How Long Does a SCOBY Last and When to Get a New One

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A SCOBY can last many months if you feed it consistently with fresh sweet tea. If your SCOBY has sugars to consume, it will continue the fermentation process and make healthy kombucha. However, there will come a time when you’ll want to retire the mother and get a new SCOBY.

How Many Times Can You Use a SCOBY?

You can reuse a SCOBY for many batches of kombucha. Some SCOBYS last for years if they are taken care of properly. Your SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) gets stronger with each batch as yeast, bacteria, and microorganisms build up on its surface. It ferments better and faster with each successive batch of kombucha. This original SCOBY is called your ‘mother SCOBY.’

Your mother SCOBY grows each time you brew your homemade kombucha. It can become massive and be more than necessary to brew a successful batch. When that happens, peel your SCOBY layers apart. You can give them to friends, store them to make vinegar, or use them for other purposes.

You’ll also grow a new baby SCOBY with each new brew. Each time you brew, you’ll get a new layer of starter culture in your brewing vessel. This baby SCOBY is called a pellicle. It’s made from cellulose and is very flexible and slippery. It’s usually white or pale. A baby SCOBY means you are brewing a healthy fermented tea.

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Newly formed pellicle

Can a SCOBY Get Too Old?

Yes, a SCOBY can get too old to work correctly. SCOBYs last for months or years, but eventually, they may no longer ferment properly. Watch for these signs that can indicate your SCOBY is too old.

  • Your SCOBY has turned VERY dark brown.
  • Your SCOBY becomes hard or rubbery.
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Old SCOBY, not suitable for fermentation

It’s best to maintain your SCOBY as you ferment. As new layers appear, pull the old ones off. You’ll always have fresh SCOBYs for your kombucha fermentation, and you won’t have to worry that your SCOBY is too old.

How Do I Know if My SCOBY Is Still Good?

The best way to know if your SCOBY is still good is to ferment a new batch of kombucha. If your SCOBY properly ferments your next batch, it’s good!

Let your brew ferment for up to three weeks, but your SCOBY is not working correctly if your tea still tastes sweet. Your kombucha tea should smell slightly sour or vinegary by this time. Your SCOBY should also be slightly thicker, and you should see a new SCOBY forming in your brew. If you see these things, then your SCOBY is happy and healthy! It has enough bacteria and yeast to turn your sweet tea into kombucha.

It’s difficult to tell if a SCOBY is still good just by looking at it, but you should always check for mold. If you see moldy spots, throw your SCOBY away and start fresh. If part of your SCOBY is black, it is dying, and you should throw it out.

What Is the Best Way to Store a SCOBY?

To keep your SCOBY healthy and extend its lifespan, you must store it properly between brews. If you aren’t practicing the continuous brewing method, use one of these methods to store your SCOBY.

At Room Temperature

For short or long-term storage, room temperature is ideal and easy. If you feed your SCOBY periodically, it can remain at room temperature indefinitely.

  • Place your SCOBY in a clean glass jar.
  • Pour in a few inches of starter tea.
  • Cover the jar with a clean cloth and a rubber band.
  • Set it on a counter out of direct sunlight and leave it undisturbed.
  • Add fresh starter tea every two weeks so the SCOBY still has food (sugar) to digest. If you don’t add fresh sweet tea, your SCOBY will starve and eventually die.

In the Fridge

Storing SCOBYs in the fridge is only recommended for long-term storage (3-6 months). A significant benefit of keeping it in the refrigerator is that after packaging it with a decent amount of starter tea, you don’t need to feed it because it lies dormant in cold temperatures. However, the lower temperature makes it easier for harmful bacteria to grow on the SCOBY.

  • Put it in an airtight container with starter tea. Label and date your container to remember what it is and know how long it has been in your fridge.

In a SCOBY Hotel

A SCOBY hotel is a storage system for homebrewers with multiple SCOBYs. Be sure to continually add enough food (sugar); otherwise, your SCOBYs will struggle to stay alive.

  • Combine all of your extra SCOBYs in a large glass jar.
  • Add starter tea and sweetened tea.
  • Cover the jar with a cheesecloth or coffee filter secured with a rubber band.
  • Find a dark, clean, safe place for the jar at room temperature.
  • Feed the SCOBYs every three weeks.

A hotel is great for brewing extra strong starter liquid or kombucha vinegar.

How to Properly Dispose of an Old SCOBY

As long as your old SCOBY isn’t moldy or black, you can use it in a few different ways. If your SCOBY has moldy or black spots, immediately throw it away.

  1. Compost it. Tear it into small pieces and bury it in your compost pile—leaving it exposed will attract animals.
  2. Give it to your chickens. The same nutrients that make it a healthy drink for humans also make it great for chickens.
  3. Shred it up and use it in your garden. Place it at the base of your plants so the nutrients soak into the soil. Make sure to cover it with a thick layer of dirt so it doesn’t attract animals.
  4. Throw it away. If you don’t have a garden or chickens, throwing your SCOBY in the trash is okay. You’ve used it to the fullest extent and can now discard it.

If you’re feeling adventurous…

  1. Make SCOBY jerky. Marinate it and cook it at 180 °F for at least 8 hours.
  2. Add it to your favorite smoothie. Combine fruit, your SCOBY, a bit of kombucha, and a little sweetener for a unique drink with added probiotics!
  3. Make fruit leather. Puree your SCOBY with fruit, sweetener, and spices.
  4. Add it to your sushi. The SCOBY has a texture similar to squid. Chop it into strips and wrap it up!

How Do You Get a New SCOBY?

After you dispose of your old SCOBY, you’ll want to get a new one! Remember that your SCOBY grows baby SCOBYs with each new batch of kombucha. You may already have a new SCOBY waiting for you. Remove the older, tougher, and darker layers, and you’ll have a fresh SCOBY for brewing kombucha.

If you don’t have an old SCOBY or need a new one…

Sarah Pearce

Sarah first tried kombucha in 2015 and she was hooked. Her favorite flavor is ginger, but cranberry comes in a close second. She made her own for many years and loved experimenting with fruit flavors.

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