What To Do If Kombucha Smells Like (strong) Vinegar
My Kombucha Brew Smells More Like Vinegar Than Kombucha!
Do not be alarmed dear kombucha maker. Your brew is still kombucha, it has not morphed into anything else, and it has not gone off in any way.
The Cause of a Vinegary Brew
If you are encountering a sharp, tart smell resembling vinegar, what you have on your hands is a mature batch of kombucha! Kombucha starts off having a sweet odor due to the sugar which is dissolved in it. As fermentation takes place and the organic acids, which assist in endowing kombucha with its health giving attributes, accumulate, the batch will begin to smell more and more sour.
The taste of mature kombucha will also will be tart and acidic, like vinegar. Not many people like it that way (except for health nerds like my mother), but besides the grimace-causing taste, sour mature kombucha is fine.
The Benefits of Super Sour Brews
In fact, very mature and sour brews are more than fine – they are powerful! According to the experts, the nutritional content of kombucha increases with the length of the fermentation. Sour kombucha is mature kombucha, mature kombucha is kombucha which has been fermented a good amount of time – and this means that that nutrient content is right up there.
What You Can Use Super Sour Kombucha for
If you would like to use this potent batch which you have created, but cannot stand the taste, there are a few uses for sour kombucha other than drinking it as a beverage.
You guessed it. It tastes like vinegar, so why not use it as vinegar! Below is a basic recipe for zingy kombucha dressing:
¼ cup kombucha tea
¾ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons raw honey
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons water
Mix well together, either with a food processor, or by hand.
Kombucha vinegar can be used in place of vinegar in almost all recipes. Another great recipe to use ‘kombucha vinegar’ in is marinades. The organic acids present in the mature kombucha soften the tough meat fibres beautifully!
Best starter liquid ever
If you have more extra sour sour kombucha than you can cope with in food making, utilise it as premium starter liquid for your new batches of kombucha. Starter liquid can often be on the weak side, as most people do not usually brew their batches to such a low ph. The purpose of starter liquid is to bring down the ph of the new kombucha ferment, so if it is not quite acidic itself, you will need a lot of starter liquid to do this effectively.
Bringing down the ph of fresh batches of kombucha by adding acidic starter liquid is very important, as the acidic environment this creates makes it very difficult for foreign bacteria or mold spores to invade the brew. Using your very sour finished kombucha tea as starter liquid is a good practice. If you want to consistently use good sour starter liquid, but do not always have sour batches, you can also use starter liquid from your SCOBY Hotel. If you do not have a SCOBY hotel yet, and would like to how know to make and maintain one, you can also read How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel (to Store Extra SCOBYs).
If you still want to drink the brew
If you still wish to drink of the kombucha batch which is so sour, you can always add a small amount to a glass of fruit juice. It does not matter that you are merely drinking a small quantity, because the nutrient content and organic acid content is by this stage super high.
When Sour Brews Are a Problem
While usually a sour batch of end product kombucha is just a sign that the kombucha tea is mature and has been fermenting for an extended period of time, sometimes it can indicate an imbalance in your SCOBY culture. You will be able to tell if this is the case if your batch matured and got sour faster than usual. Sometimes this might be linked to an increase in temperatures, as the warmer the temperature the quicker kombucha will ferment, however overall changes in temperature are usually too gradual for this to be the case.
Your SCOBY culture is made up of two sets of organism. These are yeasts and bacteria. If they are in balance the will coexist in their cellulose home, supporting each other through the fermentation process. However, if one gets out of hand, this will affect fermentation.
Overly fast fermentations which sour prematurely are a sign of an over active yeast population. The yeasts are visible to the naked eye, as brown coloured looking dusty strings, either hanging off of the SCOBY, free floating, or collecting at the bottom.
What You Can Do
If your SCOBY culture is out of balance, it is important that you take steps to remedy the situation. Unhealthy SCOBYs whose microbial populations are out of whack usually cause one to experience frustrating ferments and unpredictable results.
Use starter liquid from the top
Make sure that you are using starter liquid for your new brew that is not taken from the bottom of the container in which it is in. The liquid from the bottom will contain high amounts of free floating yeasts, which you do not need to add to the new brew. To avoid this, carefully scoop or siphon off the quantity you require from as close to the top as possible.
Wash the culture
To get rid of more of the yeast strings, before inserting it into your new batch you can rinse the culture with filtered/purified water (do not use chlorinated water). This will physically wash off excess yeast. For extreme cases of yeast overdrive, some brewers wash their cultures in spirit vinegar. This however is quite harsh treatment, which might result in the yeasts being over subdued.
Keep the brew cool
As warm temperatures stimulate the yeasts, try to ensure that your new batch is situated in a cool and well ventilated place.
Do not make your tea too strong
When brewing your new batch of sweet tea, do not let the bag/leaves steep for too long. This will release a higher amount of tannins than a normal brew time. The yeasts feed on the tannins, so keeping these down will also help to calm your yeast population.
Final Word on Yeasts
A sour smelling kombucha is usually not something to freak out about at all. In fact, it is a sign that fermentation is taking place and that your brew has matured. However, if you feel that the souring is premature, and that you have an over enthusiastic colony of yeasts, then it is wise to implement the ‘yeast calming methods’.
For more info on these, you can also have a look at What to Do If There is Too Much Fizz in My Kombucha. Excessive carbonation is another sign of a large yeast population. If you wish to learn about the other end of the balance, larger bacteria to yeast ratio and overly subdued yeasts, check out What to Do If There is No Carbonation (Fizz) in My Kombucha