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Product Review (submitted on May 4, 2014):
I was so excited when I got my starter, and even more excited when it had finished the long 30 day hydrating process. I made my first gallon batch, which was great. However, I was absolutely heartbroken to see a cluster of blue fuzzy mold growing on top of my second batch!
I called customer service, and they were incredibly helpful with how things might have gone wrong. It really goes to show what a great company they are and how much they care about their customers.
I'm on my second starter now, and it's going absolutely great. I was told that mold is incredibly rare, but here are a few of the things I learned that can prevent it from happening to you:
1) Get the pH strips to confirm proper acidity. Mold will grow when the batch is not acidic enough. To make absolutely certain that your batch is acidic enough and prevent going through the ordeal of waiting another month and a half for another starter to be ready, double check the pH of a new batch. I thought that I would be fine without the pH strips, but they really are helpful to confirm that things are working as they ought to be. If your batch isn't acidic enough, add more starter liquid or vinegar.
2) If you have a culture that's on the weaker side, make sure to take the pH and mix the brew before pouring the starter liquid into the next batch. I noticed that the bottom of my gallon batch was cloudy, but the top wasn't. Nevertheless, I took my starter liquid off the top and poured it into the next batch. I think part of the reason why the mold grew was because the starter liquid on top wasn't acidic enough. I should've taken the SCOBY out, mixed the brew to get even distribution, taken the pH, and then poured the starter liquid. It's also possible that even if I mixed, the pH just wasn't acidic enough.
3) Make sure you have the newest set of instructions. I noticed the instructions I got with my first culture were different from the ones I got with my second. They must have been revised recently. They are pretty much the same, except that the newer set includes directions for the first batch, and the old set did not. The first batch should NOT be a full gallon, and it should use vinegar instead of starter liquid, to ensure the SCOBY is off to a strong start. I followed the old set of instructions to the letter, and I still got mold. I think the recommendations for the first batch in the new set of instructions is vital to a successful start. Doing a batch without vinegar, and a gallon batch at that, right from the start, must have been too much for a fledgling culture. Following the new instructions for my second culture, I am noticing that the culture is much thicker and already forming a baby on the second brew.
I hope this review is helpful for those who are just starting out, and that it can save you the pain of having to go through a second 30 day hydration process due to mold. The new culture I have is fantastic and incredibly healthy, and the folks at Cultures for Health's customer service do an excellent job. I highly recommend this product.