Now and again, you love drinking the fermented tea beverage kombucha. The last time you poured yourself a glass, it didn’t look quite right. You think the kombucha went moldy but can that even happen? If so, how do you prevent it, and is it still safe to drink?
Kombucha naturally has a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast or SCOBY since it’s fermented, but it can also develop unhealthy mold. To prevent mold from spreading in your kombucha, don’t refrigerate your SCOBY.
If you make your own kombucha at home (or even professionally), you can’t afford to miss this article. We’ll discuss the differences between SCOBY and unhealthy mold in kombucha, whether the molds can make you sick, and how to remove and prevent it.
Why Is There Mold on Top of Your Kombucha? How Common Is Mold in Kombucha?
When it comes to your foods and beverages, hearing about mold in them is usually scary. In kombucha, it’s no different.
Kombucha requires fermentation, which allows the microorganisms and yeast to accumulate. You need the yeast to help diversify the flavors in the kombucha and make them richer and more complex.
Further, yeast in fermented food can improve both the texture and structure of the food.
So to answer the question of why mold is in kombucha, it’s because the fermentation process, especially when done incorrectly, allows mold to breed, and you certainly don’t want your kombucha with mold spores swimming in it.
Mold’s involvement in kombucha brewing is not all that common but does happen. Mold spores can find their way into the jar you are storing the product in, and with the mixture of nutrients, moisture, and (if not stored correctly), adequate temperature, you have a recipe for fungal growth.
If your kombucha grows mold, it’s likely to happen within that first week of fermentation.
As kombucha continues to brew, its pH will decrease. Eventually, the conditions drop to such a degree that mold cannot continue to survive in the beverage.
How to Tell If It’s Mold or SCOBY – What Does Mold in Kombucha Look Like?
Let’s talk a bit more about kombucha SCOBY, (which you’ll recall from the intro), which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
SCOBY grows as a result of a yeast culture or starter that kombucha brewers use to make their beverages. It includes a combination of yeast, acetic acid bacteria, and lactic acid bacteria.
When used to brew kombucha, the ingredients rise and contribute to the sour taste of kombucha that so many people love.
Fortunately, you can spot SCOBY mold fairly easily, especially if a week of fermentation (or longer) has passed. The visual characteristics of both mold and SCOBY will heighten by that point.
Here’s What SCOBY in Kombucha Looks Like
The yeast blobs that can rise to the top of your fermenting kombucha within a week of adding the SCOBY can make you a little nervous, but relax.
It’s normal for the SCOBY to become opaque and increase its density after a week or two of fermenting. The SCOBY can also spread out atop the surface of the brewing container.
SCOBY typically looks white but can have black or brown speckles or spots. These aren’t necessarily mold but possibly yeast.
You can only confirm by continuing to monitor the SCOBY. If the spot stays brown even after several weeks have elapsed, it’s yeast, and you don’t have to panic.
However, if the once-brown spot has grown, changed color, or taken on another texture, it’s more than likely mold.
Here’s What Mold in Kombucha Looks Like
Unhealthy mold atop kombucha doesn’t look like SCOBY. It doesn’t have any density, although the mold can appear opaque.
The spots are much smaller, whereas SCOBY looks like one solid piece.
The color of the spots also helps you differentiate between the two. As we mentioned, SCOBY will look ivory or white. It could have darker spots of yeast but not always.
Mold on kombucha will look white, blue, gray, or black.
Its behavior serves as another indicator. Once SCOBY spreads out and becomes denser across the brewing container, it pretty much stays where it is. Mold will change the longer it’s in the fermenting kombucha.
Those small spots can multiply seemingly overnight or spread in size. They can become fuzzier or take over the surface of the kombucha. That still doesn’t make them SCOBY.
What Kinds of Mold Grow on Kombucha?
Kombucha mold is usually Aspergillus, an incredibly common mold genus with a few hundred unique species.
If you’ve ever had a loaf of bread go moldy on you (which, haven’t we all?), that’s Aspergillus mold, typically one of a handful of species.
This mold comes in an assortment of colors, which explains the disparate appearance that kombucha enthusiasts report when unhealthy mold grows on their fermenting beverage.
Can You Drink Kombucha with Mold? Can You Get Sick?
So now it’s time to ask the million-dollar question. If you’re mostly certain your kombucha has mold and not SCOBY, can you still drink it? After all, you put so much time into brewing it, it would be a waste to throw it away.
It would indeed be a waste, but what other choice do you have?
Whether it’s the SCOBY that developed an infestation of mold or the fungus began propagating atop the surface of your beverage later, kombucha mold does your health no favors.
Although Aspergillus mold won’t cause fatal afflictions, you can get sick. You might experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. This can go on for a couple of hours or even days.
In this state, you’re at risk of dehydration. Drinking water alone won’t rehydrate you, as water doesn’t contain electrolytes, and that’s what you’re missing. You’ll need to ingest plenty of Pedialyte or sugar-free sports drinks to restore your electrolytes.
If you’re still feeling ill after a few days with no signs of getting better, or if your illness worsens, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Those with a mold allergy should never ingest mold-infested kombucha. You can have a much more serious reaction than nausea and vomiting, including the risk of anaphylactic shock. This life-threatening condition requires immediate emergency medical attention.
What if you’re not sure if it’s just the SCOBY-looking funky or actual mold on your kombucha? As we suggested before, you can always wait it out.
Yeast particles atop SCOBY will reveal themselves as such with time when they stay pretty much the same, whereas mold will continue to change and spread.
If you’re truly not sure, it’s better to throw away the kombucha and start over.
Can You Scrape Mold Off Kombucha? How to Remove Mold from Kombucha
Since the unhealthy mold on kombucha develops in the beverage itself and not necessarily the brewing container, you can’t use a knife or a fork to scrape it off.
The best you could do is use a spoon to scoop the stuff, but even that’s only a short-term solution.
You’ve created conditions optimal for unhealthy mold to spread, so that’s exactly what it will continue to do.
Even if you somehow got rid of the surface mold on the kombucha, more would develop where the old stuff was, as the mold spores would be disturbed and travel to other areas, potentially making the problem worse.
You can’t fix the conditions of this batch of kombucha. It’s a lost cause. As we said above, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Throw the kombucha away and start fresh.
How to Prevent Mold on Kombucha
After losing all your hard work brewing kombucha to mold, you will naturally feel disheartened. You don’t want to go through that stress again, so what can you do? Try these pointers to keep your fermenting kombucha mold-free.
Use Authentic Ingredients
It’s cheaper to buy inauthentic cane sugar and tea when fermenting kombucha, especially if you’re on a budget. However, the SCOBY doesn’t interact as well with fake ingredients as with authentic cane sugar and Camellia sinensis tea.
Splurge on the good stuff, and your SCOBY will behave more predictably, reducing the risk of unhealthy mold growing on your kombucha.
Don’t Refrigerate Your SCOBY
Although you might assume it’s best to stash your SCOBY in the fridge until you’re ready to use it, you’re creating a hotbed for mold instead.
Remember, the SCOBY needs to increase its pH to prevent mold from developing. Refrigerating the SCOBY puts the bacteria and yeast in a dormant state.
Once you begin fermenting, it takes longer for the bacteria and yeast to become active again.
This slows down the fermentation process, allowing mold to take over before the pH of the kombucha rises enough.
You should always keep your starter liquid and SCOBY at room temperature when fermenting kombucha.
Watch Your Temperatures
Whether you brew kombucha professionally or at home, you must keep an eye on the temperature of your brewing environment.
When it drops under 62 degrees Fahrenheit, the chill in the air can also reduce kombucha fermentation speed.
The same situation as above transpires. The kombucha acidifies too slowly, and mold will spread.
How Do You Clean a Kombucha Jar After Mold?
To prevent the possibility of contaminating future batches of kombucha with mold, you must sterilize everything you used to make the kombucha. That includes the jar and other surfaces too.
You have a few sterilization options, so let’s go over them.
Heating water up to its boiling point and then cleaning your kombucha jar will surely kill any lingering traces of mold. Fill the entire jar with the scalding hot water and swirl it around to coat every interior surface.
You can wash the exterior with very hot water.
We’d recommend wearing gloves or mitts to protect your hands. You might opt to use boiling water after trying the other cleaning methods we recommend in this section.
Distilled White Vinegar
We like distilled white vinegar for sanitizing kombucha equipment after mold since it’s so acidic. You know that mold can’t stand the acidity, so any mold that didn’t die before certainly would now.
Skip apple cider vinegar and raw vinegar; you need distilled white vinegar specifically. Wash the interior and exterior of your equipment with vinegar, and then allow it to dry.
You can also try an iodine sterilizer to get your kombucha jar ready to use again for another batch. Iodine is a natural antifungal treatment that can also kill off bacteria and toxins, so it’s always handy to have around.
Kombucha ferments, which means it requires yeast as part of the process. Even still, there’s a difference between SCOBY and unhealthy mold, and that makes all the difference.
If you suspect mold in your kombucha, you shouldn’t try to remove it. The mold will grow back anyway, so it’s a fool’s errand.
Instead, you should dump the kombucha (no matter what stage of the fermenting process it’s in) and brew again.
Remember not to refrigerate your SCOBY, use high-quality ingredients, and watch your household temperature!