Making Kombucha  Mushroom Tea at home is simple, easy and safe.

by Ed Kasper LAc. California License Acupuncturist and Medicinal Herbalist. Exploring the benefits of Kombucha Mushroom Tea since 1992. 

The mushroom, size, shape and texture will give a reasonable reflection of the activity of both the bacteria and yeasts within the ferment, as well as an alert to the possibility of pathogens. To understand why this may happen refer to our article on Time and Temperature.

The mother mushroom may sink or float, it does not matter that much. The new baby mushroom that forms will always form on the surface.

Kombucha Hotel    

above center: Kombucha Hotel. Our recommended method of storing extra mushrooms. The thickness of the mushroom as well as the number is important to the health of the bacteria. Too many are a point of diminishing returns and become difficult for the bacteria to transport necessary nutrients. More information on this in our Kombucha Research & Library

Many kombucha brewers become quite attached to their mushrooms. A true healthy symbiotic relationship.

   
   
   
   

[above ] carbon dioxide generated as a result of alcohol fermentation by yeasts accumulated in the interface between the newly forming  mushroom and broth; this separated the mushroom from the broth and eventually, will block the transfer of nutrients from the broth to the top and the transfer of oxygen from the surface of the mushroom. These two deleterious effects lead to an anaerobic and starved environment. Few genera of yeasts and bacteria could survive such conditions. Therefore, viability of both yeasts and aerobic acetic acid bacteria decrease gradually during fermentation. My advice is to pop the bubbles as soon as they appear.  You want carbonation (a factor of the yeasts) but do not overdo it. To make really sparkling flavorful kombucha tea see our article on Bottling and Secondary Fermenting.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Yeast may hang down from the bottom of the mushroom. They may discolor as well as cause the mushroom not to form properly. Carbon dioxide produced from the yeast may create holes or bubbles  in the mushroom trying to escape.  Excess carbon dioxide will suffocate the acetobacter that produce the gluconic acid.

   
   
   

Normal thickness of the mushroom of a 8 day ferment at 79F  (26C) is about /8 - 1/4 inch (3-6 mm) The Thicker the mushroom the higher the gluconic acid and the lower the acetic acid.

   
   

The mushroom begins growing across the width. In the beginning it looks very much like mold. But in a few days it thickens and should be well formed. The mushroom relates to the health of the ferment and specifically the health and presence of the bacteria as well as to presence of foreign or unwanted bacteria and yeasts. This is the most visible method of knowing how good and healthy our kombucha ferment is.

   

Can you have Kombucha Mushroom Tea without producing a mushroom?

   

No mushroom forming and acetic  (vinegary taste) means that the yeasts - have taken over. Brettanomyces will produce acetic acid and alcohol but no gluconic acid.

   

Optimum temperature of a kombucha ferment is 74F - 84 F (21C - 29C) Below 70F produces inconsistent brews and diminishes the Acetobacter. Lactobacillus and some yeasts may thrive even in the Low 60's but the gluconic acid will not be produced. Low temperatures also give an opportunity for wild and airborne microbes to take hold and alter the ferment. Low temperatures always takes longer and produce a lighter color and taste ferment. Higher temperatures produce faster ferments and a darker thicker taste.

   
   
   
 

   
         

Different textures, or textures other than the typical creamy smooth mushrooms, are common in home ferments. However, even bad looking mushrooms may produce good healthy and a pleasant kombucha tea.

Yeasts growth causes fermentation, which is the result of yeast metabolism. There are two types of yeasts true yeast and false yeast. True yeast metabolizes sugar producing alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. This is known as fermentation - as in kombucha mushroom tea fermenting. Bacteria convert the alcohol into acetic and gluconic acid. False yeast grows as a dry film on a food surface, such as on pickle brine. False yeast may occur in foods that have a high sugar or high acid environment, and they may occur in our Kombucha mushroom ferment.

Spoilage Yeasts. Some yeasts common to a kombucha ferment such as Zygosaccharomyces and Brettanomyces are also known as spoilage yeast within the food industry. This is mainly due to the fact that these species can grow in the presence of high sucrose, ethanol, acetic acid, sorbic acid, benzoic acid, and sulfur dioxide concentrations, commonly utilized as food preservation. The presence of these yeasts spoil those foods by reducing the preservative nature of the food and thereby increasing the potential for mold. see what may be in your kombucha.

The spoilage yeasts themselves are not harmful and are used in some wines and beers and in our Kombucha mushroom ferment.  - Except sometimes our friends may get over-excited and produce unpleasant odors and off-tastes often  described as antiseptic or "barnyard" type aromas. They may also “rush the ferment” pictured below.  Zygosaccharomyces  may  grow as a film  thin film of water at the surface and  Brettanomycest may also produce acetic acid, both yeasts destroying the SCOBY relationship. 

Other spoilage yeasts like Trichoderma, Chaetomium and Stachybotrys, destroy the typical kombucha mushroom while retaining their own cellulose (mushroom) appearance.

   

Saccharomyces  Yeasts

(left) S.cerevisiae (top feeding yeasts) while S. carlsbergenis (bottom feeding yeasts) on right.

   

Good if you're making beer or wine. Cerevisiae (Spanish for beer :))

Not good if you're trying to make kombucha.

The picture above far right may also depict MOV or Mother-of-Vinegar. MOV is a product of bacteria, while the clumping produced by Saccharomyces (Latin for Sugar Mushroom) is a yeast production. (Carlsburg popular beer :))

   
         

Is my ferment healthy? 

Three main signs:

1. There is a smooth film growing on top

2. Nothing fuzzy, dusty or colorful

3. A slight vinegar aroma

creations from other species of bacteria or yeasts

   
   
   

The next ferment may be different but if it continues to look bad we recommend to toss it out and start over.  It is apparent that the Gluconacetobacter are not home. And for that reason we always recommend to keep a spare mushroom happily brewing somewhere safe and quiet. see Kombucha Hotel above.

   

Bad Mushrooms and Mold (or do you say mould!)

Mold can cause illness, especially if the person is allergic to molds. Usually though, the main symptoms from eating moldy food will be nausea or vomiting from the bad taste and smell of the moldy food.

Mold will be FUZZY. It may also be very dry and dusty so do not try to smell it. Molds grow in filaments forming a tough mass, which is visible as `mould growth'. Molds form spores which, when dry, float through the air to find suitable conditions where they can start the growth cycle again.

The two below are not mold. The left one is spent yeast cells collecting on the top. When the kombucha mushroom has formed incompletely with different looking structures indicates something is not normal. On the right is not mold but the kombucha mushroom forming across with a bubble of what may be a different competing yeasts or bacteria. See online directions on How to Grow Kombucha Mushrooms http://www.happyherbalist.com/kombucha_brewing_guide.htm

Brewing kombucha is simply and easy. Yet at any time a ferment may go off. This is true of other ferments as well, like beer, wine, and fermenting foods. So my advice is always to keep a spare safely tucked away and when in doubt - throw it out and start over.

 

   

Overactive yeasts may rush the ferment, form large bubbles and wild or minor yeasts may gain hold and begin to take over.

   
   
   
   

Mold most likely to occur will be fuzzy and appear as the common mold found everyday in foods. They will be dry and dusty - so do not inhale or attempt to smell as a severe nasal infection may occur. When the kombucha has significant acidity it will be anti-microbial and safe. Yet mold may appear on the outside or higher up. If the acetic kombucha tea is splashed onto the mold the mold will disappear - presumably destroyed. For health reasons I advise to toss out. The same risks that apply to any moldy food should apply. There have been no confirmed reports of contaminated kombucha tea adversely affected any individual.  see FDA and CDC talking papers on KT.

   
   
   

Mold is more likely to occur in a kombucha ferment than other home ferments (beer, wine and vinegar) for two reasons. 1. other ferments usually start off with sanitizing to ensure a good clean start and 2. as in the case of making vinegar from wine you're already starting with a a ferment that is well protected with a high alcohol percentage.

   
   
   

There are kombucha authors and brewers who say that when mold appears simply wash the mushroom off. You may face this decision at some point as mold may appear even after the most utmost care and experience. Depending upon the pH the tea itself may not be adversely affected. It is extremely disappointing especially when one otherwise beautiful perfect mushroom has just a tiny spot of mold. BUT ...

when in doubt throw it out. The cost of a gallon of ferment is usually way less than one dollar ...

   
   
A mushroom that falls apart and has turned dark quickly is usually a sign of a vinegar eel infestation (see below) Normally a healthy mushroom may produce 30-50 new baby mushrooms while gradually turning darker after each ferment. A old mushroom may begin to peel and flake.    
kombucha flower of wine    

Flowers of Wine:
Small flecks or blooms of white powder or film may appear on the surface. They may first appear as rings of white foam. If left unchecked, they grow to cover the entire surface and can grow quite thick.
Saccharomyces mycoderma produce flowers of wine, This is a off-ferment of the Saccharomyces yeasts used in wine and beer making and commonly in kombucha as well. Early wine books refer to these as Mycoderma vini. This is the yeast going off on a tangent and not doing the normal ferment one expects.
Flowers of wine are, of course are expected when using sherry yeast. This produces Flor, a sherry film on the surface of a ferment. Otherwise, in wines this is considered an off-ferment due to too much contact with air. In which case the ferment is then filtered or sulphites are used to save the wine. If you notice in the pictures below of fermenting beer and wine, you�ll see foam is natural and expected and produces a good ferment.

In kombucha brewing a film is expected to grow (i.e. the Kombucha Mushroom). Do not confuse the Saccharomyces mycoderma (S. Mycoderma) or Mycoderma vini with Mycoderma aceti (bacteria), which produce acetic acid and gluconic acid of our kombucha mushroom tea.

Flower of wine is not welcomed in popular ferments as they will consume our alcohol and acetic acid and leave water and carbon dioxide in its place.

This small ring of white foam or flowers of wine may also appear on kefir, viili, Caspian sea yogurt and other ferments as well. Although there, they appear as a separate film or layer easily distinguished from the main ferment growing underneath. Foam also appears on lacto-ferments like kim-chi and sauerkraut. This is commonly simply removed and the ferment allowed to continue - unless it is pinkish in color (pathogenic mold). Flower of wine, according to what I could find, have not been identified as pathogenic other than to thwart ones effort. The taste of this “flowery kefir” is quite yeasty and distinct. In he case of kefir and wine, the advice seems to be just to scrape off. It does not otherwise interfere with kefir or the next batch. In kombucha fermenting it may be more difficult to control because if it is the yeasts (Saccharomyce) may be contributing and we need the yeasts to stop fooling around and produce what we want. We may be losing our ferment, since we rely upon the present ferment to produce a starter for our next brew as well. The next few batches will tell as the mushroom becomes thinner and weaker and the kombucha tea less flavorful.

 

   
Microscopic Pictures good kombucha close up    
   
kombucha and kefir under the microscope    

Vinegar eels and Vinegar flies  or another parasite that may attack our kombucha ferment is mites. Mites attack and destroy the yeast. All these occurrences are rare. Although Vinegar flies - fruit flies are common, (vinegar eels rare) they are not considered pathogenic. The FDA only considers their presence as "contaminated" when bottled and on a store shelf - not in the production faultily.    see cautions and tips

Bad kombucha close up

   
kombucha vinegar eels    
click to enlarge        

Other ferments

   
   
   
Tibicos mother-of-vinegar from a red wine. Ginger Beer Plant    
.    
California Bees

never found out what this one was ..

Ginger Beer Plant    
   
Beer  Wine vinegar    

On the right is a one-inch thick mother-of-vinegar that took about 6 months to produce.

Most MOV grows on top and is very similar to a kombucha mushroom and would be impossible to tell the difference from just looking or tasting.   However MOV may also grow in a more loosely jelly-like structure that floats midway in the liquid. Many early Kombucha books recommended to throw out your "kombucha" if it sank (did not float on the top) believing it might be MOV. In my opinion and others, is that a kombucha mushroom may float or sink or even go sideways and move about, it will still produce good Kombucha Mushroom Tea (acetic acid, gluconic acid and fructose)

from http://mars.ark.com/~squeeze/mother.html

   
see  LAB Probiotic Ferments

The difference between Vinegar (MOV) and Kombucha, which are produced from the same genius of bacteria (Acetobacter) is that kombucha has gluconic acid, vinegar does not. This is a result of the different fermentation methods used. The difference between Kombucha and LAB ferments (Ginger Beer, Water Kefir, et al) is the species of bacteria - LAB (Lactobacillus bacterium) versus Acetobacter = Kombucha. Again the major difference is gluconic acid.  All these ferments may look and taste the same. There is not a simple home test that I am aware of that one may test for gluconic acid which is the distinguishing feature of true kombucha mushroom tea.

   

A large mushroom drying for Commercial application from Acetobacter Xylinum

many folks use the mushroom to make works of art and even Drum skins

   

And finally the mushroom itself. Many potential high value markets exist for thin film bacterial cellulose, including acoustic diaphragms , artificial skin, artificial blood vessels, liquid loaded medical pads, super-sorbers  and specialty membranes.  Potential markets for bacterial cellulose produced as pellets in agitated culture include the mining industry, the oil industry, foods, and the pulp and paper industry.

[source: Production of Bacterial Cellulose from Alternate Feedstocks. D. N. Thompson M. A. Hamilton. May 7, 2000 � May 11, 2000

22 nd  Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals]

 

 

and YES, it is edible.  

dogs, horses and other creatures love them. For more ideas on what to do with extra mushrooms, and too sour kombucha tea see our article.

   
Make the Best Kombucha Mushroom Tea

The HappyHerbalist.com's Modified Orleans Continuous Brewing Method.

   
   

Got Pictures?   Need answers ?   send them along ...

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Ed Kasper L.Ac, Acupuncturist & Herbalist

417 Laurent St. Santa Cruz, CA 95060

toll free 1-888-425-8827  local 831-425-8801

for questions or to submit your pictures

email: eddy@happyherbalist.com

 

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