombucha again! My youngest Gabrielle, just downed a whole wine glass of this vinegary brew!! Can’t believe it – if we (mother and I) can improve the taste – she will LOVE this stuff!! :)

  6. says

    Hi,

    Just put my old scoby in tea and sugar today!! I have 9 jars of scobys that I refused to throw away. They sat in my storage unit for over a year. I just moved to a new house and excited to get them out and going!!! They looked good and healthy! No mold or any thing, and they smelled like sweet vinegar!! Since I am an organic farmer and herbalist, people have asked if I would bring some to the farmer’s market!! This year, I think I will bring samples of kombucha and water kefir, too!!

  7. Alicia says

    I have a scoby sitting in a cabinet that’s been there for quite a while. Last year in the late fall, after about 6 months of neglect, I made a batch of kombucha on a special request using my sleepy scoby. Seemed okay, lightly fizzy and a little sweeter than normal, likely due to the time it had been sitting inactive..

    I’m getting booch cravings again and miss being able to be creative with the second-ferments and always having a nice fizzy drink ready to go in the fridge. I’ll likely attempt to revive the scoby using a store-bought bottle of booch, a small amount of new tea/sugar and some of the vinegar/starter that is in the jar. I may split this up into two or more jars, just to have more opportunities for success if one goes south.

    Wish me luck! 😀

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