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…
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.
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?