Do you often look into your cupboards in search of a quick snack? Trying to avoid the cookie jar and potato chips? Having healthy alternatives is a must for those moments of the munchies.
If you make kombucha, you probably have a ton of leftover SCOBY that you’re tossing out.
Solve both issues by making some tasty SCOBY jerky.
Before we get to the recipes, let’s run through some fundamentals you’ll need to grow healthy SCOBY. Don’t be put off if this feels like a science lesson. It’s a remarkable process. You won’t be disappointed.
What is a SCOBY?
SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It looks a bit like brain matter, to be honest. Well, that’s what my kids tell me.
SCOBY is the starter culture that creates kombucha by converting the sugar in the liquid into the finished drink. It’s comprised of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), acetic acid bacteria (AAB), and yeast.
The combination of bacteria and yeast is fed using tea and sugar to create fermentation, resulting in the unique flavor kombucha lovers enjoy.
Through the process of fermentation, the healthy acetic acid, which is also found in vinegar, is produced. Other compounds, gases, and bi-products, such as low levels of alcohol, are also made.
Kombucha is low in calories, high in fiber, and helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
Most of us have heard of the term gut flora in reference to digestion and the stomach. When we talk about gut flora, we often use the terms prebiotic and probiotic.
Prebiotics are the foods that probiotics feed on, and probiotics are foods that contain good bacteria that support a healthy gut flora. Kombucha is a probiotic that contains live organisms that benefit our gut flora.
All that is to say that we need a good bacterial balance for our overall well-being, and kombucha is an important part of that. It aids digestion and reduces the impact of toxins on our bodies. It reduces inflammation and promotes healing.
The concentration of probiotics is in the SCOBY, so SCOBY’s are hugely beneficial to our health. Instead of tossing them out, make something out of them! That’s where SCOBY jerky comes in.
So long as you don’t dry the SCOBY at too high of a heat, you won’t kill the probiotics, and you’ll have a hugely healthy snack.
SCOBY jerky is ideal as a meat alternative.
Making a SCOBY
Making a healthy SCOBY is easy. If you haven’t done it before, we’ll give you a brief overview here, but you can learn more in our comprehensive guide.
To start, you need an existing SCOBY. You can get a section from a friend; this is how I started. You can also purchase starters. Growing the culture takes anywhere from 14 days to 28 days, depending on conditions.
The recipe below gives you one gallon of kombucha with the right conditions for a thriving SCOBY.
- Large clean saucepan
- Wooden spoon
- 1 gallon jar
- 2 paper coffee filters or paper towels
- Lid with holes or mesh (optional)
- Rubber band
- 8 cups filtered water. Tap water can be treated with chemicals that inhibit SCOBY development.
- 8 black or green tea bags
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 2 cups organic, plain kombucha
- Ice (optional)
- Place the water in the saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Turn off the heat and add the tea bags.
- Let it sit covered, and allow the tea to steep and cool to room temperature. It must cool before moving on, as heat kills good bacteria. To speed up this step, add a few cubes of ice.
- In the gallon jar, add the kombucha and the room-temperature tea mixture.
- Top up with cool, still water until the jar is full to the neck. You want a little space at the neck of the jar for the SCOBY to form.
- Cover the jar with paper coffee filters or a double layer of paper towels, secured with a rubber band. I’ve also used cheesecloth for this step. If you have a fermenting cap, this can be used.
- Place the jar in a stable location where nothing like fruit flies or bugs can get in. Dark isn’t necessary, but out of direct sunlight is a must. I keep mine in the hallway cupboard because it’s the safest place and away from pests getting drawn to the fermenting process.
- In 14-28 days, the SCOBY should be formed. Keep the jar still if you take a peek. Within a few days, bubbles should form close to the surface; as these increase, you should see a clear jelly-type layer form. That layer is your SCOBY growing.
- Ideally, for a usable SCOBY, it needs to grow a quarter inch thick and cover the surface of the tea mixture.
If you’re looking for some recipes to make delicious kombucha, check out our guide.
Caring For Your SCOBY
Understanding the process of caring for and the attributes of the SCOBY “Mother” is crucial.
I have five SCOBYS in the hallway cupboard in big fermenting jars, otherwise known as SCOBY hotels. Talking about our SCOBY hotels is always an excellent topic for dinner parties.
I started with one a couple of years ago. The more you feed them, the quicker they grow, and regular splitting and harvesting keeps them stimulated to keep going.
To slow them down, don’t feed them constantly. They need oxygen and food to keep going, but you can reduce how often you feed and split the SCOBY.
To feed your SCOBY, prepare a tea mixture of a quarter cup of sugar and four cups of tea. Let it cool to room temperature before feeding it to your SCOBY. You should always remove a little of the old tea to make room and refresh the mixture.
When you remove liquid to make kombucha, feed the SCOBY straight away and keep some of the old liquid in with it. It’s all about balance.
Direct sunlight and extreme temperatures are not good when trying to keep SCOBYs healthy. Heat kills the friendly bacteria and may kill the SCOBY. Watch out for bugs getting in; this will turn your SCOBY into a nesting ground. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Life expectancy for use is generally 4-6 rounds. Once you have layers of SCOBY, it’s no longer the original piece fermenting. Instead, the offspring have taken on that role, and the ”grandmother” needs to be removed to maintain the health of the SCOBY hotel.
A quick tip in identifying the “grandmother” is to look for the thickest layer. It will be extremely tough and darker than other layers.
Splitting and multiplying batches of SCOBY is also important to maintain the proper balance of yeast and bacteria in your hotel.
Splitting a SCOBY
When room gets tight in one jar, it’s time to split to form more. Clean hands and utensils are critical.
To spilt, remove the SCOBY and slice a good portion away from the mother. A mixture of older and new-forming SCOBY is best. You can also peel the layers in half.
You can cut the portion from any section of the larger SCOBY; it will re-form. Place this in a new jar.
Add some of the old tea mixture in the new hotel. Then top up with fresh, room-temperature tea mixture. Both of these will assist in settling the new resident into its surroundings.
Store the hotels together in your favorite spot.
With a new hotel, try not to harvest any liquid for kombucha or SCOBY jerky snacks until it’s well settled in and growing—at least 14 days.
Harvesting Your SCOBY
As the mother SCOBY gets as tough as old boots, it isn’t as productive as it used to be, but it makes terrific SCOBY jerky.
You can also use the young pellicles that are thinner. These are almost translucent and make for a soft, chewy SCOBY jerky. Most people prefer the young stuff, but try both and see which you like better.
Use clean wooden utensils to remove them from the tea mix or kombucha. Using metal could interrupt the fermenting process.
Depending upon how often you brew, you may need to wait a while for enough pellicles to form for a good batch of jerky. Collect them over time and place them in a container in the freezer.
Feeding them more often will make them grow faster. Once you have enough, you can make them into SCOBY jerky.
Basic Recipe For SCOBY Jerky (Pellicle Jerky)
Preparation time is about 15 minutes once you have a usable SCOBY.
Dehydrating time is 8-12 hours. It can be made ahead of time and stored in an air-tight container for up to a month. You’ll need scissors or a knife to cut up the pellicle into the size you want and a dehydrator to dry out the material.
- Six medium SCOBY slices
- Non-flavored spray or oil
- Choice of flavorings: soy sauce, tamarind, maple syrup, honey, chili pepper, ginger, salt, pepper, garlic, Worcestershire, liquid smoke, Bragg’s liquid aminos
Make the Marinade
Pick a flavor or combine several. Feel free to experiment and play around, or leave them plain if you want. Here is a good basic to start with:
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp finely diced garlic or powder
- 1 Tbsp fresh chili pepper, finely diced or dried
- 3 Tbsp raw honey
Start by slicing the pellicles into strips. There’s no need to make them perfectly the same size, but they should be close. Otherwise, they’ll dry at different speeds, and some will dry out while other pieces will still be moist.
Thick slices tend to have a tougher, chewier texture, while thin slices can be anywhere from gummy to crisp, depending on how much you dry them.
Grease the dehydrator trays slightly so you’ll want to be able to remove the strips easily when they are ready.
Toss the strips in the marinade and let them sit in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. You might want to toss and turn them every few hours to ensure they’re thoroughly coated.
Dehydrate for three or four hours at 105°F. It’s worth sampling them at this point as some prefer it chewy. You can also do a second round of marination at this point to make the strips extra flavorful.
If not, continue the dehydration until you reach the consistency you like. It can take 18 hours to get the right consistency, depending on how thick the slices are.
Remove the pellicle pieces from the dehydrator. You can now add a little more flavor if you want. If so, spray the pieces with oil and sprinkle with spices like salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, etc.
Although there is a little sugar naturally in the pellicle, you don’t need to add more to make SCOBY jerky. Combine:
- 6 slices pellicle
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp garlic flakes (or more, if you like spice)
Marinade everything together for six or so hours. Look for a low-sodium soy sauce unless you’re a fan of salty jerky.
If you want to make a SCOBY jerky for your dogs, skip the marinade and use the older parts of the SCOBY. Cut them into thick slices and dry them to a gummy texture. Dogs love chewing on these.
For picky dogs, soak the pieces in low-sodium or homemade meat or vegetable broth for a few hours. This gives the pelicle a flavor that even particular dogs love.
Other Uses For SCOBY
As well as kombucha and SCOBY jerky, there are various ways to use your SCOBY stash.
- Feed some to your chickens, pigs, or goats.
- Add them to your household compost.
- Make a puree and store it in the fridge. You can add this to all kinds of recipes.
- Make raw SCOBY cookie dough.
- Add to homemade sorbet.
- Make SCOBY and date energy balls.
- Add it to homemade beauty products.
- Share your SCOBY stash with others as gifts.