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Part Three - What Could Go Wrong?


'Appearances often are deceiving'

Aesop 629 - 560 BC


Making your own Kombucha Tea is a fairly simple process which will take very little time to prepare and which will provide you with a safe fermented tea--provided you follow normal safe-food-handling procedures and familiarize yourself with the conditions under which certain problems might arise. Some of the problems you may encounter are presented in the following articles which were written specifically to address these concerns.

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Miscellaneous Articles

See Kombucha FAQ Home Page for links to more Kombucha articles:

8. FDA Fact Sheet T95-15

by Brad Stone March 23, 1995....(202) 205-4144


FDA has been receiving inquiries about 'Kombucha mushroom tea' -- a product which has been mentioned in media reports lately for many uses, from inducing a general state of well being to treating diseases such as AIDS and cancer. FDA has not approved this product as a treatment for any medical condition. The following information can be used to answer questions: Kombucha mushroom tea, also known as 'Manchurian tea' or 'Kargasok tea,' is not actually derived from a mushroom, but from the fermentation of various yeasts and bacteria. A starter culture is added to a mixture of black tea and sugar, and the resulting mix is allowed to ferment for a week or more.

The product contains considerable quantities of acids commonly found in some foods such as vinegar, and smaller quantities of ethyl alcohol. Because the acid could leach harmful quantities of lead and other toxic elements from certain types of containers-- some ceramic and painted containers and lead crystal -- such containers should not be used for
storing Kombucha tea.

The unconventional nature of the process used to make Kombucha tea has led to questions as to whether the product could become contaminated with potentially harmful microorganisms, such as the mold Aspergillus. Such contamination could produce serious adverse effects in immune-compromised individuals.

FDA studies have found no evidence of contamination in Kombucha products fermented under sterile conditions. FDA and state of California inspections of the facilities of a major Kombucha tea supplier also found that its product was being manufactured under sanitary conditions.

However, the agency still has concerns that home-brewed versions of this tea manufactured under non-sterile conditions may be prone to micro biological contamination. FDA will continue to monitor the situation and encourages consumers to consult appropriate health professionals for the treatment of serious diseases.

FDA Fact Sheet T95-15 Brad Stone March 23, 1995....(202) 205-4144

9. Up in Smoke! Toxic Tobacco Smoke and Kombucha

by Colleen Allen

A question which is frequently asked over the 'Kombucha Discussion List', ( a forum for Kombucha drinkers on the Internet), is whether or not tobacco smoke is harmful to the Kombucha colony.

People who ferment Kombucha tea in a home with an unfavorable atmosphere caused from tobacco smoke,  may risk mold forming on the surface of their fermenting tea. Tobacco smoke is alkaline, and as it enters the fermenting jars, will raise the pH on the surface of the tea solution, consequently creating an alkaline environment very suitable for mold growth.

Molds do not like to grow in an acidic solution; therefore, it is very important to make sure the new tea solution has a low pH right from the very start of the fermentation process. To make the tea solution acidic, add 10% (about 10-12 ounces) of previously fermented Kombucha tea, along with the Kombucha colony.  If you do not have any fermented Kombucha Tea to add, then you must add 3 tablespoons of pasteurized, or distilled vinegar, to lower the pH (acidify the medium).

The toxic chemicals --including toxic heavy metals and pesticides-- in tobacco smoke have a detrimental effect on all living organisms, including the Kombucha colony. A burning cigarette emits solid particles, gasses, and liquids; however, only the solid particles (about 5 percent of the cigarette's output), are visible.

Following is a short list out of more than 4,000 different chemical compounds that are in tobacco smoke. More than 50 of these substances are known carcinogens, and others are known, or suspected, mutagens, which are capable of causing permanent, often harmful, changes in the genetic material of living cells.

When toxic compounds are inhaled, not only are the smokers lungs and health affected, but anyone who breathes, or absorbs these toxic fumes from tobacco smoke, will ultimately suffer damaging effects.

Some Toxic Compounds In Tobacco Smoke

10. That Pesky Fruit Fly (drosophila melanogaster)

by Colleen Allen

Most people who ferment Kombucha Tea will eventually be plagued with the pesky little fruit fly.  These tinny (1/8 inch) annoying red-eyed black and tan flies are also referred to as 'vinegar flies.'  They are attracted to the bowls or jars of fermenting Kombucha, and will hover incessantly over and around the vessels, hoping to gain entry into them; which they most certainly do if you don't cover your jars securely with either a few paper coffee filters or other tightly woven material held tight to the jar or bowl with a sturdy rubber band. Cheesecloth used to be recommended as a cover for your fermenting containers, however, for obvious reasons, that material is no longer recommended. It has a very loose weave that will not prevent fruit flies, ants, dust, and wild yeast spores from getting into your fermenting Kombucha.

If fruit flies do happen to get into your fermenting vessel, they will lay many eggs (often as many as 500) onto the moist developing Kombucha colony. As soon as these eggs hatch (in one day) the larvae will crawl all over the surface and eat tiny holes into the new baby Kombucha. Because the entire life cycle of fruit flies-- from egg to adult-- can be completed in about a week, and as Kombucha Tea is often left to ferment from 7-14 days, you can well imagine how your new Kombucha will look when you decide to take the cover off and decant your fermented tea.

NOTE: the total life-span of a fruit fly is 14 days

Fruit flies are very common in homes especially in the late spring, summer, and early fall. The adults will fly in through inadequately screened windows and doors where they are attracted in droves to moist, over-ripe fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, tomatoes, melons, grapes, potatoes, etc.,  which have not been refrigerated, or adequately covered--; including your jars of fermenting Kombucha. Fruit fly eggs are also carried home from the supermarket on the produce you have purchased, as well as on the fruits and vegetables you bring in from your own garden.  While fruit flies are especially attracted to ripe fruits and vegetables, they will also breed in drains, garbage disposals, empty cans, and trash cans; as well as the fibers in your mops and cleaning rags, thereupon having the potential to contaminate your fermenting tea with bacteria and other disease producing organisms.

How to Construct a Simple Effective Trap

A good way to trap the fruit flies that are hovering around your fermenting Kombucha Tea jars or bowls is to construct a trap by making a paper funnel and placing it in a jar that has been baited with a few ounces of Kombucha Tea or cider vinegar. Place these easily made traps wherever fruit flies are seen.

11. Our Water--Is it Really an Elixir of the Gods?

by Colleen Allen

Kombucha colonies are affected by pollutants in our water. In order to produce Kombucha Tea, we need to use water. The following information will give you a better idea of just what may be found in various water sources.

What Is The Value Of Water?

Water (H2O) is that precious liquid that descends from the clouds as rain into our rivers, lakes, and seas; and in pure form is odorless and tasteless. It is the major constituent of all living matter and without it life cannot be sustained.

The human body is composed of 75% water; this water regulates all functions of the body. During normal bodily function without exercise, approximately 3-4 quarts or more of water is lost from our system on a daily basis through respiration, perspiration, urination, and defecation. This water loss means our bodies are in a constant state of dehydration, therefore we need to drink at least 8 (8 oz) glasses of water daily in order replenish this vital liquid.

How Safe Is Your Drinking Water?

Is water really the Elixir of the Gods?—Yes, figuratively speaking; however, in today's world our drinking water (at least for most of us) comes out of our kitchen faucets, or out of bottles purchased at the supermarket. The bottled water ranked by overall purity by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is as follows:

Taking a closer look at just what is in tap water may surprise you. There may be bacteria, parasites and pollution, as well as acid water, minerals and iron among other things. Most city water, out of necessity, is treated with either Chlorine or Chloramine, depending upon where you live and how much pathogenic bacteria are found in the water.

Chlorine is used the most and can be effectively removed from your drinking water by boiling uncovered for 5 minutes--or by drawing the water in advance of use, and leaving it sit uncovered for 24 hours. The Chlorine gas will then dissipate into the atmosphere. Remember that Chlorine will kill Kombucha! You must boil your tap water for 5 minutes if it contains Chlorine. While Chloramine on the other hand, cannot be removed from your drinking water by boiling. It also kills fish if it gets into the lakes and streams from run-off of domestic water supplies.

Acid water (low pH) is very hard on iron or copper pipes and will cause rust or a type of bluish-green stain on plumbing fixtures. If there is Iron in your tap water, it may leave rusty stains on your clothing and plumbing fixtures; while a foul odor may indicate the presence of bacteria. If your tap-water is untreated, many pathogenic bacteria can be present; this can be the source for the spread of disease. Because of the contaminants found in city water, it must be treated with chemicals to kill pathogenic bacteria before it is allowed to be piped into our homes for us to drink; otherwise it could make us very sick, or indeed, cause our death.

What Is Cryptosporidium?

Cryptosporidium is a parasite which is commonly found in our rivers and lakes, especially when the water is contaminated with sewage or animal waste. When this parasite makes its way into drinking water supplies it can cause severe outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness, including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Even though our water supply may be treated with chlorine, it won't kill Cryptosporidium, because it is resistant to the Chlorine used to treat city water.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), and the EPA, it is especially important for persons with HIV/AIDS, cancer, organ transplant patients who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, those who have a serious chronic illness and people with genetically weakened immune systems, to take extra precaution to avoid water-borne cryptosporidiosis by boiling their drinking water for 1 full minute. This is the most effective approach for killing these parasites.

Many, but not all brands of bottled water, may provide a reasonable alternative to boiling tap water; however, the origin of the source water, the type of microorganisms in that water, and the treatment of that water before it is bottled varies considerably. Bottled water which has been obtained from protected wells and protected spring water sources are less likely to be contaminated with Cryptosporidium. While bottled water containing municipal drinking water taken from rivers and lakes is more likely to be contaminated with this parasite; however, bottled water treated by distillation or reverse osmosis before bottling assures complete Cryptosporidium removal.

Following is a list of contaminants which may be found in tap water or well water. (for more water information see water Part One of the FAQ.)

Contaminant and Probable Health Effects*

*The Assembly Office of Research, April 12, 1983 states that the health effects listed for these substances were compiled from the following sources: 'Drinking Water and Health,' National Academy of Sciences, Safe Drinking Water Committee, 1977. 'Contamination of Ground Water by Toxic Organic Chemicals,' US Council on Environmental Quality, 1981. 'Carcinogenic Hazards of Organic Chemicals in Drinking Water,' R.H. Harris, T. Page and N.A. Reiches, 1977

12. Mother of Vinegar - Or - Kombucha?

by Colleen Allen

The 'Mother of Vinegar' colony has often been confused with the 'Kombucha' colony, which is very similar in looks.  However,  because it lacks some of the essential components that are unique to the Kombucha colony, it will not give the same results when used to produce Kombucha Tea.

The smooth, leathery, grayish, acetic film which forms on the surface of liquids containing unpasteurized vinegar, are called 'Mother' or 'Mother of Vinegar' ('MOV' for short), and are used exclusively to produce vinegar.  If this colony is left undisturbed it can become quite thick and heavy, often heavy enough to fall, it is then succeeded by another formation on the surface.

When making a new batch of vinegar, it is not necessary to add the vinegar colony to the new liquid, all you need to add is some of the liquid that was used to grow this 'MOV' colony. It has living acetic acid bacteria in it (Acetobacter), and will perform the same function as the Mother,  producing another 'MOV' colony on the surface of the liquid you are using to make your next batch of vinegar.

Because of the similarity of these two colonies, and in order to be sure you are producing a Kombucha colony rather than a 'Mother of Vinegar' colony, always use pasteurized vinegar to acidify your Kombucha Tea prior to fermentation. However, only use pasteurized vinegar if you do not have the necessary 10% of fermented Kombucha Tea to add to your new batch, then be sure you always keep the necessary amount of Kombucha Tea in reserve for the next batch.

A new colony will always form of the surface of the liquid being fermented, even when adding only fermented Kombucha Tea without a Kombucha colony to start a new batch. However, when using that method some of the essential components which are unique to a Kombucha colony may be lost.

13. Are Dried Kombucha Colonies Safe to Use?

by Colleen Allen

A while back, because of a flurry of interest in drying and rehydration of Kombucha,  I decided to try an experiment with dried Kombucha just to see what would happen. There are several reasons why this is not a good method for the treatment of Kombucha by the home grower. The most important reason being, because people normally don't have the proper facilities or equipment in their homes to protect the Kombucha from contamination during the drying process.

When I dried the Kombucha colonies to use in my recent experiment on rehydrating dried Kombucha,  I never took any sanitary precautions whatsoever. My Kombucha colonies were exposed to practically everything under the sun while hanging for months by strings in my kitchen skylight. Cat hair, dog hair, cooking fumes, and the occasional smoke from burned food; plus handling the Kombucha with bare hands and not taking any precautions whatsoever to prevent contamination with bacteria, dust, molds and whatever else decided to land on them during this drying process.

The experiment was done for the sole purpose of finding out whether dried Kombucha could be rehydrated to produce a colony, which it has done. However, because of the methods I used to dry the Kombucha, I would never consider using these colonies to produce Kombucha Tea for my own use or to share with others.

Control of bacterial contaminants in dried foods require high quality raw materials that have low contamination as well as adequate sanitation where the Kombucha is being dried. This means protection from infection by dust, molds, wild yeast spores, insects etc., that are always present in our environment. Protection can also mean pasteurization; which by the very nature of pasteurization, requires heating the raw Kombucha which will also destroy the beneficial bacteria, vitamins and enzymes that are found naturally in Kombucha, thus destroying any possibility of future regeneration.

Although most molds can grow on foods with as little as 15% moisture content, some can grow on foods with moisture content as little as 5%; while bacteria and yeasts usually require moisture levels greater than 30%. However, some foods will still mold when dried and exposed to both high humidity and air.

Since pathogenic (toxin-producing) bacteria can often withstand the unfavorable environment of dried foods, this could cause food poisoning when the Kombucha is rehydrated and used to produce Kombucha Tea. It is for this reason that I  would not advise anyone to use the home-drying method to preserve their Kombucha colonies.

14. Out With the New and In With the Old

by Colleen Allen

During the late 1940's modern medical practitioners had begun to deviate from their use of traditional herbal based medicines --which had been used for centuries to treat disease, to drugs created by 'modern drug manufacture'; soon new medicines, heralded as 'Miracle Drugs,' started to appear in doctors offices, medical bags, and hospitals, all over the world.

A new drug called Penicillin (an extremely potent family of antibiotics) appeared,  expeditiously followed by hundreds of other new antibiotics,  vaccines, and anti-viral drugs all designed especially to eradicate the old killer diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis,  pneumonia, plague, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, meningitis, rheumatic fever, and polio, as well as all of the other devastating diseases which have plagued mankind for centuries.

Staphylococcus bacteria for instance, made trivial wounds fatal injuries, until Penicillin, dubbed 'the magic bullet,'  was used to fight it. By the early 1950's staphylococcus bacteria were almost 100% susceptible to Penicillin; however, by the early 1980's, 90% of the strains had become resistant to these drugs.

Before the arrival of antibiotics like Penicillin, syphilis, for example, could lie quiescent for many years after the initial onslaught, or advance swiftly into the final stages--ravaging its victims with severe heart, eye, brain, and spinal cord damage, with a very high probability of paralysis, insanity, blindness, and even death in 35% or more of its victims. Finally, with the discovery of Penicillin, those unfortunate victims of a crippling deadly disease had a chance of being cured.

Now however, the 'wonder drugs' which were very heavily prescribed by medical practitioners for many, many years-- as a cure-all for the slightest sniffle or infection-- are becoming increasingly ineffective against the newly emerging drug-resistant strains of pathogenic bacteria which evolved from the older disease causing pathogenic bacteria as a mechanism of survival. Thus-- due to the incessant assault by modern 'miracle drugs'-- the new drug resistant strains of bacteria are proliferating; soon most of the known antibiotics and other so called 'miracle drugs' of today will be totally ineffective when used to combat them.

For the chronically ill, the continual onslaught of 'modern drug warfare,' has effectively crippled our immune systems, leaving us with weak, ineffectual natural immunity to even the slightest infections.  Consequently, with the appearance of new drug-resistant strains of pathogenic bacteria, and no new 'miracle' drugs being developed with which to fight them,  a very bleak future is forecast for those of us who are suffering from serious chronic illness.

A Swing Back to Alternative Health Care.

Once again, we are swinging back to alternative health care,  aspiring towards strengthening our bodies and rebuilding our weakened immune systems with natural remedies.

Kombucha Tea is a very popular natural remedy. It's a  fermented tea made with water, sugar, and black or green tea, which is fermented for 7-10 days using a symbiotic colony of microorganisms (yeast and bacteria), then drunk at the rate of several ounces or more a day.  Kombucha Tea appears to help the body rid itself of the accumulation of toxins from drugs and environmental pollutants, while helping to invigorate our weakened immune system to fight illness.

15. Kombucha is a Fermented Food too!

by Colleen Allen

What Is Fermentation?

Fermentation is the chemical breaking down of organic substances, such as the tea and sugar used in the production of Kombucha Tea, by microscopic fungi called yeast. These microorganisms convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Other microorganisms (Acetobacter bacteria), will then convert the alcohol into acetic acid.

Several Factors Required For Healthy Fermentation

Some Fermented Drinks

There are many hundreds of recipes for fermented beverages, such as mead's, wines, ciders, ale lager, vinegar and Kombucha Tea. Following is a list of lessor known fermented drinks.

Note: The above list of fermented drinks was contributed by Guenther Frank, author of 'Kombucha--Healthy Beverage and Natural Remedy from the Far East'

Other 'Fermented', or 'Cultured' Foods

© Copyright 1997, 2000 Colleen M. Allen

16. Disclaimer for Part Three of the Kombucha FAQ


This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is based largely on the personal experiences of the members of the Kombucha mailing list. It should not be regarded as a complete or definitive manual on Kombucha but rather as a collection of practical everyday answers to questions that come up when starting to make Kombucha tea. This article is provided as is without any express or implied warranty. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the authors/contributors assume no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

Permission is granted to freely copy this document in electronic form, or in print if the publication is distributed without charge, provided it is copied in its entirety without modification and appropriate credits are included. On the WWW, however, you must link here rather than copy it. Any other use requires explicit permission by the author.




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Designed Colleen M. Allen

Copyright 1996 - 2000 Colleen M. Allen  

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UpDt: 06/28/03