What To Do If No SCOBY Forms In My Kombucha
I Am Not Getting Any Baby SCOBYs….What Am I Doing Wrong?
It is usual to expect a baby SCOBY to form from the mother SCOBY while your kombucha tea is going through the fermentation process. If the mother SCOBY has been in a dormant state and only a couple of batches have been made with it, then it is not abnormal for no baby SCOBY to form, as the yeasts and bacteria are still getting going and are not at full strength.
However, if you have brewed a couple ferments and no baby is forming, then there is a problem. New baby SCOBYs are important, because every now and again you need to retire your brewing SCOBY and continue fermenting with a fresh new one. Surplus SCOBYs can also be used in the kitchen and even for cosmetic purposes! For additional info on this, check out What To Do With Extra SCOBYs.
Absence of baby SCOBYs is a sign that the mother SCOBY is not in ideal condition, and/or something in the environment is inhibiting it from proliferating. There quite a few different things which can affect the condition of the SCOBY culture, however it should be relatively simple to spot what the issue is, or at least narrow things down.
Let’s get started.
Reasons Why There Are No New SCOBYs
If your SCOBY is happy, healthy and fermenting in the ideal conditions, then it should definitely be either making babies, or growing in thickness. Sometimes the new ‘baby’ SCOBY attaches itself to the ‘mother’ culture, and merely becomes a new layer, and the original mother SCOBY will increase in thickness. If you are concerned because you are not getting any babies, but your SCOBY which you are fermenting with is getting thicker and growing, then it is unlikely that you need to worry about the health of your culture.
However, if there is not any increase in thickness or growth of any kind of your SCOBY, then go through the following factors and check whether any might be causing your culture to stagnate in growth and not produce any babies.
1. Dormant Culture
If you have recently purchased your culture, or it has been in storage or refrigerated, then there is a high possibility that the culture is in a dormant state. This means that the yeasts and bacteria which make up the SCOBY are ‘sleepy’, not very active, and will probably need a couple of brews to wake up and get into the swing of things. You can help them along by doing the following:
- Use more starter liquid. Double up your starter to kick start your ferments and the SCOBY culture. SCOBYs need to be in an acidic environment, and the addition of starter liquid, whether from a previous ferment or from your SCOBY hotel (if you don’t know about these and need to store SCOBYs read How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel) will ensure that the brew is slightly acidic from the word go. SCOBYs will turn the tea they are in acidic, but if yours is slightly dormant, this will help it start its fermentation process.
- Ensure that your brew is not too cold. A low temperature environment can in and of its’ self be what is causing slow or a complete absence of SCOBY growth. Read below for the kombucha temperature specifics.
2. Low Temperatures
Low temperatures will definitely slow down the activity of the SCOBY and inhibit it from growing or producing baby SCOBYs. Fermentation is very slow in temperatures below 65o Fahrenheit (18o Celsius), and although it is possible for the bacteria and yeasts to adapt to low temperatures, if your brew is in conditions below this, then it is probably the cause of no baby SCOBYs.
You can remedy this by either purchasing, or using a warming device which you already have, such as an electric blanket or warmer plate – or you can search for a spot in your home which is automatically a bit warmer. Fridges give off quite a bit of warmth, but check to see if the opening and closing of the door causes your brewing vessel to wobble. This could disrupt the growth of a new baby SCOBY. A computer which is not switched off at night, or a warm water fish tank / aquarium are also good options. For more ideas on keeping your SCOBY warm, check out Cool Weather SCOBY Care: Brewing Kombucha in Cold Weather.
Keep in mind though that higher temperatures usually result in faster ferments. While a quick ferment is gratifying, brews which are fermented slower usually have a better flavor, and contain higher amounts of enzymes and organic acids.
High temperatures can also cause imbalances within the SCOBY, where the yeasts start to dominate the bacteria population. So while providing your ferment with a slightly warmer environment might be the trick for better brews, just be careful that you don’t over do it.
3. High Temperatures
At temperatures above 95o Fahrenheit (35o Celsius) the bacteria component of the SCOBY will start to die – which will result in a highly compromised dyeing culture, which will definitely not be behaving normally, and certainly not making babies or growing in thickness.
4. Hot – Or Even Just Warm! – Tea
Have you been placing your SCOBY culture into the sweat tea base before it has fully cooled down? If so, then this is most likely damaging it, and it would be unlikely that the yeasts and bacteria in the culture would be multiplying. Tea should be below body temperature before you place your SCOBY into it.
5. Antibacterial Soap
While there might be an urge to use antibacterial soap to wash your brewing vessels and utensils between batches, and your hands before working with the SCOBY – don’t! Antibacterial soap is just that, anti (against) bacteria. So any residue on your hands or containers will be damaging to the bacteria within the SCOBY. If you are using bacteria in the interest of safety and hygiene to clean your kombucha equipment, then this could well be the cause of your uncooperative SCOBY.
Are you adding fruit or other flavorings to your kombucha brew while the SCOBY is still fermenting it? Continuous contact with herbs, fruits or spices will damage a SCOBY over time, and a SCOBY in which the yeasts and bacteria are not proliferating and multiplying will not grow in thickness, or produce new SCOBY colonies.
Flavoring should be done after the SCOBY is removed. Have a look at this article for great flavoring ideas Top 15 Best Kombucha Flavors: Recipes Guaranteed To Blow Your Tastebuds. An ideal time to add flavoring is before you do a double ferment. For more info on double ferments check out these two posts How To Make Second Ferment Kombucha (And Why You Absolutely Should) and What is Second Fermented Kombucha?.
Do Not Use Flavoured Starter
Do not use starter liquid from a previous kombucha batch which was flavoured. The foreign elements can have a negative effect on your SCOBY. If you are using already flavoured kombucha tea for starter liquid, then discontinue this, and rather put some plain kombucha aside before any flavourings, are added to use for your new batch.
Do Not Use Alternative Teas
Are you using herbal or flavoured teas for your sweat tea base? The micro-organisms within the SCOBY are adapted to feed off of the nutrients within the leaves of Camellia sinensis, from which black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong tea are derived. Any of these four varieties can be used to make kombucha as they are all from the Camellia sinensis tea plant. Using other teas means that the SCOBY might not be getting enough nutrients. Herbal teas can contain natural oils, which are not good for SCOBYs. Flavoured teas should not be used either as they contain chemicals.
5. Chemicals and Contaminants
Your SCOBY culture might be coming into contact with chemicals or substances which are harming it gradually, and causing it to be unable to proliferate or reproduce. Insect repellent, doom, air freshener, high levels of cigarette smoke, bleach, etc are a few possible contaminants. Contact with metal is also detrimental to SCOBY health.
6. SCOBY Unfriendly Containers and Equipment
Have a look at the equipment which you are using to brew your kombucha. Metal is a no no, as mentioned above, because the acidic ph of kombucha can eat away at metal, and dissolve it into the brew. Plastic, especially new plastic, can leach chemicals into the brew, which is not good for you, and definitely not good for the SCOBY.
A lot of people store finished kombucha in plastic drinking bottles. This will not affect the SCOBY of course, but if you are concerned about chemicals contaminating your ready to drink tea, then try and put pre-used bottles to work, as they will have leached out a lot of toxins already.
For detailed info on kombucha equipment, go have a look at Best Equipment For Brewing Kombucha and Essential Kombucha Equipment (The Bare Minimum Setup).
Balanced SCOBY = Happy SCOBY
All of the above points can affect a SCOBY to the point where it won’t grow thicker and won’t produce a separate baby SCOBY. But if none of these are the reason, then it could be that there is an imbalance between the yeasts and the bacteria in the SCOBY. For detailed symptoms and methods to rectify the imbalance, check out both of these guides What to Do If There is No Carbonation (Fizz) in My Kombucha & What to Do If There is Too Much Fizz in My Kombucha.
Either the yeasts will be dominant, or the bacteria. If it is the yeasts, then you will have overly quick fermentation, with high levels of carbonation and a strong yeasty smell. If it is the bacteria, fermentation will take longer than usual, and the will be low levels of carbonation. I recommend that you read these guides regardless, as looking after the SCOBY balance is the core to maintaining its health and happiness. : )