Sure, kombucha is available in most stores, but some of us prefer to make our own fermented drinks. To make kombucha, you’ll need to begin with a SCOBY, which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
This is an essential ingredient and responsible for turning your drink fizzy. Also known as “mother,” this layer of bacteria and yeast is what makes kombucha, kombucha.
Here is everything you need to know about making your first SCOBY and the different ways to use it.
Where Does SCOBY Come From?
It’s easy to recognize a SCOBY. It’s a flat, round, rubbery substance that almost looks like a gelatinous pancake. The scoby is also referred to as the mushroom, but it’s not a fungus.
Typically, you’ll see SCOBY layers floating at the top of the kombucha. The gel-like texture is crucial for the kombucha fermentation process.
Kombucha originally comes from China and is first recorded 2,000 years ago. The name kombucha comes from Japanese for tea (cha) and kelp (kombu), though we don’t use kelp to make it.
The sweet and sour taste is a unique feature of this drink. The bacteria involved in creating the SCOBY are generally those in the Acetobacteraceae family. If other bacteria get in there, they can destroy the culture.
SCOBY is comprised of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), acetic acid bacteria (AAB), and yeast. When mature, it’s an active yeast culture that lends that fizzy texture. If you’ve ever made sourdough, it’s like a starter.
It constantly renews itself, which is why you might find a little saucer of SCOBY developing in a bottle of unflavored kombucha.
There are two ways to create a SCOBY. The easiest method is to buy store-bought kombucha and use it to feed a new SCOBY. The downside of purchasing store kombucha is that it often has additives or yeast inhibitors.
Kombucha with additives can take a long time to develop, if it develops at all, and the quality is poor. So, read the label carefully before picking up your starter kombucha.
You need natural, organic kombucha that is free from chemicals and unpasteurized to start a fresh SCOBY.
Alternatively, you can make a SCOBY from a mother kombucha batch, whether you use a friend’s or buy dried or fresh.
Is a SCOBY Necessary for Making Kombucha?
Another way to think about a SCOBY is as a protective layer for the kombucha liquid. The thickness and gel-like texture make it hard for harmful bacteria to break through to the drink. SCOBY also prevents dirt from getting past the top layer.
But that’s not the purpose of SCOBY. It creates the acidic, vinegar flavor and the fizziness that makes kombucha so unique.
Here is how to make SCOBY from an existing kombucha supply.
How To Make a SCOBY From Kombucha
As mentioned, SCOBY is a natural result of the kombucha brewing process. To start a new SCOBY, you can develop it from a batch of existing kombucha.
The main ingredients for making a SCOBY are:
Look for a tea like oolong, black, or green tea. The tea shouldn’t contain any oil or flavorings, as this will interfere with the fermentation process. Don’t use honey for your sugar and remember that your kombucha should be without preservatives.
Gather a saucepan, spoon, sterilized glass jars with lids, cloth, and rubber band.
Make the Tea
Add seven cups of water to a saucepan and leave it to boil. Remove it from the heat and stir in a half cup of sugar and stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Add four bags or four tablespoons of loose leaf tea.
Leave the tea to steep in a cool location. Remove the bags or leaves once the liquid has cooled.
Mix the Tea and Kombucha
Take your tea and mix it with one cup of kombucha liquid. If your store-bought kombucha has a baby SCOBY on top, pour it into the jar. Store the mixture in a jar that has room for expansion.
Canning jars are ideal for storing the SCOBY. Don’t seal the jar completely. Cover the jar with cloth, coffee filters, or something breathable so the scoby can breathe while keeping critters out. Secure it with a rubber band.
Place a Cover and Store It for Four Weeks
Put the jars in a cool, dark space away from direct sunlight and leave for up to four weeks.
Sometimes the fermentation process will be quicker than four weeks, but you should allow this time just in case. As long as the SCOBY is guarded against harsh sunlight and heat or freezing temperatures, it should start to develop within a month.
Signs Your SCOBY Is Ready
Once the SCOBY starts to form, it’s hard to determine when it’s matured. Experienced kombucha brewers know by the consistency and texture, but beginners must take their time to study their first SCOBY.
The thickness of the SCOBY is a good sign; it should be at least a quarter inch thick and opaque. This means it should have a cloudy appearance and dense texture. Think of jelly but with no transparency.
Another obvious sign that the SCOBY is ready is if there are bubbles and strings. A healthy SCOBY has bubbles across the surface and string-like strands coming from the bottom.
When you smell the SCOBY, it should have a strong, vinegar scent. Pick up the jar and give it a sniff. If you don’t smell anything, it needs a while longer.
Bad Signs To Watch Out For
Under no circumstances should your SCOBY be black or molding. This is frustrating if you discover mold halfway through the growing process, but you must throw black SCOBY away.
If your SCOBY gets discolored, go back and read over the steps again to ensure you followed everything correctly. A contaminated jar can harbor bad bacteria. Or maybe you didn’t seal the jar well and gnats or something got in.
Cheese-like or rotten smells also indicate that the SCOBY has gone wrong. You’ll be able to tell quickly if this is the case and throw away the substance.
It might take a few trial-and-error batches before you get the right SCOBY, so don’t give up! Once you have SCOBY, head to our guide on making kombucha.
Should You Throw Away SCOBY?
Once you’ve achieved a successful SCOBY on your kombucha, you’ll use it to create new drinks. But you should occasionally trim off some SCOBY to help refresh it. What do you do with the trimmed-off bits? Just throw them away?
There are many ways to make the most of this substance. Even if it doesn’t look appetizing, it has nutritional benefits that can improve your plants and skin.
A simple way to use SCOBY is to eat it like jerky. Slice the SCOBY into thin pieces and flavor it with spices like paprika or pepper. Dry the strips of SCOBY on a piece of parchment paper and cover it overnight.
Then, mix the jerky into a salad or eat it as a healthy snack while gardening.
SCOBY is also perfect for making nourishing skincare products like a mask. Add honey or charcoal to the SCOBY for a deep-cleaning face mask.
Or, put the SCOBY with other ingredients of your choice, like yogurt, honey, and lavender. Blend it into a smooth paste. SCOBY can also be included in a body scrub.
The last helpful use for SCOBY is for adding to your garden soil. Putting the SCOBY directly into compost or near the base of your plant will boost the nutrients. Remember to cover the SCOBY with dirt so it doesn’t attract pests or wildlife.
There are many ways to use SCOBY, so start making your own batch and test out some of these ideas when you’re finished!