Why You Should Never Brew Kombucha from Dehydrated SCOBYs
SCOBYs dry out remarkably well, forming a translucent hide-like skin. Lately there has even been a SCOBY clothing creation movement, originating in the sustainable fashion sector!
But while dried out SCOBYs might make for some attractive and totally unique items of clothing and jewelry, they make for a terrible Kombucha brewing experience.
It’s very disappointing to see many large Kombucha businesses online actively promoting the sale of dehydrated SCOBYs to the public. This is, in my opinion, a terrible way to distribute SCOBYs.
Selling Dehydrated SCOBYs to to people is giving people a sub-par brewing experience and, I feel, dishonest.
The reason? Dehydrated SCOBYS often make inferior, weakened Kombucha brews compared to living SCOBY cultures. People brewing Kombucha from Dehydrated SCOBYs are more likely to make bad-tasting, weak Kombucha that are vulnerable to mold problems. If anything, selling people dehydrated SCOBYS is likely to turn away people who have a bad brewing experience because they used dehydrated cultures.
Why Do Kombucha Companies Sell Dehydrated SCOBYS
The reason why some companies hawk dehydrated SCOBYs is because it’s much cheaper (and easier) to do so than to sell living SCOBYs to customers.
These companies simply mass dehydrate hundreds of SCOBYs at one single time. The reduced weight of the dried out SCOBY and lack of kombucha starter liquid means it’s much cheaper to ship them out.
Customers are required to reactivate the SCOBY with white vinegar rather than real, living Kombucha starter (because, again, said companies are too cheap to ship you starter liquid with the dehydrated SCOBY).
The thing is, selling dehydrated SCOBYs is unnecessary because it’s relatively easy to ship out living SCOBYs with kombucha starter in small vacuum sealed packets. Selling dehydrated SCOBYs is a conscious, cost-saving decision that denies people from a better Kombucha brewing experience. At the very least, these companies should warn you that you might be getting an inferior product!
Can You Still Brew Kombucha from Dehydrated SCOBYS
Yes, dehydrated SCOBY cultures can be revived after dehydration and be used for brewing. Sometimes you can get normal, good brews. Quite often, you don’t. And sometimes, you have serious issues. My recommendation here is to just avoid the whole issue and always brew from LIVING SCOBYs.
I’m not saying there are no good reasons to dehydrate a SCOBY. In a pinch, with no other alternatives, there may be cause to dehydrate SCOBYs for international shipping, or other valid reasons. But outside of these special circumstances, no.
Why You Don’t Want a Dehydrated SCOBY
Here are three good reasons why you don’t want a dehydrated SCOBY:
1. A Flat Tasting Brew
Once rehydrated, the kombucha SCOBY culture will be likely to yield a flat, weak ferment over multiple brewing cycles. This might not be permanent, but it will take a while before your brew starts tasting normal.
2. Longer Fermentation Times
Fermentation time might also be prolonged over the next few brewing cycles. This is due to the fact that the bacteria and yeast populations are in a weakened state and are not yet up to their full strength. Some of them will be semi active, which is why fermentation will take place, but due to their dormant state the ferment will only be at half power.
3. A Higher Risk of Mold
What really makes brewing from a dehydrated SCOBY risky is the fact that once rehydrated and put to ferment once more, it is more vulnerable to mold. Mold is the one SCOBY problem which you can only rectify by throwing away the culture completely, thoroughly sterilizing all brewing equipment, and starting over with a fresh culture.
The reason why dehydrated SCOBYs become vulnerable to mold after being rehydrated is due to their dormant and or weakened microbial state. Because the bacteria and yeasts are still reviving and getting back to their normal population levels within the SCOBY, they cannot ferment the tea which they are in quickly, and the fermentation that they do carry out is not at full power. When fermentation takes place, the ph of the brew becomes acidic – hence the fact that kombucha gets sourer and sourer the longer it is left and the more mature the ferment is allowed to become. Mold cannot grow in acidic conditions. The acidity of kombucha is its protection from both mold and other foreign bacteria which might want to take hold. This is why kombucha guidelines always called for starter liquid (mature kombucha) because this makes your ferment acidic right from the start, ensuring that it is safe from pathogenic microbes.
What Does Mold Look Like
Inexplicably, the usual pattern which occurs is that after the first ferment, which is fine albeit flat and weak, and the culture is put to its second fermentation cycle one will start to notice small round dots on the surface of the culture.
These will be dry and slightly furry looking. This is mold. It is not mold if it is under the surface of the tea, or moist in any way. For more info on mold and guidelines on how to not get its appearance confused with any of the other funny looking SCOBY phenomena, have a look at this post The Ultimate Guide to Figuring Out if Your Kombucha SCOBY Has Mold (or NOT)
Very often, new brewers see spots and discolorations on the cultures and think that it must be mold, when in actual fact it is not. In this situation however, it most probably is! You are welcome to send us a pic or two to make sure, but do not be too hopeful.
Mold is really a killer for SCOBYs and the last thing you want is to encounter it on your second ferment!
What To Do If You have a Dehydrated SCOBY
If you already have a Dehydrated SCOBY, you can still try brewing Kombucha with it. Just realize you may have higher risk of mold problems and your fermentation may be weak. In time, you may be able to get your culture brewing good brews, but it could be that you might not ever good a really good tasting brew.
We would recommend, if brewing from a dehydrated culture, that you ramp up on starter liquid (even if you have to substitute some spirit vinegar in the event that you do not have enough pure kombucha), and keep a very close watch on the top on your SCOBY over the next week of fermentation.
Sometimes mold might not appear the first couple brews, but will appear a few brews down the road due to damaged SCOBY culture. So keep this in mind: if mold appears, it might not be right away, but if/when it does, it’s almost certainly because you used a dehydrated SCOBY, and not some brewing mistake made by you!
I strongly advise you to brew from LIVING SCOBYs, which will give you consistent quality brews. So do not waste your money buying a dehydrated one if you can help it. Get a LIVING SCOBY (you can easily buy one for the same price you can find a dehydrated SCOBY or find someone local to give you a free, extra SCOBY).
If your Kombucha has been brewed from a Dehyrated SCOBY, you may want to look at getting your hands on a real-living SCOBY and try brewing an alternative batch with that. Try tasting the difference and comparing. You may be find that Kombucha from living SCOBYs that have never been dehydrated may taste a whole lot better.
The Final Word
Besides producing flat ferments, and having a high chance of contracting mold, the process of rehydrating a dehydrated SCOBY takes up to 6 weeks! You are better off getting your hands on a LIVING SCOBY and foregoing all this risk.
Rather than waiting six weeks, getting sub quality ferments, and having the possibility of mold hanging over your head, I would strongly recommend that if you do not have a kombucha contact which can gift you a culture, have a look at the places which will post them to you alive in a sealed plastic pocket, complete with starter liquid.
The strength of you ferment is reliant on the strength of your SCOBY, so go ahead and get one which is already at full brewing power.
Note on receiving a gifted SCOBY: If you are in the happy position that someone is giving you a spare SCOBY, make sure to ask them for a good amount of starter liquid – if they haven’t included some already. If they have not, keep a watch on your new SCOBY friend while it is in its first brew. The chances are that if some one is giving you a SCOBY without thinking to include starter liquid, they do not know much about how kombucha cultures work and the culture you are receiving might not have the strongest microbial population due to having been exposed the pathogens or harmful substance or stored in the fridge.
SCOBYs which come out of the fridge are apt to suffer from some of the same problems as dehydrated ones. For more info on the danger of keeping a SCOBY in the fridge, check out Why You Should Never Store a SCOBY in The Fridge.