SCOBYs are weird and magical and mysterious. The purpose of this blog post is to lift the veil and talk about what a SCOBY is and how it contributes to fermentation.
June 22, 2021
What is a SCOBY?
Now that we understand the health benefits of raw, unpasteurized, living kombucha, it’s time to learn how the magic is made. Do you ever find yourself wondering what’s actually transforming a few simple ingredients into a living elixir teeming with digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria?
Let’s pay homage to the SCOBY, the living organism that powers the fermentation process. The SCOBY is the thick, slippery mass that forms across the top of raw kombucha. Made of cellulose - the same fibrous substance found in plants and wood - the SCOBY develops as a seal to defend the kombucha from contaminants. As it grows, it becomes a shelter for the colony of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that turn sugar and tea into kombucha.
Even though you may hear them referred to as pancakes, pellicles, or mushrooms, SCOBYs aren’t members of the fungus family. They’re communities of happily co-existing yeast and bacteria. This friendly co-existence gives the SCOBY its most common name, an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” Since it serves as both protector and home for the millions of cultures that reside within its layers, the SCOBY is also sometimes called the “mother.” The SCOBYs that Buchi stewards today can be traced back over a decade to our very first mother, the source of our heirloom culture!
If you ever see small particles floating or lingering in your kombucha, don’t fret! These are likely just tiny bits of yeast and bacteria that prove your brew is alive and active with gut goodness. Not only are they okay to drink, but they often contain condensed forms of probiotic cultures from the mother.
Sourcing or Growing Your Own SCOBY
Have you ever ventured into the world of brewing your own kombucha at home? If so, you know it all begins with the SCOBY. To launch your first homemade brew, you will need to either develop a SCOBY yourself, or get a piece of one from a friend or neighbor.
When getting a SCOBY from a friend, ensure that the SCOBY has never been refrigerated and comes with some starter liquid to speed up the process. Also, you can often find message boards or groups online where people are giving away their SCOBY discards. If none of these options are offered in your area, Kombucha Kamp is a great resource and sells single cultures or full home brew kits!
When growing a SCOBY yourself, you can start with a bottle of Buchi kombucha. Every bottle of Buchi kombucha contains instructions for starting your own home brew! Follow these step by step instructional videos to see the full home brewing journey.
Here are a few pro tips to keep in mind when you’re initially starting out:
- When pouring your kombucha into a clean jar, agitate it a bit to release some CO2.
- When adding black tea to jumpstart your brew, make sure it is cooled to at least room temperature before adding it to your kombucha.
- Store your jar out of direct sunlight during the fermentation process.
- Using a breathable cloth and purified water are key.
- Make sure your kombucha is fermenting in a warm spot - 80°F is ideal. Lower ambient temperatures may require longer fermentation times.
- Your SCOBY may sink to the bottom or rise to the top: both are normal.
You can keep fermentation going by using kombucha from one batch for the next. You really only need about a cup of one batch to start a new one, and you can continue this process indefinitely. It is called a “continuous brew” and really is that simple! Plus, why would you ever want to be without your probiotic pal?
SCOBYs grow quickly when they’re healthy. Have you ever heard of or seen a SCOBY Hotel? Kombucha brewers use this term to refer to the vacation spot where SCOBYs hang out when they are not actively fermenting a new batch. This is a safe space to store your extra SCOBYs while you brew and experiment with new teas or flavors. Each time you brew a fresh batch of kombucha, you will be growing your SCOBY inventory.
Maintaining a SCOBY hotel allows you to keep a stock of all your SCOBYs in a strong tea mixture so they can feed, resting until you are ready to take one out for a new brew or to share with a friend. Due to the number of “guests” in your hotel, the bacteria-rich tea is acidifying at a rapid pace. Oftentimes, the kombucha in yoru hotel may resemble vinegar, which is actually ideal for using as starter liquid in your next batch! Kombucha Kamp has some “Advanced Tip” videos all about SCOBY Hotels!
What to do with extra SCOBYs?
It is probably clear to you by now that, the longer you brew kombucha, the more SCOBYs you will obtain. Mother SCOBYs make baby SCOBYs, who become Mother SCOBYs, and so on. It’s truly a regenerative circle of life. For devoted brewers of kombucha, the question of what to do with extra SCOBYs has inspired plenty of creative solutions. Leftover SCOBYs have been turned into vegan leather, nourishing face masks, and pet treats, and they’re considered by some to be nutritious additions to stir-frys, smoothies, and soups. At Buchi, we haven’t eaten our excess SCOBYs - yet! - but we do use them as compost. This gives each SCOBY a new purpose at the end of its fermentation journey, and supports our vision of a sustainable system that nourishes every step of the way.
If you are eager to learn more, or have any questions about your SCOBY, check out our FAQ page, all about home brewing!