I have made several batches of Kombucha now, and have started to research if it is possible to make my own Starter Culture at home using ingredients I already have.
A Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast or SCOBY is needed to make Kombucha. This is normally a Starter liquid bought from a shop. Mixed with a brew of Sweetened tea this is left to ferment for 3-5 days, or until a Pellicle has formed on the top. It can then be fermented for a second time with added flavours.
Is it possible to make your own Kombucha starter culture at home?
Kombucha as we know it today consists of a very specific species of acetobacter which is a genus of acetic acid bacteria. From wikipedia:
Acetobacter is a genus of acetic acid bacteria. Acetic acid bacteria are characterized by the ability to convert ethanol to acetic acid in the presence of oxygen. Of these, the genus Acetobacter is distinguished by the ability to oxidize lactate and acetate into carbon dioxide and water. Bacteria of the genus Acetobacter have been isolated from industrial vinegar fermentation processes and are frequently used as fermentation starter cultures.
Reference: "Acetobacter", En.wikipedia.org, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acetobacter#:~:text=Acetobacter%20is%20a%20genus%20of,into%20carbon%20dioxide%20and%20water. [Accessed: 17- Jul- 2020]
It is technically possible to harvest your own, but it could take generations to stumble upon the correct species, to create Kombucha.
I think heading online, or asking a friend for some Starter Liquid is a good option at this point.
Where can I find a Starter Liquid?
The starter liquid that we use to make our Kombucha is KRAV certified, and produced here in Sweden. Ekombucha is in Liquid form, and their instructions are fail proof, and simple to follow. We will translate them into English as soon as possible. See this link for everything Kombucha (opens in new tab) at EU Preppers.
Which Kombucha to use as a Starter Culture?
I've found a few options that are sold here in Sweden. These are all companies that do not use pasteurization in their production line, which would kill off any good bacteria in your final brew. These can be found in shops and supermarkets across the country.
Should I add the Pellicle to my first batch, or just the SCOBY?
To clarify a bit further. From my research and reading about Kombucha and various brewing techniques. There is some confusion over what a SCOBY is, and what the Pellicle is.
What is a Pellicle?
The Pellicle or white membrane or skin that forms on top of fermenting sweet tea, is made up of bacterial cellulose. The Pellicle does contain some percentage of SCOBY as it has formed as a result of the fermentation process. In some cases a Pellicle may never form. This is OK and after inspection to rule out strange vinegary smells, any mold spots on top of your brew, it should be safe to continue fermenting.
Having said this, a Pellicle forming on the surface of your fermenting sweet tea is a sign that fermentation is taking place, and that the SCOBY is feasting on the caffeine content of the black or green tea, and also the sugar in your brew.
What is a SCOBY?
The SCOBY is always in liquid form, and this is what you might find being called a starter culture, starter kit, or Mother Kombucha.
In my experimentation with adding both the Pellicle to new brews, and just the SCOBY, the SCOBY has always had better and faster results.
After each new batch now, I remove and discard my Pellicle, and then decant a small amount of the liquid underneath into a smaller jar (around a cup 250 ml), which I keep in the fridge until I make my next batch. This is my SCOBY, Starter kit, or Starter Culture. I add a little bit to each new Sweet tea mix to get my fermentation started.
Using this method your Kombucha should form another Pellicle within 6-7 days. It is not wrong to keep your Pellicle and move it to the next batch of Sweet tea, it is just not necessary. Keep a small amount around 200-250 ml from each fully fermented brew to use as a starter for the next.
Can I mix Starter Liquid together?
Absolutely yes. As mentioned above I have a small 0.5 lt Jar that I keep my Starter Liquid in, and it now consists of around 5 different brews. I have no idea if this makes it stronger, or more concentrated, but my guess is that it has some good effects on the amount of good bacteria present. From my various Kombucha brews, the results are a clean and fresh taste, with a slight fizz.
Can I use the same Jar for a second Fermentation?
This is what I do as it requires less Jars. By discarding the Pellicle as talked about above, it enables me to fish out any larger bits of sediment, to leave a clean sediment free Kombucha.
I use the Kilner Kombucha Set 3 lt Jar with Beach wood lid and Tap[LINK] for a continuous brew.
To this brew you can then add all sorts of things. I have had great success with:
I hear that Pineapple almost always creates a very carbonated brew, and simple household items such as Honey are a great addition to the second fermentation.
Why is it called Second Fermentation?
The Kombucha or SCOBY created in the steps above will continue to ferment if left at room temperature until the SCOBY has consumed all of the caffeine and sugar in your original brew. If you then add something else to this mix that contains sugar or fructose in the example of fruit, then SCOBY will have more to eat, and get straight to work breaking down those sugars.
For my second fermentations, I add the fruit, vegetable, or herb of choice, and then replace the breathable cloth, and leave it in the same place as the first fermentation for it to ferment again. This often results in a new Pellicle, often creating a mat of berries or Fruits, that can then be lifted out in one chunk.
Be sure to check out other ways to Ferment in our article Fermenting Foods at Home.
Ian Hunter - Father of three, based in Southern Sweden. Author and Co owner of Grow Zone and growing Food all winter. See my full About Page here.
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